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Levi Romero
Poet of Languages, Lowriders, and the People
by Bill Nevins

Northern New Mexico's centuries-old rural traditions, melded with rock' n' roll and the famous lowrider (lowcura) car culture of Espanola, constitute a sort of living poetry for Levi Romero, who grew up in the Embudo Valley town of Dixon. Romero's work celebrates those varied cultural strands. The centerpiece poem of his new volume, "A Poetry of Remembrance" (UNM Press 2008) is titled "Lowcura: An Introspective Virtual Cruise Through an American Subcultural Tradition". That wry, quasi-academic poem title suits Romero, a University of NM architecture and writing professor. His new book's mildly self-mocking title, "New and Rejected Works," also suggests the wit and disarmingly modest manner of this 48 year old author.

"...nostalgia gleams with the dull brilliance
of a chrome airplane on the rusted hood
of a '56 Chevy
..daydream's of walking bare foot
on the soft grass
down by the river
where dragonflies buzzed all day
have now decayed
like the fallen cottonwoods
along the gnarled paths
of the Rio Embudo
where free form poetry
mixed with cheap beer
on warm nights by the riverbanks
and stories of lowered '49 Fleetlines
with flame jobs and spinners
were cast into the dark wind..."
-Levi Romero
Romero explains that literary form and structure are among the lessons he absorbed during his boarding school years at Menaul Academy. "I read Robert Frost and the classics and, later, New Mexico writers like Rudolfo Anaya." Romero learned that a relaxed writing style, such as his own, may appear simple, "but it takes a lot of work to get it that way-to get the poetry to reflect the sort of conversation that may be the source of it." Citing the need for careful revision-and attention to such technicalities as rhyme, line breaks, enjambment, indentation-that he recommends to his students, Romero deftly links poetic craft and folk wisdom by laughing as he quotes a Nuevo Mexico Spanish proverb that translates roughly as "If you want hotcakes, you gotta get up in the morning and go to work!"

Stories, says Romero, are at the heart of his poetry and of the special shared culture of peace; what he calls "symbiotic coexistence" that is the hidden strength of New Mexico. "We want a good solid story that's gonna last a lifetime - a century," he declares, going on to explain that long-dead but revered people of the community (and their cultural contributions) live on in stories told and re-told, often by people born long after the subject's lifetime. Romero cites stories he's heard at a local barber shop about his own grandfather, a man who died in the 1940s and was famed for his truck full of fresh produce for sale and for his harmonica playing. "I plan to take a truck full of vegetables on a drive up there next summer and see if I can re-trace my grandfather's delivery route, maybe meet some of the people who remember him along the way," says Romero, himself a husband and father of two daughters, clearly anticipating the trip with joy and an eye towards future poems.

In "A Poetry of Remembrance" Romero touches on such diverse sources as his own mother's recollections, in the street chatter of low-riding vatos and in the music flowing from mountain streams and car radios alike - from Taos Plaza all the way to exotic Central Avenue, Albuquerque. He explains that the Hispano and Native American peoples have shared positive interactions for centuries, despite conflicts, and that this sharing contains a lesson for the world at large. He recalls seeing a roadside marker at the site where Indian and Spanish-speaking warriors fought side-by-side to the death against invading US troops in the 1840s. "These stories of a harmonious coexistence can be a model for other cultures in conflict," he says, explaining that his own mother learned the Tiwa language while working side by side in the fields with Natives, and passed the treasured memory of that human exchange on to her poet son. - Bill Nevins

Photo by Jeana Rodarte

"A Poetry of Remembrance" published by University Of New Mexico Press
Available via cdroots

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