Eloise Klein Healy anointed L.A.'s first poet laureate

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Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Friday will introduce Eloise Klein Healy, a stalwart of the Los Angeles literary scene and author of seven books of poems, as the city’s first poet laureate.

Healy, who is also a publisher and educator, was chosen from a pool of three finalists recommended by a selection panel. Villaraigosa said he was moved by the grace of her writing and by her ‘belief in the power of poetry, and her commitment to sharing this power far and wide.’


Healy spent her formative years in Iowa and still maintains an air of Midwestern modesty. She says she doubts the quality of her poems won her the laureate honor.

She guesses it had more to do with her long involvement in the arts community, especially the feminist art movement of the 1970s, and her subject matter: Los Angeles looms large in her work.

She writes lovingly of helicopters and bougainvillea, of strip malls and the Santa Anas. Car thefts and stabbings are part of the backdrop. Freeways wind freely through her verse.

In a poem called ‘Los Angeles,’ Healy describes the city as an older sister who was less pretty and less charming than her younger sibling. ‘There was something about your proportions / that was indelicate — your more abundant waist,’ she tells the city.

But in the final verse, a person enters and loves Los Angeles anyway:

Nobody expected it
and you never told about
the lover who met you
loose and large
in the late afternoon
and loved you all night,
completely out of proportion.

Healy says she writes about Los Angeles to understand ‘the influence of place on people.’

Healy’s poet laureate appointment will last two years and comes with a $10,000 annual stipend. Along with making school visits and giving official public readings in her official duties, Healy hopes to bring national attention to L.A’s literary scene, which she says is often overshadowed by Hollywood.


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Photo: Eloise Klein Healy will be named the city’s first poet laureate. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times