Los Angeles seeks poet laureate? I’m skeptical, but feel free to apply.

My junior year of high school  I had the good fortune of a combination American literature and history class, with back to back time periods taught by two teachers and strategically coordinated curriculum. Both teachers introduced me to Carl Sandburg that year.

Sandburg was a poet and a historian, so we read his works out loud as performance poetry before tackling aspects of American history, drawing from Sandburg’s free verse as backdrop to studying Lincoln, the American Depression era, and other events of historical context tied to appreciating the diversity of the American landscape.

I just finished watching The Day Carl Sandburg Died. It originally aired last week on PBS American Masters commemorating the 45th anniversary of the writer’s death. Archival footage of the poet and  his family, mixed with other artists and historians highlight Sandburg’s extraordinary talent and interesting life. I highly recommend the 90-minute documentary which is currently on PBS stations.

And for me, it was interesting timing! I recently caught a brief radio mention of an open-call for candidate applications for the job of poet laureate for the City of Los Angeles.

Now as I recollect my classroom experience and introduction to Carl Sandburg, I remember forming  strong first impressions of Chicago, a city I had not visited. My imagination was also fueled  by vivid descriptions of the prairie. There are no prairies in California, but because of Sandburg’s words I knew what they looked like, felt like and even how they smelled.

I think the Mayor and City Council want some of that same attention for Los Angeles.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced plans to select a poet laureate to serve as “a cultural ambassador of the city.”  I don’t always like to reveal my skeptical side, but let’s just say I’m not feeling it. I’m just not sure what lasting images our Los Angeles poet laureate will be called upon to immortalize.

For now I’m keeping that question entirely rhetorical.

I was surprised to learn Los Angeles has a Poet Laureate Task Force. Not an “arts committee,” but a task force. That sounds like L.A., I’m afraid. A bit strident and aggressive. Certainly not very poetic. I think it was intended to give the impression that we mean business!

And after scouting around the web a bit I learned that the Department of Cultural Affairs, yes, we have one of those, too, is established  to “enhance the quality of life for Los Angeles’ 4 million residents and 26 million annual visitors.” Oh I do hope some poetry can improve our image. We could use a little help. And if at the same time my quality of life can be enhanced, then we have a win-win!

The position pays $10,000 a year, not a big salary, but he or she will only be “required to hold four public readings and appear at four schools.” That shouldn’t be too much of a burden.

Personally I think we should stick to what we do best. I don’t think Los Angeles inspires poetry, but we make movies all over the Los Angeles basin, and that’s a very fine art. Just the other day I drove by the filming of a Johnny Depp movie. “The Lone Ranger” is set to be released in 2013, but we came upon the green screen construction and a variety of railroad box cars dangerously positioned one on top of another as the filming gets underway. How it will all fit together we’ll just have to wait to see.

Depp is playing Native American Tonto, and The Lone Ranger will be played by Armie Hammer. Santa Anita Park Racetrack and surrounding area is often used as a movie back lot and it’s always interesting to see the signature signs posted around town alerting work crews where to park and assemble. Sometimes they’re in code, but for this well-publicized production, “TLR” signs were easily decoded.

But if the position for poet laureate is really up for grabs, you might want to think about it yourself!

I think the candidates are supposed to have some connection to Los Angeles. But talent is talent. Maybe this weekend you’d like to put together a portfolio of your best writing samples and submit them to the office of the Mayor. Nominations must be made by October 10th. You still have time!

But before you drop everything and move to Los Angeles, let me remind you that our temperatures reached 107 degrees last week. But I have been showing you some beautiful beach photography, and beach time is year-round. You can even wear flip flops in winter.

And I’m always eager to act as tour guide, so let me know when you get here. We’ll have lunch! Sound good?

38 thoughts on “Los Angeles seeks poet laureate? I’m skeptical, but feel free to apply.

  1. Now, of course, you’ve got me wondering…why is there a job opening for Poet Laureate? Did the former poet resign? Was she terminated? Didn’t produce the “right stuff”? And by the way, I’ve seen some stills from TLR. Mr. Depp’s Tonto could very well be the perfect Poet Laureate for your beautiful city of angels…

    • If we ever had a poet laureate in the past, he or she wasn’t high profile! Now that I’m aware of the position, though, I’ll be following along. I’m very curious about what aspect of Los Angeles will be promoted in poetry! :-) I feel a little self-conscious that I’m so skeptical! :-) I haven’t seen any stills or publicity with Johnny Depp as as Tonto. I think he will be a wonderful character!

  2. You go girl … apply! Apply now, apply often! Love the pics … especially the train car! Now … about the 100+ temp … YUK! Stay cool! … and try a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

  3. Dear Debra, those photographs made me truly wonder about movie sets. I know nothing about the making of movies and so I’m ignorant of what I was seeing!

    I’m so glad that your history and literature teachers worked together for that wonderful 2-hour session you got to have each day in high school. That’s a fine way of learning. And someone like Carl Sandburg, whose range of interests and poems was wide and deep, is perfect to read and study to learn much of the history of our country.

    As to Los Angeles having a poet laureate, I have another suggestion. Why not a photographer laureate? Someone like yourself who has shown us again and again the impressive buildings and sites in the city. I’ve learned so much about Los Angeles from reading your blog. Why not suggest that to the powers that be??? Peace.

    • I do enjoy sharing photos of my Southern California adventures, Dee. I’m so glad you enjoy them.

      I think what you saw in the photos I shared of the movie production was really just what it looked like! Just props! Movie sets aren’t anything to look at, but my interest is in seeing how the rough construction sets, which may look extremely artificial, develop into a realistic environment with creative photography and set design. I have friends who work in the industry and it’s always fun to hear about the work that goes into making a movie. Movie making isn’t very glamorous, it’s just interesting and fun to watch. I think I enjoy the aspect of transformation! :-)

      I do hope you have a good week, Dee. Hope to hear from you on Tuesday? :-)

  4. I would love to apply for the position of Poet Laureate, Debra, but the $10,000/year would never cover what it would cost me to move to LA. ha! Seriously, this is the kind of initiative that makes my heart sing. It may seem frivolous but if it enhances the arts, especially one such as poetry may be to LA, it ends up enhancing the lives of many. Carl Sandburg is a favorite of mine. He brought the prairie to many – and he shared the industrial, grimy city of big shoulders, Chicago, via poetry for the masses. He also brought such volumes of Abraham Lincoln. What a wonderful humanities course this high school class was for you.

    I learned of Carl Sandburg in American LIt. Listening to tapes (yes, tapes) of him reading his poetry as a sophomore was memorable. I’m old enough to remember him at JFK’s inauguration. I somehow missed the American Masters segment on him and will need to find it it on one of our wonderful PBS stations. Thanks for the reminder.

    You’ve set my mind wandering now, remembering hearing Gwendolyn Brooks do readings and speak at Elmhurst College with a friend’s twelve year old daughter some years ago. Ms Brooks was Illinois’ poet laureate at the time. Elizabeth was so excited to meet a “real” poet and it was my own little thrill as well.

    Hmmm. $10,000 you say?

    • You would be much better suited as poet laureate than I, Penny! I haven’t paid a bit of attention to whether or not Los Angeles has previously had a poet laureate position, but I think my fascination is that I have no idea what our “identity” even is. I think Los Angeles is diffused across so many different regions that I guess it will be very interesting to see what he or she decides to emphasize.

      I am quite sincere, however, when I say that you have been responsible with influencing me to take a more deliberate pause to read more poetry. This weekend I did some very necessary “book shelf cleaning” and I took a few slim volumes of poetry off the shelves to read this week…and I thought of you!

      I am charmed to think of your experience with Carl Sandburg on tape! Isn’t that something! I hope you might find the PBS show I mentioned. I know you would enjoy it! I hope you have a wonderful week, Penny! D

  5. I’ll let you know if I’m coming to LA because I’d love to have lunch! Hasn’t Depp had the most incredible career. I remember watching him years ago in 21 Jump Street. He doesn’t seem to have aged much. Hmmm, what’s his secret? xx

    • You come on, Charlie, and I’d love to go to lunch! Wouldn’t we have fun! I agree with you that Johnny Depp is pretty great! I enjoy anything he does. He’s quite the actor, and you’re right! I wonder what his secret is for staying so young!

  6. L.A. . . . Not poetic? ;)

    There’s the glitter of the glitterati
    And snap-snap-snap of paparazzi
    There’s storied stores on Rodeo Drive
    With millions spent on jazz, fads, and jive
    There’s swaying palms and swimming pools
    And producers who are nobody’s fools
    With poetic license, a laureate will thrive
    Passing the hat just to stay alive

  7. I’ve been fortunate to see a couple of movie sets erected here in Chicago, over the years. They’ve always fascinated me — but I don’t see them nearly as much as you all do. The novelty would have certainly worn off by now, replaced by grousing over gridlock and re-routed rush hour traffic.
    I’ve quit tossing my verse into the ring for these poet laureate positions, Debra. For reasons unbeknownst to me, the selection committees or, as in your case, Task Forces have little interest in my particular talent, limericks. I mean, my poetry rhymes and everything. ;)

    • It’s always fun to see some movie sets or “action,” isn’t it, John! I enjoy watching transformation. Years ago now, obviously, Michael Landon was in a movie next door to my grandparents’ home and that was kind of fun. It was in the Little House days, and my children and I “hung out” at the house just to see what we could see. But ordinarily it’s not the actors who interest me, but the sets and all the little tricks of the trade! I won’t be applying for the poet laureate job either, though, John. I have no ability in the poetry department! :-)

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    • I honestly wasn’t too aware of how many cities have poet laureate’s, Kate. It comes as a bit of a surprise to me. I am curious to learn a little bit ore about it. Chicago, New York, New Orleans…cities with a major identity. But Los Angeles is a bit “all over the place” and I’m just not sure we’re going to pull this off successfully! I may have to report back, in particular if I find that I’m impressed! :-)

  9. We have movie sets here.. but more out on the prairie where cowboys like to cook up a mess o’ beans:D I attended a competition for Calgary’s Poet Laureate.. it was neat because a friend of mine was in competition. I was impressed by two younger men who appeared and had so much talent.. one rapper style, one a school teacher who wrote very moving poetry about teenagers. In the end the “rapper” won out and maybe that’s a sign of the times?? I’m more traditional in my poetic tastes:D xx

    • I am so impressed to learn you were in competition for the Calgary Poet Laureate honor! I know that I don’t really understand all poetic styles, but like most art, I know what I “like” when I hear it! In the Carl Sandburg documentary one of the most interesting things I learned was how very well received his poetry was until much later in his life, when “all of a sudden” the literary critics began to dismiss his work as “too simple” and not well constructed. It was a big disappointment to him to be so misinterpreted. Yet here we are so many years later and he is still celebrated. I’m not a poet–not at all, but I do appreciate the talent of others. I hope you continue to write and perhaps look for opportunities to present your work. Maybe another attempt at poet laureate sometime! :-)

  10. Thanks for letting us know about the position – 10,000 for 4 readings and 4 schools – hey I so could do that….

    Too many people run away from poetry because they think of the “I wandered lonely as a cloud..” kind of poetry from school which, though they were told it was beautiful, they hated with a capital *B* for Boring! When we do the poetry evenings at the Museum very few people come. Excuse =”Thanks but not thanks I don’t do poetry”

    We need a poet laureate who can get those people who’ve never really listened to a poem, to *listen*. On my 40th birthday we had a dinner party for about 20 friends. Instead of giving a speech I read a poem. Everyone enjoyed it – I know because they all came and thanked me afterwards. One of our friends had been a high school dropout – who became a professional football player – and had never ever had someone read a poem to him before. Every time I saw him afterwards he reminded me of the poem I’d read to him, and thanked me.

    Love the pictures of the rail car.
    We said we were going to meet this summer. Lets do it Debra, I promise to behave. We could meet at the Huntington?

    • I’m chuckling at your comment about behaving! Ha! I already like you just as you are…no behaving necessary, Rosie. The Huntington would be fun, or I could come your way. We have just been so busy and it’s been a challenge to even find an opening in my schedule anywhere. I’m sure we can arrange something soon. I have your email…we’ll see what we can do!

      I know you have a poet’s soul! I so admire that. I think mine is a bit undeveloped, but I have favorites and have found a few contemporary poets I really do appreciate. I think it really takes confidence to read poetry to friends. I think you would be a very worthy candidate for poet laureate. Did you look it up to see the qualifications? You have them! :-)

      I’ll email you this week and we can take a look at our calendars!

  11. I’m not a celeb-watcher (nor do I really care about their private lives), but I’d be standing there every second waiting for a glimpse of Depp – he’s the one actor that really turns my head. So talented and so….well, really hot! ;) His quirkiness just makes him all the more attractive. Okay, enough of that – I may just have to put LA back on our travel list just to take you up on your wonderful offer! We were there many years ago, so I think a return trip is in order. ;)

    • I’m with you and your thoughts about Johnny Depp! :-) Don’t know what it is, but it is! Ha! I’m not a big celeb watcher, either. In fact, with most of what we observe in making films we never really see the actors. It’s almost always set construction or the closing of a street for filming. It’s rather commonplace around here, but the sets with the box cars is a lot more elaborate than we usually see. I look forward to seeing the movie and then maybe understanding what we actually saw! :-)

  12. I’m with you on Johnny Depp too! I’m a Brit and the nearest I get to seeing movies made is my mate’s camcorder! Quite envious that you even get to see streets closed off for screening… and maybe even a glimpse of an actor or two! As for Poet Laureate for the City of LA, I think it sounds intriguing and from the various comments I’ve read above, I think you should all consider entering… the UK’s current poet laureate is Carol Ann Duffy – a woman – after literally hundreds of years of males. Fantastic! So go for it ladies….

    • Thank you for mentioning Carol Ann Duffy by name, Sally. I am going to google her! I have not previously paid attention to the poet laureates of countries or cities, and now I’m intrigued to see how they define their particular regions in poetic verse! I am not a talented poet–I’m not even a mediocre poet! But there are some great talents in the blogs I read, so I’m also encouraging them to write and share, if not with Los Angeles, then their own homes!That means you, too, Sally! :-)

  13. What’s with the damaged carriage? Is that where the poet laureate will be forced to live? I like Mayor V but a task force is a bit much… Maybe a young upstart from South Central could be the catalyst for change in bringing LA’s disparate parts together… What say you? ;-)

    • Those are just the move props, but maybe they could do double duty? I am not a fan of Mayor V…I think he’s more focused on moving up the political ladder than interested in solving any current issues. But the poet laureate-to-be will need to find a way to incorporate some of the best aspects of the city while balancing again the reality that we are closing in on bankruptcy! If he or she can do that successfully than we have a winner! :-)

  14. I think that sounds like a worthwhile cultural initiative of the powers-that-be in Los Angeles, Debra, and I shall be interested to learn who is eventually appointed. I would certainly not be a candidate given my lack of poetic talent, but it is such a good idea to foster an art other than film.

  15. As I read this post I had in my mind that it was going in a certain direction. However, you so integrated the element of the unexpected. It was so much fun to read! I so enjoy your delightful writing style! I have been to LA several times but not in recent times. If I am in the area I will take you up on your offer of being a tour guide. I suspect that it would be a rich experience based on your rich blogs (and I am not talking about monetary value). Thank you form Thea!

  16. Coming back from holiday and catching up on blog reading is a pleasure Debra, and your blog makes for such refreshing reading, it’s why I come back for more an dam totally transfixed by blogging. Instead of a poet maybe a blog would be a better way to represent California :)

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