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B-Girls be present.
Past and future
. Dance up a revolution of record proportions.
— Hakim Bellamy, “Forty-Fives”
By Mike English
Poet laureates. Old white men. Robert Frost in a snowy field. Starched suits and ties. Women wordsmiths in tailored dresses, clutching podiums. Albuquerque’s new poet laureate breaks that mold — shatters it, really, then dances on the pieces.
Hakim Bellamy, 33, Philadelphia native and New Mexico resident since 2005, was recently selected to represent the Duke City as its first-ever official poet laureate. Bellamy’s two-year tenure started April 14.
It’s a development that lands Albuquerque in league with cities like Boston, San Francisco and even Santa Fe — all municipalities that recognize the cultural significance of poetry by naming a poet laureate. And it’s a title Bellamy accepts with humility, as well as the determination to serve his colleagues and community by doing all he can to raise the profile of poetry in the city over the next two years.
“I’m a poet in the service of Albuquerque now,” Bellamy said in a recent interview with Local iQ.
Most would say he’s been that ever since he arrived in town. Bellamy, who works a day job as the strategic communications director for the Media Literacy Project at Albuquerque Academy, is a two-time national champion in the poetry slam scene, and helped lead the Albuquerque Slam team to a national title in 2005. He regularly works with children and adults by conducting poetry workshops and presentations at schools and community organizations.
You’re just as likely to see Bellamy in front of a group of South Valley fourth graders, or promoting the work of a community-focused nonprofit via social media, as you are to see him on stage performing his own poetry. It’s an impressive combination: a dynamic, engaging performer and wordsmith who cares deeply for his adopted hometown and works for the well-being of others who live here.
“I love Hakim,” said Don McIver, longtime Albuquerque poet and member of the organizing committee for the Albuquerque Poet Laureate Program, the organization that chose Bellamy as poet laureate. “I find Hakim engaging, warm, willing to speak with conviction, yet diplomatic.”
What’s more, McIver said, Bellamy is a talented spinner of verses. “As a poet, he’s keenly in tune with rhythm and how the flow of the poem can help/hinder an audience’s interpretation of it,” McIver said. “As a performer, he’s got a great stage presence, is at ease and open.”
Bellamy said he got his literary, artistic and performance skills from an upbringing of “artistic militancy” provided by his parents Edward and Carlease, who pushed him to attend everything from tap and flute lessons to performances of The Nutcracker. The family’s collection of records (Gil Scott Heron, Sly and the Family Stone) and books opened a world of rhymes, sounds and ideas.
His first forays into word-craft were rhymes over beat tapes that he and friends shared back and forth. “That gave us a love for writing, a passion for language and voice,” he said. Then he saw Def Poetry Jam on HBO, and there were “these cats making it big time doing exactly what I do.” Bellamy’s path began to take shape.
When a girlfriend pushed him on stage one night to read his poetry at a Philadelphia event, the response from the audience was immediately positive. While he resisted the compliments, “At that point, I was like, maybe I could be a poet,” Bellamy said.
The girlfriend moved to Albuquerque, and he followed. Bellamy showed up at an Albuquerque Slam event at the Golden West Saloon one night in 2005, competed and won. Soon he was a key member of an Albuquerque Slam team that would win a national title. His path was set.
Now when Bellamy shows up at events around town, what he often hears is, “You’re the poet dude.” It’s a label he embraces, but as poet laureate, he wants to stimulate a discussion and raise the profile of poetry in Albuquerque. That’s his primary goal.
“I want to challenge notions about what poetry is and what a poet is,” Bellamy said. “Being the populist I am, I want more people in the game.”
Albuquerque Poet Laureate