A Celebration of California’s Local Poets Laureate

On October 6th, Engaging the Senses Foundation (ETSF), in partnership with the California Arts Council and the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs/McGroarty Arts Center, is sponsoring a coming-together event of current and former California local poets laureate to celebrate poetry’s power to nourish our deepest humanity.
The gathering is the brainchild of current CA state Poet Laureate Dana Gioia, who is featured in our documentary-in-production Be the Beauty. Dana is an award-winning poet, author of the seminal critique Can Poetry Matter?, and a recipient of the 2014 Aiken-Taylor Award for lifetime achievement in American poetry. He was also the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) from 2003-2008, where he created enduring art programs such as  Poetry Out Loud.

Dana’s desire to serve the underserved has informed all of the programs he’s created on the federal and state level, which are consistently inclusive, with a broad outreach (for instance, as CA Poet Laureate he has visited every single district over the last two years, the first laureate ever to do so). His dedication to this vision mirrors ETSF’s commitment to vibrant inclusivity.  We believe that the difference these kinds of programs make to communities — and to the individuals within these communities who are given the opportunity to be seen, heard, and valued — can’t be overstated. We will be filming the event, so that its impact can reach as far as possible.

The day-long occasion will take place in the former residence of John McGroarty, California’s third poet laureate. In several breakout sessions, the poets will share best practices and lessons from their experiences as representatives of literacy appointed by their cities, counties, regions, and the state. Along with  the regional poets laureate, Dana Gioia, Los Angeles Poet Laureate Robin Coste Lewis, and Carol Muske-Dukes, a former California Poet Laureate, will take part in a group reading open to the public.

This is a thrilling time for the art of poetry in the U.S. During a time of unprecedented turmoil and struggle in the public realm, people young and old are discovering the enduring value of turning to art to share their lived experience of 21st century America. According to a comprehensive report by the NEA, poetry readership in the U.S. has risen by 76 percent in the past five years, with a young and diverse new audience, and increased participation and readership among Hispanic, African-American, and Asian readers. ETSF is committed to supporting this trend by working with organizations like Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, CUNY’s Lost & Found, and the foster care home Five Acres, to help bring poetry to underserved communities.

Mona Abadir, CEO of ETSF writes that, “Illuminating the intersection of Art (Poetry) and Mindfulness is our starting point, because through these, subject matter, emotions, and all of our senses are engaged. The interactions that can then result between writers and readers, especially in public events such as this celebration of our poets laureate, can transform our world for the better. We want to encourage dialogue, help to build lasting relationships based on a shared belief in the value of every person’s voice, and stress the importance of creativity in our lives, schools, communities. Imagine a concentric circle of energy, starting with the individual and radiating out to the world!”

It’s our hope that this gathering of creatives can become a model for other states’ partnerships. We’re proud to continue fulfilling our mandate by honoring the dedicated men and women who have committed their time and energy to championing literacy in their communities. After the working sessions, on Saturday afternoon poets, teachers, and poetry lovers are invited to attend a  historic group reading. We urge you to come so you can listen to, meet, and celebrate California’s vital public poets laureate! Please register here for this free public event.