HERE, THERE, & EVERYWHERE
POETS OF PLACE
When he was in his early twenties, Dan Marotta found a life of adventure. In 2007, he worked as a human-rights observer in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; by 2012, he was an investigative journalist in Mexico, looking into colonialism and the green economy. Though he used to write poetry, for a long time he found that his calling to identify and work to remedy the world’s injustices took precedence over his personal creative expression. Four years ago, the Boston native road-tripped across North America — and he liked Santa Fe so much that once he got to the West Coast, he turned around and came back. He has done social work with Santa Fe youth, but last summer he began reconsidering his life choices and he is currently unemployed. “I’ve been traveling. I was in Utah for a while, and I just got back from Boston,” he said. “I’m no stranger to not having a job. I don’t own much stuff. I rent rooms or live out of my car. I just started writing poetry again last summer because the world was falling apart — mine, the worlds of my loved ones, this country, and so on. I think it still is.”
Marotta reads from his new work along with two other Santa Fe poets, Tommy Archuleta and Hector Ricardo “Riqui” Alvarez, in Tres Hombres at Teatro Paraguas Studios on Sunday, May 28. (This is the second such event featuring Archuleta; Christopher J. Johnson and Phil Geronimo joined him for the first Tres Hombres reading, in 2011, at Collected Works Bookstore.) Marotta considers his poems to be “kind of like a living journal. I speak about myself as a way to get at larger issues. I think the role of an artist in society has been lost in this country. I don’t know that for a fact — but it seems like artists nowadays try to be apolitical. I’d like to think of it as my task to use my life as a way to talk about politics,” he said.
His poems are political yet suffused with emotional complexity and some linguistic play. They often contain an element of romance. Marotta does not have a unifying aesthetic, preferring to write, it seems, in whatever style or voice best serves his point. He has a brief prose poem about food shortages and an expansive free-verse poem about catching butterflies, which is really about longing to hear the small details of experience that others might not consider important. There is one about the futility of fences told from the point of view of someone who builds them, and another about watching a woman paint and fearing just how deeply she’s been hurt by her past. And then there is this succinct ditty, called “State of the Union”:
As in Marotta’s work, politics is also a central theme for Alvarez. He is a native of Venezuela, living in self-exile in the United States, and he writes primarily in Spanish. He met Archuleta through their work as substance abuse counselors at New Mexico Treatment Services; both are earning masters of counseling degrees at New Mexico Highlands University. Archuleta, who speaks Spanish, is helping Alvarez on a translation of what he considers his most important poem, “Relincho con mordaza.” (Its English title is “Breaking Through the Chains.”) Alvarez wrote the original, tragic version of “Relincho con mordaza,” concerning a horse whose voice was silenced, when he was seventeen. The same year, he painted an image of a white horse dying, surrounded by hyenas and being attacked by vultures.
Alvarez moved to the United States in 1999 and lived first in Wisconsin, where he took art classes at Madison Area Technical College, and then came to Santa Fe. During a class in archetypal psychology at Southwestern College, he saw art made by children in the Holocaust, and he recalled his white horse, the themes and symbols of which now reminded him of what had happened to Venezuela under Hugo Chávez. (Chávez came to power just as Alvarez left to learn English and have adventures in the United States.) His parents sent him the painting and he revised the poem to give it a happier, more inspiring ending. He then animated the painting, set the poem to music, and made a video that includes images of current protests on the streets of Venezuela. He titled it “Relincho de liberación” and uploaded it to YouTube. “I wanted to bring the horse to life so he can defend himself and the people in my country. Everything is a metaphor,” Alvarez said.
Growing up, Alvarez had considered himself to be a socialist, but the way the socialist president Chávez grabbed power, altered the country’s constitution,
and oppressed his people made him feel like a foreigner when he went back to visit Venezuela. Ultimately, he chose to stay in the United States and become an American citizen. Current U.S. politics have him on edge, however, because President Donald Trump reminds him of Chávez. “This guy has radical ideas of hate, where he wants to blame sectors of society for what is happening. Chávez was so much like him — he used sexual jokes and talked badly of women, and he complained about the media. People I meet in the U.S. think Chávez was some kind of Robin Hood. Chávez and Trump are different ideologically, but they have very similar approaches.”
Archuleta, who lives with his wife in Cochití, grew up near the College of Santa Fe campus on St. Michael’s Drive. “And I grew up pretty much hating the College of Santa Fe. I grew up hating white Caucasians,” he said. “A lot of the resentment I had started coming out when I got sober. I didn’t know I hated that deeply.” He had been expressing himself though music for years — he still plays drums in the band Disaster Man — and then in the early 2000s, he started to write poems. A local writer, Michael Scofield, took Archuleta under his wing and encouraged him to get into school so that he could deepen his study of writing. “I decided that I would show him that a Chicano could apply to a school like that and get totally laughed at,” Archuleta recalled. “But it was the entire opposite of that — I got a full ride. It was a surreal experience. Those years at the college were so meaningful.”
He studied at CSF with creative writing and literature department faculty members Matt Donovan, Greg Glazer, and Dana Levin, and then went on to graduate school at the University of New Mexico. But he did not find the same kind of academic home there, and left before completing his master of fine arts in poetry. “They wanted me to take classes in 13th-century literature and I just wanted to write,” he said.
Of the three hombres, Archuleta’s work is the most honed and minimalist, his language stretched taut around a naturalist’s sense of place. Though he has always felt rooted in Northern New Mexico, it was not until after his mother’s death in 2013 that he began to associate place with loss. “My parents were together for 61 years,” he said. Since then, he has worked on connecting with his father, who Archuleta said he never really understood until recently. In a poem that uses its first line as its title, he writes: