Commentary: Friday evening a week ago, we went to the First Friday Downtown Art Ramble.
This one was a little bittersweet. We learned that the Big Picture Digital Photo Lab will move to the Arroyo Shopping Center on Lohman, home of Mesilla Valley Kitchen and MDC Computers. The specter o f two years of torn-up streets was too much, after everything else. (We've already lost two Ramble favorites, MVS Studios and Main Street Bistro. But we hope this move will prove highly successful.)
Big Picture's a great place to get photographs restored or enlarged. I've shown photos there. We watched our friend, the proprietor, struggle with the long illness and death of his wife. He grieved deeply. Slowly he healed. He's even found new love – and his new love's homemade cookies are one of the unsung delights of the Ramble.
We gabbed with old friends and made new ones, as always. Jim Rodgers has some great images in the Rio Grande Theater's EPE Gallery. At SWEC, a lively 80-year-old artist (Penny Duncklee) told us how much her husband John loved Soledad Canyon. He even wrote a poem about it. He was going into another room to get that poem when he had the fall that caused his death. His ashes found their way to Soledad Canyon. Leaving, we spotted several of John's books in SWEC's “gift store” and bought one.
Later we went to a “poetry slam” at Art Obscura. A few years ago we got to know a young woman named Abbey. She was working at Spirit Winds while attending NMSU, and had founded Cruceño Cleanup. When I write about what's right with our young people, I'll feature her. (And Josh; and Saba.) Abbey's mother is on the board of El Caldito. Doing good runs in the family.
Abbey and her partner, Deret, an excellent artist, started Art Obscura. In Mesilla Park, near the tracks. Great mix of funky antiques and edgy new art. Even a few pinball machines, my personal weakness. Creative young people hang out there. So many that there's often a food-truck outside.
At the poetry slam, we heard some moving poems by young poets, several from El Paso. The place was full of energy. I told several of the young poets about the open-mike readings at Palacio's, third Tuesday of each month (next one: March 21).
I felt a thousand years old, recalling similar readings. How intensely I experienced each moment! Did I ever look so fresh-faced? I chatted with an NMSU graduate student from Maine, about to graduate. (“Then what?” “I've no idea.”) The uncertainties of youth, rife with hopes, expectations, and dreams, differ so much from our uncertainties and reflections 50 years later, so much of one's story written. Their poetic subjects differ from what I hear at poetry workshop, where I'm one of the younger poets at 70. But poetry is poetry. You find a voice to express your pain, love, thoughts, or confusion in a way others can hear – or you don't.
Writers write because they must. Our art is the tool we reach for at our most troubling, painful, frightening, or ecstatic moments, to make sense of things and maybe share something. One of the better poets at the slam said poetry was the way she could talk about a painful subject. When she said poetry helped her recovery, I understood – and hoped her love of poetry would survive beyond this specific need, and impel her to turn her developing skills to a lifetime of other subjects.
Overall, another fun and thought-provoking evening in our favorite city.
[Poetry may seem frivolous to many; but it can matter deeply. As poet William Carlos Williams said, "Literature has no practical unction, but people die every day for lack of what is found there." For the writer, it involves honest self-examination, or should. That's healthy for any of us. For some, it may be otherwise unattainable, and poetry (or fiction, even memoir) can provide a back door. Writing is also a way to understand the world that surrounds us. And it can communicate stuff that can't be communicated so effectively in less subtle ways.
Particularly in modern life, with such a surplus of stimuli and such limited time, poetry is essential. I remember once when we were trying a case in Tyler, Texas, I spotted (and bought for my friend, the head trial lawyer on the team) a small sign: "It doesn't matter how fast you drive if you don't know where you're going." Most of us don't. We're too damned busy reacting to everything around us.
Poetry? The writing of it, for those who form the habit, is a marvelous antidote. It involves reflection. If we're too antsy to sit and reflect, or meditate, poetry kind of forces us to.
Reading it, or hearing it? Poetry can remind us of what's human. Like a movie, someone's poem can give you a sudden clear insight into another human being or some comic or tragic aspect of being human or something. It's also healthy for the psyche to focus for awhile on something a little deeper than getting by.]
[Although few of my posts touch on poetry, it's important. I wish I read more of it. I wish I wrote more of it, and better. Ironically, my most recent post, the "For Love of Lit" reading last month , was a mix of poems, photos, and reflections from a reading a few weeks ago. We have some good local poets (not including me). For anyone interested, I recommend the monthly reading at Palacio's Bar in Mesilla. It's in the huge dancehall in back, not in the main bar. Third Tuesday each month -- the 21st, this month -- at 8, although arriving a little early is good if you plan to read. But non-readers are welcome too! It's a cheap way for a quirky sort of break from everyday concerns.]
[Meanwhile I do want to express sadness (and condolences to family) about the recent deaths of two people who put a lot of themselves into improving the world around us, fighting particularly for fairness, tolerance, and ethnic equality: Barbara Myers and Chuck Davis.]