Harry Northup — a poem to guide a future laureate

About two weeks ago, I received an e-mail announcing that the Cultural Affairs Department of Los Angeles was seeking nominations and applications for the post of poet laureate. I responded with a list of poets that the nominating committee should consider contacting, one of whom was Harry Northup. I saw Harry at the talk I gave with George Drury Smith at LACMA on June 21, and he let me know that he appreciated my nomination, but that he was not going to apply for the position. He sent me a poem he wrote at the start of this month, though, in which he pushes back against the normative rubrics that any bureaucracy finds itself enmeshed in, no matter how well intentioned. I wish that Harry’s poem had been the preamble for the announcement of the application period by the CAD. With his permission, I post it here.

Poet Laureate for the City of Los Angeles


First shut the door.  Write what you want to write.

Write with sincerity.  You’ve seen those writing rules.

Be all-embracing.  Be not afraid of the dark.  Each has

a gift.  Fulfill your gift.  Follow your inner journey.

It is important to have a community of poets so that

each poet can go further.    The Divine Feminine is

more than a man.  Ask her for guidance.  Poetry is

grace & grace is giving.  Learn the tradition of poetry.

Learn & practice the many forms.  Support your fellow

poet.  Be not afraid of the lack of respect poetry gets in

America.  America is not a poetry loving country.  We

are fortunate to have a large community of poetry here

in L.A.  Divine is silence.  Listening & being receptive.

We have had too much of the aggressive cutting into the

other.  Meaning someone who is different from you.

Write poetry as if it is the most important thing in the world.

Because it is.  From Homer & Sappho on, to Whitman &

Emily D.  The epic poets & the Greek Dramatists are the

greatest writers in the history of literature.  Because they

were first.  Ann Stanford & Holly Prado, as well as Hickman

& Thomas McGrath, are among the finest poets from L.A.

Walk the streets of East Hollywood & listen to the Armenians,

Peruvians, Hispanics, blacks, Koreans, whites talk.  Ride the

bus & watch the riders; observe the hookers on Sunset & the

homeless men near Sunset & Vermont, & the homeless black

men who sit on a bus bench at Normandie & Sunset.  Walk

around Echo Park lake & bow & give thanks to the Lady.

Forgive all the ruined men who try to make relationships.

Write poetry from the streets of L.A. & from the halls of

academe.  H.D. is the greatest poet of the Twentieth Century.

She sculpts words on the page.  She is the myth the men made

up.  Demolish myths.  Give the Poet Laureate for the City of

Los Angeles to a man or a woman, any ethnicity, any gender,

any age above voting age, any criminal, librarian, teacher who

is actually real.  Who teaches the personal & the mythic.  Who

is an Advocate for Poetry.  Who has written excellent poetry,

who knows the tradition, who has integrity, self-reliance within

him or her, who knows that the main themes of poetry are life

& death; that the purpose of poetry is to praise & affirm life

(a poet said long ago), that this failure to have a golden shining

cross within me is not apparent to you.


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Harry E. Northup



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