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CNM Tutor, Slam Poet Becomes Albuquerque’s Newest Poet Laureate

May 21, 2014 -- Slam poet champion, writer, TEDx presenter, teacher, dedicated activist, mother, CNM tutor, and now Albuquerque’s newest poet laureate, Jessica Helen Lopez is adding verve to the city’s arts community.
CNM Tutor, Slam Poet Becomes Albuquerque’s Newest Poet Laureate

Jessica Helen Lopez

Lopez is Albuquerque’s second poet laureate, following on the heels of her friend and former CNM Graduation Ceremony keynote speaker Hakim Bellamy. She was recently named to the Poet Laureate’s two-year post.

Her poems don’t always rhyme, but flow with her thoughts, which at times are rebellious and feminist in nature, and always thought-provoking.

Lopez says she has always written poetry of some sort. At ages 10 and 11 it was rap. She became a disciplined poet in 2005 after she took an introduction to poetry class at CNM taught by Merimee Moffitt, the same person who enthusiastically introduced Lopez at the Poet Laureate induction ceremony.

“Merimee was very supportive,” Lopez said. “She required us to read poetry in the community. That’s what led me to slam in public.”

Slam poetry is the competitive art of performance poetry staged weekly or monthly in a bar or coffeehouse.

Today, Lopez is a nationally recognized award-winning slam poet, holding the title of 2012 and 2014 ABQ Women of the World Champion. She is a four-time member of the Albuquerque Slam Team and was a member of the 2008 National Champion UNM Lobo Slam Team.

Lopez became Albuquerque’s poet laureate after several community members submitted nominations to the Poet Laureate Board. She submitted a manuscript along with a proposed mentorship project and was selected for the post.

Lopez’s accomplishments are extensive. She has been a featured writer for 30 Poets in their 30’s by “MUZZLE” Magazine and she’s a member of the Macondo Foundation, an association of socially-engaged writers united to advance creativity, foster generosity and honor community. Her first collection of poems, “Always Messing with Them Boys,” made the Southwest Book of the Year reading list. The collection also earned the New Mexico Press Women Zia Book Award. She is the founder of “La Palabra – The Word is a Woman” collection created for and by women. Her work has been referenced in “A Bigger Boat: The Unlikely Success of the Albuquerque Slam Scene” (UNM Press), “Earth Ships: A New Mecca Poetry Collection” (New Mexico Book Award Finalist), the San Francisco Tandem Lit Slam and more.

As much as she loves poetry, she has another passion that lights her fire – working with kids to help them develop their creativity. For the past several summers, she has been part of the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s VOCES Writing Institute for Youths, a program designed to encourage a love of poetry writing and the arts in high school students. This year’s institute will take place Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. throughout the month of June. She brings in facilitators and guests to work with the young people. Also participating is the band New Mexico Academy of Rock and Blues, led by her husband Glen Benavidez and colleague Keith Sanchez. They will teach the students how to play and enjoy music.

Her community project as a poet laureate follows a similar theme. She is going to pair 10 local high school students with 10 established poets, who will become the young people’s mentors in poetry writing. The initiative is in its infancy, but she hopes that in six months it will conclude with a publication written by the students and a public reading by them.

She says she’s devoted to helping expose young people to the arts, including her 12-year-old daughter, Mia.

With all the slamming, poetry writing, kid mentoring and mothering, she still has time to teach Borderlands Poetics at UNM through the Chicana Studies Program and be a part-time tutor in CNM’s Assistance Centers for Education (ACE).

As poet laureate, Lopez sees herself as an ambassador for poetry and creativity within Albuquerque’s various communities. “I’m a representative of the writing community, an educator and a community organizer. I have the responsibility to create and sustain an accessible environment for poetry. Poetry is a very empowering tool -- a tool for social justice,” she said.

The Daughter

The evening that I notice my girl is changing, sprouting
with hair into womanhood, I see crisp lines like
small black lightning erupt from the inverted
spoon of her left armpit.

The heat presses against the window a boiling
summer monsoon and she is a sweat tangle
fast asleep on my side of the bed.

The butter pallor of reading lamp permeates
every corner of my bedroom illuminating the
salt beads that congregate at her temples.

I sit awhile and watch her.
One arm is thrown above her head as if
she aims to catch a pop fly in her unconsciousness.

The other arm pressed to the small bell of her rib cage.
The arm is a small branch a bird might perch upon.

The chest rises and falls like a doughy bread.

This is my life’s purpose,
monitor the breath, the hair
that takes to her legs like
a brush fire across California
summer hills. To move the
lithe body from one bed to another.
To notice the faint shadow like a dusty
charcoal above the lip.

I know her body like I know my own.

I am prepared to be prepared for this shift,
this inevitable change of
the cosmological order of her being.
I am her ordained keeper of body.

And it is when I know,
that I must let go
that the real dying will begin

That mother and daughter diploid cells
will have truly separated into their
own acts of insular creation.

That I must step away and watch
from the light house where all old
mothers retire.

Now, I hold the golden meiosis
of her body close, this sweaty sleeping girl who almost
slips through my arms, and walk out of the buttery light
of into that greatness of the long dark hallway.


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