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?