Charles Wright was America’s Poet Laureate from 2014 to 2015. Among his most well-known poems is the 41-page “California Dreaming,” which is the final poem he wrote before leaving his post at UC-Irvine in 1983 to teach at University of Virginia. Wright lived on Thurston Street in Laguna Beach, which is the setting for his poem, “Looking West from Laguna Beach at Night.”
Wright said of writing his tome about California, “[T]here’s a line drawn between each of [the] stanzas, and they jump from one to the next, but they all have to do with where I am writing the poem, which was 1771 Thurston Drive in Laguna Beach, California. And these things all happened in Laguna Beach, and that’s what more or less keeps it together – that and the idea that Californians really are a little different from easterners, in an odd way.” Here’s the poem:
LOOKING WEST FROM LAGUNA BEACH AT NIGHT
by Charles Wright
I've always liked the view from my mother-in-law's house at night,
Oil rigs off Long Beach
Like floating lanterns out in the smog-dark Pacific,
Stars in the eucalyptus,
Lights of airplanes arriving from Asia, and town lights
Littered like broken glass around the bay and back up the hill.
In summer, dance music is borne up
On the sea winds from the hotel's beach deck far below,
"Twist and Shout," or "Begin the Beguine."
It's nice to think that somewhere someone is having a good time,
And pleasant to picture them down there
Turned out, tipsy and flushed, in their white shorts and their turquoise shirts.
Later, I like to sit and look up
At the mythic history of Western civilization,
Pinpricked and clued through the zodiac.
I'd like to be able to name them, say what's what and how who got where,
Curry the physics of metamorphosis and its endgame,
But I've spent my life knowing nothing.
Charles Wright turns 83 years old on August 25th.