Poetic Routes

Design, Uncategorized

For about a year now, I have been working on “Poetic Routes” (http://www.poeticroutes.com), an interactive, poetic map that pinpoints reflections and emotions on specific streets, buildings, and landmarks within Albuquerque.

I started this map in part because when I introduce myself as a poet, people often act as though I am a practitioner of a coded, intimidating art. Most people have been taught something about poetry—that syllables are important, say, or meter or form, or that there is some package of preexisting analytical literature that tells you a poem is “great literature” written by a “great poet” (who is usually male, once white, now deceased). Most people are not taught to first appreciate the poem as a work of surprising beauty. Nor are they taught to connect it to their world, to the streets they walk down, the roadrunners they see, the roasting chile they smell, the cottonwoods they admire, or the Goodwill on their corner.

One way to connect people to poetry is through maps. Maps are a potent tool to tell interactive stories. A map of a city can tell us how to get from place to another. As it does so, the map outlines what we will pass along the way: a topographical map might show us the mountain that stands between our goal and us; a Doppler map details the weather we’ll encounter along the way. But can a map tell a story that isn’t linear? Do we always have to know where we are going?

“Not all who wander are lost,” countered JRR Tolkien. Even though maps are being more recognized for their ability to tell complex stories, I wanted to explore the potential of a non-narrative, inclusive story about Albuquerque.

To pin a poem to an intersection on a map is to pin a moment of time. Together, those moments start to build an understanding of Albuquerque that is larger and more complex than the map itself. It is a network of architecture and culture, language and nature, concrete details and local realities, history and lived experience—as well as the interactions that occur in the audience’s mind when two or more of these are juxtaposed.

A map shows the relationship between two objects in space, but when those objects are memories, reflections, epiphanies, and lyricisms, the audience participates in creating that relational link. “Viewers are as much a part of the landscape as the boulders they stand on,” writes Leslie Marmon Silko.

It is my hope that through this poetic cartography, both emerging and established writers layer their voices with the history and cultural vibrancy of the city. My hope is that this project, like the city itself, will show a complex and ever-changing set of relationships with our natural and built environment. This is our map of Albuquerque.

You are here.

City on the Edge Podcast


Last night, I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Nora Hickey and Ty Bannerman, who create the City on the Edge podcast. Nora and Ty work to tell the compelling stories of Albuquerque through this podcast, investigating history, culture, politics, and even tales of ghosts. It’s a fun, informal interview. You can listen it to here.

Creative Placemaking Summit


I will be teaching a session titled, “Creative Cartography: You Are Here” at the West Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit Feb. 7-9 in downtown Albuquerque, NM.

“Poetic Routes” (www.poeticroutes.com) is an online, interactive poetry map pinpoints residents’ and visitors’ reflections and emotions on specific streets, buildings, and landmarks within Albuquerque. Through this poetic cartography, both emerging and established writers layer their voices with the history and cultural vibrancy of the city. This project, like the city itself, shows a complex and ever-changing set of relationships between us and our natural and built environment. To date, a spectrum of poets have been represented, from the celebrated former Poet Laureate Manuel Gonzalez, Joy Harjo, V.B. Price, Don McIver, and Margaret Randall, to the up-and-coming Cathy Cook, Jesse Montoya, and Jesse Yelvington. Poetry workshops are currently being run throughout the city to teach more people about place-based poetry and help them begin drafting their own poems about Albuquerque.

This workshop will combine site-specific inquiry and multidisciplinary arts using GPS-based technology to tell a story about a place using an interactive map. Artwork of a place values locales, knowing “who you are by knowing where you are” as the poet Wendell Berry once wrote. Place-based poetry and art has the ability to create timeless moments, express individual experiences in a universal way, and to craft a sense of communal identity. In this workshop, we will share methods and strategies to craft the beginning of creative cartography about your community that you can then develop further by hosting workshops within your discipline, whether that is creative writing, art, history, or oral tradition.

In this workshop, we will give a brief overview of creative cartographies, using the Poetic Routes site as the primary example. We will help participants brainstorm and begin to develop maps that are important to their communities. We will display and discuss various geospatial technologies, their pros and cons, and help participants choose the right platform for their communities. We will share lesson plans for workshops (on topics such as mapping, landmarks, and toponyms) that can be adapted to a variety of artistic media.

This 3-day summit is presented jointly by The National Consortium for CreativePlacemaking and ArtPlace America in partnership with the City of Albuquerque to develop the field in the following ten western states: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. The main theme for the event will be emerging pathways, and topics will include authenticity, placekeeping and belonging, access and the invisible. #CPLSummitWest will offer creative placemakers skills, inspiration, connections and ideas. #creativeplacemaking You can learn more at www.cpcommunities.org/west

zine Fest


Come say hi at zine fest and pick up a copy of “Tarantula Hawk Wasp,” my very first zine!

This one comes from my poetic inventory. These zines are tiny lyric essays about the tarantula hawk wasp. The poetic inventory is analogous to a “scientific inventory” of a location’s biodiversity, where field ecologists catalogue all of the flora and fauna present in the area. Unlike a scientific inventory, the works moves beyond a strictly literal cataloging; instead it explores the relationship between “wilderness and civilization,” human impact on designated nature zones/open space, and how wilds reemerge within the city.

I started making this zine to think through some of the issues of the poetic inventory that I have been working on. First I started making artists books out of some of the poems, then hammering others onto pieces of wood, turning some into small art projects, and really just experimenting with what a poem can be and how it can be communicated.I think that zines are incubators for ideas. They allow for experimentation, risk, and failure–and therefore growth.

It’s also important to note that playing with different materials and ideas has been a much more fun method of redrafting and revising. The most frustrating part has been finishing a small print run and finding a typo.

My exploration into autobiographix and essay comics continues!


More about zine Fest: ABQZF, now in its 7th year, is the oldest zine Fest in New Mexico. ABQZF is community-accountable and fosters a non-competitive, diverse, queer-friendly, creative environment for zinesters in the city of Albuquerque, and beyond. ABQZF is Woman of Color-founded, Ally-supported, Woman-run. Show up for the fun, Saturday, October 7, 2017 at Harwood Art Center, 1114 7th Street NW in Downtown Albuquerque.

Pillow Book


My freshman class (The Legacy of Storytelling: Creative Nonfiction) just finished reading the “Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon.” In class, the students made their pillow book zines. Then we curated and made a class one:

Things that create the appearance of deep emotion: Allergies. Yawning. Cutting an onion. Typing in ALL CAPS. Weddings. The death of a grandmother you never knew.

Alarming looking things: A homeless person sleeping on a bench. A woman walking alone at night. Skin peeling from a sunburn.

Repulsive things: Days old food stuck on the side of the sink. The sticky floor as you step on it with socks. A tickle behind your ear, realizing it’s a fly.

Terrifying things: Cactuses. Flying insects. A tarantula darting out from under a dark porch.

Things people despise: wet towels never drying in the winter. Gruesome talk while eating. A building with many stairs but no elevator. Gum on the floor. Getting into a hot car that’s been sitting outside on a hot day. A person wide awake at 7 am on a Monday.

Dispiriting things: no calculators allowed on a calculus test. When your group says, “Oh good, we got a smart one!” It’s 11pm and you have a paper due at 11:59 pm.

Things that fall: the stock market. Leaves in autumn. Eyelids after drinking a warm glass of milk. Rose petals as hose water sprays them. Shadows from a nearby building.

Things that look fresh and pure: a newly made bed. A blank page. An unused book. A clean mirror. A babbling brook in the middle of a forest. A new snow.

One from Star Trek, One from the New Mexico Statutes



The other day, I sat having coffee with a friend who has just entered his second year of law school. We talked about the tomes he carries to class, the massive amounts of reading and writing, and the creativity needed to frame information as arguments.

He surprised me with an off-the-cuff comment, saying, “You know the thing that most prepared me for law school? Legal writing feels like composing Star Trek fan fiction.”

Fan fiction is—in case you’ve missed the Fifty Shades of Grey racket—derivative work that appropriates the setting, characters, and sometimes, longer arcs to create a new story. I was floored: I immediately understood his metaphor. I worked it out a little more and asked him some questions, so in case you are wondering whether you can put your fan fic cred next to your LSAT score on that up-coming application, here’s a reconstruction of our conversation:

Both have an Official Narrative. The story bible of American law comes from court opinions, commentaries, and of course, bills passed on Capitol Hill. When researching, that’s a lot of conceptual material to draw upon. The Star Trek canon, while disputed, is also fairly developed: over six hundred television episodes and eleven feature films have contributed to the Starfleet’s universe.

“Sorting through all of that source material gave me the patience and stamina needed for legal research,” he said. “I developed a sense of how the whole fits together, so that even if I don’t know where a passage is, I know where to find it—whether it’s biographical information on Captain James T. Kirk or something on acequias and water rights.”

But his metaphor extended beyond research as an act—Star Trek fan fiction taught him about constructing an argument that works within the confines of an accepted reality. While the Official Narrative is fragmented, storylines and premises offered by the source must be followed. If you are presenting an argument to the court, it has to fit in what has been established in our legal universe.

“Fan fiction is an argument to the audience, though if you want to contribute in an official way, you’d have to present the same argument to executive producers, Paramount, etc.”

To a certain degree, you have to conform to the expectations of what’s been established, though the common conception might be debatable.

“Look at Captain James T. Kirk,” he said. “The formative events in Kirk’s life have been developed in the show. If you write about Kirk, those stories have to support a recognized version of him. Is he a womanizing and reckless swashbuckler who relies on his audacity, will, and personality to win?

“Or is he a disciplined, driven strategist willing to bluff his way out of any situation? I’d say he’s not improvising—he’s calculating. Out of seventy-two episodes, he has sex in eleven, and of those, only three are casual and the rest are part of a strategy. He’s not womanizing like James Bond, but he is using people. Anyway, that’s debatable. That would be part of the argument.”

Sometimes, the Official Narrative has a need: a plot point hasn’t been fully developed, small details sound like suggestions, or there’s an inconsistency. If Star Trek is taken on a series-by-series basis, there might be multiple Official Narratives, so some are excluded while others follow their own continuities. New Mexico might mix Spanish and Mexican laws, Western American traditions, and historic pueblo rights.

“The law is filled with incongruities. Our legal tradition has no problem with the idea that contradictions exist, and we don’t worry about them until they become relevant in a specific case. When it benefits us, we’ll say, ‘Wait, New Mexico! You said this in 1993 and this other thing in 2008!’ And you write a new rule to resolve the problem.”

Or something unforeseen comes up. An actor takes a new job and must be written out of the series.

“Legal thought evolves episodically. In the 1950s, judges would have been asking themselves, ‘How will our torts deal with legal problems caused by superhighways when everything we have in place is set up for horses, buggies, the odd automobile?’ And when demonstrations spread across the South, demanding equal rights for African Americans, the judges are blindsided. The question becomes to ‘how can we write new decisions on something we were unprepared for and have them read like a natural evolution of the law?’ You have to be creative to do that.

“Both law and fan fiction add to an ongoing story, contributing something new and creative. It’s a mixture of persuasion, logic, and imagination.”

So he takes the episodic fragments and shapes them into a plausible narrative. His peers view legal writing as a dry, color-by-numbers approach to technical problems, but my friend doesn’t believe that making an argument is just a logical exercise. He’s gotten comfortable with the ambiguities in our legal system. Deep in his heart, I think he knows that only our suspension of disbelief holds it all together.





  1. The Official Narrative: A story bible exists. Conceptual material. ST Canon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek_canon.


court opinions, academic commentaries, and pieces of legislation passed by congress or the state legislature, sometimes fragments or conglomerations. taken together, creates one narrative, have to make an argument to the authorities that your addition should come


st 600 television episodes and 11 feature films—the canon—if you want to contribute to it in an official way, you have to present an argument to exec produces and paramount, etc.


fan fic is an argument to the audience, telling the audience that your piece fits.


so you know who kirk and picard and the united federations. you have to conform to expectations.


I want the court to issue this opinion and this piece will follow the body of knowledge/narrative/universe that we have. it behaves by the same rules.


good fan fic is making it fit, but also doing something new and creative


law must evolve to fit changing circumstances—while this fits with prior American traditions set forth in our constitution.


legal thought happens episodically. an actor suddenly leaves, must be written out of series. demonstrations across the south for equal rights for African americans. 1950s judge wouldn’t have predicted (would be how will our torts deal with superhighways and the legal problems that come up when we’re set up for horses??), but then the


have to make it look like a natural evolution.


took pitches from anyone, not necessarily the writers guild—slush pile of submissions, the production staff would have to (third season—“yesterday’s enterprise” how history had been altered through time travel—was pitched, but then production staff had to deal with the consequences)


take court cases in the 1860s not conceived for present day—here’s a law doesn’t seem relative, but with a great analogy, this is applicable (time travel story)


fan fic is an persuasion, logic, and imagination. adding to an ongoing story.



  1. Although the Official Narrative is fragmented, storylines and premises offered by the source material must be followed:
    1. New Mexico’s water law is derived from the mixture of Spanish and Mexican law with the West’s traditional rule of first in time, first in right. While New Mexico is clearly a prior appropriation state, New Mexico’s water law also accommodates historic pueblo rights and reserved Indian rights.




  1. Parts of the Official Narrative are under debate—are they self-consistent? These storylines and premises may contain contradictions. If there are multiple Official Narratives, are some excluded while some are encouraged to follow their own continuities, like series-by-series?
    1. the law is contradictory all the time. our legal tradition has no problem with the idea that contradictions—don’t worry about it until becomes relevant in a specific case. “wait co! you said this in 1993 and this other thing in 2008!” you must wirte a new rule to resolve this.
    2. canon not consistent: the official dates of the first ST could support either time frame: 2264-2269 or 2270?? the tie-in writer would have to go the eds. at pocket books and say “for the purpose of this book, will be 2269.” or have writers put in a line of dialogue “when our mission ended in 2270.”
  2. The Official Narrative has a need: a plot point hasn’t been fully developed, the details sound like suggestions.
  3. Characters and settings are appropriated:
    1. James T. Kirk. The formative events in Kirks life. If you write about Kirk, those stories have to support the version of (is he womanizing, reckless, flies by seats of pants swashbuckler, casual meaningless sex, audacity and will of personality makes him win.
      1. in 1960s disciplined, driven, calculating strategist willing to bluff his way out of a situation is he has to, but not improvising—he’s calculating. in 72 episodes, he has sex in 11 episodes, and of those only three are casual and the other are part of strategy to . not like james bond. he does use people, but not womanizing. (maybe someone would disagree, but then an argument ensues—that’s what lawyers do.)
    2. the characters in the law are ideas and concepts. (?)
    3. A new story emerges:
    4. Our suspension of disbelief holds it all together.



a lot of law students think that writing legal arguments is like technical writing, but is fascinating and creative. a chore, suck, mechanical.


civil rights and con rights tend to be less dry and technical, more like something you would want to read. a sense of place and character.


oil companies can come to Albuquerque and drill because city and county govs can’t say no once a company was issued permits by the state. look to Colorado for a case that seems similar. a lot of opinions there say (privacy) people have basic individual human rights that the state government hasn’t acknowledged—how will drilling



I have to extract dozens of scattered story fragments (bits of TV episodes, or of judicial opinions) from an Official Narrative (a TV show, or the ironclad statements of the courts), then shape them into a coherent narrative (a Star Trek story that plausibly resonates with previously aired episodes, despite its unofficial status; a legal argument that plausibly fits into the tapestry of US judicial opinions, despite its whacky and unconventional makeup).


making an argument is not just a logical exercise. being comfortable with ambiguities.



“the crossroads of time and character” (welty)