Jim Sagel,

poeta nuevomexicano

Unexpected Turn

Pass with Care, the sign cautions, but you need no

reminding as you pass a butte brooding over stego-

saurus hills. You know that the next turn promises

the unexpected – a Ponderosa laid open by light-

ning, a herd of cattle sleek as a Brahman vision,

a lake tremulous with trout. This is a land where

the sky intoxicates the eye, and history gossips in

the willows lining the great river. It’s the lost roads

that lead to desert gardens; you miss your turn and

end up finding your way.

You turn your eyes to the ridge above the pueblo

and gaze at the deer dancers descending in the icy

dawn. You turn on the dance floor in your lover’s

arms, as the musicos play the valses their grand-

fathers learned from their grandfathers. You turn

a hoe over in the mud to make the adobes for the

home you are already plastering in your dreams.

You turn your head just long enough for the abuelo,

the grotesque and guffawing trickster, to steal your

hat, leaving you to squint at the Matachines dancing

their masked ritual. You turn over in your hands the

santo that has emerged from the root of a cotton-

wood tree; you trace the water serpent coiled around

a pot burnished black as an unbroken memory.

Once you have known this land, you will always

turn back. Like the exiled poet who could sense

his lover combing her hair from a thousand miles

away, you will always hear the drum pounding in

your pulse, the Llorona weeping in your inner ear,

the cranes flapping their wings alongside the river in

your blood. Once you have taken the unexpected

turn, you will never again pass without caring.

Sagel, Jim. “Unexpected Turn.” Unexpected Turn. University of New Mexico Press, 1997. 1-2.

Teatro Paraguas will present Jim Sagel,poeta nuevomexicano, a tribute to northern New Mexico’s beloved poet, author and teacher, beginning Sunday, December 5 at the Convento on the Plaza in Española. Performances will also take place in Albuquerque at the National Hispanic Cultural Center and in Santa Fe at the Teatro Paraguas Studio.

Under the direction of Crawford MacCallum, four actors—Rosalia Triana, Paola Vengoechea, Mario Moreno, and Argos MacCallum—will perform selections from Sagel’s fifteen books of poetry and short stories written in Spanish, English and Spanglish.

Sagel was born in 1947 in Fort Morgan, Colorado. His grandparents on both sides were immigrants from the same village in Czarist Russia. In 1970 he graduated form the University of Colorado at Boulder with a B.A. in English, and found himself drawn to northern New Mexico. He settled in Española and began his long career in education as a substitute teacher at Española Valley High School. He married Teresa Archuleta, a weaver, built an adobe house with the help of his father-in-law, Jacobo Archuleta, and learned Spanish. In 1976 he earned a Masters degree in creative writing from UNM. He began teaching at Northern New Mexico Community College, the Institute of American Indian Art, and at various UNM campuses in northern New Mexico. He was appointed director of the Division of Humanities at UNM- Los Alamos, a post he held until his untimely death (by suicide) in 1998.

Sagel mastered Spanish, as well as the vibrant street language of Española, Spanglish. Chicano literary critics Donaldo Urioste and Francisco Lomelí coined the term chicanesque to recognize Sagel’s contribution to Chicano literature. The term is now applied to non-Chicano authors who write sympathetically about Hispanic and Chicano culture.

In 1981 Sagel became the second U.S. citizen to win Cuba’s prestigious Premio Casa de las Americas award (equivalent of the Pulitzer prize) for his Spanish-language collection of short stories entitled Tunomás Honey, which remains his best-known book.

Jim Sagel, poeta nuevomexicano is the latest in Teatro Paraguas’ series of tributes to Hispanic and Latino poets, including Pablo Neruda, Miguel Hernandez, Violeta Parra, and Gabriela Mistral. The project is co-sponsored by the Spanish Resource Center and the National Hispanic Cultural Center, and is made possible in part by the Witter Bynnner Foundation for Poetry, New Mexico Arts, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

A video of Sagel’s 1997 commencement address at UNM-Los Alamos will be screened at each of the performances. English translations of the selections in Spanish will also be projected.

Jim Sagel,poeta nuevomexicanois scheduled for ONE PERFORMANCE ONLY in Española on Sunday, December 5 at 2:00 p.m. at the Convento on the Plaza. The performance is sponsored by the MelPatch ArtSpace and the Española Public Library.

Admission is "pay-what-you-wish."

Performances at the Wells Fargo Theater at the National Hispanic Cultural Center are free and will take place Saturday, December 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 12 at 2:00 p.m.

Performances at Teatro Paraguas Studio, 3221 Richards Lane, Santa Fe, will be held on Saturday, December 18 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 19 at 2:00 p.m. Donations of $10 will be gratefully accepted (no one will be turned away).

For further information and reservations please call 505-424-1601