The first gathering of California’s past and current poets laureate took place Oct. 6 at the McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga.
Grant Hier, who was recently appointed Anaheim’s first poet laureate, gave a poetry reading at the event, which coincided with the release of his new book of poems.
“Similitude” is a companion to his anthology “The Difference Between,” which he released May 15, when he was appointed poet laureate by Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait.
Hier said that in “Similitude,” his poems often reference current events, even if he doesn’t name people or places specifically.
“ ‘Overtime’ is a poem about the pay gap and inequality, where a woman rolls the ceiling with paint, the drips eventually making her disappear,” Hier explained. “ ‘Blend completely into the room,’ the ‘best of her labors above her ignored.’ We still haven’t ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. Here we are, what, some 46 years after Congress passed it, and only 35 states have adopted it? Shameful.”
“Should They Ask Her Name” is about a woman, ‘one whose blood is the shadow / of a dance of strangers, who has known / mostly loss,’ living out on the street, ‘near neighborhoods of families whose / children are taught to fear her and / those who look like her — she knows / that she is more shadow than name.’ ”
Despite the breadth of humanitarian issues addressed in his latest book, much of Hier’s work focuses on California history. The literature and creative writing professor at Laguna College of Art + Design won the 2014 Prize Americana award for “Untended Garden,” his book on Southern California history and culture.
He has also just finished co-writing a book of historical flash fiction, “California Continuum: Migrations and Amalgamations,” with John Brantingham, the current and inaugural poet laureate of Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.
Hier called the inaugural gathering of California’s poets laureate, which was organized by Poet Laureate of California Dana Gioia, a one-of-a-kind event. About 60 poets laureate gave readings at the gathering.
“Well, it’s never been done before,” Hier said of the gathering. “Dana has created many first-of-their-kind projects throughout his career in the arts, and this is just one of them.”
The event took place in the former home of California’s third poet laureate, John S. McGroarty, and was co-sponsored by California Arts Council, the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and Engaging the Senses Foundation.
“I wanted to create a meeting of all these poets [from] very different backgrounds, different communities, in which everybody felt recognized, heard on equal terms,” Gioia said. “California is in the forefront of the revival of poetry that is sweeping across the United States, and at the center of this revival is this trend to have poets represent every community.”
Gioia points to a survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts that says the adult readership of poetry grew by 76% in the last five years.
“The university took poetry away from the people, and the people now have taken it back,” he said.