An Interview with Hakim Bellamy

Photo Credit: Mikhayla Harrell

Hakim Bellamy became the inaugural poet laureate of Albuquerque on April 14th, 2012. Bellamy has been on two national champion poetry slam teams and has been published in numerous anthologies and on inner-city buses. A musician, actor, journalist, playwright and community organizer, Bellamy has also received an honorable mention for the Paul Bartlett Ré Peace Prize at UNM. He is the founder and president of Beyond Poetry LLC.

BMR: As Albuquerque’s 1st Poet Laureate, you’ve been tasked with bringing poetry to residents, ranging from workshops in schools to detention facilities. When working with those who may not have been exposed to poetry yet, what has surprised you most? As a society we don’t think of detention centers as places where art is/can be created, what is it like to see poetry entering these new spaces?

HB: I was most surprised by how not surprised they were. Most people have a favorite poem they’ve heard or written. I don’t really bring them an appreciation for poetry, I bring them a practice of poetry when I workshop with them. It has to start with an enjoyable experience, before we get to picking someone’s vulnerability apart. We don’t want them writing scared, or they won’t write at all. I write because I am scared to stop writing. I’m always trying to get my workshop participants to that state of frenzy.

It’s not new inside. Inside are some of our brightest minds and most disciplined artists/writers. It’s the whole “nothing but time” thing. But the aspect of performance, and human connectivity through poetry is what is sorely needed “inside.” Especially in a place where human “touch” is frowned upon, even penalized, it is hard to create moments of connectivity, but the practice of not just writing, but sharing poetry in a correctional facility is like a hole being torn through the roof … there is an illumination that happens from within the darkest, windowless cell blocks once these men and women feel they are being heard and seen. For some, it is the first time they’ve ever been heard or seen. It’s way bigger than poetry.

BMR: You’re acting in the upcoming performance of To Kill A Mockingbird, produced by Albuquerque Little Theatre. Will you speak to why you feel Harper Lee’s work resonates today, fifty years since it’s publication?

HB: The hardest part of being on trial in this play is that black men still go to trial for the crime of being Black in society today. That “real” factor, makes this piece of literature not just historical, but very present. But let’s be optimistic, and say we overcome the “race problem,” as Frederick Douglass once called it, we will still let fear drive our politics and our courts. It’s what makes cartoons/comic strips such as the X-men so relevant over the years as well, because it speaks to human nature, and our inherent fear of the other, and our need to reinforce power and privilege….our need to always create an “us” vs. “them.” Science fiction authors have even created work on the cyclical nature in which we will undoubtedly treat our first visitors from outer space…how they will be different, and we will be afraid, and god forbid they love a human…they’ll be on trial just like Tom Robinson.

BMR: Your collection of poems, Swear, was published last year by West End Press. It reads as a sweeping confrontation of what is ailing the country and our internal worlds. What do you feel is most responsible for the volume’s success?

HB: Albuquerque is most responsible for its success. The way Albuquerque has showed up and showed out to support me leaving my 9 to 5, and doing what folks believe I am born to be doing…they show that support by buying my book, and paying to show up at my gigs…in that way, they are saying (with their dollars) this is what you should be doing and because WE believe you should be doing it, we are going to make sure you succeed at it…even if we have to buy five books a piece and give them away as Christmas gifts. That is humbling, humbling that I could write something that connects people, if only connecting them to me. West End Press has said it is their fastest selling book to date, so I am very happy that it’s been able to show some positive return to those that believed in and took a risk on me.

Rosanna Cordova is pursing degrees in English and Psychology at UNM. She and her significant other are avid cyclists and participate in fundraising for the MS Society. She’d love to have her very own penguin. Currently she has a rescue dog and a kitten named Pema. Her life is full of verbs.