Al Young title

THE POET LAUREATE

 

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Former poet laureate Al Young in performance with bassist Dan Robbins

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Al Young
California Poet Laureate

May 15, 2005 — October 9, 2008

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Photo: Connie Post

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Meet

JUAN FELIPE HERRERA

California’s Current Poet Laureate
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Official Press Release from the Governor’s Office

Who Is Juan Felipe Herrera?

California Arts Council

CAC Director Craig Watson

Governor Edmund D. Brown, Jr.

Juan-Felipe-Herrera-with-Oscar-Garza-600x400 Courtesy of Zócalo Public Square

Oscar Garza in conversation with Juan Felipe Herrera

The Making of An American Poet:
California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera on Inspiration, Revision, and What It Means to Be a Mexican-American Writer

Juan Felipe 18June2012
Flickr

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ABOUT THE POET LAUREATE

The role of the California Poet Laureate is to spread the art of poetry from classrooms to boardrooms across the state, to inspire an emerging generation of literary artists and to educate all Californians about the many poets and authors who have influenced our great state through creative literary expression. The position of Poet Laureate was established in 2001 with the passage of AB 113 authored by Assembly member Fran Pavly. Through that bill, the California Arts Council is designated to recommend individuals to the Governor for the position of Poet Laureate. The Governor chooses the Poet Laureate, and Senate approves the appointment.

Over the course of a two-year term, the Poet Laureate provides six public readings in urban and rural locations across the state, educates civic and state leaders about the value of poetry and creative expression, and undertakes a significant cultural project. One of the goals of the project must be to bring the poetic arts to students who might otherwise have little opportunity to be exposed to poetry.

HISTORY

The concept of a Poet Laureate originated in England in the 1600s. The laureate description refers to the ancient Greek tradition of placing a laurel wreath or crown as recognition for significant achievements, from military accomplishments to literary triumphs.

Early lawmakers in California recognized the importance of a statewide Poet Laureate at the beginning of the twentieth century. Ina Donna Coolbrith was appointed the first honorary California Poet Laureate by Governor Hiram Warren Johnson on June 30, 1915. Ms. Coolbrith was later recognized by the California State Senate as the “Loved Laurel Crowned Poet of California” by a resolution in 1919, and she retained the title until her death in 1928. More details on Ms. Coolbrith can be found from the California Association of Teachers of English, and the University of California has an extensive online archive of her work.

The state Senate honored another California poet, English professor Dr. Henry Meade Bland, with the Laureate title in 1929, and he served for two years until his death in 1931. In 1933 lawmakers recognized through resolution another California literary artist: John Steven McGroarty, a poet, playwright, historian, Los Angeles Times writer, presidential candidate, and member of Congress from southern California between 1935 and 1939. More information is available from the Journal of San Diego History article on McGroatry.

The next writer to be honored officially by the state was Gordon W. Norris, appointed by the Legislature in 1953. He served until his death on December 18, 1961. Norris was followed by Charles Garrigus, a member of the California legislature and recognized by his colleagues in 1966, who served until the year 2000. Both of these appointments were made from the state Legislature through resolutions. An informative article on the history of the honorary Poets Laureate of California can be found from Metro Active, a Silicon Valley weekly.

After Garrigus’ death, lawmakers opted to change the state’s approach to the role of California Poet Laureate and make it an official appointed position rather than an honorary title. On September 1, 2001, Governor Gray Davis signed AB 113 by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, establishing the position of “California Poet Laureate” as a permanent part of the California Government Code. Under this new law, the Poet Laureate would no longer hold the title for life, but would instead serve a two-year term (time determined from the date of confirmation by the Senate) and would be limited to two terms.

On June 11, 2002, Governor Gray Davis appointed Quincy T. Troupe as California’s first official Poet Laureate. Mr. Troupe briefly served without Senate confirmation. In 2005, Al Young was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and confirmed by the senate in March of 2006. He left office in August of 2008.

California’s poets are among the most prestigious in the nation. They have received numerous significant awards including Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and some have served as United States’ Poets Laureate, like Robert Hass, a San Francisco native, and Robert Pinsky who attended Stanford University. California’s poets also come from every ethnic, religious, and geographic region of the state, and have provided a great source of inspiration to their communities, students, and the people of California.

HOW THE POET LAUREATE IS ELECTED

Through a panel process, the criteria for consideration for the position included:

  • excellence of the candidate’s work;
  • publication of a significant number of works;
  • reputation as a poet of stature; and
  • California residence for at least 10 years.

In March 2005, a panel of literary experts was convened at the California Arts Council to review the 26 finalists for the position of California Poet Laureate culled from the 86 nominations submitted. Three final names were forwarded to the Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who, on May 15, 2005, appointed Al Young as Poet Laureate.

California’s poets have long been acknowledged as among the most accomplished in the nation. Numerous poets who have gained awards such as the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and other significant accolades call California their home, as have at least three U.S. Poets Laureate. California’s poets are widely diverse and often provide a great source of inspiration to all citizens of California, young and old.

California is not alone in its quest for a literary voice. In many jurisdictions throughout the United States–including federal, state, and local governments–the position of poet laureate has been established using similarly vigorous and competitive appointment procedures.

POET LAUREATE DUTIES

The Poet Laureate provides a minimum of six public readings in urban and rural settings across the state, and educates community, business, and state leaders about the value and importance of poetry and creative expression. Additionally, the Poet Laureate undertakes a significant cultural project that extends throughout the two-year term. One of the goals of the project must be to bring the poetic arts to students who might otherwise have little opportunity to be exposed to poetry. The honorarium for the position is $10,000 for two years of service. The appointment must be confirmed by the Senate.

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CURRENT CALIFORNIA POET LAUREATE

www.gov.ca.gov

Juan Felipe Herrera Named California Poet Laureate by Governor Brown

UC Riverside Professor a renowned poet

Published: 03-22-2012 | California Arts Council

Photo © Randy Vaughn-Dotta

Juan Felipe Herrera

Governor Jerry Brown has appointed Juan Felipe Herrera as the California Poet Laureate. Herrera, 63, is the author of 28 books and currently serves as the Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. He was a professor and chair of Chicano and Latin American Studies at California State University, Fresno, from 1990 to 2004 and a teaching assistant fellow at the renowned Iowa Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa from 1988 to 1990. Herrera’s work has received wide critical acclaim, including numerous national and international awards. The appointment requires Senate confirmation.

The mission of the California Poet Laureate is to advocate for the art of poetry in classrooms and boardrooms across the state, to inspire an emerging generation of literary artists, and to educate all Californians about the many poets and authors who have influenced our great state through creative literary expression.

GOVERNOR’S PRESS RELEASE

The California Arts Council manages the nomination process for the California Poet Laureate as established by law. After a call to the general public for nominations, applications are reviewed by an expert peer panel to narrow the number. Panel recommendations are sent to the Governor’s office for additional vetting. The Governor makes the final selection and names the California Poet Laureate, who must be confirmed by the Senate.

MORE ON THE ROLE OF THE CALIFORNIA POET LAUREATE — and the California Arts Council

The California Arts Council and AlYoung.org congratulate Mr. Herrera.

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A TOTALLY CALIFORNIAN POET LAUREATE

Juan Felipe Herrera, 63, is the son of migrant farmworkers and plugged in to modern culture. He’d like to make the entire state a democratic, virtual poetry workshop …

May 20, 2012 | By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times

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US and UK Poets Laureate on Being Public Face for Poetry (PBS NewsHour Frontline)

California poet laureate
Carol Muske-Dukes (2008-2011)

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Continuing his support of California’s rich literary tradition, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today appointed Carol Muske-Dukes California’s poet laureate. The poet laureate is charged with educating Californians about the many literary icons who have come from California and added to its cultural heritage. She is also charged with encouraging a new generation of poets to take up the mantle of creative expression and bringing poetry to students who otherwise would have little opportunity to be exposed to it.

“Carol Muske-Dukes is an accomplished and decorated poet and author. Her commitment to the literary arts and passionate belief that poetry can transform lives will serve as an inspiration for all Californians,” Governor Schwarzenegger said.

Since 1993 Muske-Dukes has been a professor of English at the University of Southern California (USC), where she founded the graduate program in literature and creative writing in 1999 and served as director of the program until 2002. She previously served as associate professor from 1991 to 1993, assistant professor from 1989 to 1991 and lecturer from 1984 to 1988 at USC. From 1972 to 1974, Muske-Dukes founded and taught in a creative writing program called “Free Space” at the Women’s House of Detention on Riker’s Island in New York which later became “Art Without Walls-Free Space.” She is a regular critic for the New York Times Book Review and the LA Times Book Review. Muske-Dukes previously served as a poetry columnist for the LA Times Book Review from 2001 to 2004.

Muske-Dukes is the author of seven books of poetry, including her most recent work, Sparrow, which was a National Book Award finalist and An Octave Above Thunder, which was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She has also written four novels, including Los Angeles Times best-seller Channeling Mark Twain and two collections of essays. Her collection Married to the Icepick Killer: A Poet in Hollywood was listed in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Books of 2002.

In addition to her teaching positions and numerous books, Muske-Dukes has also been anthologized widely, including credits in Best American Poems, 100 Great Poems by Women, MotherSongs and others. Her list of awards and accomplishments includes a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, the Ingram-Merrill Fellowship, the Witter Bynner Award from the Library of Congress, the Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, five pushcart prizes and the WriteGirl Bold Ink Award.

“I am truly honored to be named California’s poet laureate and I look forward to serving the people of California and poetry which reaches the hearts and imagination of young and old in both urban and remote areas of this diverse and dynamic state.” said Muske-Dukes.

Muske-Dukes, 62, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and earned a Master of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $10,000 to be paid over the course of the two-year term. Muske-Dukes is a Democrat.

“Carol Muske-Dukes is a distinguished writer who has greatly influenced the world of literary arts in California and throughout the world. Governor Schwarzenegger has chosen Carol from a list of accomplished and well-known writers and The California Arts Council looks forward to working with her in the future,” said California Arts Council Director Muriel Johnson.

The California poet laureate works in conjunction with the California Arts Council to bring the poetic arts to Californians and to California students who might otherwise have little opportunity to be exposed to poetry. Before 2001, the position was unofficial and honorary, conferred by the legislature and held for a lifetime. The poet laureate position was officially created by AB 113 by Assemblymember Fran Pavley and signed into law in 2001. Under this legislation, the California Arts Council solicits nominations for the position and then recommends four candidates to the governor. From these nominees the Governor chooses the poet laureate and he or she is confirmed by the Senate.

California has given the world some of its greatest writers and most influential works; John Steinbeck brought to life many regions of California-from the Central Valley in The Grapes of Wrath to Monterey in Cannery Row-in his immense body of work; Allen Ginsberg became synonymous with San Francisco while leading the charge of the Beat Generation with his most famous poem, “Howl;” and Raymond Carver revitalized the short story genre in the late 20th century.

The role of the California poet laureate is to spread the art of poetry from classrooms to boardrooms across the state, to inspire an emerging generation of literary artists and to educate all Californians about the many poets and authors who have influenced our great state through creative literary expression.

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California poet laureate Al Young  (2005-2008)

Al Young’s 2012 Poetry Chat with CAC Director Craig Watson

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Professor of Classics Patrick Hunt crowns Young with a laurel wreath at Stanford, December 2007
Photo: Linda Cicero/Stanford Report

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On May 12, 2005 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Al Young as California’s Poet Laureate. Mr. Young’s official website, www.alyoung.org, features not only some of his poetry, but photos, sound, and a full schedule of his upcoming events.

“Al Young is a poet, an educator and a man with a passion for the arts. His remarkable talent and sense of mission to bring poetry into the lives of Californians is an inspiration,” said Governor Schwarzenegger in a press release.

Young is well known for the jazz rhythms in his work and often performs and collaborates with musicians. A native of Mississippi who spent most of his adult life in the San Francisco Bay Area, he began publishing poems, articles and stories at a very young age.

“Like jazz, Al Young is an original American voice,” said Muriel Johnson, Director, California Arts Council.

Young has taught poetry and fiction writing at a number of universities nationwide, including the Universities of California at Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Davis and Stanford University, among others. His works have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Review, Seattle Review, Rolling Stone, and the Norton Anthology of African American Literature. As a screenwriter, Young has worked with Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor.

Young often travels internationally, and has been a guest lecturer for the U.S. Department of State as a representative of African American literature and culture. His work has been translated into various languages including German, Japanese, Spanish and Russian. His numerous awards include the Wallace Stegner, Guggenheim, Fulbright, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships; the PEN-USA Award for Non-Fiction; and the Pushcart Prize, as well as two American Book Awards and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year citation.

Young’s ability to inspire played a key role in his appointment as California Poet Laureate. “He is an educator and a man with a passion for the Arts,” said Schwarzenegger. “His remarkable talent and sense of mission to bring poetry into the lives of Californians is an inspiration.”

Please see the California Poet Laureate Al Young website for more information on Mr. Young.

“Young, who emerged as one of the premiere poets in the Black American literary tradition in during the 1960s and early 1970s, talks about his aims as the Golden State’s official champion for the oldest literary art form. These include bringing poetry back into the public and popular discourse, in part through the medium some have argued poses the greatest threat to reading and literature: online technology. Electronic technologies, Martelle states, have “atomized” us, and Young sees one of his primary roles as using “the distilled purity of poetry to breach walls of isolation.” One concrete plan is to develop an electronic coffeehouse that will be accessible to California’s poets and poetry enthusiasts.”
J’s Theater summary of Scott Martelle‘s 2005 L.A. Times profile of Al Young: “Bringing Poetic Beauty to the People”

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“Like jazz, Al Young is an original American voice.” –Muriel Johnson, Director, California Arts Council
on the appointment of Al Young as California Poet Laureate.

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Press Release
January 4, 2007

Contact: Mary Beth Barber | 916.322.6588 | mbarber@caartscouncil.com

California Poet Laureate Al Young to Tour State
Jazz Poet to Visit 11 Communities in April 2007; Focus on Rural Areas

SACRAMENTO –

California Poet Laureate Al Young will visit 11 cities in California beginning April 12 through April 22, 2007 to celebrate National Poetry Month and National Library Month. Young’s tour will take him from the north of the state to the south as he gives readings and poetry workshops in libraries from Mendocino to San Diego County. Young’s will also participate in National Cowboy Poetry Week in Siskiyou County by reading with local cowboy poets.

Young’s tour emphasizes rural communities in the Central Valley and mountain regions. “Al Young has been extremely popular in rural California, and the tour will go through the Coastal Mountains, Central Valley, Sierra Nevada and Inland Empire,” said Ray Tatar, Arts Specialist for the California Arts Council. “Exposure to the California Poet Laureate should be available to all Californians, not just those in the cities,” he said.

Young is well known for the jazz rhythms in his work and often reads with a musical accompanist. A native of Mississippi who spent most of his adult life in the San Francisco Bay Area, he began publishing poems, articles and stories at a very young age. “Like jazz, Al Young is an original American voice,” said Muriel Johnson, Director, California Arts Council.

Young has taught poetry and fiction writing at a number of universities nationwide, including the Universities of California at Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Davis; and Stanford University, among others. His works have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Review, Seattle Review, Rolling Stone, and the Norton Anthology of African-American Literature. As a screenwriter, Young has worked with Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor.

Young often travels internationally, and has been a guest lecturer for the U.S. Department of State as a representative of African-American literature and culture. His work has been translated into various languages including German, Japanese, Spanish and Russian. His numerous awards include the Wallace Stegner, Guggenheim, Fulbright, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships; the PEN-USA Award for Non-Fiction; and the Pushcart Prize, as well as two American Book Awards and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year citation.

“He is an educator and a man with a passion for the Arts,” said Gov. Schwarzenegger in the announcement of Young’s appointment in May of 2005. “His remarkable talent and sense of mission to bring poetry into the lives of Californians is an inspiration.”

Al Young/Dan Robbins 2007 TOP TO BOTTOM Tour Schedule

Mendocino, Thursday, April 12th
Crescent City, Friday, April 13th
Mount Shasta, Saturday, April 15th
Chico, Sunday, April 15th
Nevada City, Monday, April 16th
Stockton, Tuesday, April 17th
Bakersfield, Wednesday, April 18th
Barstow, Thursday, April 19th
Riverside, Friday, April 20th
Palm Springs, Saturday, April 21st
Carlsbad, Sunday, April 22nd

Members of the press may contact Mary Beth Barber at 916.322.6588 or mbarber@caartscouncil.com. More information on the tour will be provided later this month.

The mission of the California Arts Council, a state agency, is to advance California through the Arts and Creativity. Members of the California Arts Council include: Chair Marcy Friedman, Vice Chair Michael Alexander, Annette Bening, Eunice David, Phyllis Epstein, Malissa Feruzzi Shriver, Barbara George, Chong-Moon Lee, Michael Rubel, and Fred Sands.

Copyright © 2007 State of California

THE POET LAUREATE’S CALIFORNIA TOP TO BOTTOM TOUR 2007

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Al Young and Dan Robbins

CALIFORNIA POET LAUREATE: Short summaries of newspaper and online coverage

April 11, 2007
The Daily Triplicate
Hilary Corrigan
Coastal Nights and Inland Afternoons Poems 2001-2006

According to this article written by Hilary Corrigan of The Daily Triplicate, Al Young has focused his poetry on the state of the world – war, environmental, societal, and political problems ignored by a culture that markets and sells.
“All this manufacturing and consuming is eating up the planet,” Young said in the article. “We’re surrounded by things that are about to disappear.”

Young wants readers and listeners to remember that they can turn off computers and TVs, and that if film, graphics, paintings and dance all disappeared, poetry would remain.

April 12 2007
The Daily Triplicate
Editorial
“Our View: State Poet’s visit benefits quality of life”

The Daily Triplicate wrote of Al Young’s impending visit to Del Norte County as a positive thing. The article mentions that exposing children to such a literary figure not only raises their quality of life, but also enhances the educational system.

The Daily Triplicate also mentions that exposing people to this kind of art, one, which is often ridiculed, is very beneficial. So beneficial in fact, that it prompted The paper to sponsor a poetry contest for school aged children. Over 50 entries were submitted and three young women were selected as the winners.April 12, 2007
The Eureka Reporter
Wendy Butler
“Poet laureate discusses ‘universality’”

In this article written by Wendy Butler for The Eureka Reporter, Al Young discusses how he considers “real language” to be that which involves “regular thought.” This article also mentions Young’s next book Something about the Blues, poems based on blues or jazz, which will be released later this fall.

April 13, 2007
“State’s master poet reads in Willits”
Fae Woodward
The Willits News

This article written by Fae Woodward for The Willits News discusses the different approaches Al Young takes when writing poetry.

According to the article, Young said students often direct their work to “me,” indicating young poets use “I,” “me” and “my” far too often. Using his own work he illustrated how poetry can originate from many different avenues.

Monday, April 16, 2007
The Bakersfield Californian
Erin Waldner
“Event at library set to feature state’s top poet: Al Young”

This was a short story by Erin Waldner of The Bakersfield Californian on Al Young’s upcoming visit to the Beale Memorial Library in Kern County on Wednesday, April 18.

Reference Librarian Susan Berumen described Young’s poetry as “very down-to-earth…..very personal.” According to the article, the library staff was also excited to hear Dan Robbins, the bass accompanist that toured with Young.

April 16, 2007
The Stockton Record
Anna Kaplan
“California Poet Laureate will stop at library, Delta College”

This piece written by Anna Kaplan for The Stockton Record emphasized Stockton’s growing interest in poetry, both in the schools and the community. According to the article, Young’s visit was the first time in five years that a prominent poet had stopped by the city. Stockton’s growing interest in poetry has manifested itself into creative writing workshops and literary events at the library.

April 16, 2007
The Daily Triplicate
Hilary Corrigan
“Poetry well-received”

According to this article written by Hilary Corrigan of The Daily Triplicate, more than 100 people of all ages packed the Del Norte County Library on April 13 to hear Al Young’s poetry. The audience was treated to the music of Dan Robbins’ bass guitar and Young’s singing voice.

The article mentions that Young recalled interviews, books, movies, musicals and musicians, explaining the scenes where he set many of his poems. Young mentioned that his term as California Poet Laureate was a mission to remind the public of people’s meaningless words. “Poetry freshens our language,” Young said. “The way that we read words on the page and read with our hearts and our souls.”

“When times are really dark, like these,” Young said, pointing to Dylan Thomas, Langston Hughes and the beat generation poets who came out of the 1950’s, along music, drama, painting and dance. “These are the true treasures of any society. We’re not remembered for our armies and navies.”

April 16, 2007
The Daily Triplicate
Hilary Corrigan
“Poetry with purpose”

This article by Hilary Corrigan of The Daily Triplicate discusses a visit by Al Young to the Del Norte County Juvenile Hall where he shared poetry and writing techniques with 10 students. The following are direct quotes taken from the article:

“Poetry, for me, is a way of exploring things that you might not be able to talk about any other way,” Young said, urging the students to continue practicing it. “You can get things out in your local newspaper, in your local publications.”

According to the article, although the detention center rarely allows visitors – to protect the minor’s identity, Young was invited to come because of the rare chance for the young people to see the accomplished poet in his element.

“A poet of his ability, his stature, when would these kids ever be exposed to this?” said Lisa Sanford, probation officer supervisor for Del Norte County.

“They listened and that’s the important thing,” Barlow said of the student’s reactions to Young’s visit. “Some of these kids just need people that care.”

April 17, 2007
The Daily Triplicate
Winners of Spring Poetry Contest

To celebrate California Poet Laureate Al Young’s visit to Crescent City, the Daily Triplicate and the downtown Business Improvement District sponsored the Spring Poetry contest for the community’s youth. The theme was “Living in Del Norte County” and one winner was chosen for each of the three divisions – grade school, middle school and high school.

After receiving more than 50 entries for the competition, the winners – Cheryl Covington (grade school division), Cerina D. Aragones (middle school division) and Lindsay Scholes (high school division) — were given certificates, the chance to meet Al Young and the opportunity to read their poems to about 150 local residents in attendance.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007
The Nevada County Union
Pam Jung
“California Poet Laureate Al Young visits Nevada County”

Al Young performed in front of an overflow crowd on Monday, April 16 at the Madelyn Helling Library. According to this article written by Pam Jung of The Nevada County Union, crowd favorites were such pieces as “Back Home in Indiana,” which he performed with his bass accompanist Dan Robbins.

Jung described Young was described as “erudite,” “distinguished,” and a “people’s poet”.

April 18, 2007
Herald Press News
Lauri Sturdivant
Executive Director of the Siskiyou Arts Council

In this piece submitted to the Herald Press News by Lauri Sturdivant, Executive Director of the Siskiyou Arts Council, she thanks the supporters and volunteers for making Al Young’s visit to Siskiyou County a great success. Sponsors of this event were the California Arts Council, the California Center for the Book and California Poets and Writers Inc. Because of the collaboration with the Siskiyou Arts Council, the tour included three Siskiyou readings in three locations: Mt. Shasta Library, Yreka Community Theater and the Brown Trout Gallery in Dunsmuir.

April 20, 2007
The Desert Dispatch
David Heldreth
“The music of poetry”

This story written by David Heldreth for The Desert Dispatch covered a visit to the Performing Arts Center at Barstow Community College where Al Young alternated between reading alone and reading along to music from bass accompanist Dan Robbins.

The aim of the tour is to reach areas of rural California often overlooked by other arts programs.

The following is an excerpt of the story written as written by Heldreth: “The tour is important because everybody goes through the popular stops, which are just flooded with arts and culture. You can’t even keep up with it all,” Young said. “At the same time, you have all these other communities where poetry is also important and also going on that get neglected. I just thought that as the official poet of the state that I should let people know they count.”

April 20, 2007
The Desert Sun
Richard Guzman
“Rhyme, reason and the universe”

This article written by Richard Guzman for The Desert Sun covers a phone interview with Al Young while he was on the road between stops. When asked how the tour was coming thus far, Young answered with the following:

“As the poet laureate, I feel it is part of a mission to let people know that the poetry is not something locked up in school or textbooks.” “It exists in the human spirit and is badly needed now when we are surrounded by language that is increasingly meaningless that comes from official sources.”

Young also mentioned that response he was getting from his audience was that it was a “smash” and an “absolute success.”

April 27, 2007
Pasadena Weekly
“Jazzing it up”
Julie Riggott

Julie Riggott of the Pasadena Weekly wrote this article noting that Al Young takes his performances to another level alongside jazz player Dan Robbins.

“We’re collaborators. Dan Robbins is a first-rate musician,” said Al Young. “Sometimes, I don’t say things because they’ve been said musically by him,” he added. “Other times, we’ll exchange things: I’ll read a passage, then he’ll respond to it and vice versa.”

Young’s ability to improvise was also a key point mentioned in the article. According to the article, Young performed ‘Route 66’ in Barstow because the city’s name is part of a lyric in the song. According to Young, improvisations are one reason his shows are so unique.

According to the article, Young believes that poetry “belongs to the people.” His intention has been to separate himself from the ‘I dare you to understand what I’m talking about’ style of poetry.

April 20, 2007
The Coast News
“California Poet Laureate to read at Carlsbad City Library”
Jesse Scaccia
In this article written by Jesse Scaccia for The Coast News, Young discussed how important he thinks poetry is to society.

“It is the last unmediated form of communication,” Young said. “In poetry, you have no one between the person delivering the message and the recipient,” he said.

Young also mentions how he never has to look far to find material for his poetry. “I find it everywhere,” he said in the article. “Poetry is a lens used to look at everything and anything.”

When discussing the importance of poetry in a historical context in the article, Young pointed out that poetry was used to control the weather and to memorize things.

“It’s no accident that the world’s great sacred texts were composed in poetry,” he said.

April 2007
Universal Language
Pat Sherman
Lifestyle
Today’s Local News

This article written by Pat Sherman for Lifestyle mentions that Young is inspired in writing his poetry by the music of jazz legends such as Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. He is encouraged by a generation of the spoken word – those who redefine the language and make it their own.

“Poetry, by freshening language, freshens consciousness,” Young said. “The world is always new.”

According to the article, Young’s duties as a poet haven’t changed much since his appointment by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in May 2005.

“I’m virtually doing what I’ve always done, except now that I have a title, it’s like being knighted,” Young said.

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Al Young with Dartanyan Brown on the steps of the State Capitol in 2006
Photo © Sacramento Bee

More on California’s Poet Laureate, Al Young (2005-2008)

Hat tip to TBV reader Joan Peterson, who caught my piece on California’s new poet laureate, Al Young, even though it had scrolled off the front page — and pointed me to a story about Al in today’s L.A. Times.

Times writer Scott Martelle captures the qualities that make Al so remarkable a figure in the worlds of literature, music and academe — as well as a great international spokesman for the best in American culture. Al brings the full, immediate, emotional power of poetry to readers and listeners. As he says, there’s nothing hard about poetry. It’s natural. It’s social. We ordinary folk are distanced from poetry today, and he blames the Modernists and their co-conspirators in the academy for that:

“Eliot and Pound and that whole bunch made poetry seem difficult,” Young said during a lengthy interview spanning the train rides between Berkeley and Sacramento. “They generated the idea that if poetry weren’t obscure or learned, then it wasn’t really poetry…. For Americans in the 19th century, poetry was one of the main forms of entertainment. People memorized poems, they sat around and read it to each other. They bought poetry. Poetry was reviewed like novels are now.” With modernism, “poetry disappeared into the academy. We teach it as something that we’re not going to naturally understand.”

The article makes mention of a website Al had told me he hopes to set up, wearing his Poet Laureate hat — as part of his lifelong project to “bring poetry to the people, and people to poetry” (to paraphrase our BE for Change motto). It will be a “virtual coffeehouse” for poets, set up under the aegis of the state library.

“It would be of particular use to students and teachers,” Young said. “We’re hashing it out, but I think it could be a really good thing. There’s so much going on with poetry in California.”

In a strange ironic twist, Al’s longtime publisher closed its doors some time ago, and his books are out of print. He told me that there’s a new “Collected” in the works, but meanwhile, you can find his novels and poems through used book sellers. Barnes & Noble has the most complete list I’ve come across. “Sitting Pretty,” “Seduction by Light” and “Who is Angelina?” are the novels I’d go to first. Al has a remarkable ability to tell stories through the eyes and voices of strong women — no small accomplishment for male novelists. As for the poems, well, you will get lost in them. Not lost as you might in the intellectual convolutions of Pound and Eliot. Lost, as in immersed in worlds beyond your own boundaries.

I can safely promise that you will embrace the journey and be amply rewarded for the effort you make to track down Al’s books and experience him for yourself.

Posted by EDN on August 24, 2005 at 12:09 PM in California | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

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Al Young’s website

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Carol Muske-Dukes’ website

Juan Felipe Herrera’s website

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Who was Josephine D. Smith? Click on her portrait

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