By Jonathan Baca, Copy Editor
Don McIver understands the power of words, and as a part-time SAGE and English instructor as well as a Learning Center Supervisor, he shares his love of language with his students.
In his free time, he has been a vital part of Albuquerque’s poetry scene, as an award winning poet, editor, host and member of the Albuquerque slam poetry team, and on top of all that he is a host and producer of KUNM’s Spoken Word Hour.
“People still need to express themselves. If it’s about recreating or processing your lived experience, and sharing your words and your perspective, then poetry is extremely healthy and a great thing,” McIver said.
McIver has been published in several anthologies, and has published several books of his poetry, including The Noisy Pen. He was also the editor of A Bigger Boat: The Unlikely Success of the Albuquerque Poetry Slam Scene, a book that chronicles the rise of the slam poetry scene in Burque; a scene that has given birth to a few national slam champions.
In 2005, Albuquerque hosted the National Poetry Slam, and McIver said he helped to organize the event.
Albuquerque’s team won first place that year, beating 74 other teams consisting of 350 poets, he said.
“It was a lot of fun,” McIver said.
Slam poetry is a very energetic, performance-based form of poetry that started in Chicago in the 80’s, as a response to the dull, sometimes self-indulgent poetry readings that were going on at the time, McIver said.
At slam events, poets are given scores by members of the audience, and at the end of the night, a winner is declared, something that never existed in poetry before, he said.
“I think the difference is that slam poetry, or performance poetry, is meant to be heard. It’s designed to be listened to. Other poetry, you may read it out loud, but really it exists on the page,” McIver said.
Traditional poetry can be better suited to writing poems with multiple interpretations and complex meanings, and can therefore be harder to grasp when read out loud.
Slam poetry, on the other hand, is typically simpler, with strong messages that can be expressed more directly to an audience.
“They can certainly wrestle with complex issues, but if the audience doesn’t walk away with something they are going to be lost,” McIver said.
When McIver arrived in Albuquerque in the late 90s, there was already a vibrant slam scene, he said. Before that, McIver said he had drifted away from reading his poetry to audiences.
“I was writing but I didn’t have any way to share it. I didn’t really know what to do with it,” he said.
McIver quickly joined the poetry community here, doing readings at Winning’s Coffee, Poetry and Beer events, and eventually hosting regular events at the now closed Blue Dragon Coffee House, he said.
“I had never been an actor, never got up on stage or performed before, so I had to kind of learn it myself,” McIver said.
In 2002, McIver helped form that year’s ABQ Slam Team, and went on to compete at the national level, he said.
“When I started doing slams, I wanted to be the rock star poet. I wanted to read in front of really huge audiences,” McIver said.
Albuquerque’s slam teams have since gone on to place highly at several national events, and many local poets are now recognized around the country, according to dukecityfix.com.
Being part of a community of writers is important, McIver said, because the inspiration, feedback and encouragement one gets as part of a community can make a big difference in whether a poet sticks with it or gives up.
“What I learned is that it is much easier to be a writer when you are part of a community,” McIver said.
Since then, McIver has had his poems published in several anthologies and all over the internet, and he continues to write poetry and essays, he said.
He has also written several novels, but none were ever published, which he said was discouraging at the time.
“I almost wanted to give up at that point and say ‘maybe I’m just not a writer.’ But it just doesn’t go away,” McIver said.
McIver said his attitude about getting his work published has changed a lot since he was younger, and that today he really writes for himself and for the community of local writers that he is a part of.
Since he began teaching here in 2009, he has found a new calling, sharing his passion for language with his students, he said.
“For me, I like my job here at CNM, and I like teaching. I like getting my work out there, but I don’t need it to pay my bills,” McIver said.
For more information about Don McIver, and to read more of his poems, visit his website at donmciver. blogspot.com, called Confessions of a Human Nerve Ending.
Watermelon ManBy Don McIver
Herbie Hancock said he lifted the rhythm from listening,
listening to the rickety wheels on the watermelon carts
on the hot summer streets of Chicago.
I’ll take his word for it
and say it became the soundtrack to a late summer morning dancing session.
Coffee cup in hand, the nip, finally, of Fall in the air.
A fridge full of homemade salsa, tomatoes plucked the day before.
The one lone pepper still clings from the plant as it did back in June.
We assume it is dancing too–and why wouldn’t it?
Early morning Hancock makes the long, hot summer disappear,
the tomatoes ripen,
and fresh basil swing and snap.
Everything goes better with coffee and jazz,
and summer’s over in New Mexico.