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Davis, California

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Davis establishes honorary poet laureate position

If you are over 18 and love to write, you could be Davis’ first poet laureate.

On Oct. 20, the City Council approved an honorary poet laureate position to residents of Davis.

The position would arrange and perform at public poetry readings, speak on poetic topics in schools and libraries, speak before civic and community groups on literary topics and write and publish poetry about Davis. Other duties include advancing the literacy and the literary receptivity and curiosity of the citizenry of Davis, as well as fulfilling other duties as chosen by the Poet Laureate or recommended by the Davis Civic Arts Commission, according to the staff report by Deputy City Manager Kelly Stachowicz.

The commission would be responsible for developing selection criteria and overall requirements and overseeing a selection process. It would then forward a recommendation to the City Council, which would then make the final decision.

A new poet would be chosen every two years, with the council hoping to have an honorary laureate in place by 2010.

Councilmembers Don Saylor and Lamar Heystek proposed the position. Saylor said the idea was brought to the council by members of the community who thought it would be a beneficial addition to Davis.

Anja Aulenbasher, grants and cultural programs coordinator for the Sacramento Arts Commission, said having a poet laureate is very advantageous to the area’s community.

“Having a literary ambassador is so important,” Aulenbasher said. “It’s a great way to spread poetry to children in schools and other places. It would teach them the beauty of poetry, reading and writing.”

Locally, UC Davis English Professor Joanne Diehl thinks the position would benefit UCD students as well.

“I think that any event or honor that draws students’ attention to poetry is a good thing. It would also be useful to draw students and faculty into the process of selecting a poet laureate,” Diehl said. “This would encourage reading contemporary poetry and acquainting ourselves with creative literary work being done here on campus.”

Saylor sees an additional benefit of the laureate position.

“In times like these when many are concerned about the economy, it’s important to place things in perspective,” Saylor said. “It won’t have a financial impact on the government. It will be a labor of love.”

Poet applicants would submit a letter of intent, a resume and writing samples to the Civic Arts Commission. Applicants would then be evaluated according to the vision and leadership evident in an applicant’s letter of intent, the record of publications and arts advocacy evident in the applicant’s resume, and the quality of the writing in the writing samples.

UC Davis English Professor Joshua Clover, who specializes in contemporary and 20th century American poetry and contributes to the New York Times Sunday Book Review and The Nation, believes the creation of the position is appropriate.

“Poets should be given as many honors and prizes and polite sums of money as possible,” Clover said. “The final hope is that poets will eventually grow dissatisfied with small plaques and small checks, then with large plaques and large checks, then remember they are poets because they want to ruin the world rather than to mourn or to praise it, and become the revolutionary class they were always meant to be.”

Similar positions already exist in Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Dublin, Benicia and elsewhere.

ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached city@theaggie.org.

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