Lummis fashions narratives tinged with irony and empathy, like "Letter to My Assailant," an account of an assault that includes the lines, "Even with your unfriendly arm at my throat/you could hide nothing from me."
Coleman, a native of Watts, began writing poems as a single mom in the 1970s and has since published "a whole shelf full of books," Mohr said. She is likely among top two or three candidates, according to Mohr and other poets who asked not to be named because they have nominations before the committee.
Others the committee may consider are Marisela Norte, David St. John, Ellyn Maybe, Holly Prado, Sesshu Foster and Luis J. Rodriguez.
Gioia said he's been lobbied by all sorts of people backing different candidates — the applicants include schoolteachers, university professors and actors, he said. In meetings at the city Department of Cultural Affairs and in a series of email exchanges, the members of the committee have been ranking lists of poets according to a point-system Gioia has used in other competitions.
In the end, the committee gave Villaraigosa a list of three finalists. The mayor chose the first laureate from that list. The poet will earn less than one-quarter the minimum salary paid to an LAPD officer. In these austere times, even that small amount of money might seem like an extravagance when it's spent on poetry, but it buys something big, Gioia said.
"He or she will touch thousands of lives in a positive way," Gioia said. "I have no problems defending this as a civic appointment."
While the committee debates, L.A.'s poets wait anxiously. For some, after years of hard work and great personal sacrifice, the idea of sudden public attention is almost too much to hope for.
"I'm scared that anything whatsoever will annoy the panel," one candidate said, explaining why she wouldn't comment publicly.
The winner will serve at least one year as poet laureate with a second year if the city approves of his or her performance. That means that over the course of 10 years the city should name at least five poet laureates who together will represent a wide range of experiences and poetic ambitions, Gioia said. But it's important to get the first one right.
"I am fully confident we will have an exemplary poet laureate," Gioia said.