Cabeza de Vaca: Peter Rabbit’s Taos Legacy


Peter Douthit who was better known as Peter Rabbit

And his life partner poet Anne McNaughton, had a huge impact and influence on modern American poetry, especially what came to be known as Poetry Slams.

For decades, the Taos Poetry Circus brought internationally known poets to perform in New Mexico alongside New Mexico’s own  poets –Allen Ginsberg, Greg Corso, Patricia Smith, Sherman Alexie, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Saul Williams, Andrei Codrescu, Danny Solis, Amiri Baraka, Anne Waldman, Simon Ortiz, Demetria Martinez, Don McIver, Socorro Romo, Jim Carroll, Victor Hernandez Cruz, John Trudell and dozens more went into the ring to battle it out in the infamous World Poetry Bouts that drew thousands of visitors from all over the world, to Taos.

Peter and Anne met in Colorado before moving to Taos shortly thereafter. Here they settled along with all the other exiles from main street America, searching for an alternative to the mundane daily grind of urban life. Their kids grew up and went to school here; the same schools Anne taught in for decades. 

A fine poet herself, Anne MacNaughton has published her work in several anthologies and was a founding member of Lucid Performance.

Peter Rabbit Douthit, “ was the sly, joyful, sometimes caustic “Don King of Poetry” who gave the circus its special flavor as he flaunted his trademark red fez , raised glass and razor sharp wit.” Says Anne.

“And truly, “Rabbit” was the kind of man you don’t meet every day!” She told me laughing when we met for lunch recently.

“Peter  and the Poetry Circus will be remembered and celebrated with songs and poems and drinks and laughter, the way Rabbit wanted to be remembered,” she noted. 

“Just say I was a good poet,” were among his last words.

Peter Rabbit  performed poetry, published several chapbooks and was also a founding member of the jazz-poetry ensemble Luminous Animal. 

After founding SOMOS, the couple had gone on to expanding their literary vision and from 1982 through 2003, they worked tirelessly to bring poetry out of the chapbooks and anthologies (that were, like the political broadsides of the time, the only means of discovering new poets and critical thinkers outside of the mainstream media), and onto the stage.

The “Circus” is remembered fondly by those of us who witnessed and/or participated in it, and its legacy continues in our schools and with the annual Poetry Festival curated by James Nave, who like myself was once on the Board of the “Circus” along with Brigid Meier.

The best known of the Festival’s ongoing reading series was the WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP POETRY BOUT. This improvisational event featured the best poets in a competitive performance staged as a boxing match.

Billed as the “Main Event” of the Circus, it was presented in ten rounds, with a boxing ring, referee, bell, ring person and three judges whose scoring was patterned after the “Illinois Ten-Point Must System.”

Other events took place all over town in cafes, back rooms and bars during the weekend the “Circus” came to town, and to discover more about it, you can visit the Minor Heron link included below this post, for archived material and much more information.

What goes around comes around, and Anne has teamed up with her old friend Brigid Meier, to publish Peter’s last work, an epic poem that centers on the life of conquistador Álvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca.

The poem surprises the  reader with a new take on the indigenous source of conquistador Álvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca’s skill as a healer.  The tale is told through the voices of six characters, including that of the author himself. Filled with humor and aphorisms the book presents historic (and transcendent) information highly relevant to the present time. In fact, it could not be more timely.

Poet Peter Rabbit discovered (and uncovered) in writing about de Vaca, the missionary’s philosophy that put him at odds with the Spain Crown and the Holy Roman Empire. 

Informed by the poet’s personal relationship with the psychedelic gurus leading the underground drug revolution of the ’60s, as well as his own decades as a respected peyote road man along  with years developing a potent strain of cannabis indica that preceded Medical Marijuana by decades, the tale of de Vaca is spun from both factual and the imaginary threads. 

“Disquisition and dialogue, peroration and prayer.” Says Anne.  A lapsed Catholic and a dedicated mystic, Peter Rabbit devoted the last years of his life to completing this poem.

Tomorrow evening from 6p.m. -7:30p.m. Anne McNaughton returns to SOMOS to read from “Cabeza de Vaca: an epic poem.”

The book is published by Brigid Meier’s Crescent Press and you can pick up a copy at SOMOS tomorrow evening. The event is FREE  to the public. For more information please visit their site linked below along with others of interest.







Top photo of Peter Rabbit Rick Romancito/Taos News, 

Other images thanks to Anne. Photo of the book taken on my iphone