Nicole Nelson 2013-10-04 01:50:19
Our guest columnist wonders why Newport doesn’t have an appointed poetic voice. Newport Beach has a beautiful, new $140 million civic center and park that includes an expanded central library. With this new-andimproved literary haven, shouldn’t Newport, like a growing number of cities its size in the U. S., also have a poet laureate to voice virtues and encourage introspection? Historically, Newport Beach named T. Duncan Stewart poet laureate in 1978. However, T. Duncan was a builder and a Juilliard-trained violinist by trade; poetry was just a hobby. Beyond having written a poem for publication in the city’s magazine celebrating the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, it is not clear what his duties were or if he even completed a city-sponsored piece. Most recently, Lee Mallory, a former professor of English as a second language at Santa Ana College, was casually referred to as the “unofficial poet laureate”—but he moved to Las Vegas upon his retirement from teaching earlier this year. To make matters worse, The New York Times recently stated that the list of cities and towns naming their own official bards was “rapidly growing”—and Newport Beach is not a part of that list. Fresno and Los Angeles established poet laureateships in California, and even Emeryville in the Bay Area—which has a population that’s less than one-eighth of Newport Beach’s resident count—has an officially appointed poet. If instated, a poet laureate would act as an advocate and a resource for poetry and literary events in Newport Beach. He or she would present original works at community events, share with local youth in schools and publish poems on the city website, among other venues. The city, therefore, would have a voice—one of reflection, wisdom and perspective. In the age of social distractions like Twitter, Facebook and ubiquitous text messages, an official poet would possess the power to remind us all to slow down, to honor and appreciate our setting and to remember the bigger picture. The literary absence in the city is not due to lack of talent. Former resident Victoria Patterson is the author of the short story compilation “Drift” and the novel “This Vacant Paradise”— both works were loosely inspired by life in Newport Beach. She, for example, feels filling such a position will showcase a different side of the city. “By bestowing the city with its own poet laureate, Newport Beach might help allay the reality show cliched notion that it’s only a city of shallow and superficial people; a materialistic-minded myth that ignores the city’s far deeper soul, with its humanity, struggle, love, empathy and depth,” Victoria explains. Newport Beach Library Services Manager Tim Hetherton agrees: “Poet laureates are a good thing,” Tim says. “If this demand came from the residents, it would be something we would consider.” This is a point that was supported by Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry, who commented via email: “It sounds like a great idea to me.” With literary, community and government support, all that’s left is obtaining the Arts Commission’s blessing and letting the request be heard clearly by Newport Beach Public Library administration. If the position were approved, a search to find the best candidate among those living or working in Newport Beach would begin. What do you say, Newport—are we ready for our own official poet laureate? I say, with the new civic center including the expanded central library, there is no better time than the present for an official Newport Beach bard. NBM
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