The Zuni Mountain Poets is a group of practicing poets that meets at the Inscription Rock Trading Post and Coffee Company on Sunday mornings throughout the year. Jack Carter North is the unofficial leader and in many ways his spirit defines the group. Unlike the Iowa Writer’s Workshop or other famous, and not so famous, writing programs, the Zuni Mountain poets practice a teaching style that can best be described by a phrase that Verna Fowler, who founded College of the Menominee Nation with me, gave me a long time ago: “If you strengthen a strength, you weaken a weakness.” Negative criticisms are outlawed and only discussions about a poem’s strengths are allowed. This is Jack’s insight, and the results of this practice are wonderful.
There is not much room during the winter months at the Trading Post. The poets meet in the loft where John and Pam sell used books. Poets nestle into too small a space around a round table in the center, ignoring the huge stuffed bear in the corner and the talk coming from the coffee bar below, and, one after another, read one poem from their week’s work. During the Spring, Summer, and Fall months, when the wind is not howling, we sit outside beneath umbrellas and round patio tables beside a garden that meanders from corn stalks to sunflowers to wildflowers from year to year.
Newcomers are often more “I am a poet!” poets rather than poets of the caliber that gather in the loft or the flagstone patio, but if they do not give up and keep coming week after week, their poetry gets better and better until they find their own voice and sing with the power that the older poet’s have wrapped into their individual spirits. The poetry that flows on Sunday after Sunday rivals that of any poetry being written anywhere at any time.
New Mexico’s glory is that it is a place where sunshine spirits into the eyes of human beings. It is where poetry is blazed into the sandstone of pink, yellow, and brown cliffs that soar into a late summer sky—where the frenzy of black spiders in the fall turn the world into a song of movement. It is this fire that laps outside of the Inscription Rock Trading Post and Coffee Company that comes inside and then trails the poets’ home, and through their daily lives, week after week.
With Creation’s Grace
The poets gather at Inscription Rock’s
small trading post for morning coffee, tea.
Their voices conjure words that stir and flock
into a song that grows a symphony.
Inside the loft each poet brings their gifts
and speaks them to the other singers there,
and with creation’s grace each poet lifts
each given spirit up into a snare
of criticism born of generosity
that rumbles deep inside the spirit’s song
and germinates a creativity
that makes the person in the poet strong.
I sit inside the music of the words
and feel how inspiration’s fires are stirred.