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Magic Realist 

Shaman poet Joaquin Lopez defies even the most cynical guy


BIDDEN: Joaquin Lopez is a servant to the force.

Although I'm not a particularly New Age-y guy, I've twice fallen under the spell of Sebastopol's shamanistic poet Joaquin Lopez. With his small group, PanGaia Arts Ensemble, which includes Sonoma-based musician René Jenkins, and at times Lopez's dancer wife, Amie, Joaquin has been inspiring audiences around Sonoma County for some time.

I first saw him at the Petaluma Art Center's El Día de Los Meurtos celebration in late October. He led a large audience onto the street outside, had us form a vast circle, asked us to bring our authentic selves to the evening and proceeded to connect us to the earth and heavens through a chanted ceremony with the help of poet Jabez Churchill and Jenkins' sublime playing on ancient wind instruments. I doubt if there were a handful of skeptics in the crowd of a hundred.

It was my first conversion experience, though I wasn't sure what I'd been converted to. I felt a need to see if what I'd experienced was real, so I checked out PanGaia's next performance, titled A Truth Be Told, at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts in November. Despite a more formal setting, Joaquin and his group captured me again.

A little later I made an appointment with Joaquin. I told him I wanted to write a profile of him, though my secret agenda may have been to find out what had happened to me the first couple of times in his presence.

Joaquin warmly welcomed me into the studio of his Sebastopol home. He asked if I minded his lighting some sage. After watching a thin coil of smoke rise for a moment, he offered a prayer and then invited me to do the same. I've never excelled at prayer on demand, but Joaquin's had come across so genuinely, I did my best to be real.

I was drawn to Joaquin's unique past and asked him to fill me in on his biography. He'd grown up in Alicante on Spain's Costa Blanca and came to the United States with a tennis scholarship to study at the University of Texas, Arlington. He later transferred to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where he was voted top student athlete.

After graduating, Joaquin returned to Europe and played professional tennis on a minor league tour. Although he was internationally ranked, there wasn't a whole lot of glory on this tour. Joaquin describes his five years driving from tournament to tournament in his VW bus as "subsistence tennis." The advantage he saw himself having over the star players was that rather than being handled and groomed, he was on his own, free to meet anybody he liked and to engage in a distinct quest that involved his curiosity about the wonders of the earth.

Joaquin eventually became a tennis pro at a German club, and met his future wife, Amie, an American dancer with a German company, at a sweat lodge.

The two returned together to the United States, where Joaquin graduated in 2002 from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto with a masters degree in counseling. He also has a masters in sports psychology from Spain's Institute of Maslow Cattell. Joaquin now works as a psychotherapist, with an emphasis on trauma resolution. He's also an associate coach with the men's tennis team at Sonoma State.

I ask Joaquin how the creative process works for him. "Poetry," he says, "begins when something moves me to a peculiar felt sense in my body and to a different state of consciousness. Poetry and words emerge out of that state. Then I bring this state and words to René and the musicians. With the added dimension of the music and the movement of my body, the poetry has a chance to take off."


Asked about the connection between shamanism and art, Joaquin says, "Our art is meant to awaken certain primal consciousness, a state of connection. Art to satisfy my narcissistic needs does not interest me. I am a servant to the force, to the earth."

You can experience the force of Joaquin Lopez when he reads on Sunday, March 29, at Maguire's Pub, 145 Kentucky St., Petaluma. 5pm. Free. 707.762.9800. You can also sample PanGaia's work at

Novelist Bart Schneider was the founding editor of 'Hungry Mind Review' and 'Speakeasy Magazine.' His latest novel is 'The Man in the Blizzard.' Lit Life is a biweekly feature. You can contact Bart at

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