Wednesday, October 03, 2012


Albuquerque Cultural Conference 2012

This past weekend I attended this year's Albuquerque Cultural Conference, which took place from Friday September 28 through Sunday September 30. Once again it was a shimmering exciting three days, rich with warmth and creativity.

I made attempts at taking notes part of the time, though I often became so engrossed in the discussions and events that note-taking fell by the wayside. What follows here is a happy and somewhat disorganized account of what I saw of the conference.


Friday evening was a reading by a dozen great poets at the Outpost performance space. A large crowd showed up, I'd guess at least a hundred people (though I'm not great at estimating these kinds of things), a lively buzzing all through the room. The poets who read included Anya Achtenberg, Margaret Randall, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Luis J. Rodriguez, Levi Romero, Damien Flores, Jessica Helen Lopez, Andrea J. Serrano, Susan Sherman, David Martinez, Mary Oishi, Richard Vargas, Lenore Weiss... I hope I'm not forgetting anyone.

The conference events on Saturday and Sunday took place at the Harwood Arts Center, a little west of downtown Albuquerque. The daytime events were mainly panel discussions, though not as dry and stuffy as that suggests -- the panelists' presentations were invariably followed by active discussion by the audience, with much give and take. It wasn't an academic conference.

Saturday morning I attended a panel on The Southwest Border (with panelists Tony Mares, Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, Roberto Rodriguez, and Irene Vasquez), dealing with political and cultural issues related to immigration, nationalism, the distinction between political borders and natural ones (such as mountain ranges, rivers, and so on); and a panel called Culture and Community of the Border (with panelists Michelle Otero, Kamala Platt, Sandra Soto, and Luis Rodriguez), which in many respects expanded on the first panel. Sandra Soto spoke about how the cities of Phoenix and Tucson were designed largely for wealthy white residents (with golf courses among the prominent features of the cities), and with Chicano/a people and indigenous people relegated to working as service workers; she spoke also of the large role the prison industry plays in the economy of Arizona. Luis Rodriguez talked about the concept of "borderless imagination," and the basic distinction between a world outlook of greed and ownership and capitalism on the one hand and cooperation, sharing and collectivity on the other. "The U.S. Constitution," Luis reminded us, "is a limited warranty." True people's power comes not from such a document, but from our acting collectively in the world.

At midday I listened to an interesting presentation by Antonia Darder on the work and ideas of the writer Paulo Freire, particularly his essential book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Darder gave a succinct summing up of the main concepts Freire deals with in the book.

Saturday afternoon I attented the panel Crossing Borders of our Own (with panelists Margaret Randall, Susan Sherman, Anya Achtenberg, and Glenn Weyant) -- I particularly enjoyed Weyant's talk and presentation of his sound sculpture "Sonicanta," created by recording sounds various people made by drumming and otherwise touching sections of the border wall that the U.S. government has put up between the United States and Mexico; and the panel Building a Culture of Resistance, with panelists John Crawford, Roberto Rodriguez, Jeff Biggers, and Antonia Darder.

Saturday evening featured another poetry reading, this time at the Harwood Arts Center, and again with multiple poets: Jeff Biggers, Jessica Simpson, Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, Mike Henson, Lyle Daggett, Peter Street, Merimee Moffitt, Marilyn Stablein, Olivia Romo, Fred Whitehead, Kamala Platt... and I'm sure I'm forgetting some people.


I flew into Albuquerque on Thursday -- each time I've gone to the conference, I've found it helpful to get there a day early, to give myself a chance to adjust to the altitude (something like 4500 feet higher than Minneapolis). Even with that, I found myself fatiguing toward evening (and surely this was partly because of the high-energy days). After the Saturday evening reading I went back to the hotel and caved in to sleep.

Sunday morning the first panel I attended was Cosmopolitanism -- Some Existing Cultures, featuring panelists Anya Achtenberg, Fred Whitehead, Peter Street, and Mike Henson. Several people in this panel talked about the notion of regionalism, in its useful and its inhibiting forms: regionalism as a way of grounding oneself in order to see and interact more fully with the rest of the world; and regionalism as an isolation, provincialism, a narrowing of perspective and outlook.

Also Sunday morning I took part as a panelist in the panel Survival is an Act of Resistance, featuring John Crawford, Fred Whitehead, Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, and myself; we talked about the work of writer Meridel LeSueur, poet Thomas McGrath, poet Roy McBride, and poet Carol Tarlen, in the context of the long and living tradition of insurgent cultural work.

Sunday afternoon I attended the panel named Community Writing I: Theory and Practice, featuring panelists Mandy Gardner, Brian Hendrickson, Mike Henson, and Olivia Romo; and the panel Local Cultural Publishing, featuring panelists John Crawford (publisher of West End Press), Jeanetta Calhoun Mish (publisher of Mongrel Empire Press), Gary Brower (publisher of Malpais Review), and Richard Vargas (publisher of The Mas Tequila Review) -- the discussion in this panel became quite animated when we got on the topic of electronic publishing vs. print publishing, with people voicing many energetic points of view.

We closed the conference with a wrap-up and evaluation meeting late Sunday afternoon. I went back to the hotel and holed up for the night, and came back to Minneapolis on Monday.


One of the things I appreciate most at such events is the informal time to meet and talk with people, both old friends and people who become quick new friends. A number of us were staying at the same hotel, and tended to meet and talk in the hotel breakfast room in the early morning before the conference started at the Harwood center a mile away. I had much time to visit with long-time poet and writer friend Fred Whitehead, and with poet Peter Street who had come from a coal mining town near Manchester, England, and was visiting and traveling with Fred.

Other friends I saw there were writer Margaret Randall, artist Barbara Byers, writer Demetria Martinez, poet Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, poet Mike Henson, Anya Achtenberg, and Lorna Dee Cervantes. And i was pleased to meet and get to know poet Susan Sherman, poet P.J. Laska, and poet Lenore Weiss. And once again, my apologies to anyone I'm forgetting -- there were a lot of us there.


I came away from the conference with several books of poems, all of which I recommend:

The Light that Puts an End to Dreams: New and Selected Poems by Susan Sherman, published 2012 by Wings Press.

Listening to the Dark, poems by Peter Street, published 2012 by Penniless Press in the U.K.

Savage Sunsets, poems by Adrian C. Louis, published 2012 by West End Press.

Cutting Down the Last Tree on Easter Island, poems by Lenore Weiss, published 2012 by West End Press.


There was a little rain in Albuquerque the night of the Friday reading; the rest of the time I was there the weather was mild and bright during the days, with a steady cool breeze most of the time. Between the conference events during the day I spent much time captivated by the amazing blue color of the sky, that high desert mountain sky that seems almost a solid substance.

Many of the people and publications I've mentioned above have websites, and I haven't linked to all of them; I urge you to search the web to find out more.

The website of the Albuquerque Cultural Conference is here.

I want to go again next year.

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