Al Young title

AL YOUNG’S POETRY CHAT with California Arts Council Director CRAIG WATSON


Director Craig Watson outlines his vision for
the California Arts Council

  Theresa D’Onofrio
© 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 I’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 mission—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 entrée to some places, people, and students that maybe hadn’t been as attentive as before?

Yes, what I’m emphasizing here is the quality of attention. People tend not to take artists too seriously, and certainly they don’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.

That’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 doesn’t reserve a special place for poetry and the arts is truly an impoverished society. When I served as California’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 don’t often think about it in a formal way. It’s a language used imaginatively at a deep level; it’s the same kind of thing that Dana Gioia spoke to so eloquently at the Poetry Out Loud State Competition in Sacramento.

Yes, Dana’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. It’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.

Sadly true.

It’s not just about usage or grammatical and rhetorical forms; it’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.

To read the rest of this chat, go to the California Arts Council’s website


One Response to “AL YOUNG’S POETRY CHAT with California Arts Council Director CRAIG WATSON”

  1. Rosa Maria Gallardo Says:

    How do you think your poetry affected society?

Leave a Reply