Poet Lariat

The time is drawing nigh when the city of Livermore will select a new poet laureate.

Livermore is not known as a literary hotbed, and there’s no reason why it ought to be; if there are any world-class writers living here, they’re keeping a low profile.

Our chief claims to fame are the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (where they design atomic warheads and other such amusements), the plethora of local wineries, and our yearly rodeo, which is a genuine relic of the Old West and a big deal in civic circles, complete with a parade down First Street. Oh, and Max Baer, the “Livermore Larupper,” who was a heavyweight boxing champion in the 1930s. So the selection of our next poet laureate, as Phil Ochs put it, “really wouldn’t interest anybody outside of a small circle of friends.”

Nonetheless, the person who is selected will have some influence on civic affairs. The Livermore City Council, whose members know no more about art than you would expect of small-town politicians, looks to the poet laureate for guidance on how to dispense the city’s budgetary largesse on “the literary arts.” That’s part of the job description — to foster the literary arts in Livermore.

The current poet laureate has stated in public that poetry is superior to prose. Her track record as PL shows strong support for poets and callous neglect of every other type of local literary endeavor.

My friend Karen, who supports the literary arts in Livermore privately through a monthly open mic/salon that’s open to both poets and writers of prose, is not happy with this state of affairs. Karen feels, with considerable justification, that her efforts on behalf of the literary community have been and are being slighted. It has to be said that my main source of information on this subject is Karen, but I trust her perceptions and her judgment.

So now it’s time for the city to select a new poet laureate. There is apparently a process in place whereby candidates are to be evaluated through consultation with representatives of the local literary arts community. I asked a city administrator who those representatives might be; nobody consulted with me, that’s for sure. I never got a reply. My suspicion is that they consulted with the current poet laureate and her friends.

On one level, this is all very silly. Writers write. If you care about writing, don’t get involved in local politics! Just sit down and write. The real rewards of writing come through the process of writing, not through civic recognition.

But on another level, I do think it’s a shame that the city fathers, who are making a good-faith effort to support the arts, are being led down the garden path by folks who have unbalanced agendas.

Just don’t ask me to run for the job. I wouldn’t take it on a silver platter. I’d rather spend my time writing.

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