By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – May 22, 2017) — Albuquerque is known for several notable things. Probably the most popular is the hit TV series Breaking Bad, filmed and based in the city. Then there’s the International Balloon Festival, the most photographed event in the US. The largest Flamenco Festival in the United States calls Albuquerque home. We have the Sandia Peak Tramway, the longest areal tram in the US. Additionally, Albuquerque is the childhood home of the lead singer, Jim Morrison, and the birth city of several notable performers including Neil Patrick Harris and Demi Lovato. Albuquerque has Old Town, Route 66, the Rio Grande River, and the Sandia Mountains…the list goes on.
Yet when most people think of Albuquerque they usually don’t consider the “Three Sisters,” volcanoes on the west side of town.
The phrase “Three sisters” is a little misleading, however. There are actually five cinder volcanoes, all dormant, but not extinct, dotting the west side of the city. The volcanoes are part of the Rio Grande Rift Valley and last erupted roughly 150,000 years ago. The names of the three largest volcanoes are simple enough, “Black,” “Vulcan,” and “JA.” The two smaller volcanoes are named “Butte” and “Bond.” The volcanoes are part of the Petroglyph’s National Monument, seventeen miles of open mesas, volcanic rock, petroglyph art (ancient Native art), and unique wildlife .
I know the Monument well as I live at its base. I walk the Petroglyphs weekly, and the volcanoes up the mesa are a daily reminder of the power and past of the region. I have my favorite petroglyph artwork (one I call the “Dancing Man”) and revel in seeing coyotes, roadrunners, quail, rabbits, centipedes, snakes, and the occasional tarantulas along its path. The Petroglyph’s National Monument is one of the reasons I elected to live on the west side of Albuquerque, providing history, culture, and stark, natural beauty.
So when I met poet, Jules Nyquist — whose book Behind the Volcanoes, a 2014 New Mexico/Arizona Book Finalist — at the first annual Poet’s Picnic at the Open Space Center, I knew I needed to purchase the book .
Jules was working the Beatlick Press poetry table . She gave me a quick rundown of the books and informed me about the Poetry Playhouse in downtown Albuquerque . I’ve heard of Nyquist though never met her or heard one of her poetry readings. I was aware she has become a recent staple of poetry gatherings in Albuquerque, along with former Poet Laureate’s Hakim Bellamy and Jessica Helen Lopez.
According to her website, “Jules earned her MFA in Writing & Literature (Poetry) from Bennington College in Vermont, January, 2007. She took a B.A. in Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, MN.”
And as the founder of the Poetry Playhouse in Albuquerque, Nyquist “hosts visiting poets and conducts workshops on poetry, creative writing and the creative process.”
Prior to her relocation to Albuquerque, “Jules was Program Associate for Education at the Loft Literary Center in the Open Book building in Minneapolis and hosted the Loft’s ‘Local-Motion’ reading series. She was cohost of Minneapolis’ KFAI “Write On Radio” from 2000 to 2011 where she interviewed hundreds of local, national and international writers live on the air.”
Jules informed me that she moved to New Mexico six years ago and spends most of her time writing, teaching, and promoting poetry. As someone who’s had a life-long love of poetry, I was all for her chosen vocation.
When I got home I opened the book to read. I quickly recognized the book is more than a muse on the influence of the volcanoes (it is that), but a metaphor on life and death. I understand why poet and artist Marilyn Stablein called it “memorable and haunting.”
In five sections, Behind the Volcanoes touches upon themes of love, loss, and place, with historical and political references sprinkled throughout. There’s a poem about the death of a friend — what appears to be a Pastor of a Methodist Church — through suicide (Resurrection is not an Instant Thing); a poem about the Minneapolis 1-35 bridge collapse (Bridges are for Jumping Off, Not Falling); and various references to family, friends, and cities found within the 51 poems represented in the book. As an example, the poem Horizons is dedicated to Nyquist’s grandmother who was murdered by her grandfather, a sad case of domestic violence. Or the poem, Cipriana Jurado I Hear You, which is about the murdered women in Cindad Juarez, Mexico. But lurching underneath all the poems is the volcanoes, a metaphor of meaning: desolation meets delight. Each section begins with a photograph of the volcanoes and commences with wonderfully wrought verse.
I suppose the opening poem — the namesake of the book — describes it best:
Behind the volcanoes
there are grassy knolls
and dark emeralds .
This is exactly what you find in Behind the Volcanoes: “grassy knolls” (beautiful imagery and memories carved out in skilled verse) with “dark emeralds” (death and despair with a glimmer of hope).
The etymology of the word emerald is taken from an old French word esmeraude, meaning a “green gem.” I think the phrase describes the book well; it is a gem. But just as important, the word describes the volcanoes and the Petroglyphs National Monument: a gem of the Albuquerque region — precious stones that have been cut, polished, and engraved.
I’m glad God’s finger — through nature — carved and cut the volcanoes, as I’m pleased that Nyquist cut and polished the words that are engraved in Behind the Volcanoes.
Both are verse made of volcanoes.
2) The Open Space is a beautiful reserve off the Rio Grande River, about four miles away from the volcanoes: https://www.cabq.gov/parksandrecreation/open-space/open-space-visitor-center
5) Behind the Volcanoes, page 1.
Photo captions: 1) Poet, Jules Nyquist. 2) Petroglyphs National Monument (Photo credit: Chris Corrie). 3) Behind the Volcanoes by Jules Nyquist. 4) Brian Nixon with ANS Founder, Dan Wooding, as they visit the Petroglyph’s National Monument.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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