Monday, November 5, 2012


What are we looking for in the poetry we read, write, and listen to?  Literary stimulation, solace, self-expression, community?  On the page, the computer screen, face to face?  Some combination of the above?   These are the questions that rose to the surface as I interviewed Billy Brown, poet, organizer of monthly Fixed and Free poetry readings, and one of four editors of Fixed and Free:  poetry anthology 2011, published by Mercury HeartLink in 2012.  The book is a finalist in the anthology category of the New Mexico Book Awards to be announced on November 16th.    

Before turning to the book and how it came into being, I’d like to introduce the Albuquerque, New Mexico poetry scene and Billy Brown’s role it.  I met Billy Brown early in 2012 when I came to Albuquerque to explore the possibility of relocating here.  Albuquerque generously welcomes and supports poets.   Billy Brown is an especially friendly and welcoming representative of the Albuquerque poetry scene. There are a number of monthly poetry readings at various venues and I quickly found my way to several of them.  The first venue I attended was Fixed and Free, which was begun by Billy Brown in 2008 to fill the vacuum created by the demise of a previous Albuquerque venue. 

Billy avoided poetry until later in life, having had a not unusual and discouraging experience with a high school English teacher.  Actually, he is a bit of a renaissance man.  A retired math professor and INTEL employee, he now teaches several statistic courses at the University of New Mexico; tutors math students, sings in several local vocal groups; runs a baking and catering business; coaches high school speech/debate teams; is active in community theater; and, finally, organizes the monthly Fixed and Free readings with featured poets and an open mike,as well as a quarterly Poetry Open House in his home.

In 1996, after his 18 year old daughter, Elizabeth, was killed in a motor vehicle accident, Billy found himself writing poems to express his grief.  He shared these with others in the grief groups he attended and he began reading other poetry.  His morning ritual still includes reading poetry:  in anthologies as well as some on line services such as Panhala  ( and Poetry Daily (  His favorite poets are Mary Oliver and Pablo Neruda.   About four to five years after his daughter’s death, he was ready to move beyond grief groups and grief poetry, though he continued his coaching and theater work as a way of honoring his debater/actress daughter’s memory.   His need for self-expression led him to community poetry venues.  His devotion to helping others express themselves eventually motivated his creation of Fixed and Free readings.

As it happens, on a friend’s recommendation, I had just finished Gregory Orr’s book of essays, Poetry As Survival about the time I decided to review the Fixed and Free anthology and interview Billy Brown.   Interestingly, Billy Brown shares Orr’s premise that poetry is an important form of therapy for the initiated and uninitiated alike.  This belief has driven his devotion to the Fixed and Free community since the monthly readings began in an Albuquerque bike shop by the same name. The parallel between fixed and free traditions in bicycling and poetry is reflected in the publisher’s cover design of the book.  Eventually, the community found an affordable, venue where it has regularly met for several years.  

The process by which the anthology came into being is very interesting.   After a few years, a number of regular readers encouraged Billy to consider creating an anthology to showcase the community’s writing.   In the end, the anthology was edited by three local poets, including Billy.  Stewart S. Warren, an area poet and publisher, handled production and publication details.   

The book consists of seventy-nine poems by the same number of poets.   Only regular participants in the Fixed and Free community could contribute—a requirement which increased attendance at the monthly readings.  Each poet submitted three poems.  Since the editors were committed to publishing a poem by each poet, an editor coached those whose work needed some fine tuning.  Editors individually rated all submissions.  The rankings and final choices were hashed out in committee meetings.  According to Billy, the process evolved organically but, if you are considering editing an anthology he recommends that you be as conscious as possible about your process and choices.  A single editor can be more efficient but when the inevitable overload and procrastination weighs in, it can be good to have several editors to create a sense of accountability and keep the process moving.  On the other hand, a team of editors will likely run into inevitable relationship issue and challenges in the process.  

After publishing the Fixed and Free community anthology and organizing monthly readings and quarterly open houses for five years, Billy is pondering how to decrease his involvement in sustaining the group’s gatherings in a way that can keep it alive in the community.  Whatever the final resolution to this challenge, Billy has made a noteworthy contribution to Albuquerque’s poetry community and the broader body of published poetry.    


Caroline LeBlanc turned her energies toward making art and writing after thirty-seven years as a Nurse Psychotherapist.  In September she relocated from Northern New York to Albuquerque, New Mexico where she enjoys the regular sunshine and the rich cultural community.  Her chapbook, Smoky Ink and a Touch of Honeysuckle was published in 2010.  Recent work can be found in War, Literature & the Arts and The Louisville Review.  A former Army Nurse, she continues to lead writing groups for active duty military, veterans and their family members and looks forward to having more time for her own writing and studio work once her home is set up and Lola, her rescue puppy settles down. 

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