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Finding the words

Suzie Harrison

Laguna Beach is where adult life began for poet Lee Mallory.

His life has taken him along a winding path that included a loss

of words, but he has found himself again where it all started. Last

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week, he unveiled his new book of poems at the Pale Ale Poets

reading.

Mallory moved to Laguna when he was newly married in June 1969. He

was a recent graduate of UC Santa Barbara. Though he had written a

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bit in college, he developed his skill and affinity for words in

Laguna.

His address was a little place on Broadway called Casa de

Mandingo, which was adjacent to World Savings.

“I was newly married, writing poetry in Laguna and driving a

taxi,” Mallory said. “Driving a taxi -- there’s not much of a better

way for a poet to get poet meat.”

He has had a variety of colorful jobs that have been good to add

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to his “poet meat.”

“Snippets of life and happenings, characters, personalities and

incidents serve to make a writer’s body of work,” Mallory said.

“Laguna is a great place to be for a new writer looking on the world

with fresh eyes.”

He liked the Bohemian ways, the parties, the hippies -- after all,

it was the summer of love.

“The town had such a Bohemian feel,” Mallory said. “It seemed so

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liberated and free. In a sense its always been at the vanguard with

personal freedom.”

It was perfect for him: by day, driving the taxi, adding fuel to

the writing fire, and at night, transforming his thoughts into

poetry.

“Laguna was and still is such a glorious place to be young, in

love, and to be able to capture that was especially exciting,”

Mallory said. “Because a writer is able to capture that beauty and

excitement and ‘lock it up’ for eternity.”

Mallory’s first poems were published in Laguna, and it’s here that

over the years he has established his core friendships.

“I have met some awesome poets in Laguna Beach,” Mallory said.

But life took its course. He went to graduate school, was in the

army, had two daughters, Misty and Natalee, and got divorced. He has

been teaching at Santa Ana College since 1980.

“I had two wonderful daughters, good friends, I got a job at the

college teaching English,” Mallory said. “I was always close to

Laguna and continued to look to Laguna for my creative spirit.”

One hundred published poems and seven poetry books later, he had a

downturn in his life with the death of his 23-year-old daughter Misty

in September 1999. With her death, part of him died.

He was devastated. He lost his way and his words. Though he still

helped other poets with their work and headed poetry readings at the

Gypsy Den in Costa Mesa, he was unable to produce his own work.

“When I lost Misty, I had the sole satisfaction of reading her

work, which by then was the only thing I had left,” Mallory said.

The ironic thing is that he has always taught the importance of

putting thoughts on paper -- that it will immortalize the writer.

It’s what he had been telling his students, and it became a reality

for him.

“Then I knew, it came to me in an epiphany,” Mallory said.

“Everything I said was true because her writing essentially became

her. That’s all I had left.”

Reading her work helped. Because of his loss, it was all he could

do to process that he would survive a daughter. It consumed him.

“When I miss her, I pick up her book and she talks to me,” he

said. “I can relive everything through the words and more excitedly

relive her and her experiences through her words and through her own

eyes.”

Being part of a group of local poets in Laguna Beach called the

Pale Ale Poets sustained him. His friendships and mentoring of their

work saved him while he was creatively at a loss.

“John Gardiner, who started the Pale Ale Poets, Carole Luther and

the other poets -- those people were a source of spiritual and poetic

sustenance,” he said.

Gardiner, in turn, values Mallory.

“By far, what impresses me most about Lee ... I’ve known Lee for

about 15 years and in all that time he has worked tirelessly to help

other poets and did very, very little to further his own writing,”

Gardiner said. “He’s the most unselfish writer I’ve ever met, and

that very quality is inspirational in itself.”

With time and travels to the desert, walks on Main Beach and the

inspiration of his daughters, the poetry came back. Mallory unveiled

his latest book of poems, “Bettin’ on the Come,” at the Pale Ale

Poets reading.

“Thursday night was the reward, the validation that in the face of

the biggest loss the poet must continue,” Mallory said.

“Betting on the come” is a gambling term he learned in the desert.

Perhaps it’s a change of luck. The words came out as they did

before. Now they reflect the changes of life.

* SUZIE HARRISON is a reporter for the Laguna Beach Coastline

Pilot. She may be reached at 494-4321 or suzie.harrison@latimes.com.


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