National Poetry Month, celebrated each April since 1996, begins with the day traditionally consecrated to fools.
The Society of the Muse of the Southwest (SOMOS) kicks off a month of poetic events by pairing nine Taos poets with nine Taos actors in "Mix & Match: Fools for Poetry" Sunday (April 1), 4-6 p.m., in the Fechin Studio at Taos Art Museum, 227 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.
The event is the brainchild of poet, journalist and SOMOS' 2018 Poetry Month Curator Ariana Kramer. "Thinking outside the box, it occurred to me that we have this great theater community, actors who know how to bring words to life. We invited poets who we thought might be willing to try something different: to have actors interpret their work on stage, rather than reading their own work themselves. Each poet was matched with an actor, and the actors are in rehearsal now."
The poets are John Biscello, Judith Thompson, Kate O'Neill, Margery Reading, Mike Burwell, Branwyn Holroyd, Ned Dougherty, Phyllis Hotch, and the late artist-poet Anthony Hassett.
"The poetry, which will be showcased, expresses a range of forms, topics and emotions, from hilariously funny to very serious," Kramer said. "The topics cover everything from the Pacific Ocean to dogs, geology, love and death. And the emotions. Well, at our first rehearsal we laughed and wept. Poetry has an impact on the human soul. That is what this project keeps bringing home to me. Poetry has an impact. We need to let it in. I think this group of actors is doing just that. They are going to set fire to these poems. I can't wait to witness it."
For the selection of actors, Kramer sought input from actor, director and Metta Theatre founder Bruce McIntosh. "He's helping with the directing, suggested some of the actors, and is reading one of the poets himself."
The other actors involved are Ben Teitelbaum, Judah Botzer, Charlotte Keefe, Irene Loy, Judy Kasper, Julie Dougherty, Tenney Walsh and William Hall.
Cindy Atkins at the Fechin heard about the project and offered the use of the studio space. "The Taos Art Museum at Fechin House is thrilled to be hosting two of the SOMOS poetry events in Fechin's Studio," Atkins said. "Nicolai Fechin loved all forms of art and would have enjoyed seeing his studio space being shared by the community to celebrate and engage the arts."
Born in Russia, Fechin is one of the most important portrait painters of the 20th Century, according to the museum's website (taosartmuseum.org). In addition to his portraits, his paintings of Native Americans and of the New Mexico desert landscape are considered among his best works. He and his family moved to Taos in 1927. In the next few years, he purchased a home, which he would remodel with the help of Taos Pueblo tribal members. It reflects a blend of Russian and Southwestern architectural elements.
The poets have entrusted their words to the project without knowing which actor will be interpreting their poems.
Poet, playwright and novelist John Biscello speculated whimsically on the thespian spirits who might appear on the stage. "I think my piece, or pieces, are going to be performed by Marlon Brando. Or James Cagney. I am happy and honored that my poetic two cents will be pitched into the night's theatrical basket of goodies."
Tenney Walsh is an actor, singer-songwriter and former street poet. While the name of her poet is withheld from press until the event, Walsh said she was delighted to be reading that person's poems. "They are earthy, grounded, rooted in an everyday world of objects made symbolic with an Irish twist."
Actor Julie Dougherty will be reading poems by poet and artist Anthony Hassett, who passed away in 2017. "I am thrilled to be part of this event," Dougherty said. "To have the honor of reading his poetry is a bit intimidating to say the least. I hope to bring it to life in a way that would make him proud."
"It is a great honor to feature the poems of Anthony Hassett," Kramer said. "I recently acquired his book, 'Last Poems,' mostly written during the last months of his life while terminally ill. I spoke with Anthony's life partner, Taos artist Erin Currier, about the possibility of including some of the poems in this event, and she was happy to have his work be a part of it. I hope those who know them will come out to hear Anthony's words."
Poet Kate O'Neill is former executive director of University of New Mexico-Taos. "I'm excited to be included in this collaboration with Taos poets and actors," she said. "I see this as a way to shake up the oral, interpretive roots of the lyric. This synthesis promises to become more than the sum of its parts: slam-improv-Tibetan sand painting -- may we all be awakened and surprised!"
"I was inspired to participate because I know and greatly respect Ariana Kramer," poet Margery Reading said. "One poem in particular was a 'spoof,' so I thought it fit well with the fact that it would be read on April Fool's Day."
"What inspired me was Ariana's inspiration," said poet Mike Burwell. "It sounded like a new and novel thing to do for Poetry Month."
Judith Thompson said she sent "more poems than were requested because I wanted 'my' actor to choose works that resonated for them. The poet, as performer, has the creative background of each poem. The actor must rely on the page alone as the starting point and then bring their own art to the project. It's going to be a fantastic evening!"
"A big inspiration for me was to connect the poetry and acting communities, with the hope that there can be future collaborations between them," Kramer said. "This is an opportunity for poets to connect with each other as well as with the actors. The event requires a lot of risk-taking from both poets and actors. This is an experiment, and they're entering into it playfully and with a sense of fun. After all, it is April Fool's Day!"
For more information, call SOMOS at (575) 758-0081 or the venue at (575) 758-2690.