On the Via of la Vida Local
The first words I heard my old poetry teacher say when I met him was, ”Any place can be Paris.” That was in 1991 and the man was Gerald Stern, another former Pittsburgher. It may have been then, or earlier, that I formulated a way of looking at my life. While many poets have their eyes out there, on the national arena, I realized that in a country as big as the United States, to have a function and presence in the local community was what appealed to me. New Mexico has a geography half large as France. I had three children at the time, ranging from 6-17, and didn’t want to jettison my strong family boat. All along, since moving here in 1973, I have been living la Vida Local only now I named it so.
I have grown my art with my friends in community, and have tried to serve community in a variety of ways. After food coops, play groups, and quilt making I reconnected with poetry. I volunteered at the John Hyson school in Chimayo. I wrote a poem for Robert Winson’s death and Mirabai and Eddie’s marriage. I wrote with Ricardo on his deathbed for 13 months and published a book of his work and our collaboration. I wrote with a support group called Write Action for the AIDS community and published two books of their work. The group evolved into more general crisis, illness, and loss focus. Write Action met for 13 years almost weekly. Three of its members showed up last week to support me on Labor Day.
Even more locally, down the road two miles in Arroyo Seco, for seven years I have hired local artists and run a free monthly art workshop called Artist of the Month. It serves as a community gathering at The Teen Center of Hands Across Cultures, and celebrates young and not so young artists with art forms as varied as traditional tin work and henna tattoo.
I am not telling you this to brag. I am trying to make sense out of my life and see its trajectory as I carry it into the two years as Poet Laureate. In my days I have learned to persevere, write grants, publicize the events, and often work for free. New Mexico is my Paris and has everything needed to grow a rich life, even cafés. To live in useful context is my goal and being Poet Laureate helps me to focus on how good the community has been back to me. Tres Chicas Books, founded in 1993, as another small press is another undertaking that flourishes in the 505 as youth calls it after our area code.
This is not to say that I didn’t jump at the chance to teach in Bratislava, Vienna, and Zagreb when it came along in 1994. But that was a side dish in my locavore life. I am trying to think of a word for local writer, locascribe, locajot, loca pen.
Live La Vida Local. Write locally, shop locally, donate locally, dream locally, love locally, dance locally, and sing locally.
In Amazement, Joan Logghe
I think we must now call you Joan Local.