In the last six months, the New Mexico State Poetry Society has “exploded,” says Shirley Blackwell, president of the organization, which was founded in 1969.
The recent explosion is due in no small part to three Valencia County poets. Blackwell, along with Debbi Gutierrez, treasurer, and K.K. Todorovich, vice president, are all state officers who represent not only poetry aficionados from Valencia County, but from all over the state of New Mexico.
In December 2005, the Rio Grande Valencia Poets became the third chartered chapter of the New Mexico State Poetry Society. But in the last six months, three more chapters have been established in Santa Fe, Corrales and Taos, with a chapter in the works for T or C.
Blackwell was elected president in May 2011, and in 2009, Blackwell was elected chancellor of the society. In early 2011, she rewrote the society’s constitution, which prompted her to run for president, a job, she says, that keeps her busy 10 hours a day in preparation for the first ever New Mexico State Poetry Society State Poetry Convention and the 2013 National Convention of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. Both conventions will be held in Albuquerque.
Blackwell said she is very excited because this will be the first time the national convention will be held in New Mexico, as every year the convention is held in a different state. In preparation for the big event, she said the society decided to hold a state convention as “practice” on April 28.
“New Mexico — the last time it did a national convention was 1981, it’s been 32 years since we’ve done this,” said Blackwell. “There are not many New Mexicans who have been to these national conventions, so we need a little heads up on this, and that’s why we designed the state convention — that’s one reason.”
She said the other reason is that holding a state convention was one of the things she wrote into the constitution. Blackwell did that so that they could “become a cohesive body, a real state organization that involves everybody.”
The state convention will offer a day of workshops, a youth poetry slam performance, a dinner, readings by workshop leaders and an open mic. There will also be a poets’ cafe, an informal venue where local writers will be able to sell their books.
In the RGV Poets chapter, several poets have books hot off the press, including Blackwell’s “Poems: Already There,” Gutierrez’s “Cactus Factory” and former chapter chairwoman Annmarie Pearson’s “Nature Rhymes with Natural Impressions” that she co-authored with her husband, William.
In the local chapter, there are 14 members, many of whom use a website called CreateSpace that helps writers and artists self publish their work.
The website is an affiliate of Amazon, where all of their books and music can be found. Along with Blackwell, Gutierrez, Todorovich and Pearson, chapter members include Bernadette Perez, Gail D. Goodman, Gary Stewart Chorre, George L. Forrest, Georgia Santa Maria, H.Z. Pillar, Loretta Tollefson, Mary J. Fogarty, Janet S. Williams and Faith Lea Pearson.
Faith Lea is the 8-year-old granddaughter of Pearson, and the youngest member in the state.
Blackwell said she published her first poem when she was 10 years old, but put creative writing on the back burner in favor of her family and career until she retired.
Then, in 2005 she found herself at the Sunflower Poetry Writing Workshop in Mountainair, which led her to enroll in a poetry class at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus.
Blackwell, who won the Senior Poet Laureate Award for New Mexico in 2010, says her poetry is “all over the map,” but she considers herself more of a formalist than any recent school of poetry.
“I usually write poetry that’s unsentimental and has a bit of a barb maybe,” she said. “I try not to be preachy but I do raise a lot of questions, because if I don’t give my readers something to think about, I haven’t done my job as a poet.” In her first book of poems, “Already There,” published last year, some of her poems are “shape poems,” such as her poem “Cracked Woman” arranged in a snaking shape. She says she enjoys that style because of the challenge it presents.
“For me, the joy of working in form poetry is that it’s an intellectual challenge to put something together that precisely,” said Blackwell. “For me poetry is like quilting with words, I want it all to fit.”
She said having an analytical mind and having worked in science and being married to an engineer also inspires her writing.
“Poetry for me, in many ways, was an antidote to a career done writing analytical, scientific stuff,” she says, adding that her favorite thing about poetry is the music of it. “I think poetry needs some type of beauty to it. Sometimes it’s a harsh beauty.”
She says RGV Poets is special because it is a non-judgmental fellowship of poets that is open to everyone from the beginner to the “closet poet” to the seasoned writer and everyone supports one another.
“Poetry is a part of our culture we have lost,” said Blackwell. “There’s not much store placed in literature, and so our mission, in a way, is to rescue and preserve that important part of our culture because poetry really does encapsulate the culture of a people.”
One of the ways RGV Poets is helping preserve poetry is through its Children’s Poetry Project. Under this project, Chorré, Forrest, and Pearson gave presentations at Peralta Elementary School to help inspire children to write poetry and express themselves in a positive way.
“The kids are getting to know that they can express themselves without violence, without vulgarity,” said Pearson. “They have a voice and we want to hear their voice through their poetry, so they get really wrapped up in wanting to write poetry because they want that attention.”
Pearson says she began writing 40 years ago when her husband and brothers were stationed in Vietnam. She says writing was healing.
“I wrote poetry to release my fear, so it wasn’t just a way to express yourself, it was a way to release your fear, release your tension,” she said. “It helps relax you, puts you in a state of peaceful ease and peaceful mind, which I truly needed.”
Pearson, who has been a member of the society for about 20 years, says they have also hosted poetry open mics at the Belen Public Library and various coffee shops as well as sponsored a middle school slam poetry team.
Gutierrez became involved with the RGV Poets last year as treasure and webmaster and said she has “gotten really intensely into it.” She is a poet as well as a musician and children’s book writer.
She says she began writing when she was 5 and never stopped. For her, RGV Poets is a venue that allows her to meet people with common interests and get exposure to different styles of writing.
The RGV Poets meet from 1 to 3 p.m., the first Saturday of every month at the Belen Public Library, where they have a round robin reading, where everyone can share their latest work.
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