By Bill Nevins
Anna C. Martinez is Albuquerque’s sixth Poet Laureate, appointed June 29 at a gala Albuquerque Museum ceremony, to serve a two- year term starting July 1 by the city’s Poet Laureate Program with Mayor Keller’s approval. Martinez, a mother and grandmother who was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Española New Mexico, is well-known as a performing poet who delivers defiant, sometimes raunchy and often humorous diatribes against injustice and ignorance as well as crowd-pleasing celebratory sensual incantations of shared pride and joy in our very special New Mexico experiences of life and love.
An Albuquerque resident, she is the in-house poet at Las Pistoleras Instituto Cultural de Arte in Taos and has held titles as ABQ Chicano/a City Slam Champ, Haiku City Champ, and 2019 City Slam Champ for a team. She is also on the board of directors for Burque Revolt Poetry Slam and she often opens her home for free to touring poets. She was the headliner poet for the recent 2022 Redwood Poetry Festival in Eureka, California.
On July 9 at 1pm in her first official Poet Laureate performance, Martinez will read out a newly commissioned poem for the opening of the Albuquerque International District Library.
Her first book of poetry, “Pura Puta, A Poetic Memoir” was recently published by Casa Urraca Press. World-famous author/screenwriter Jimmy Santiago Baca has said this of “Pura Puta”:
“This collection of poems by Anna Martinez achieves, on so many levels, what so many other practitioners are in hot pursuit of-mainly, poems sourced from the deepest refuges of the heart and soul that spill over the page like ancient tribal love songs, war songs, heroic in their tone and righteous in their claims . . . -she is fearless, and . . . these poems will incite your intelligence, wake it up, and open your eyes as well as your heart!”
A practicing civil rights lawyer as well as a poet, Martinez took some time from her busy day on June 30 to chat with The Paper about her plans and hopes as the city’s chief poetic representative. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation.
The Paper.: What motivated you to seek to become the Poet Laureate?
Anna Martinez: Well, honestly, mostly these trying times we are in. With the over-turning of Roe V. Wade, the pandemic, gun-violence and other tragedies. Folks have been disheartened but I understand that we’ve been conditioned to think that we don’t really have a say in how things go, and that is not true. And I want youth—I have two grandkids– to understand that and to recognize, through poetry and other forms of expression, that they do have a say in the society, in its election process, and in our shared future together. That is the project on which I want to work as Poet Laureate. I’ll be working through the community centers of Albuquerque. I also hope to include legal informational sessions for parents on how to survive in this challenging system. I see civic engagement as a duty.
Do you foresee any challenges as you start to implement your two- year program?
Well, I’ll need to work on outreach and publicity—not my strong suits and so I will welcome help from our community—to encourage as much attendance as possible at these public forums on poetry, self-expression, identity and survival. I am hoping also to present forums at schools and community organizations, to engage people inter-generationally and inter-culturally. You know, I used to get bullied at school, and I experienced traumas in my life, as so many of us do, but I kept writing my stories anyway and over time they evolved into poems. I even wrote love- poems and songs for my friends! Performing poets like Carlos Contreras (with his great poem about the New Mexico rain and his dad’s Vietnam service) and Jessica Helen Lopez and Mercedez Holtry and Sarita Gonzalez and her dad Manuel, so many others inspired me to keep going. And I want to help our youth, our women and others to realize that there is a creative outlet for them which can help them move forward. A pen, a paper and a thought—that’s all it takes!