Friday, January 28, 2011

Creative life cycles Two poets and their partners explore life's final frontiers

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — It could be said that the job of a poet is to offer fresh, creative insights on life and all its cycles.
That's a life mission for two Las Cruces-based poets, Wayne Crawford and "Beatlick" Joe Speer, who were each diagnosed last fall with pancreatic and liver cancer.
Both have praised their friends and partners. Speers, and his "life partner and soulmate of 22 years," poet Pamela Hirst and Crawford and his "creative and collaborative partner," singer-songwriter-poet and musician Randy Granger, have been explording life's final frontiers with courage, creativity, and sometimes enthusiastic dollops of wit and wisdom.
For each, the diagnosis was a surprise.
Crawford has been traveling to Houston regularly for treatment.
He said he has been working for a balance "between pain control and cognitive ability. I've lived pretty much an intellectual life and that's how I'm going out."
All the poets are on the move in this life. Crawford and Granger decided to downsize and moved from their Rio Grande riverfront home to a townhouse in Las Cruces this week.
Spees and Hirst have largely been based in Las Cruces in recent years, but also lived in Tennessee, helping Hirst's mother in the last days of her life, and have spent a lot of time on the road and house sitting for friends.
They've continued to distribute print and online versions of their poetry journal “Beatlick News” and until recently were taking part in poetry readings throughout the country. Currently, they are making their home base with friends in Albuquerque to be near Joe's doctors and friends, some of whom will join in a "pass-the-hat" benefit for Speers on Thursday at the Source month poetry reading in Northern New Mexico. Those who would like to send him cards or help him with medical costs can send a check to Beatlick Joe Speer, care of Malpais Review, .P.O. Box 339, Placitas, NM 87043.
"We saw another oncologist here in Albuquerque and with each doctor we receive less hope, less time. The Albuquerque doctor said that without treatment, from diagnosis to death is three months. I can hardly do the math. But let it suffice to say that Joe's decline is extremely rapid," Hirst said, who has sent regular bulletins lauding friends and hospice personnel.
 "This isn't cheerful or optimistic. I didn't know what to expect and I haven't expected things to go downhill so rapidly," Hirst said last week, bemoaning the impossibility of some travels on Joe's bucket list. "So many people are coming together to honor Joe, I know how loved he is. I am the lucky woman who got to live with him for 22 years."
Crawford has planned a more aggressive treatment program and said he tends to disregard time predictions.
When he was given 12 weeks to live and the chemotherapy was particularly rough, he thought about throwing in the towel. "But then, I get to the 11th week and decided to sign on for another 12 weeks."
Both have kept in close touch with friends and family through high-tech sources and said supporting messages and visits from friends have been a great comfort.
Speer, a New Mexico State University graduate, has enjoyed hearing from friends all over the world.
Among Crawford's recent contacts in one of his former journalism students who won a Pulitzer Prize in photography. Crawford holds a Ph.D. and attended Columbia College in Chicago and illinois State University. He has taught everything from English to journalism, on the high school and university level and edited the online poetry site Lunarosity.
In the meantime, life — and poetry — go on.
"Anyone can go online and post some thoughts on Joe," said Hirst, by entering "Beatlick Joe Speer" on Facebook.
His new book,"Backpack Trekker: A 60s Flashback," is ready to go.
"Five proofs of Joe's book are on the way," Hirst said. "Joe needs to have some wits about him to write the author's note for the book and to do his reviews for the next newsletter. I thought he was a lot better today, more alert and he is sitting up and holding court with many visitors. I am encouraged that he can get the book finished."
The book will soon be available at
"I pray Joe will live to hold his own book in his hand. I have edited 600 pages, worked 15 hours a day, all week. Next I am rebuilding to present all the wonderful responses Joe has received from around the country and the world,
Crawford recently collaborated on the title track of Granger's latest CD, "Pura Vida" (Pure Life) and is working on an anthology of his own poetry, "Dancing Skin," with Granger's help.
"Will I finish it? I hope so. The creative impulse is still there," Crawford said.
He described a rewarding Thanksgiving celebration with friends and family here and said he is looking forward to spending time with his two grown children and three grandchildren.
"I find poetry is less important than real people. I'd rather spend time with the people I care about," said Illinois native Crawford, who has been a guiding force in open mikes, poetry journals and Poetry Month celebrations here.
Speers said he is philosophical about the ways things turned and does not fear the future.
Crawford agrees. "I always wake up and believe today would be a good day. I'm optimistic and I'm not afraid. I've never felt resentful. There are some really good things in my life," he said.

S.Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450.

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