Our Christopher Buckley — who is not the political satirist who wrote Thank You for Smoking but did write a funny essay about the quirks of identity titled I Am Not Christopher Buckley — is just about to publish his 20th book of poetry. One famous Santa Barbara writer made light of the accomplishment until he learned all the books were published by real publishers, not vanity presses. A famous in-town poet added, “He’s a machine, a machine.”
Buckley laughed hearing this and explained that it usually took him about three years to find someone to publish his work. “And by that time, if you don’t have another book of poetry already written, well, what have you been doing?” But more pointedly, our Buckley also published the third book of his engaging growing-up-in-Santa-Barbara 1960s memoirs. The first was Cruising State: Growing up in Southern California (1994); next came Sleepwalk (2006); and now — just days before his book of poetry arrives — comes Holy Days of Obligation. “It’s going to be the last memoir about growing up in Santa Barbara, but a lot of it’s about the poets who influenced me. What it tries to explain is: How do you end up being a writer?”
Buckley blames his career on Sister Julie at Mount Carmel School, which he attended in the 1950s and where he wrote a poem about his mother and discovered it had meter and rhyme. He was born in Arcata in Northern California, but his family moved to Santa Barbara in the late 1950s. His father was a disc jockey, and though his parents divorced, and he moved with his mother to Palm Springs, Buckley’s sentimental education was wandering S.B.’s lanes and beaches on bikes and surfboards. One strong epiphany involved a Swinburne poem reprinted in a surf magazine he browsed in Montecito’s Bottle Shop.
As a student at Saint Mary’s College, Buckley fell under the spell of a number of contemporary poets but, most importantly, slightly older contemporaries like Philip Levine and Larry Levis. Flash-forward to the late 1970s: Buckley became a poet and a writing teacher — at UCSB, UC Riverside, and a number of other schools (including a godforsaken time spent in a hellish Pennsylvania college) before returning to UCSB’s Creative Studies program.
Asked why he writes, one of the poets profiled in Holy Days replies, “To freeze time.” Buckley manages to achieve this himself frequently: sometimes talking about penny candy in the Montecito Village, remembering life as young poets barbecuing in Fresno or just surfing Hammonds. It’s a fine achievement, this personal memoir, and even stacked up against so many books of published poetry, it makes our Buckley seem like anything but a machine.
Buckley will sign Holy Days of Obligation Wednesday, April 23, 7-8 p.m., at Chaucer’s, 3321 State St. Info: (805) 682-6787; chaucersbooks.com.