Â Theresa D’Onofrio
Â© 2012 California Arts Council
What did it mean to you to be the California Poet Laureate?
For me, it was an opportunity to continue doing what Iâ€™ve perceived myself having done my entire writing career. Wearing the title of poet laureate made it easier for people to imagine they understood I had a missionâ€”something worth paying attention to. Up until my appointment, I had not understood the power of a title like poet laureate; it was almost like being knighted.
That gave you entrĂ©e to some places, people, and students that maybe hadnâ€™t been as attentive as before?
Yes, what Iâ€™m emphasizing here is the quality of attention. People tend not to take artists too seriously, and certainly they donâ€™t take poets seriously until they are recognized in some official capacity.
Right after being appointed, do you remember one of the earliest calls for engaging you?
Well, I think the very first call was from National Public Radio (since then legally renamed NPR), who wanted to interview me. That turned out to be quite a good thing.
Thatâ€™s a pretty good platform, yes?
Any time poetry appears on a national stage, it’s a good day.
I agree. I think a society without poetry or a society that doesnâ€™t reserve a special place for poetry and the arts is truly an impoverished society. When I served as Californiaâ€™s Poet Laureate, I saw how comforting and how accommodating I could be not only to all kinds of institutions, but to people in general. Wherever I found myself, people were hungry and eager to hear what I had to say. Poetry is important to people, even to people who donâ€™t often think about it in a formal way. Itâ€™s a language used imaginatively at a deep level; itâ€™s the same kind of thing that Dana Gioia spoke to so eloquently at the Poetry Out Loud State Competition in Sacramento.
Yes, Danaâ€™s talk was great. It was fun to see the high school students get to their feet before us oldsters could.
Yes, that’s because they appreciate being spoken to with such eloquence. Itâ€™s about language. Language largely circulates in a degraded state in public discourse today. I listen to the way politicians and corporate representatives speak and it appalls me.
Itâ€™s not just about usage or grammatical and rhetorical forms; itâ€™s really about concern and respect for the listener, the people whom you’re speaking to. Very few take the time to prepare something beautiful.