Interview with Hakim Bellamy, Albuquerque’s first Poet Laureate

Most Albuquerque-ans are familiar with  Hakim’s contribution to the Albuquerque creative community, and, of course, his great success as a slam poet. I hope that this interview, done before his appointment as city poet Laureate, will provide a small glimpse of Hakim’s generous character and his approach to creativity. As always, a poem and a brief biography follow the interview.

1. Tell me about your current projects and what they mean to you.

Lately, it’s been about experimenting and putting what I do (poetry and performance) in “unsafe” spaces. Beyond the typical criticisms of the poetry slam scene from which I come, it is oddly a very safe space (in regards to artistic risk). Once you figure out your performative voice, you will be hard pressed to be challenged beyond it. Beyond the measure of the slam (i.e. wins, losses, teams made, championships won, etc.), you want to be challenged as a writer/performer to do something innovative. I prefer to measure success by how diverse is your repertoire of work, or how many different people who would NEVER go to a slam, have heard and appreciated your work. The risk is not in preaching to the choir, it’s preaching on the street corner to atheists, who walk away contemplating believing in something…even if that something is belief in another human being or humanity itself. To that end, I’ve been shape-shifting my poetry into music lyrics, my performance into theater and my events into jazz/hip-hop hybrids at Jazzbah ABQ on the 1st Tuesday of every month. I am working with my creative brothers Carlos Contreras and Colin Diles Hazelbaker on putting together a tour of Urban Verbs: Hip Hop Conservatory and Theater for the college/music/theater festival circuit in the spring of 2012. The Urban Verbs outfit recently became officially represented by 1680PR and is a format that allows us to put poetic dialogue in front of non-poetry audiences. But poetry will always be my ground, and right now I am preparing pieces for the new year, which really means MLK Day and Black History Month, for my 4th year at Amy Biehl High School’s Day of Service and the NAACP MLK Ceremony at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. Writing poems about the #Occupy movement has been fun and easy lately, because it is easy to write about something you are passionate about.

2. How do you “cultivate creativity?”

By living with reckless abandon. You have to fall, and hurt, and get up and fall again to be able to write. I’ve been falling my entire life. Falling in love, falling for bullshit, falling up and learning from it all…and then writing about it. I immerse myself in other arts. As a writer, I need to hear music, see a show (theater), watch documentaries (I am a documentary junkie), play with my son in the park, take in an art exhibit…creativity begets creativity. That’s why movements like the Harlem Renaissance, Black Arts Movement, Beat Movement, are contagious. Viral paradigm shifts that permeated everything from film and music to cooking and architecture…I think that creativity is a context, not a construct and it can be created rather than waited on…like a strike of lightning.

3. Is poetry important to community? How and were do these concepts intersect for you?

Poetry IS community. When we start talking AND listening to each other, becoming aware of one another, and ultimately, are forced to acknowledge and perceive each other, we have a relationship. A community is a web of relationships. Poetry fosters community. Buying a book by a local poet supports the local economy. That’s community on a small scale. However, going to a slam where 12 poets read beside the feature (perhaps the author of said book), allows 13 voices into the fray, with the requisite attendance and participation of the studio audience, and voila, people are feelin’ other people. Community is what most people’s poetry is about, with all of it’s marvelous imperfections, profundity and absurdity.

4. How do you protect your creative space, both literally and figuratively?

I don’t. I leave my creative space exposed. That works for me. Doesn’t work for most people. Most people feel like there is some sort of decorum or maturation in the masquerade of public/private life. They pretend that someone who, as I like to say, lives their life out loud is either obnoxious, egotistical or immature. They think the teen that tweets their every emotion, relationship failure or heroic moment is vain or juvenile. I look at them as brave and transparent. Yes, my poetry is like my Facebook status or my Twitter feed (and soon Google+, so lemme show them some love here!). I will show you my self-righteous, save the world side (probably too much as my critics say), however will also show you my flawed, petulant, hurt and scared sides…there’s no need to pretend I always act 33 and positive when I do not. So expose my closet of skeletons in my poetry and my social media. However, that door to that closet has to be as open to air dirty laundry as it has to be open to shine some light and import some creativity in as well. The open wound has always been attractive to poetry audiences. Being open to failing in front of an audience increases the possibility of succeeding in front of an audience…even if it is audience of self, an audience of one. Everyone wants to look like they have the answer in the public eye, or like they have it together. We know from some of our greatest artistic geniuses that there is nothing “together” about brilliance. And though I certainly do not yet conceptualize myself as brilliant, I’m a fan of NOT having the answer. I’m a fan of thinking out loud. Thinking in public should be just as valued as always having the answer in public. As a matter of fact people should think in public more often. Unlike thinking in private, it rarely gets mistaken for not thinking at all.

5. Discuss the interdependence among performance art, performance poetry, and written poetry (or poetry on the page).

I think I touched on that. They are all part of a paradigm, the waves of influence in an artistic movement all dance in the same ocean. They move ships on the surface and in that regard, they shape our reality. They are the varying axes of a Cartesian coordinate system. The x, y, and z axes correspond to performance art, performance poetry and written poetry. Together they locate an object in a specific place, time, era, generation…like three people looking at a glass on coffee table from different angles and providing data on where that glass actually exists in time and space and what it looks like. We need them all to have an accurate description of reality, however subjective that is.

Preamble: It is quite an honor to be asked to sort of, interpret, in a way, Kathleen Ryan’s compositions. 3 pieces, I was given, Tangle Release & Bless. Around 3 and a half,  three and 2 and a half minutes, respectively. I fell in love with them all because they series…Tangle, Release and Bless, mimic the cyclical nature of life…fight, let go or flow, and reward…whether that be in experience, understanding, prosperity, or just the satisfaction of getting past it…whatever it was. It felt complete…and before I interpret Kathleen into Hakim-speak…I must say, “complete” is a great adjective to describe Kathleen’s work. My interpretation:

Silent Sanctuary – by hakim bellamy

The poet entered the sanctuary
As a cynic not a sinner
As a seer
Not a sayer
This time

This time
He was looking
For the word

This time
He needed inspiration
More than he needed
To be inspiring

And he was listening
For once
Maybe twice

The poet entered the sanctuary
As a sentencer
But not like them
Not a judge
But one who strings words
Into rosaries
That protect us
From not talking to each other
That shackle us to communities
For life

The poet entered the sanctuary
Stood in the doorway of silence
Praying to be met with
Music, mantra, melody
or even magic

He was met with none
As he crossed the threshold
Between craft and creation
As he has learned
On the street

That science ain’t shit
Without sanctimony
That anyone can read the notes
But it’s how you play’em
Anyone can write and read
A word
But it’s how you lay’em
How you say’em
Anyone can read a holy book
But it’s how you live it
People sleep under sheet music
All the time
And don’t give a fuck

It’s how you make love

The poet entered the sanctuary
To have his French pardoned
Amongst other things

But was disappointed
Because there would be more French

Disappointed
That God’s people
Were worshipping with mouths closed

Disappointed
That God’s people
Were worshipping with asses still

Disappointed
That Heavenly people
We’re afraid to love one another
To touch one another
To dance
Together

Confused
That they could read
A whole book
And have nothing to say
That they could read
An entire hymnal
And have nothing to sing
Nothing to dance

Who could read
And entire volume
Of divine poetry
And then pray in silence?

So the poet left the sanctuary
Back to the curbside pulpit
Where pain
And worship
Both have to be louder
Than the traffic

Where God is like a superhero
And you only ever see her
When your life’s in danger

And unlike the church folk
Cause of the nature of how he lives
He sees God everyday
Doesn’t even have to pray

But when he does
And when they do
They have a novel on the tip of their tongues
And God like stories
A lot

But what the poet forgot
Is that their poetry
Comes from silence
Not from sounds

And such poetry
If its good
Leads back
To silence
Again.

Amen.
(c) Hakim Bellamy August 20, 2011

Hakim Bellamy is a national and regional Poetry Slam Champion and holds three consecutive collegiate poetry slam titles at the University of New Mexico. His poetry has been published in Albuquerque inner-city buses and various anthologies. Bellamy was recognized as an honorable mention for the University of New Mexico Paul Bartlett Re Peace Prize for his work as a community organizer and journalist and was recently bestowed the populist honor of “Best Poet” by Local iQ (“Smart List 2010 & 2011”) and Alibi (“Best of Burque 2010 & 2011”).He is the co-creator of the multi-media Hip Hop theater production Urban Verbs: Hip-Hop Conservatory & Theater that has been staged in throughout the country. He facilitates youth writing workshops for schools and community organizations in New Mexico and beyond. Currently, Hakim is the Strategic Communication Director at Media Literacy Project. You can also read poetry by Hakim at 200 New Mexico Poems: http://200newmexicopoems.wordpress.com/category/hakim-bellamy/
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