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Paul Willis Named Santa Barbara’s Next Poet Laureate

Westmont professor will be installed April 12 as part of National Poetry Month

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday approved the appointment of Paul Willis as Santa Barbara’s next poet laureate.

Willis, a professor at Westmont College, will be officially installed at the April 12 City Council meeting at City Hall. He will serve in the role of poet laureate until April 2013.

This is a fitting occasion to take place in April, which has been designated a National Poetry Month by the Academy of American Poets and celebrated as such since 1996. The entire month will be filled with myriad readings and events throughout the city, all celebrating poetry.

Santa Barbara established a position of poet laureate in 2005 in order to direct proper attention and honor to the spoken word by utilizing poetry to celebrate and elevate community events. Since the establishment of the position, the city has been fortunate to have three exceptional poet laureates emeritus — Barry Spacks, Perie Longo and David Starkey. All have served to engage the community in greater appreciation for the spoken word, and have enhanced our experience of community events and celebrations through their poetry.

“How lucky we are to have Paul Willis as our next poet laureate,” said Starkey, the city’s outgoing poet laureate. “A member of the poetry community for more than two decades, Paul writes with great skill and feeling about the natural world and its spiritual resonances. Yet for all his seriousness of purpose, he has playful sense of humor and a quick wit, which will serve him well in his new position.”

Willis has inspired many as a professor of English at Westmont College, where he has taught since 1988. More than 400 of his poems have been published in more than 100 literary journals. Visiting Home, Willis’ book of poetry, was published in spring of 2008. With Starkey, he is editor of the anthology In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare.

“I am grateful to be given the chance to serve our community in this role,” Willis said. “Poetry unites the private and the public in ways that are both eerie and telling. It drifts somewhere between symphony and advice column, the wordless and the wordful — and some days, that is exactly what we need.”

— Ginny Brush is executive director of the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission.

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