Santa Barbara's Poet Laureates at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference 2024 | Photo: Melinda Palacio

After more than two years of rebuilding life after the pandemic lockdown, it seems as if COVID is not done with us. The virus still lingers, and thanks to vaccines and hygiene protocols, the coronavirus presents itself as a mild cold at best in most cases. As Poet Laureate, I have had a year of public engagement and have been lucky not to have another bout of COVID. Local events didn’t seem as risky for me. Although no event or venue is safe from COVID, I was nervous about going to Disneyland last month and being exposed to people from around the globe.

I imagined the happiest place on earth to also be the most welcoming germ exchange. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the park and handwashing encouraged. I didn’t notice anybody coughing. I had taken the precaution of adding zinc to my regiment of vitamins and supplements. I also didn’t want to jeopardize my upcoming schedule at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference (SBWC), which started the next day. At the SBWC, I had a full week from helping with registration and agents’ day, teaching a marketing workshop with Lida Sideris, and appearing on two panels.

The week was off to a wonderful start, greeting old friends, conference regulars and new attendees. The first panel of SBWC was an all Poet Laureate Panel that Perie Longo moderated. In my duties as Poet Laureate, I often encounter people who do not realize that Santa Barbara has had 10 poets laureate. We’ve lost our first Poet Laureate, Barry Spacks, and, more recently, our most recognized laureate, Sojourner Kincaid Rolle.

I hope that the panel was as interesting for folks attending the conference as it was for me. I certainly learned much about our past poets. It’s wonderful to see how we each have brought something different to the honorary position. While I learned something new about each of our laureates, I have to say I was super impressed with David Starkey, who has retired as a poetry professor at Santa Barbara City College and continues to write poetry and academic books; plays in a band; hosts a local television show; writes for the Independent; and has written his first novel, Poor Ghost, a fictional account of a band that crashes their plane in the backyard of a character who lives in Goleta. The clever novel mines Starkey’s own poetry for song titles and motifs, leaving the reader with the feeling of having followed the band’s music for years. I can almost hear their songs. The novel represents Starkey’s pandemic lockdown project. It also helps that he is an accomplished musician. If you’re looking for a book to take to the beach, or if you enjoyed Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, try Poor Ghost by David Starkey.

Unfortunately, my SBWC activities were cut short due to COVID reaching my household. Although I personally never got it and kept testing negative, I was exposed to the virus and out of an acute precaution stayed away from the remainder of the conference, Tuesday through Friday. I was sad to miss connecting with so many people, especially after receiving messages from friends who I only know from the conference who were looking for me at the cocktail party and the panels I was scheduled to be on.

Melinda Palacio, left, and Lida Sideris at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference 2024 | Photo: Melinda Palacio

You can always reach me here at, and I hope to see some familiar faces at the Goleta Valley Library on August 4 at 2 p.m. I am looking forward to meeting our new youth Poet Laureate, Jasmine Guerrero Sevilla, too. Please join us at the Goleta Valley Library next month.

If you are in New Orleans this weekend, I will be at the Music & Poetry Summer Fest at the Domino, Sunday July 7, 12-5 p.m., 3044 St. Claude Avenue, New Orleans.

For this week, I invite you to send in your poems on the theme of summer, summertime, or summertime blues to

Upcoming Poetry Events:

July 10: Newbury Park Library, Friday Gretchen Treur, featured poet at 6 p.m.

July 12: Guess Who’s in Town Reading Series, featuring Marsha de la O and Michelle Bitting, Unity of Santa Barbara Chapel, 227 E. Arrellaga Street, 5:30 p.m.

July 24: Thousand Oaks Library, poet and artist Anita McLaughlin is reading at 6 p.m. Host Ron Fullerton invites readers to bring in an ekphrastic poem.

August 4: Goleta Valley Library Series features Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Melinda Palacio, Santa Barbara’s new Youth Poet Laureate Jasmine Guerrero Sevilla, Soe Bender, and Ruben Lee Dalton, 2 p.m.

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