Category Archives: Poet Laureate

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Bolinas Visitation: Ellen Sander’s HAWTHORNE (Finishing Line Press)

Bolinas Arrow - 1996

I have only visited Bolinas once, back in the summer of 1996; it was part of a five-day trip north that included a visit to UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. I was preparing for my time as a visiting scholar at the Getty Research Institute in the Fall, and wanted to take a look at the archives of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights. There was also an exhibit at the library; a fair-sized room presented, in well-secured glass cases, a representative collection of materials of Beat writers. In all of the placards explaining the Beat movement to the visitors, the only scenes mentioned were in the Bay Area and Greenwich Village. There was not a single citation of Venice West. It was typical of the period to obliterate Venice West from any account of the Beat movement during the mid-century.

When I finished my work at the library, I rode out to Bolinas with Ellen Sander, a poet who had lived there for many years. First known as the one of the first — if not the very first — significant female rock critic, Ellen Sander went on to become the poet laureate of Belfast, Maine a few years ago. Finishing Line Press published her account of her home in Bolias and its place in the artistic community: Hawthorne, A House in Bolinas.

Hawthorne, a House in Bolinas by Ellen Sander

I had first heard of Bolinas in the very early 1970s as a place where poets had taken refuge from the chaos of New York City. As the century wore on, the poetry traffic between Los Angeles and Bolinas was probably among the most unusual circulations in American literary history; the best anthology to contextualize this exchange is the one I worked on with Neeli Cherkovski, Cross-Strokes: Poetry between Los Angeles and San Francisco. No other book brings together poets who have shared the same eco-cultural domains as a matter of positive freedom. In addition to Ellen Sander, I am thinking of Joe Safdie (who moved from Los Angeles to Bolinas, and now has moved back down the coast — to San Diego), as well as Phoebe MacAdams Ozuna and Lewis MacAdams, who both eventually moved from Bolinas to Los Angeles.

Should you want a poet’s take on the Bolinas scene, you should definitely set aside time to read Kevin Opstedal’s article in Big Bridge, “Dreaming As One.”

It is an incredibly substantial and detailed account of a community of the famous (Robert Creeley, Bobbie Louise Hawkins; the Jefferson Airplane) and the obscure (Jack Boyce), all of whom made this backwater a major harbor of imagination’s counterpoints. Each of the eighteen segments has a set of photographs to give the reader some glimmer of the youthfulness of this scene.

There were other circulations north and south, too. About the same time that poets were moving to Bolinas from New York City, Stuart Z. Perkoff moved north and spent two productive years in Northern California. John Thomas, on the other hand, had moved back from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the late 1960s, though he did not then settle back in Venice, but in the Echo Park area, where he became friends with Charles Bukowski and mentored a young poet named Wanda Coleman. There is another anthology yet to be assembled, where the poets of Bolinas, who appeared in a collection entitled On the Mesa, edited by Joel Weishaus (City Lights, 1971) intermingle with those of Cross-Strokes.

Bolinas - Pink Flowers

Bolinas Mural

Poet Laureate

My Nominations for the Next California Poet Laureate

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A couple weeks ago, Gerard Sarnat sent me a notice from the California Arts Council about the nomination process for the next California Poet Laureate. It may say something about the position that I have detected less “buzz” about this than the recent occasions during which San Francisco and Los Angeles have sought to fill their poetic posts. Some of the nonchalance may be due to the most recent appointment, Dana Gioia, who is earnest enough to be credible, but who strikes me as the poor man’s Robert Pinsky. Given that the state’s poet laureate before Gioia went on to become the nation’s poet laureate, Gioia was facing impossible odds in terms of succession. Herrera is one of the most charismatic teachers and performers I have been fortunate to encounter over the past half-century, and he continues to write superb poetry. The poet after Gioia will have a much easier time in that she or he won’t suffer from obvious comparisons with such a compelling figure.

In terms of the poets who would best fill this post, I would hope that Rae Armantrout, Marilyn Chin, Kamau Daáood, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Amy Gerstler all consider being candidates for the appointment. Other poets whom I would be pleased to see selected for the job are Alejandro Murguia or Ron Koertge. Finally, this is a moment that I truly miss the late Francisco X. Alarcon. He would have made an exceptionally fine poet laureate right now. There are, of course, a couple dozen poets whose work I admire very much (Brenda Hillman, Kevin Opstedal, Gail Wronsky, Sarah Maclay, Gary Young, Christopher Buckley, Elena Karina Byrne, Kit Robinson, Will Alexander, Amy Uyematsu, B.H. Fairchild, Charles Harper Webb, etc.) but I have serious doubts that Governor Brown would be able to interview them in a manner that the appointment deserves. Brown hasn’t managed to serve as governor of California for four terms without being a calculating politician, and I can’t imagine him treating this occasion any differently. Fortunately, California has a sufficient pool of worthy poets that the odds favor a meaningful outcome.

If you wish to nominate someone, including yourself, for consideration, here is the link: The submission deadline is July 25, 2018.

Finally, I would recommend that California honor our resident playwrights by making one of them the first Playwright Laureate of California.