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KPBS Midday Edition

California's Poet Laureate Hits The Road In Cross-State Tour

California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia in an undated photo.
California Arts Council
California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia in an undated photo.
California's Poet Laureate Hits The Road In Cross-State Tour
California's Poet Laureate Hits The Road In Cross-State Tour GUEST: Dana Gioia, California poet laureate

This is KPBS midday edition. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh. Since the Dana Gioia has been called California's poet laureate. He's taken poetry to every corner of the state. Tonight he's back in San Diego at that downtown central library. Welcome to the program Dana Gioia I'm glad to be here. What inspired this Odyssey up and down the entire state? When I was announced as laureate I got invitations to read from LA, San Francisco and Berkeley. It occurred to me that I would be spending my entire term reading in LA, San Francisco and Berkeley and there's another state that does not get much programming. You've been driving nearly everywhere to all of the corners of the state. How is that changing your impression of the state and the people who live in the? My car is in the shop to get its second set of four new tires. I've been driving a lot. It's exciting because I am seeing part of the state as a native Californian have driven through or not seen it all. It reminds me that California is mostly a role, agricultural and wilderness state to this day. Have you been inspired to write about on what you've seen? Nothing for publication right now. A lot of what's happening has stirred up memories of my childhood and adolescence. Is connecting me to my past. Have you been touring places you've never been to before in California? Have I ever. I've never been up to a lot of these small towns in that Sierra Nevada's like Alpine or Downieville. This is interesting. A lot of these towns are no bigger than they were 100 years ago. Downieville the population is 300 but they tell me it's only 250. They closed the school echoes from Kate at 212. 441 students came and read me a poem each. I understand one of the palms on this tour is your poem called California hills in August. Would you mind sharing that with us now? It describes the way somebody who's and Eastern or who sees the landscape. At the end it talks about how we as native California's see it. California hills in August. I can imagine someone who found these fields unbearable. Who climbed the hillside in the heat cursing the desk, cracking the brittle weeds underfoot, fishing a few more trees for shade. And Eason are especially who would scorn the McGinnis of summer, the dry twisted shapes of Blackcomb, chaparral, a landscape, August had already drink Greene. One who would hurry over the claiming fissile, foxtail, golden puppy knowing everything was we unable to conceive that these trees and bushes were alive. Hate the bright stillness of the noon without wind, without motion, the only other living thing a hawk hungry for pray suspended in the summer glue. Yet, how gentle it seems to someone raised in a landscape short of rain. The skyline of the hill broken but no more trees than one can count. The grass, the empty sky, the wish for water. That was a poem California hills in August read by poet laureate Dana Gioia. Thank you for that. My pleasure. What have you noticed on your tour about the audiences and different regions. You just told us about a small community but in the rural communities that you visit? Everywhere I go, I get a big audience. It's not just me. I make sure the program includes local people, local talent, poets and students. There's a large group of people in the most rural small-town that wants to get together for a literary event. The other thing is everywhere I go, I meet fellow writers, artists and musicians. This is a creative state even in its rural reaches. As I mentioned, you were head of the national endowment for the arts under Republican president George W. Bush. Now we hear President Donald Trump and many Republicans have been considering eliminating the agency. Did you have to fight for funding a decade ago also? Not like this. The president of the United States has never before suggested elimination of these agencies. It was always a question of budget levels. This one was a unique situation. I spent four months earlier this year working behind the scenes with members of Congress and different groups as well as speaking to the media. I'm happy to say we had Congress is self insist that these agencies will stick around. Do you find you have a hard time convincing the people you meet around California? Do they have a problem with the importance of poetry and the arts? It is a myth that Americans have problem with public funding of culture and the arts. They may have certain prefaces the type of culture you are funding but there's a general consensus in the United States among people of all political situations cop people urban and rural that they want the arts in their schools and the arts in their communities. That's one of the things I'm trying to do as poet laureate is spring arts and poetry to communities in a public forum. People like it. What is in store for people who come to see you tonight at the San Diego central library? We have an interesting program. I will be appearing with the poetry out loud champion for San Diego County. That's a national poetry recitation for high school students. I heard her in Sacramento. She's terrific. I asked her to appear with me. I've asked a couple of local poetry people to talk about some of the programs. I've got a local poets who teaches at Nazarene and will be there. It's not just me reciting poems but a little bit of cross-section of some of the important writers and upcoming students of San Diego County. That is tonight at the San Diego central library. I've been speaking with California poet Dana Gioia. Thank you so much. It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

There have been some minor casualties in California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia's tour across the state's 58 counties.

"I’ll put 1,000 miles a week on my car, easily," Gioia said. "I’ve gone through two sets of tires."

Gioia is making a point to hold events beyond the traditional poetry enclaves of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Berkeley. So far, he has visited 41 counties, including a visit to San Diego last year. He is returning Monday for a reading at the San Diego Central Library at 6 p.m. Gioia's events feature performances from other local writers, including winners of the national Poetry Out Loud student competition. He plans to visit Imperial County this fall.

Gioia's favorite event so far was in Sierra County's Downieville, where officials closed the schools and had all 51 students from elementary through high school attend the event and read an original poem of their own.

"It was the best Q & A period I ever had," Gioia said. "They asked, 'What’s your birthday?' and I said Christmas Eve. That caused all kinds of discussion."

Gioia, a former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, joined KPBS Midday Edition on Monday with more about his trip across the state and the perennial arts funding battle in Washington, D.C.