Poet Laureate - Archives

Literary Lagunans: Charles Wright

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:

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.

Literary Lagunans: MFK Fisher

The 1930s was a rich time in Laguna’s literary history, with John Steinbeck, Lawrence Clark Powell and Tennessee Williams taking up residence here for a few months or a few years as they honed their literary craft. Joining these American literary icons is Mary Frances Kennedy (M. F. K.) Fisher, best known for writing about food and culture with insight and wit that rivals her masculine counterparts.

Fisher grew up in Whittier, the daughter of a newspaperman. Family connections brought her to Laguna Beach for frequent childhood visits, and it was Laguna that inspired her first published piece. Called “Pacific Village,” it sold to Westways magazine in 1935 for $10, plus $25 for three accompanying sketches.

Perhaps most striking about Fisher’s description of the Pacific Village, which she disguises with the pseudonym “Olas,” is how relevant her observations are still. Consider this excerpt:

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National Poetry Month: Mary Oliver

One of my very favorite poets, Mary Oliver, died this January at the age of 83. Now, with April just around the corner, we are at the start of National Poetry Month, and I can think of no better time to honor Mary Oliver, her work, and her affection for the changing of seasons. Toward that end, I invite you to listen to Mary Oliver reading her tender and moving poem, Wild Geese.

Mary Oliver is a perfect introduction to poetry for the uninitiated because she writes so crisply and accessibly about the natural world around us. Oliver demonstrates a strong command of language, and writes in partnership with it, rather than allow it to overwhelm her.

"One thing I do know is that poetry, to be understood, must be clear," Oliver said in an 2012 interview with NPR. "It mustn't be fancy. I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now are… they sort of tap dance through it. I always feel that whatever isn't necessary shouldn't be in a poem."

Simplicity, directness and clarity are great goals to keep in mind for writers penning poems for the 21st Annual John Gardiner Poetry Contest, sponsored by Laguna Beach Library. Named in honor of the beloved local poet who died in 2017, this event celebrates writers of all ages who are encouraged...

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March 2018

March Comes in Like a Lion…

When I was a little girl in school in Lexington, Kentucky (which, unlike our Southern California beach town, has four very distinct Norman Rockwell calendar-style seasons), the teachers always heralded March (and the implied onset of spring) by repeating the old refrain: “March comes in like a lion, and out like a lamb.” A rather anthropomorphic approach to the pedagogy of meteorology, but I liked it and, like most adages, it stuck around in our young brains, or at least it did in mine.

We’ve been having our own version of leonine spring in Laguna Beach, haven’t we? Rain, clouds, a heavy veil overhanging the sea. It’s delightfully exotic and puts me in mind of the following poem by the contemporary American poet and writer, Edward Hirsch. If you like this poem and would like to see more work by Edward Hirsch, I particularly recommend The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems, 1972–2010.

Happy almost spring, Laguna Beach!

Late March

Saturday morning in late March.
I was alone and took a long walk,

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January 2018

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I’m sharing a contemporary poem, “how to get over [“be born: black…”], by T’ai Freedom Ford from her debut book “How to Get Over.” T’ai is a New York City high school English teacher and Cave Canem Fellow. Her lyrical voice is well suited to the task of navigating both the past and the present, considering the timeless and universal—particularly questions of oppression, identity and privilege, and questing toward peace through transformation.

I’d encourage you to read this poem aloud to really appreciate its sonic qualities. It’s not only a powerful poem of meaning, but it’s a musical masterpiece. Pay attention to how she creates a framework for the poem with the anaphora of “as” and “black,” and then all the gorgeous rhythm, assonance and consonance carrying us through the poem line by line. XOKate

how to get over ["be born: black…"]
By T’ai Freedom Ford

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June 21, 2017

Now: The First Day of Summer

It’s the first day of summer today, and I’m sharing one of my favorite summer poems (although it’s more precisely a “coming of age” poem) by Michael Brennan. I hope you enjoy it, as I hope you enjoy this molten, magical season—may it bring out the kid in all of us! Wishing you persimmons and rosemary, slanted light, and cherries for days. xoKate

There and Then
By Michael Brennan

Friends in a field, their shadows running long into the untilled ground, and I’m busy trying to catch up...

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June 7, 2017

Hearts Aligned, Worlds Apart

This week, I’m sharing a poem by one of my favorite contemporary female poets, April Bernard, from her book Romanticism. You see, April is straight out of the romantic tradition (and owes a great debt to her literary foremother, Elizabeth Barrett Browning). That doesn’t mean she writes for Hallmark on the side; rather, that her work is evocative of the Romantic aesthetic (one that I identify with as well).

The Poetry Foundation defines Romanticism thusly: “A poetic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries that turned toward nature and the interior world of feeling, in opposition to the mannered formalism and disciplined scientific inquiry of the Enlightenment era that preceded it.”

See if you can catch the Romantic elements in the following poem by Bernard:

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May 10, 2017

This marvelous poem by James Wright just makes me happy. Always has. We've all known a moment like this -- and hopefully many. I hope it brings a blessing to your day, friends.

A Blessing
By James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.

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