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Award-winning poet and UNM alumnus returns for poetry reading

 

On Thursday, Feb. 16, award-winning poet Jake Skeets visited the University of New Mexico, his alma mater, for a poetry reading from his book “Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers” at George Pearl Hall. Skeets read five poems: three from his book collection and two unpublished works. Throughout the event, he explained the significance and background of each poem. The event was followed by a Q&A session and book signing.

On Friday, Feb. 17, Skeets led a poetry master class in Dane Smith Hall, which was open to all UNM students, faculty, staff and the general public, free of charge.

“Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers,” published in 2019, focuses on Skeets’ hometown of Gallup, New Mexico. Skeets said the town’s importance to his poetry goes back to Gallup’s nicknames: “The Indian capital of the world” and “Drunk Town USA.” Such narratives molded his experiences growing up which inspired most of the poetry pieces in his book.

In his writing, Skeets calls out the alcoholism issues that surround Gallup as well as deep rooted racism and border-town violence, things that gave him conflicted feelings about his hometown.

“It's about what does it mean to love a city that doesn’t necessarily love you back? And it's also about learning about desire and learning about your body, because it's also sort of moving into queer politics and sexualities. And in that sort of coming-of-age sort of way, of the speaker learning how to be themselves,” Skeets said.

His work in “Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers” and other pieces were awarded publications by the National Poetry Series, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, the American Book Award and the Whiting Award.

“Poetry has often felt very familiar to me, even in its unfamiliarity. I think we think of poetry as this sort of strange genre, this very weird and oftentimes abstract way of communication. But for me, I felt like that's always been the kind of mode that I see the rest of the world,” Skeets said.

This was the second time Skeets had been invited to present his work at UNM since he won these awards back in 2019, according to Gregory Martin, director of the creative writing program at UNM. The department had intended to invite Skeets back earlier, but it hadn’t been possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve been a fan for quite a while and I’ve been following his work …. He was one of the people that I really wanted to bring back,” Martin said. “I wanted to bring him and share him with all of our students so they could see someone from our community (that) just turned into a rock star.” 

Martin described Skeets' work as lyric and place-based and, “it’s also about struggle and suffering, and trying to figure out what to do with that struggle and suffering and pain and transform it into something beautiful.”

Gwyneth Henke, a fiction student in the master of fine arts program, said she was excited to have a poet like Skeets come to UNM; her class had been reading Skeets' poetry right before his visit to the University.

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“(Skeets’ poetry is) so amazing. It reminds you of all the beautiful things poetry can do in the world, and I feel so lucky to see someone who’s so rooted in UNM, (who’s) been influenced by their time here looking to, as he says, beautiful horizons,” Henke said. 

Skeets said he was really happy to be back at UNM and was grateful for Martin and Leo Williams, an MFA student in the creative nonfiction program, for their invitation.

“I feel like I'm in a good part of my career. That could be an example for the undergraduates and graduates that this is a possibility for them … I think it was really beneficial for all of us. I'm grateful. I'm grateful to be here and to come visit,” Skeets said.

Skeets is currently working on three more books: a collection of poetry, a collection of essays titled “The Memory Fill” and a novel which takes place in the 1980s during the Peter McDonald administration for the Navajo Nation. He hopes to have all three works published by 2025.

Annya Loya is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @annyaloya

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