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A year of Laguna poetry brings lessons and a festival

A year of Laguna poetry brings lessons and a festival
Laguna Beach poet laureate Kate Buckley with young writers at the Sawdust Festival. (Courtesy of Kate Buckley)

Laguna Beach makes art look easy, but city officials learned over the last year that one form of art is actually quite difficult: poetry.

The official poet laureate program is wrapping up its inaugural year of activities with a literary festival on April 14, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Laguna Beach Library, led by the city's poet laureate Kate Buckley.

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Known for her literary credentials and organizational skills, Buckley was a logical choice for the program — if not the only choice.

In addition to the festival, Buckley has had to organize workshops, readings and various community activities, plus do promotional efforts and, by the way, write a "commemorative poem about Laguna Beach."

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Buckley happily did all of that and more, but it was not easy. Public attendance was sometimes a challenge, despite having marquee names on the poetry roster.

Buckley, who probably is the most optimistic poet on the planet, admitted that Lagunans did not always show up.

"I was saddened at how few residents took advantage of the program," she said. "I was hoping to see more."

However, the last couple readings were standing room only at the LCAD gallery on Ocean Avenue. And Buckley believes the upcoming program will benefit from her foundational work.

In a telling change to this year's search for a new poet laureate, the city widened the scope by calling it a "literary laureate" program, instead of just poetry.

The change is not completely surprising. Having a poet laureate is a bit like having an astronaut laureate. How many legitimate poets live in a small town of less than 25,000 people?

In Buckley's case, she was able to attract renowned veterans to participate.

"People were beyond amazing, super generous, not only of their own time but their connections," she said. "I was very vulnerable with them. I said, 'Here's our program, here's my vision. I don't have a budget. Can you just fly here to be a nice person, help out and I'll buy you a drink? Other than that, it's really your generosity of spirit.' And they did it. It was so cool."

For the literary festival, she tapped her prior contacts and asked them if they would come back for the finale. Most said yes. For a detailed agenda and bios visit lagunabeachlitfest.com.

"We've got people coming from all over California," Buckley said. "I feel very confident in saying we are bringing the top poets and writers in the state of California to Laguna Beach."

Unlike painting, where Laguna has a long reputation for its plein air art, there is no real equivalent with poetry, which goes with the territory. Buckley blanched at the notion of having a poetry "brand" for Laguna.

"There isn't one and I think it would be horrifying if there were," she said. "Laguna is still, thankfully, a community of eclectic people with eclectic interests. From artist entrepreneurs to old-guard denizens to developers, we still have very different voices here, and I think ideally the poetry of Laguna would reflect different voices and different experiences."

This diversity and curiosity is part of the reason why Buckley's efforts over the last year focused largely on education, especially with groups that may not be exposed to poetry: children at the Boys & Girls Club, those with special needs at the Glennwood House, and others.

Buckley recalled one of her favorite moments when she was at the Boys & Girls Club. There was a young boy who was shy in class, but Buckley could tell he was really into it. English was not his first language.

"I had a feeling this young man had something important to say. So I went over to him and asked him if he would be so kind to share his poem. I could tell he wanted to, but he didn't want to read it."

She offered to read it for him and he obliged.

"So I read his poem. I almost couldn't get through it because I was so thrilled with this raw, untapped talent, and moved, so moved. It was absolutely brilliant."

Buckley followed up with the staff and put together a tailored reading list for the boy to help encourage him.

"Seeing their eyes light up and have that 'aha' moment with poetry is an amazing gift to me," she said. "I enjoyed it immensely."

For the next round of poetry and literature in Laguna, the challenge will be to reach beyond the city and find a way to impact more Southern California residents.

While Buckley's poet laureate position will end, in many ways she feels the job is just beginning.

"Poetry has so much to teach us," she said. "It teaches us metaphor, it teaches us subtlety, it teaches us complexity and creativity, and it teaches us compassion because we're viewing the world, just for a moment, through someone else's lens. I think that's something we could all use more of in these times."

Information about Laguna’s literary festival

Laguna Beach is holding its first literary festival on Saturday, April 14 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Laguna Beach Public Library, 363 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach.

Laguna's poet laureate Kate Buckley is organizing the free event, which will include readings, book signings, panels, craft talks and workshops. Several California poets and writers will be on hand including Francesca Bell, Noah Blaustein, Kate Buckley, Elena Karina Byrne, Grant Hier, Eric Morago, Victoria Patterson, Mary Jane White and Tom Zoellner, as well as Laguna Poets and Third Street Writers. For other details visit lagunabeachlitfest.com.

The Poet Laureate program is funded by the lodging establishments and City of Laguna Beach. The festival agenda includes:

  • 11 to 11:30 a.m.: Children’s Poetry Circle (ages: 5 to 11) - Facilitator: Kate Buckley (Children’s Library Section).

  • 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Craft talks, panels, readings and workshops.

  • 11:30 to 11:55 a.m.: Eric Morago Reading/Q&A & Signing (Main Room).

  • 12 to 12:25 p.m.: Victoria Patterson and Francesca Bell Author Panel (Main Room): “Your Name in Lights: A Novelist and a Poet on How to Get Published — Tips, Tricks and Pitfalls to Avoid.”

  • 11:30 to 11:55 a.m.: Mary Jane White Workshop (Workshop Room): “Translation — How To Begin: Collaboration.” (A hands-on workshop on translating poetry for novices.)

  • 12 to 12:25 p.m.: Elena Karina Byrne Craft Talk (Workshop Room): “The Gorgeous Gamble: Using Risk and Surprise to Make Your Poetry Pay Off in a Big Way.”

  • 12:30 to 1:25 p.m.: Break for lunch. Laguna Beach has a bevy of restaurants suitable for different palates and price points walkable from the Laguna Beach Library.

  • 1:30 to 2:55 p.m.: Craft talks, panels, readings and workshops.

  • 1:30 to 2:25 p.m.: Tom Zoellner Workshop (Workshop Room): “Writing the Landscape: Orange County as a ‘Character’ in the Genres of Poetry, Fiction and Nonfiction.”

  • 1:30 to 1:55 p.m.: Noah Blaustein Reading/Q&A & Signing (Main Room).

  • 2 to 2:25 p.m.: Grant Hier Reading/Q&A & Signing (Main Room).

  • 2:30 to 2:55 p.m.: “She Says”: A Reading/Q&A & Signing with Elena Karina Byrne, Kate Buckley and Francesca Bell (Main Room).

  • 2:30 to 2:55 p.m.: Noah Blaustein and Grant Hier Craft Talk (Workshop Room): “The Hard Work: Facing the Page, Overcoming Doubt and Making it New.”

  • 3 to 4 p.m.: Local Voices (Fiction and Poetry): Third Street Writers (3 to 3:30 p.m.: Coordinator, Rina Palumbo). Laguna Poets (3:30 to 4 p.m.: Coordinator, Mike Sprake).

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at hansen.dave@gmail.com.

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