Poets show the way

A tribute to California’s poets laureate

California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia recites the final poems of the evening.

The gathering of California’s poets laureate earlier this month was an extraordinary experience. Outside the McGroarty Arts Center, looking out on the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley, it was a beautiful environment, and a perfect day for a poetry reading.

On the eve of his term’s completion, California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia, with generous contributions from event co-sponsors Engaging the Senses Foundation and the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, had assembled an incredible group of literary minds for a day of connection and creation. Breaking bread and morning workshops were followed by a public group reading in the afternoon and featured poets Carol Muske-Dukes, Robin Coste Lewis, and Dana Gioia at night’s end. Senator Anthony Portantino joined us to show his support for the arts, and even recited some poetry of his own — earning a thumbs up from me.

Front row, left to right: California Arts Council Chair Nashormeh Lindo, Los Angeles Poet Laureate Robin Coste Lewis, California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia, California Arts Council Executive Director Anne Bown-Crawford.

We came together to celebrate one of the oldest, most universal art forms. I love poetry, and from African hunting poems and the pyramid texts to contemporary poetry slams and hip-hop raps, as a poet once said, “Only the Poets can show the way.”

The words and phrases that follow are taken from the various poems we heard during that afternoon group reading.

To the poets who attended: These are your words, compiled from my notes, synthesizing my impressions and reflections on our shared experience. You not only have “credibility,” you are all an inspiration to me.

The sweet smoke of sage, presages words of Truth.
Poets are dangerous.
The unconstricted Tongue is a tool and a weapon,
With which to focus on ideas, memories, & sensations like
Pain and humor, Love, loss, beauty in Nature,
California’s awesome landscape, an LA poem;
Poemstories about boys and bras
and abuse, in a jar, crises of Faith, seasons of pain.
There is the poetry of protest and of the personal.
What does one do with the Rage?
There is a Healing power, a certain
Serenity, in listening to poetry to the sounds of birds,
a buzz saw, distance sirens and a good breeze…
Twelve, the number of the cosmos, is
a quantum speculation of how
Poetic offerings, words of possibility, and
dreams can lead to self discovery/self love.
Poems paint pictures, makes us see colors;
Taking us from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
Poems come to us in the strangest places, where Time doesn’t end.
“Only the poets can show the way.”

Nashormeh Lindo is the Chair of the California Arts Council. Visit www.arts.ca.gov to learn more about California’s state arts agency.