By Christine Swanberg
Author and Poet
More than a third of a decade has passed since I wrote a master’s thesis on the literature of the American West; yet, every time I venture to the West, I am aware of several themes: the pioneer spirit, the desecration of Native Americans and their way of life, the fur trappers’ rendezvous, the Spanish missionaries, Manifest Destiny, and the plight of the artist trying to cope with emerging, but raw, Western towns. So, right from the start, the word “rendezvous” caught my attention, as did this year’s location in Taos, New Mexico.
The Poetry Rendezvous, created by Michael Hathaway, the founder of Chiron Review, began more than a quarter century ago. It is a confluence of diverse poets, usually associated with Chiron Review, though open to others, who spend a few days simply being the poets they have always wanted to be — free from judgment, censorship, competition or hierarchy. It has been held in Kansas, where many of the regulars — including Michael — make their home; St. Augustine, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and finally, Taos, New Mexico.
This year, the event was organized by Kyle Laws, who runs Casa de Cinco Hermanas press and journal. The fee was a year’s subscription to the journal. Kyle was able to arrange reduced rates at the historic Sagebrush Inn at the edge of town, an authentic vintage Southwest experience in itself. Surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo mountains and near the Taos Pueblo, the setting was perfect. But there was more to this than a stunning setting.
Imagine a place where you can say anything you want to and no one will flinch. The manifesto of the Poetry Rendezvous is all inclusive. No voice is hushed or stifled. At the Poetry Rendezvous, around 20 diverse voices clang, whisper, incant, speak, zing and sing in any style, shape or content whatsoever. There is a place for everyone, regardless of age, poetic leaning or credentials. It’s a place to congregate and meet other poets without the constraints of academia.
A word of caution: It is a marathon. If you are not used to several hours of poetry at a time, you will have to figure out a way to pace yourself. That was particularly difficult for me because after two hours, I was saturated and unable to listen in a way that serves the performing poet. I did attend every single featured reading and two rounds of the open readings. At that point, it was like having finished two consecutive Thanksgiving feasts.
The fur traders’ rendezvous celebrated pelts and furs. I shudder when I think of it, though I realize in an era before synthetic fibers, fur could keep people very warm. Yet, the cry of Manifest Destiny gave the settlers, traders, missionaries and government rights to perpetrate untold harm to indigenous people and animals, such as the buffalo and wolves.
Lately, I have been fascinated with the paradigm shift of how Americans see themselves in relation to the world: from brutal dominance to part of the web. So, I absolutely love the idea of a poetry rendezvous, which celebrates the voices of poet pioneers that stretch the boundaries of speech and imagination. I love that not one single creature is harmed in the endeavor and that words, rather than killing, are celebrated. I appreciate the beauty of the Taos Pueblo and the serenity now available at the beautiful and spooky Spanish sanctuarios if you are so inclined. It’s an ironic, but joyous, twist to the notion of Manifest Destiny when you think about it, isn’t it?
Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet. She received the Lawrence E. Gloyd Community Impact Award at the 2012 Rockford Area Arts Council State of the Arts Awards.
Posted Oct. 7, 2014