City Lights: The Poet Laureate of reader comments

Last week, Times Community News got a surprise visit from a poet. No, Rita Dove or Mark Strand didn't stop by the newsroom. But our story on DrunkRescue, a new Huntington Beach business that offers rides home for out-on-the-town drunks, got an online reader comment much different from the usual anonymous posting.

It was different, mainly, because it was written in rhymed couplets. I emailed the author and asked for his or her name so we could print the comment in Mailbag (it's in our letters page this week), and a return message revealed that Michael P. Ridley — a.k.a. The Alaskan Poet — had sent it anonymously.

Then again, for those familiar with Ridley's work, the poem's author may have been easy to guess. Ridley, a lawyer who lives in Costa Mesa, has a history of posting poetic reader comments and once wrote a column (in verse) for the Orange County Register. He also runs a pair of poetry blogs: one,, dealing with personal issues, and the other,, weighing in on news of the day.

All his poems are written in the same freewheeling style, with rhymed couplets, wildly irregular meter and lines sometimes so long that they require a second intake of breath to read aloud. If you've read works by the 20th-century satirist Ogden Nash, you may get the idea.

I arranged an interview with Ridley and expected him to tell me he was a Nash fanatic. Instead, he cited his main influences as Dr. Seuss and the Yukon poet Robert Service, whose work he devoured growing up in an Alaskan fishing town. He admitted without hesitation that he isn't a poetry scholar and that his attempts to write free verse have come to naught.

But Ridley has one skill that likely eludes the average Poet Laureate: He can finish poems quickly. When he read the DrunkRescue story, he said, he didn't have to worry about early drafts or revisions.

"I read that and, literally, within two minutes I had done the poem," Ridley told me.

With the Register, Ridley rhymed about Fourth of July drinkers ("In most of the country this is a day of parades, Sousa, reflections, fireworks and family barbecues./Sad, in this Golden Land of beach and sun, it is a day of too much wine, too much brew") and Orange County's summer tradition ("It is harder in this county to find a working farm than an honest man with a lamp,/Yet the Orange County Fair is marked with droves of cars coming off the Fair Drive ramp"), and his commentary blog features musings on birth control and Whitney Houston, among other things.

They all seemed effortless enough. Still, I needed firsthand evidence that Ridley could write a poem that fast, so I emailed him a recent Independent story — about the plan to expand the 405 Freeway — and challenged him to versify it. Less than 40 minutes later, he responded:

No one can predict the future other than the certainty of one's final heart beat

In a world of telecommuting and video cams do we need to expand our streets?

Orange County continues to grow and traffic may get worse

Problem is we have an almost empty purse

Several ideas on the table need over a billion each to improve the 405

Anyone asking if on a keyboard we reduce the need to drive?

Or with oil prices going to new heights

Will we have the dollars for the commuting wars to fight?

A wider road may be a perceived need

Asphalt covers over the grass and weeds

But if we build more freeways to ease it for the cars and trucks

Especially if we do not have the money or do not have the bucks

Are we doomed to a treadmill and soon out of luck

Telecommuting too easy to disregard and shuck?

Then again, perhaps I should have sent him our story from last week about the watchdog report on members of Congress. Even I can't think of anything that rhymes with "Rohrabacher."

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at

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