By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
Welcome to a world where Greek food is salted by tears, where souls on fire dance in the flames and heaven cups many million tears.
Such is the world of a poet. Tucumcari’s Art Space was invaded by poets Friday night, who gave about 40 watchers and listeners a piece of their imaginative take on life as they know it.
This poetry-centered session of the “Criss Cross Applesauce” series of coffee-house style performance events had sponsors that included Tapestry of Sound, Rick and Toni Haymaker, owners; the New Mexico State Poetry Society and Mesalands Community College.
The featured artist was a “slam poet,” Zach Kluckman of Albuquerque, and while he was the only poet so labeled, it was plain that the slam style influenced most of the poets who read their work Friday.
Slam poets combine soul-baring word play with athletic gestures and pacing the stage. It’s competitive, and Kluckman is a champion — a member of a slam poet team that represents New Mexico and consistently wins regional competitions.
All of the readers Friday, however, gestured, shouted, and emoted, supercharging their already heated phrases.
The evening’s other traveling visitor was Fil Peach, president of the New Mexico State Poetry Society, who started the ball rolling on the evening’s performance as part of his campaign to make the society a truly statewide group, “not just down the Rio Grande corridor,” he said.
Peach spoke in verse of moments of meaning and awe that he has experienced as a world traveler.
Three veteran local readers presented their works, as did two newcomers.
Jeff Walker, a songwriter and poet, recited a long work that combined story-telling with rhyme.
Levi Mericle, a young Tucumcari poet who has accumulated a growing national audience and has received recognition overseas, read some of his works. His rhyme-and-meter poems wrestle with faith and emotional pain in horror imagery.
Greg Howard, who teaches composition and creative writing at Mesalands Community College, read work that spoke of youth, relationships and unrequited love.
The two first-time readers were Paul Mischuk and Jesus Lucero.
The idea for a poetry-centered session of “Criss Cross Applesauce” was born when Peach stopped in Tucumcari on a trip to Texas from his home in Albuquerque, he said.
He decided Tucumcari was a good place to promote the poetry society’s expansion efforts, and found Howard’s name in the Mesalands directory. He contacted Howard, who liked the idea. Howard put Peach in touch with Rick Haymaker. The event came together in just a few weeks in December and January.
“Poet” is not a job title that often stands alone. Kluckman works as a counselor and recruiter for a charter school in Albuquerque that targets the city’s south side, a high-poverty area of the city. He holds poetry workshops for students there, which he say help students maintain motivation.
Peach has enjoyed a long career as a scientist and engineer as he has kept his poetic muse active. He started writing poetry at age 17. The death of his mother during a time of early triumph in his scientific career, he said, drove him to write.
The readings on Friday demonstrate that people are working hard to keep poetry alive and well. Most members of the audience lingered after the readings were done, indicating an enthusiastic reception, fulfilling the prediction with which Walker, the first reader, concluded his verse reading: “There’ll be a wang dang doodle here tonight..