Monday, October 22 , 2018, 5:21 pm | Fair with Haze 66º


Susan Miles Gulbransen: Poetry in Santa Barbara — Putting Pen to Paper, and Local Happenings

Do you or have you thought of writing a poem? In this world of sound bites and texting, poetry offers a balance, a way to convey experiences and thoughts — broad and deep, big and small — through imagery with words used like music. Poetry allows us to focus on details in small poems like haiku to large matters in poems like epics.

Poetry is a universal, ancient form of expression and writing. It has been a part of the English language for more than 600 years, although poetry goes back much further in history. The word comes from the Greek poiein, meaning to make or create.

Charles Wright, 50th poet laureate of the United States (2014-15), describes it: “A poem often is not about much happening but reflects moods and thoughts.”

Our local community has its own kinship. The Santa Barbara poetry community brings together poets to provide readings, guest poets and poetry events. All of this boils down to making poetry available to local readers and writers — you included.

Former poet laureate Perie Longo (2007-08) and I recently met for breakfast. One of our topics was how to help put together a poem. Since she teaches workshops on her own and for the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, she came up with several hints.

Among common guidelines (not rules!) are suggestions such as the use of images, metaphors, similes and strong words instead of more abstract ones. Or steer away from sentimentality, but you can be sentimental. Or avoid clichés.

We realized that many poets don't use a computer for writing but prefer handwriting on paper. When using a computer or typewriter, all you need to do is press the right key. Not so with handwriting.

It’s far more complex using different skills such as working with a pen on paper, moving the pen forward while your thoughts direct the writing. If you make a correction, it stays on the paper instead of being immediately deleted. That gives you a chance to go back and review your work in progress.

Longo said, “Your pen is your boss.”

She then talked about beginning a poem.

“When I look at a blank piece of paper, I still ask myself, ‘What do I write?’ If you have trouble finding something and have a hard time putting it into words, then let your heart speak. The more personal you are, the more universal you are.”

William Wordsworth once said, “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”

Longo prefers to write in solitude with no interference: “There’s a great need to quiet your brain and find meaning in the moment.”

No matter how small the meaning is, Longo points out, “That doesn’t mean nothing, or as the Buddhists say, ‘Nothing is everything.’”

Her final advice is, “Keep in mind: Yes, I can do this!”

Roland Jouvent, a French psychologist researcher, summed it up in a poetic manner: “There is an element of dancing when we write, a melody in the message, which adds emotion to the text.”

This quote without credit adds it. “Moods or moments are put into music, the music being language.”

What are some of the poetry happenings in Santa Barbara?

Among the most exciting is a legacy left by businessman, poet and philanthropist Peter Karoff. He endowed The Peter Karoff Endowment for Poetry in Santa Barbara to bring visiting poets to Santa Barbara, and it will work closely with the newly-established Santa Barbara Poetry Fund, administered by the Santa Barbara Foundation. The SB Poetry Fund supports the Santa Barbara Poetry Series, the Mission Poetry Series, and other local poetry events

Director Chryss Yost says, “We have an unprecedented opportunity to plan ahead, knowing that we will have funding available and won’t be cobbling piecemeal for each event, which are all volunteer-run. That stability is thanks to Peter's foresight and love for Santa Barbara and poetry.”

Poets David Starkey, Longo and George Yatchisin serve as board members. Simon and poet Diana Raab have given generous gifts to the fund.

More poetry books are coming out.

Deep Pockets by Daniel Thomas (Saint Julian Press Inc., 2018) includes some of his life from being raised in Minnesota, working as a film and television editor, including an Emmy Award-winning PBS series, director in the nonprofit world and moving to Santa Barbara three years ago. He is scheduled to read at Chaucer's Bookstore at 7 p.m. Aug. 23.

Paul Willis, popular English professor at Westmont College and former poet laureate (2011-13), has two books out, both reflecting his love of the mountains and walking/hiking while the mind studies life, including the good and sometimes difficult.

Poetry is the topic of Deer at Twilight (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2018) while To Build a Trail (Woodfarm, 2018) is a combination of essays with poems. He is scheduled to read at Kerr Hall at Westmont at 4 p.m. Sept. 4.

Glenna Luschei, an active community poet, puts out the Solo Press Newsletter Toast. She will culminate the poetry in a magazine later this year.

She also sponsors the Carpinteria Arts Center Luschei Family Poetry Contest. Click here for more information. The contest is open to everyone.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art has started a series, "Writing in the Galleries," put together by Patsy Hicks, director of education. The next session from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20 will offer informal exploration of the museum's galleries as impetus to a wide range of writing.

SBMA will host California poet laureate Dana Gioia and other local poet laureates to celebrate poetry and creativity from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 11 in the Mary Craig Auditorium, a free event.

Current poet laureate Enid Osborn puts out an ongoing calendar for almost all events called the Santa Barbara Poetry Forecast. It can be seen at the "Enid Osborn" Facebook page, which is accessible to the public, the "SB Poetry Events" Facebook page by editor Yost, to the "Coastal Poetry" Facebook page.

The Santa Barbara Public Library sponsors a variety of writing and poetry events. Click here for more information.

If you haven’t written a poem or done one for some time, why not go for the above and give it a shot?

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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