Hakim Bellamy / Albuquerque

Name: Hakim Bellamy

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Topics: Art, Poetry, Albuquerque, Collaboration, Youth

Quote: “As poets, we make sure that we all grow our skills as a cohort.”

Yo, my name is Hakim Bellamy, I am a human of New Mexico. I’ve been… it’ll be 12 years in January, and I’m a poet. I do lots of other things but poetry is kind of the root of all good for me.

The illest thing, people always ask me what was your first kind of thought that you remember when you landed in Albuquerque, or landed up in Albuquerque as we say. I drove from New Jersey to Albuquerque, meandered down the eastern sea board, stayed with friends. I didn’t have to stay in a hotel the whole two-week trip. I just kind of hung out in different cities where I knew people. San Antonio, my alma mater, North Carolina. And I spent the last night in El Paso and then I drove up here Martin Luther King Day. I arrived on MLK day in 2005 and I get out of my car, right, and I’m at Coronado Hall, the dorm I lived in. And I got out of my car, and I think I almost went blind, and I just realized at that moment that Albuquerque is just bright. We’re a mile closer to the sun then where I grew up at sea level near the Atlantic Ocean. The sky is way bigger. It feels way bigger than it is on the East Coast. I literally was like, “I don’t understand how people live out here without sun glasses all the time.” And I realized that everybody does wear sunglasses all the time. But it was kinda like, abnormally bright. And that was like my first thought was “Yo, how do people see out here?” But yeah, then I fell in love with the food, and the people, and the culture. And you know, my son was born here 8 years ago so I like to say “I’m a Burqueño by ‘birth’ just not by birth [laughing].”

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When I moved from Jersey in ’05, I had graduated undergrad in ’02. And so I lived at home for three years, and I’m very much a gypsy. I like to travel. I like to go to new place. I’m not afraid to go to new places alone. And so after I graduated high school I went to two separate colleges and then I moved home. And I had never lived anywhere more than three years, I just got bored. Like, I was like, seen it, done it, lived it, met a whole bunch of new people. Let’s go somewhere else and start over. And go chance the adventure. And I’m still like that. I still love to travel. I leave the country once or twice every two years just because there’s so much more to see than what we have here in the United States. But I came here to New Mexico, obviously, I’m here 11 years now. It changed me. It kinda made an honest man out of me [laughing]. Settled me down a little bit. Having a child will do that to you too, but it’s just an easy place, it became an easy place for me to be because it’s been really good to me, like my career kinda grew out of… I mean, Albuquerque really just nurtured me as an artist and a person, you know through my late 20s and early 30s which is a really important time in anyone’s life. So I feel like I owe Albuquerque a lot. But when I came out here, you know, I was just trying to find a place I had never been before and if you’ve never been to Albuquerque and you’re not from here, it is absolutely a place you’ve never been before. You realize that quite immediately. And I guess it just says a lot, there’s so much here to love that I didn’t get bored in three years.

I’ve been working with young people since I’ve been here. I continue to work with young people, they keep me young, they keep my writing fresh because I have to impress them, because I can’t just write for the old gray-haired poetry crowd. I have to write stuff that stays relevant. And so they challenge me to stay hip, you know what I mean, to keep it fly. And so that’s still at the heart at everything I do.

I’ve been fortunate to do many other things, like work in city government, work for foundations, work on grants, I’m working on a grant right now at Bernalillo County Metro Detention Center with lady inmates through a national grant through International Sites of Conscience. I get to do these really cool collaborative high profile projects but at the root of it all, I’m just trying to make it a better place for young people. My son’s 9 next week. In 9 more years I kinda unleash him, unleash him to his life in this city and I want it to be better him and all the kids that aren’t mine.

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It’s a good opportunity for an artist to be connected to an institution. A lot of time you have leverage and people take you a little more seriously, as an academic and a poet when you have a university backing. I’m an alumni of UNM, you know an alumn of UNM [laughing], I got my masters there. But I’m teaching in a Chicana and Chicano Studies Department. And so I actually replaced Carlos Contreras as the co-teacher of the FLC, Freshman Learning Community class, or first year learning experience class. We have 85 freshman and they are in cohorts of 20 that are connected to like a history class or English class, but our course, which is topics course of music and spoken word and politics is designed to kind of bridge contemporary issues with the things that they’re learning in school because we know that students feel like what they are learning is relevant, and they can immediately apply it to the world around them, then they are more likely to be engaged in the education process as opposed to if we’re just like “remember this for a test” and they don’t really see how it applies to their life. So, we get to be that bridge, and we get to bring videos and guest speakers and I think it’s just a really good entry in a college life ‘cause it’s not just like “Mr. what’s the right answer?” anymore like it was in high school. We’re trying to teach them how to arrive at knowledge, how to create knowledge. Simply from listening to a lecture, simply from watching a video and really making them think critically and be able learn through dialogue through Socratic methods of teaching. And so, I enjoy seeing them grow from the wrong or right answer on a test to being able to have an opinion and support your argument because that’s going to serve them very well in the rest of their life. And I’m humbled to be teaching next to Dr. Irene Vasquez who’s really an activist and a hero. I really look up to her and to be able to see how she manages a classroom and her treat me as an equal is really humbling.

Carlos was the co-teacher in this class last year and then him and his family made a decision for him to go back to school. So he’s getting his masters now, so he has a much heavier work load. For all of our listeners, I don’t know if you know that professors have to read and write a lot. Like, I have 84 students, so if I give an assignment that’s 3 pages, then I get to read 84 times 3 number of pages next week and have to correct it and give feedback and give it back. So it’s a big work load especially when you’re a student, so he said, when he made the decision and spoke to Irene, and Irene said “I’d like to find another academic, critically engaged poet in the community to replace you,” he recommended me. And she said that’s a great idea. And so just being able to know me and my hermano, know his skill set, know my skill set, and be able to say, “Hey, if you can’t do something I’ll carry water for you dude.” That class is important and having working artists in the class is important, so if he can’t do it, then it’s not just oh wow and then the class is over and it goes away if we feel like it’s important to the community. We do that a lot. I ask Jessica [Helen Lopez] to stand in for me when I can’t do things because I have family obligations and things because we just don’t want the work to die. We’ve all, in this poetry scene, worked really hard to kind of increase our footprint and now you have poets working in city hall and poets working in Hispano Chamber of Commerce and getting these kind of grown up if you will jobs and positions and we don’t want to lose any of that progress. That’s like two steps forward and we don’t want to go one step back, so there’s two things that we do.

We make sure that we all grow our skills as a cohort, so if I can’t do something, I trust that Carlos and Jessica and Manuel and these other poets, Mercedes, that they are equally skilled if not more, so they can step in and easily do the same things so we don’t lose any ground. And then the second piece is that we have to keep developing the pipeline. So working with young poets and giving them opportunities and getting them to the point where they’re confident and skilled enough to relieve us of our positions. Like send us off into the sunset, into retirement. And if we can keep doing that and growing that then it just becomes a no brainer that, and I think it already is culturally somewhat of a no brainer, but that in this region, in this colorful tierra, southwest kind of region, art is already a part of everything. And we’re just kind of deepening that integration, deepening that inclusion and weaving arts more to the fabric of our community life.

There is a term that many theater people know. This idea of “devised theater,” and that devised theater is different than taking Shakespeare script and saying we’re gonna do Hamlet. Devised theater is kind of… the final product is based on this process of collaboration. So a bunch of actors get together and they kind of write the script together. They write the road map together. And it’s just more jazz, meaning there’s space to improvise, than it is a classical concerto. We’re not just gonna play Bach’s notes over and over and over again on repeat. And the brilliance is not in the precision in which you play the notes, the brilliance happens way earlier. It happens in these spaces, in their rehearsals, where the flamenco artists realize that what they are doing has a four four break beat so they invite a b-boy to become part of their performance or their piece of the show. And that doesn’t happen if we all create in a vacuum. It only happens when you collaborate and get people in the same room. And so that’s what’s cool about this process. It’s a process of innovation. It’s not me just standing up and reading poems like what I usually do.

It’s trying to figure out how what I do fits into the flow of the show so that we make a really unique experience in all three parts. So that people are, you know, attracted enough to what we’re doing to come to all three parts and not be like, “Oh well I saw the first show so I know what’s going to happen in the third show.” Cuz you don’t right? Cuz we’re breaking them up into different focuses and then a lot of it is happening [snaps fingers] it’s live! it’s live improve slash very choreographed. There’s certainly a structure to it, but yeah, you just never know. You never know and that’s what’s cool. Like we’re discovering new super powers and new skills as we do this. And so it’s challenging for the artists, it requires more work and more time. You don’t just get to show up the day of and do what you always do. it’s not a variety show in that regard. It’s actually a collaborative new, organic, creation that has never existed before and will never exist again. So I suggest that you make plans to be there and don’t miss it.

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I think what we’re wrestling with as a city, is how to grow and stay the same. And it’s a big problem because we are so tightly identified with our history and our culture and our traditions, which is what makes us so beautiful – the fact that we have a connectivity to our ancestors, and I mean not to dis my home town of Philadelphia and New Jersey, it’s not the same there. Like you have people who lived in Philly their whole lives and maybe they live in their mom’s mom’s mom’s house, but they’re not talkin’ about their connections to the ancestors who lived here before this places was called America. Here, we have a really long memory in that regard, and we’re proud of those traditions but when we’re trying to figure out how do we grow, like population-wise as a city, how do we grow infrastructure in this city, like stuff like the A.R.T. Whether we agree with how it was done or not, like how A.R.T. came to be, it’s asking a deeper question. It’s asking us a question of, “Are the things we’re doing now going to serve Albuquerque 20 or 30 years from now?” And we don’t know. A lot of it is guess work, but we have to make decision because if not, thirty years is going to be here and then you gonna be like “Wow, if we would’ve planted this seed thirty years ago I would’ve had a tree now.” So I think we’re always trying to figure out what that right thing is. and I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. I do think art, not A.R.T., real art, like what we’re doing in this show, I think that process is a process of dialogue and discovery and solution finding and coming to an agreement on what we believe and we value. And when we come to an agreement on what we believe and what we value, then the solutions present themselves a little easier. And when some of us are trying to say let’s be the next Austin, and some of us are trying to say let’s not [laughing]…I mean we’re never going to be kumbaya in harmony and agreement but I think that discussion needs to be had before we just start building and tearing down things.

I’m a big fan of Humans of New Mexico. I hope that his is another way that we double down on the idea that regular people and our regular stories matter, but that we’re all really special and unique as well and so I just appreciate what you doing. It’s a story gathering process, a story collection, it’s oral tradition. It’s what I feel we as poets do, we’re story collectors and story tellers. And so you’re just using a digital format. and so shout out to you. And I’m a journalist at heart, I’ve done T.V., radio, web journalist, and I just feel that you’re carrying on that tradition so thanks a lot man.

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