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Books

Susan Miles Gulbransen: Poet David Starkey Presses On with Writing, While Marymount Holds Book Fair

Former Santa Barbara poet laureate David Starkey definitely has a magical way with words, but he also has a magical way with energy. His long list of accomplishments would delight even the highest over-achiever, yet he’s not about to stop.

When the tall, lanky Starkey entered the coffee shop where we met to talk, he had to dip his head under the door. Even though a busy man who probably had 500 directions to take that day, he sat and talked as if he all the time in the world.

Within the first sip of coffee, my jaw dropped: He has had more than 500 poems published since the first one saw print in 1986. I later tried to count his published books. Couldn’t do it.

After each Internet search, more books popped up, some collections of poetry, others on writing. He is working on the next one, Creative Writing for All Genres. Add to that the plays he wrote, three of which were produced on stage.

His “daytime” job is director of the Creative Writing program at Santa Barbara City College. He has also taught writing for the MFA creative writing program at Antioch University Los Angeles.

For several years he hosted The Creative Community television show on Channel 21. He is preparing to start up a new show, This Is Santa Barbara, on the Culture Channel 71.

Seven years ago he was appointed poet laureate of Santa Barbara, a two-year stint during which he wrote several poems around local situations and people.

Is the list finished? Nope. Two years ago he formed Gunpowder Press, a publishing company that focuses on poetry.

“The first seed of Gunpowder came on a sad note when my mentor at UCLADavid Case, died,” Starkey said. “He had never published a book but named me as his literary executor. There were hundreds of poems. As I read through them, I realized that I had a book and it should be published.”

At the time, Starkey’s friend, Chryss Yost (former poet laureate 2013), had been waiting to hear back from publishers after submitting her latest book of poems.

“I asked her if she would help me publish David’s book, The Tarnation of Faust,” Starkey said. “She jumped right in. It turned out to be a gorgeous book. At the same time we put her Mouth & Fruit and published both as our first books in 2015.”

By then her help had become so invaluable that he insisted she become his co-editor.  

Why the name Gunpowder?

“It’s our city’s namesake, Barbara of Nicomedia, the patron saint of gunpowder,” he explained. “Our books, like gunpowder, need just a spark to explode: they are ready to go off at any moment.”

Last year Gunpowder published Shaping Water by Santa Barbara’s first poet laureate, the late Barry Spacks.

A second book followed, asking poets to submit their response to the rare plants in Lotusland garden. Out of that came Rare Feathers: Poems on Birds and Arts featuring several of Santa Barbara’s finest poets.

Garrison Keillor recently chose two poems from Gunpowder’s collections, one by Spacks and the other by Catherine Abbey Hodges, to be read on his radio show.

“Our goal,” Starkey said, “is to make Gunpowder a national poetry publishing company. We’re not in it to make money, just not to lose any!”

His second current project began when Nancy Leffert, president of Antioch University Santa Barbara, took him out to lunch and asked if he would consider helping Antioch start up a local MFA writing program.

“Although I teach full time at SBCC, I was attracted to the MFA writing project because it would be great for everyone, a place where the energy of creative people could come together,” Starkey said. “We also intend to have some of the guest speakers, especially the Simon and Diane Raab Guest Speakers, available to the public, although students will have top priority.”

Antioch’s nonresident program MFA in writing and contemporary media will start up at the end of 2016. Starkey along with Leffert and AUSB professor Guy Smith have worked with the Creative Writing MFA at AULA.

“Our program will emphasize film, TV and radio,” Starkey said, “plus a list of media possibilities for future careers or to enhance a career. We have also developed a partnership with AULA to make both MFA writing programs available to students. They can then choose which courses to take and go to that campus.”

Starkey also sees the destination of Santa Barbara as a big drawing card.

“Not only because of our city’s beauty but its reputation as an arts community,” he said. “I hope to see people from Nebraska and all over the county coming here to attend the short residential components of the program.”

My final question: Will poetry survive the world of technology?

“It has a place in poetry.” he replied. Technology has opened resources to publish and offers website of lists for poets to submit to publishers and/or contests. Sites like Newpages.com and Poets & Writers offer ways for writers to find publishing opportunities.”

When I thanked Starkey for sharing his time and ideas, he added a final comment appropriate for Valentine’s Day.

“I couldn’t do any of this without the patience and support of my very loving wife, Sandy,” he said. 

                                                                 •        •        •

How in the world can you get kids interested in reading and at the same time raise money for school libraries? Marymount of Santa Barbara, at 2130 Mission Ridge Road on the Riviera, found the answer!

Each fall the 75-year-old private school serving junior kindergarten through eighth grade partners with Scholastic Publishers to put on the Scholastic Book Fair.

Drawing students into the event is a key component. The Marymount Parent Council with co-chairwomen Nancy Martz and Allyson Ross make that work by focusing on activities for students.

Martz explained just what the book fair does.

“We do it for the Pitman Library, a learning resource center with all kinds of activity, technology and reading to activate the imagination,”​ she said. “Each year has a different theme. Last fall we used ‘Under the Sea’ and decorated the room with fishing nets, shells, blue and white balloons.

“There are also lots of activities, games and a featured children’s author.”

Scholastic's aim is to bring in “favorite series and authors to get kids excited about reading ... Relevant topics and current, relatable issues will attract even reluctant readers,” she added.

The Santa Maria-raised Martz is a lawyer with two boys at Marymount. She mentioned some of the popular books such as the Mindcraft, Magic Tree House and Skippyjon Jones series.

Scholastic gives the school 50 percent for book credits or 25 percent in cash of total sales. Martz pointed out that the Scholastic catalog includes reading materials, writing tools and crafts such as “cat’s cradle” or finger strings.

Each table at the event has a teacher’s Wish List. Since Scholastic offers a buy one, get one free promotion, parents can buy books on those lists, add a nameplate inside the cover and donate it to the library or classroom. The freebie makes it possible for families to stock up on books for reading at home.

Last fall the new multimedia library specialist, Dr. Dana Susko, worked to bring in children’s author Alexis O’Neill (The Recess Queen, The Kite that Bridged Two Nations) as the featured guest.

Admissions director Molly Rapp Seguel described O’Neill’s exchange with students.

“If your eyes were closed, you would think you were overhearing a conversation between seasoned writers,” she said. “The conversation was full of ideas for honing the craft of writing, ways to play with language, tricks to overcome writer’s block and the importance of imagery.

“With your eyes open, however, you would quickly realize you were seeing a conversation of a different kind — a learning opportunity with the author engaged in meaningful conversations with student writers.”

The event earned $4,800. What a great opportunity for Susko to choose books and equipment for the library.

The next Scholastic Book Fair will be Nov. 7-11.

Noozhawk columnist Susan Miles Gulbransen — a Santa Barbara native, writer and book reviewer — teaches writing at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and through the Santa Barbara City College Continuing Education Division. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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