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Davis, California

Monday, March 4, 2024

City of Davis chooses Julia Levine for Poet Laureate

Levine plans to focus on ecopoetics, poetry of the Anthropocene, and creating a dialogue about poetry cross the city

By RACHEL SHEY — city@theaggie.org

On Sept. 30, the City of Davis chose Julia Levine to be the new Poet Laureate of Davis, according to a press release

“This honorary position celebrates the art of poetry and its impact on the Davis community,” the press release read. “Duties of the Poet Laureate include: representing the City of Davis and the art of poetry through outreach activities, presenting original works of poetry at official City events throughout the year, writing and submitting poetry about Davis for publication, presenting and discussing poetry at community events, in schools or with community groups, and acting as a resource for poetry and literary activities in Davis.”

Arts and Culture Manager Rachel Hartsough explained how Poet Laureates are chosen through a lengthy process. 

“We have an application process, and there’s a selection committee that consists of a couple of members from our arts and cultural staff from the city, a couple of members from our Civic Arts Commission and a couple of members of the community who have expertise in the area of poetry and literary arts,” Hartsough said. “We receive applications and nominations, those are reviewed, and the committee meets with and interviews the finalists, and selects the laureate from those, and makes a recommendation to the arts commission, and the arts commission recommends that to city council.”

Hartsough explained that past Poet Laureates have focused on a variety of topics.  

“James Lee Jobe, who was our most recent Poet Laureate, was interested in schools, but unfortunately his term overlapped so much with COVID-19, so that was really unfortunate timing,” Hartsough said. “He was writing poetry and posting everyday on a blog that he ran, and he ran some poetry workshops on a weekly and monthly basis. Julia is a little different in that she brings a more specific focus on the work that she’s interested in doing, so I think her term will be quite different from the previous poets.”

Levine describes herself as having three focuses, one being “the age-old question of why there is so much beauty and love and tenderness in the world besides so much horror and suffering,” another being the natural world — which she describes in terms of an ecopoetic and poetry of the Anthropocene and the last being an elevation of the ordinary world through meticulous attention.  

Levine loves reading poetry and enjoys the works of poets like Jennifer Sweeney, Louise Glück and Eduardo Corral. She was mentored by Brigit Pegeen Kelley, whom she describes as an unsung poet, and Frank Gaspar. Levine, surprisingly, did not always love poetry.  

“I hated poetry in high school, I hated it,” Levine said. “Actually I was listening to KDVS when I was in between college and graduate school, and I was sweeping, there’s actually a poem in my latest book called Song for Sylvia Plath on the Radio, it was the first time I’d ever heard Sylvia Plath, and the moon was coming up, and I just had this out of body experience. I just thought, oh my god, this is what poetry is? I want to do that.”  

On the question of what constitutes poetry, Levine was encouraging.  

“Any poem that you write that does any kind of work for you is worth writing,” Levine said. “So, if you write a poem and something surprises you, and you feel like now you know something you didn’t know before, that poem has done its work for you.”  

But as for what constitutes good poetry, Levine was much more specific.  

“There’s a lot of subjectivity in poetry and very few rules that really apply, but I do think you will find that in the really great poets, there is a startling mysterious penetration into both mystery and truth,” Levine said. “And there also has to be the other really difficult thing about poetry, is there has to be some capturing of music and song in the language. If you have to work with image and meaning and sound, that’s a lot!”

Written by: Rachel Shey — city@theaggie.org


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