Guest Post: On the Road as Poet Laureate

By Dana Gioia, California Poet Laureate

Being California Poet Laureate is an exciting experience, but it is also a humbling one. Our state is so big, populous, and diverse that it is more than any poet can handle. Since jumping into the job nine months ago, I have done 40 public events across 20 counties, and I feel as if I have hardly begun.

My goal as Poet Laureate has been to serve the entire state. But how does anyone do that? I decided that one relatively objective measure for reaching the whole state would be to visit every county—all 58 of them. One retired politician gave me some practical advice, “Don’t do it,” he said. “Once you get started, you’ll realize it’s impossible.” Never tell a poet not to do something. It makes the idea irresistible.

It probably would be impossible to visit all 58 counties if I didn’t have such active partners from the California Arts Council, the California Center for the Book, and the California State Library. They have helped me connect with people and communities I could never have reached on my own. Working together, we are now starting to fill up the intimidatingly large map of California counties.

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View the latest map on the new Poet Laureate website: www.capoetlaureate.net.

These early events have taught me some important things about realizing the potential of my unusual public office. The best plan is not just to visit every county in California; it is to create a literary event in each place that has a local element. A poetry reading is good, but group event is even better since it serves as a catalyst for the local cultural scene. So everywhere I go now, I try to find local partners.

One obvious form of partnership has been to present the local county champion or champions for Poetry Out Loud as part of the program. These kids worked hard to develop their winning recitations. I love having them perform alongside me, though they often steal the show. (Featuring the students also recognizes the valuable work of the local county art councils.)

I’m also trying to involve the county poets laureates. Their participation lets my visit become a mini-poetry festival as in Lake County where I appeared with four past and present local laureates.

Of course, there are many other ways to involve local writers, musicians, and artists. My statewide tour is just getting started. There are 38 counties to go—before I turn around and start again. I hope to meet you along the way.

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Dana Gioia with former and current Lake County Poets Laureates Casey Carner, Russell Gonzaga, Julie Adams, and Elaine Watt. July 6, 2016.
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Dana Gioia with students from the Get Lit after school program at the LA Times Festival of Books. April 9, 2016.

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DANA GIOIA is California’s new state Poet Laureate. Appointed by Governor Jerry Brown in December, 2015, Gioia serves as the state advocate for poetry and literature in libraries, classrooms and boardrooms across California. An award-winning poet, Gioia is the author of Can Poetry Matter?, which is credited for helping revive poetry’s role in American public life. He is also the former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts where he championed arts education. As state laureate, Gioia will work to inspire a new generation of writers and celebrate California’s great literary legacy. www.capoetlaureate.net

7 thoughts on “Guest Post: On the Road as Poet Laureate

  1. What can we do to get you to visit Tehachapi, Ca schools?
    I belong to two different 501 c 3 organizations that and have contacts with many others that would be willing to make this happen.
    Perhaps a poetry fest? That would take a bit of long range planning.
    I am a founder of the Arts, Science and Technology Educational Corporation of Tehachapi and also a member of the Tehachapi Community Theatre.
    Nick Altieri
    nick.altieri55@gmail.com

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  2. Here is a little update:

    I have now visited 24 counties with about 50 separate events. On Thursday I visit Bakersfield in Kern County where poets Marit MacArthur and Matt Woodman will host me at the CSU-Bakersfield Library. It’s a 225 mile round trip, but I’m excited to visit Kern County again.

    A week ago I drove up to San Luis Obispo where Kevin Patrick Sullivan, a vivacious one-man poetry movement, hosted me as part of their town poetry festival at the public library. We had a packed crowd because Sullivan has nurtured a local audience for poetry over the past twenty years. It was a warm, supportive, artistically engaged group. The county Poetry Out Loud champion Sarah Mosichuk, who is now a freshman at Cal Poly majoring in English, recited three poems with captivating power. She is going to be a life-changing teacher. Librarian Kay Rader was a terrific host.

    The next day I drove down to Irvine in Orange County where we did a different kind of event–a mixture of poetry in English and Vietnamese.
    Musician Tina Huynh introduced the event and later played a Vietnamese folk song about lost love on the flute. I read with poet Duc Le. He also read translations of my poetry into English, and I read his poetry in English. We held the reading at the charming Katie Wheeler Library, which was once an avocado ranch. Librarian Richard Serrato was our host, and he managed to keep finding extra chairs for the larger than expected audience. There were even a few rows of avocados trees still standing near the parking lot.

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  3. Edward Mycue

    FISHBOWL

    Fish pass each other in the streets, drifting as an abstract creative force.

    Art will save nothing, absolutely. The soul of a family?

    In silence sculling up rivers, fathoming diversions, plowing a state of mind (which
    will not count the hours)

    hideous black pearls appear wallowing in a round bowl — as eyes bulging in the head of a tattered man my father greatly admires, but his silent anger is alarming.

    We live together there all of us, constantly quarreling. Patience. Art will save nothing.

    In our glass prison we build splendid nests.

    © copyright Edward Mycue

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  4. Edward Mycue

    Word Kittens Are Echoing

    By now so many movements and -isms
    Have blown through my word kitchen
    That the kitten in my mind’s corner,
    In the basket under the old gas stove,
    Is bouncing from surreal- to symbolism.
    Now the post avant-garde is a canker.
    Maybe I mean a cantankerous jungle-
    Jangler with yens for villanelles and rime
    Or maybe rondos with deep koans inside.

    Once I had a dream that I’d memorized
    A lot of sacred books from the Koran,
    Bible, old & new, the Book of the Dead,
    Kalevala, I Ching (if it might be a sacred book)
    It all came to seem like hitting speed-bumps
    smelling of some other pheromone breakdown.
    Life is a riddle leaving paw-prints on parchment.
    © copyright Edward Mycue

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  5. Edward Mycue

    Swell to hear of all the getting out and around. Hope you can do it again to see what has happened since your were at each location the first visit and many missed the first one, I believe and will be pleased at a second chance to hear what folks in the rest of the counties are doing, have done, and plan to do.

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    1. I’ll start revisiting counties extensively as soon as I get most of new ones covered, though I may try to visit different cities or places in the county. The important thing is to keep moving forward to fill in the map.

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