Colorado Poets Center E-Words Issue #1

An Hour with Art

Bob King

I meet Art Goodtimes halfway between Ft.Collins where he’s been addressing a university group on land-use and Denver where he’s headed for a poetry reading. The self-described “Paleohippie” has been organizing Telluride’s Talking Gourds Festival for 18 years.

A believer in bardic poetry, “getting out of our rational mind and into our natural,” he was inspired by Dolores LaChapelle’s 1998 Sacred Land, Sacred Sex: Rapture of the Deep and her work as a deep ecologist. The gourd is a cultural symbol, he tells me, as well as a male and female symbol. In the “circle” a gourd is passed around; whoever holds it speaks from their heart whether it’s a poem, a song, or an observation.

The first “gathering” attracted over 60 performers with a full house of 250 for the Saturday Night Show, about the same number as the most recent festival except that there are now many more full- event paying attendees.

Held in April, the festival features formal poets, ensembles, spoken word performers, language and experimental poets and singers and musicians. It’s funded about half by ticket-revenue and half by the Telluride Commission for Arts and Special Events.

This year featured – to name only a few – the Denver National Slam Team All-stars, the Roc’em Soc’em hip-hop word trio, the Yoolgai Poetry Troupe from the Navajo Nation, Aaron Abeyta, Jack Mueller, Michael Adams, Mark Todd, and Steven Meyers, concluding with the final Talking Gourds circle. A full list of the performers may be found at http://coyotekiva,org/t-gourds.html.

The purpose for all of this activity, according to Art, is to bring people together both as a community and as a range of ages and attitudes toward art that can result in cross-fertilization. Bardic poetry, for Art, is an attempt to speak for the place, for those things that cannot speak such as water and plants and rocks, and, secondly, to speak for the tribe, those living in a culture. Each individual, he believes, needs to be stronger culturally as well as live in a society with a strong cultural component of music, dance, and the arts.

Art’s initial study to be a Roman Catholic priest contributed to his life as a social and cultural worker and he quotes Carlisle and Goethe alternately with Anne Waldman and Jerome Rothenberg. And ‘the community’ seems to be growing. In 2001 Jude Janett and Laurie James – Mike Adams now assists – started Salida’s annual “Sparrows” festival (“Stories, Poems and Relations Raise Our Winter Spirits”) as a showplace for performance poetry (  and Stewart Warren’s Festival of Imagination in Del Norte in September follows a similar vein (

Wendy Videlock, a friend and collaborator, says “Art Goodtimes is the fire that burns at the center of the Talking Gourds community. Many of us are profoundly grateful for his tireless efforts, passions, talents and his deep understanding of the world around us, the world within us, the soil, the spirit, the heart of the art.”

I’m exhausted from his energy when I arrive home and tell my wife I’ve actually been talking to Art Goodtimes. “Did you find out if that’s his real name?” she asked. I was embarrassed, but I had. Art’s last name in Italian is Bontempi, “good times” a normal English translation. “That’s the language we speak,” he’d said. “So, yeah, it’s my real name.”