There’s a whole lot of poetry going on in Orange County and to the
untrained eye and ear, well, the verse just passes them by, and they’re
missing yet another art form prolific in Laguna Beach.
Gone are the days of the stereotypical poet rhyming their words or
reading poetry from the words of great poets past. A new breed of poets
has replaced the stodgy stereotype. And these poets aren’t the meek,
mild-mannered archetype. They have morphed into a more gregarious being.
It’s poetry turbo-style. There’s a whole new generation of poets.
Though poetry has always been an oral art form, and perhaps goes back
to the first grunting cave man who had a way with words, poet John
Gardiner explains that the timeless art has been changing, even as it
maintains its initial purpose.
“Poetry asks you to use your imagination to explore metaphors to
expand your imagination,” Gardiner said. “If it works it is a good poem
and if it doesn’t it falls into the gigantic category of 99%, which most
fall into. Which to me is one of the saddest words in the English
language. It means you did enough but not any more.”
The Pale Ale Poets, a group of local poets started by Gardiner in
Laguna Beach, exemplifies this pattern of change.
Born at Fahrenheit 451 Bookstore in May 1997, the group staged
readings there for a year and a half. When the bookstore closed at the
end of August 1998, they moved to Laguna Beach Brewing Company the
The Pale Ale Poets will be putting a fifth candle on their birthday
cake at 8 p.m. Thursday at the reading. The name came after the move to
the pub. Before, the readings had gone on without such a title.
Laguna remains at the heart of the whole burgeoning Orange County
poetry scene, which found its genesis here.
“There’s something about the ambience, the mystique of Laguna Beach,
which predestined the whole start of a vibrant, creative poetry
Movement,” said Lee Mallory, a Newport resident who is part of the Laguna
Beach poetry scene.
Having a poetry reading at a bar added a new flavor to the poetry
Gardiner also instigated new paths by creating in Laguna the county’s
first regular poetry SLAM, a competitive poetry contest.
“SLAM poetry gets your attention,” he said. “It makes you shut up and
listen. A SLAM poem has an absolutely dramatic purpose and is a dramatic
A good number of poets who started their poetry quest in Laguna have
gone through the competitions.
“I started at the Laguna Beach Brewery, the reading John Gardiner
runs, I wanted to get published and first started competing for the SLAM
team there,” said Paul Suntup.
Two Laguna SLAM teams born at the brewpub competed and won in the
National Championship of Performance Poets in the 1999 and 2000. The
competition was composed of some teams from Europe as well as the 50
states with about 500 people competing.
But the merits of judging poetry in general remain somewhat evasive to
Gardiner in general.
“The point is to have fun. Some people get acting coaches and spend a
lot of time and money working on their poetry performance,” he said. “So
as with any competition human nature comes into play. Poetry is supposed
to be fun.”
The scores also often fail to reflect the quality of the written poem.
“There’s a dichotomy of poetry readings -- the page poets and the
performance poets -- however a poem needs to be able to strand on its own
two legs,” Gardiner said.
SLAM’S origins can be traced back to the beatniks at coffee houses,
bookstores and art galleries in places like San Francisco’s City Lights
Bookstore, where Allen Ginsberg and other poets had readings with a
At next week’s anniversary reading the spirit of change remains alive.
“The feature is Murray and they are a “garage jazz/spoken word band,”’
Gardiner said. “They have a full set up and will be doing spoken word
instead of singing their words.”
The Laguna Poets formed more than 20 years ago in Laguna Beach and are
still California’s longest running weekly poetry series.
“For me, I still consider the Laguna Poets to be my spiritual home. I
started going to their readings on a regular basis about 15 years ago,”
The Laguna Poets meet the first three Friday nights of the month at
Wells Fargo in downtown Laguna.
Beth McIlvine has been coming to Laguna Poets since she was 14 years
“It’s always been a well-known staple in the poetry community and it
still is,” the 22-year-old said. “The Laguna crowd is a more literary and
One poet at the Laguna Poets reading recently summarized the
everlasting impression Laguna has on its community.
“The poem that I am reading is called ‘Carpool Coma’ but it should
have been called, ‘Why did I ever leave Laguna?” said the poet, Diane