With a crown of greenery perched atop his head, poet David Starkey praised Santa Barbara’s “euphonious” street names in verse and was ushered in as Santa Barbara’s newest poet laureate in April.
Even longtime Santa Barbarans may find themselves pleasantly surprised that the city even has a poet laureate. That’s probably because Starkey is just the third of the laureates appointed; the first was Barry Spacks in 2005.
Starkey said he feels the position signals a dedication to the arts unparalleled with other cities of Santa Barbara’s size.
“Several times, Mayor Blum has said to me personally, ‘It gives Santa Barbara a sense that the arts do matter,’” he said. “Regular folks are invested in the arts here in a way that they aren’t in other places.”
And keeping poetry on the public’s mind is especially important because of the very nature of words, he said.
“The literary arts can vanish in a way that the other arts can’t, because you say your words and they just kind of vanish on the wind,” he said. “It’s nice to have somebody out there, and whose official job is to keep poetry in the public eye.”
Santa Barbara’s poet laureate position is a two-year stint, which pays a nominal $1,000. The seated poet laureate is expected to compose poems for city celebrations or ceremonies, and must provide a minimum of four annually. In addition to that, the city’s poet laureate is expected to be involved with local schools, workshops and readings.
As if that isn’t enough to keep Starkey busy, in addition to having his own TV show, “The Creative Community” on Channel 21, and a slew of books to his name, he’s also director of the creative writing program at Santa Barbara City College. In an environment where technological advances threaten to further deteriorate the English language, Starkey was concerned that people would consider creative writing a “frivolity.”
But he’s seen a lot of interest in creative writing lately, and he’s even spoken with several people enrolled at SBCC who are using unemployment as an excuse to come back and learn writing skills.
The city appoints its poet laureate based on a recommendation from the Poet Laureate Review Committee, which is made of members from the Arts Advisory Committee, and nominations can come from any organization or individual, but poets cannot self-nominate.
Many who have appeared on Starkey’s show rallied behind the poet at City Hall during his coronation. Artists Rafael Parea De La Cabada and photographer Nell Campbell were at the gathering, along with members of Starkey’s family.
And if Starkey’s first poem he shared before the council, “The Difference Between Poets and Politicians,” is any indication, the public has a lot to look forward to with him at the city’s literary helm.