For Malibu resident and poet Ann Buxie, poetry is a way to cut through the superficial, to the heart of a person or place. It is also a way to connect the people who live in isolated pockets along Malibu's more than 20 mile stretch along the Pacific coast.
"We can ponder things that are more than just 'how are you, I am fine.' If I were to answer truly, it might take a while," Buxie said. "Poetry is one way of answering truly how our soul is in these times. At the least, it might ignite compassion. I think any community can use that."
Over the years, Buxie has worked to highlight poetry in Malibu through her events Tales by the Sea and Poetry by the Sea. Buxie also attends readings in Ventura, which she describes as a thriving art hub.
One day, she ran into fellow poet and Ventura's second poet laureate Phil Taggart, who suggested that Malibu create its own position.
"Poetry is such a wonderful thing for literature and such a wonderful thing to have in your community, someone who represents poetry," Taggart said. "Poetry being a noncommercial entity and something that is part of a soul fabric — that is perfect for Malibu."
That spark of an idea blossomed when Buxie presented her idea to Malibu's Cultural Arts Commission in August. By September, the commission recommended the laureateship to Malibu's City Council. And earlier this month , the suggestion was approved. Malibu will have its first poet laureate by the spring.
"We can't live in cities that become deserts of the soul," Buxie said. "We need to nourish the soul of the city. Poetry is one way to do that."
The first U.S. poet laureate position dates back to 1937, when the Library of Congress appointed Joseph Auslander "Consultant in Poetry." In 1985, the title changed to "Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry" by an act of Congress.
There are state poet laureates, city poet laureates and in recent years, smaller communities including West Hollywood, Laguna Beach, and Ventura, created their own positions.
"Poetry is a very concise way for people to express what's most important to them, especially when you have things in society that you're very concerned about," said John Struloeff, director of the creative writing program at Pepperdine University. "I think it's an important way for a community to listen to each other."
Struloeff is working with Buxie and others to develop the laureate selection process and program. Last summer, Struloeff screened applications for the National Endowment of the Arts fellowship in poetry. He's taking that knowledge of how large government entities screen applicants and applying it to Malibu.
"We're looking for someone who has a longstanding history with Malibu," Struloeff said. "Someone interested in creating events and excited about possibilities."
Applicants do not need to be Malibu residents, but are required to have an affiliation with the community and ability to engage with its mission, which focuses on the environment.
While the parameters of the position are not fully defined, Buxie expects that the laureate will work with schools and in the library to expand the reach of poetry in Malibu.
In Ventura, Taggart organizes poetry walks and works with schools to bring poetry to younger generations. Taggart, who by day teaches video production at a high school, is also organizing an agricultural poetry reading, connecting poetry to Ventura's main economy.
Like Ventura's poet laureate, the poet will work with a committee including Struloeff to define the role and develop ideas.
Malibu's resident poet will serve a two year term and receive a $1,000 annual stipend. The application submission period begins November 30 and runs until January 11.