U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón with Santa Barbara Poet Laureates (L-R) Chryss Yost, Emma Trelles, Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, Melinda Palacio, Limón, Enid Osborn, Paul Willis, and Perie Longo. | Credit: Mark Zolezzi

When I told my dental hygienist that I was going to be Santa Barbara’s Poet Laureate, she wasn’t sure what that meant. The instruments in my mouth didn’t help either. She was confused behind her mask and face shield. Unless you’re a fan of poetry or Bob Dylan, the idea of a Nobel Laureate or Poet Laureate probably doesn’t come up in everyday conversation.

Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Melinda Palacio | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

The position of Poet Laureate dates back to ancient times. Ancient Greeks first introduced the crown of laurels as an honorary reward for athletes, war heroes, musicians, and poets. In June 1915, Oakland librarian Ina Coolbrith became the first Poet Laureate of California, as well as the first Poet Laureate of any state. Currently, Lee Herrick of Fresno is California’s Poet Laureate. In 1998, Mayor Willie Brown appointed Lawrence Ferlinghetti as San Francisco’s first Poet Laureate. More recently and locally, in 2005, Barry Spacks (February 21, 1931–January 28, 2014) became Santa Barbara’s first Poet Laureate.

We turn to poetry in times of crisis and celebration and everything in between from admiring the beauty around us to honoring our home and ancestry. The Poet Laureate brings us together and reminds us how we are all connected.

California-born poet (Sonoma) and now Kentucky resident Ada Limón is currently the 24th Poet Laureate of the United States. I was inspired by her reading at Campbell Hall last month. As the country’s Poet Laureate, her schedule is packed with visits to each state. She was genuine in her love for poetry and her generosity.

Campbell Hall was packed, a tribute to the popularity of Limón’s poems. She is also the poet whose words will travel through space in a partnership with NASA. A star poet! The launch is planned for October 2024 and her poem will be engraved on the Europa Clipper spacecraft and travel 1.8 billion miles on its path to Jupiter’s moon. Far out, groovy, awesome — all adjectives fall short when thinking of ways to describe this poetry feat. 

The Independent co-presented a poetry contest, based on Limón’s poem “Instructions on Not Giving Up.” As one of the judges, I was impressed by the poets who showed up. Readers of the Indy submitted more than 150 entries. I was thrilled to see that Limón agreed with my choice of winners. The audience and Limón had the pleasure of hearing two of the winners. In hindsight, we should have had a separate category for the young kindergarten students who submitted handwritten entries. I hope Limón got to see some of those, especially the child who wrote a poem about his love for math.

I feel humbled that Limón inscribed my book with the words, “For your term as poet laureate! Let’s serve together!” Thanks to the Library of Congress extending her term as Poet Laureate of the United States, we will both serve as laureates for the next two years.

I’m honored to serve the next two years as Santa Barbara’s 10th Poet Laureate. I enjoy looking at my wreath of bay laurel branches and haven’t decided if I will try to shellac and preserve the crown or use the bay leaves in future soups, as a friend suggested.

Next week, May 15, I have the pleasure of appearing at a poetry salon with Santa Barbara’s first Youth Poet Laureate Madeline Miller for the Women’s Literary Voices at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, Monday from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Covarrubias adobe, 136 East De la Guerra Street. This salon and poetry pairing will facilitate an intergenerational discussion, moderated by Lauren Trujillo, executive director of the Santa Barbara Public Library Foundation. The Santa Barbara Women’s Literary Voices used to put on a day-long festival. Now they are focusing on more intimate salons. This event is billed as a happy hour salon and poetry pairing. The idea is to have a moderated intergenerational conversation in a roundtable style with breaks for questions from the audience and moderator. Should be fun and I hope to see you there.

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Event: The Santa Barbara Women’s Literary Voices
An Intimate Poetry Pairing
Monday, May 15, 5:30-7 p.m.
Santa Barbara Historical Museum, 136 East De la Guerra Street, Santa Barbara

For more information or to purchase tickets to the event, click here.  

This week we are featuring a poem by Youth Poet Laureate Madeline Miller. If you have a poem about Santa Barbara in June, anything from June gloom to Solstice, send it to poetry@independent.com. Guidelines are 300 words or less, one entry per person.

There Are Trees in the Hallway” by Madeline Miller

there are trees in the hallway.

that’s not a metaphor, there are manzanitas between the e wing and the f wing,

i stepped outside for a drink of water and there they were,

with strange red-orange fruits blossoming in between the buildings.

there is grass growing in the gutter,

over mr. oftedal’s room.

it’s taking root and taking back the d-wing rooftops.

      i was driving through the desert

      in a rainstorm with my mother

        and she was rattling off ravines of worries

        and speaking skid marks of worst case scenarios

          as we raced through the canyon

                but I was thinking “look how much nature doesn’t need us”

                              so much has been said about “save the wilderness”

                              and “protect the polar ice caps”

                                                  but we are not her rescuer


                                                                                                        is the way we poke the

                                                                                        We insist on biting the hand that

                                                                but our Goldilocks planet is turning her paw
against us

                                                                                      we cannot keep choosing the losing

   There are fruit trees in the hallways

           and grass in the gutter

                                                                                       and there will be life on earth with or
without us

               She crawls in under the back door and colonizes countertops

        and clambers up through cracks in the pavement

                                                      and despite treating Nature like a guest in her own home,
She is here.

                    She will always be here.

                                                                         I’m standing in the doorway looking at a
manzanita tree

         And I’m thinking grim thoughts and writing sad things          

                                                                         but when I look at those red-orange berries I
am not sad

                                                                                    The earth is a good and wonderful


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