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San Diego Names Ron Salisbury City's Inaugural Poet Laureate

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San Diego this week named its first Poet Laureate, who will be an ambassador for poetry, spoken word and literary arts in the city. Ron Salisbury, a local poet, will serve a two-year term, producing engaging original works inspired by and in response to San Diego

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego is thriving, creative and spoken. Word artsy now has an official champion poet. Ron Saulsberry has been named the city's first poet Laureate. Salisbury has won awards for his poetry, including the main street rag literary magazines, poetry book prize in 2015 for his book, miss desert Inn and he's taught poetry classes in San Diego and throughout California for more than 40 years. City officials say the new poet Laureate will tell this special story that is San Diego, but like all poets Solsbury might have his own ideas about that journey. Ms San Diego's poet Laureate, Ron Salsbury, Ron, welcome to the program. I really enjoy being here now poet Lori, it sounds like such an antiquated and stuffy position. How do you plan to bring it up to date?

Speaker 2: 00:50 Well, uh, poetry will bring it up to date. Poetry today is not what you imagined it has been in the past. It very seldom ever rhymes and there is no careful meter things that we imagined that poetry is, is not what it is today. It's vibrant, alive, sometimes loud, and it's a very personal,

Speaker 1: 01:11 how would you describe San Diego's poetry and literary arts scene as it stands today?

Speaker 2: 01:16 I came back after quite a few years. I came back from Northern California 12 years ago and from the previous time I was here it has been a dramatic change. Uh, I imagine there's at least three or four readings that go on in the San Diego area every single week. It is a lively, uh, there are a lot of poets that are publishing that have national recognition that live here. The colleges, there are three colleges that have a master of fine arts in poetry. They bring in a lot of energy and a lot of poets and there are a lot of poets on their staff and writers that they have here. It is extremely vibrant. It may be segmented a little bit, but it is all connected and it is very attractive.

Speaker 1: 02:04 Instead of talking about poetry, why don't we hear some, and, and I'm going to ask you if you would, would

Speaker 2: 02:10 read a poem of yours. It's fine. Sure. I'll read the poem. Insomnia. So just as a little background, as you get older, sleeping is a little difficult and you're always waking up thinking of things and this has a little bit of that tone in it and Somnia it's easier to slip downstairs at three 15 for a cup of warm milk and cinnamon when the moon is full. No tripping dogs in new sleeping place. No curb of a book on the floor, just the moon watching me thread through the forest and not wake Yunus whose sleep often trips at the thought of cheese, not even mice. Then the Basque of circle, the lamp makes me the one dog beside and the book with finger place Mark slumped in the narcotic mill. Ks as Yunus drifts down in the morning for coffee and carefully pulls the chain on the lamp, the moon having finished her shift and gone home and that's a poem by San Diego's new poet Laureate Ron Salisbury.

Speaker 2: 03:17 Thank you for that. You're welcome. When did you fall in love with poetry? In the seventh grade? On one weekend, my teacher was Palmer Libby and he had showed us Robert Frost poems during the week and on Friday he gave us mimeograph copies of uh, Robert Frost poems and told us to go home and write a poem over the weekend. My mother was the neighborhood Rhymer. She could create a couplet or quatrain a with somebody's name in it and could rhyme it. And she was used for birthdays and anniversaries and weddings and so the neighbors would come. So I go home to her and ask her help and she says, yeah, if we can work something out. When we began talking about it, something like a switch went on in me and I said to mom, I think I can do this. And it's from that moment that's been basically all I've ever wanted to do in my life is to be a poet.

Speaker 2: 04:10 How have you seen poetry change over the years? Oh, it's changed dramatically. There've been major shifts in how we write poetry through our poetic history going back to the mid 1850s but they're through four different major changes where the style of what we wrote changed. One of the latest ones has been in the late seventies, eighties, nineties and it's been the recognition of poets of color, women, poets, uh, immigrant poets who are expressing what it is to live in this society at this time. And the language of anything that rhymed had meter was a restraint and it began to break down the walls of all of that. And it became extremely expressive of the personal experience of these people, which has influenced all of us. Almost every poem that we read today is about the poet, which is not necessarily what it was in the past. The city says that as poet Laureate, you'll tell stories about San Diego.

Speaker 2: 05:11 What stories would you like to tell that's going to be interesting? And one of the challenges of being a poet Laureate is that most of us as poets don't write things like about cities. We end up writing about ourselves. We're not an occasion poetry. Unlike my mother. I'm not asked to write a poem for a wedding. I may pick one for somebody, but I don't write one. So there is a challenge, but it's a wonderful challenge. Uh, San Diego is like my adopted home that has taken me in and there's many attributes that I see in San Diego that I would like to emphasize and kind of report to the people here and to the rest of the state. Can you give us one perhaps one thing, one thing you've been thinking about? Actually I have been, it is the nature of climate and how it is so different.

Speaker 2: 06:05 I grew up in the state of Maine and this climate is invigorating rather than putting you to sleep. It's a very opposite of the theory that we used to think of when you went by the San Onofre power plant, you lost 20 points of IQ. That was the big thing. The radiation took it out of you and that was the San Diego beach culture. I don't experience that. I experienced the weather and the colleges as being extremely vibrant. So working against that is one thing. I have one other thing for you. Yes, the Padres poems about the Padres and how long we have waited.

Speaker 2: 06:44 Now you are chosen by an impressive group of your peers in the literary community for this position. That must be gratifying to me. It sure is. It was exciting. It was a little daunting to go into a room with so many people that uh, with the credentials that they had to be questioned and you had to do 15 minutes of reading and you had to answer questions and everything. So to be chosen was a wonderful, wonderful honor. I don't know how many other people, but they have said that there was quite a few that applied. And so to kind of be selected out of this whole crowd is just gratifying. This, there's not many rewards in being a poet. They're hard to identify in their slim. So when these opportunities happen, it's almost as though that I'm having this reward with all of the other poets in San Diego because the city of San Diego is now recognizing poetry with a poet Laureate. So it's to be shared with all of the bullets. I've been speaking with Ron Salsbury recently named as San Diego's first poet Laureate. Thanks for coming in. Thank you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.