San Diego's Poet Laureate Wants To Read Your Pandemic Poetry
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / May 19, 2020
Each of us has our own experience of this pandemic.. It’s very personal, and the feelings about it run deep below the surface of the day to day practicalities of dealing with this new reality. San Diego’s recently appointed
Speaker 1: 00:00 Each of us has our own experience of this pandemic. It's very personal and the feelings about it run deep below the surface of the day to day practicalities of dealing with this new reality. San Diego has recently appointed poet Laureate has a challenge. Explore what you're going through by writing a poem. Ron Salisbury is San Diego's first official poet Laureate and he joins us now. Good to have you back on the program. Ron.
Speaker 2: 00:25 Thank you very much. Nice to be here all of a sudden.
Speaker 1: 00:27 So how did this idea to ask for poetry submissions from San Diego ones come about?
Speaker 2: 00:32 It was a, a talk that involved um, the arts and culture commission and uh, the people that I work with there and we sat down and actually we listened to each other cause we didn't sit down and talked about ways that maybe we could incorporate the voices of all of the people and using poetry as a function for doing that. And, uh, so thanks to the people at the arts and culture commission who were very instrumental and taking some of the ideas that we came up with and putting them into this challenge.
Speaker 1: 01:03 What is it, would you say about poetry that makes it a good outlet for times like these distressing times like these?
Speaker 2: 01:11 I think that we use poetry in times of great passions, whether it is sadness or joy, elation, any of those things. We very seldom ask anyone to write a short story in celebration of somebody's wedding or to be read at a funeral. But we do ask people to write a point for that or to pick one out that somebody could read. I think that poetry is one of the closest little spaces between our conscious and our unconscious to the inside of us. It's a key hole. And so a lot of people turn to that and these times of stress or relation and so it's a perfect vehicle for doing this.
Speaker 1: 01:53 Yeah. How have you personally been turning to poetry to work out your feelings during these times?
Speaker 2: 01:59 Since I was 12 I'm not being, I'm not joking either. I have used poetry and taught it and read it and written it since I was 12 years old. And I find that when there are times of stress, it is a great release and especially during these times, which has so many unknowns to it that I find my writing incorporates all of that as does a lot of my friends. So I do turn to that and I've read others too.
Speaker 1: 02:27 So last time you spoke with us, you mentioned how vibrant San Diego is. Poetry scene is having a, you know, like a lot of readings every week. How is the pandemic effecting the city's poetry community right now?
Speaker 2: 02:40 Um, they're learning new ways of doing it. Some of my friends that run reading series have now put them on zoom. Uh, there's fewer because um, not everybody has that client list to send out. When you have the people that you know normally turn up and you have their addresses, oftentimes you can continue with your reading series. You can put it out kind of generally to the public. And some of the reading series do that poetry in San Diego, I believe that's the name of the website that is, uh, tells everybody what is going on. And, uh, there were a lot of events still being reformatted and going out on zoom.
Speaker 1: 03:19 So now you've, you've issued this challenge and you're currently asking for perms about waiting, but you've been putting out prompts and you had, the first prompt was about dreams. What kind of response did you get to that first prompt?
Speaker 2: 03:32 Uh, it was pretty amazing. You know, we had no idea, uh, how many people were going to respond. And in one week's time we had 90 submissions, uh, which takes quite a while if you want to do them justice and read them. And, uh, they were amazing submissions from all aspects of what dreaming is. A few people that we were open to didn't write about dreaming, but wrote about other aspects of their experience with covert 19 and so, uh, was extra. I was extremely pleased as was the city that we had so much response.
Speaker 1: 04:07 I noticed in looking on the website, there was one poem that talked about, uh, experiencing discrimination during this pandemic in a way that I hadn't really seen through those eyes before. Are there any other things like that that came out from these poems that were submitted?
Speaker 2: 04:22 You know, there was almost anything you can imagine, uh, from the experience of losing a loved one, uh, to, um, being, uh, questioning about why we're all staying inside. Uh, and then coming to a conclusion that, uh, it's the best thing. Nobody is trying to be harmful to one another. It is almost because we all are so different that there was so many different experiences with it. The one you're talking about, I thought impacted me and it did, it brought out something that I didn't, had not experienced, but this person had with his mother and it was so wonderful porn.
Speaker 1: 04:58 And this new prompt, interestingly enough, is about waiting, which is such an interesting aspect of, of what's going on. It's kind of underlying everything isn't it? And yet we, we hardly notice it. Um, you wrote a poem about that subject just to inspire us. Would you read it for us?
Speaker 2: 05:14 I surely will. The one thing about waiting that was the basis of the prompt is that it has seemed to have changed and I never noticed it before. In past times when we're waiting, it is like on a point in a continuum you're waiting for something either for the bus to come for the microwave to ding or something of that kind. But now when we wait, we don't know what's at the end of this. We do not know what normal is like we don't know what is going to be happening at the end of it. So this is the point that I wrote that is called, we are all waiting at 10 15 this morning. Any morning we are waiting the door to the patio. The little patio is open so I can see rain dibbling puddles on the patio. The air waltzing in cooler and cooler.
Speaker 2: 06:05 We are waiting, not the waiting like before on the bench at Valterra in sunset cliffs. Where is the 52 bus? No schedule to check. So we don't know if it's late or even running. Waiting for the Christmas amaryllis from your X's onto, can't remember what happened to blossom some years only some waiting is filled with little hammers. But now waiting for the bioluminescence exact high tide check from the guy to measure only twice before cutting to figure any jumble a skateboard for the girl in the black halter to run by at four 30 in wave for AAA to arrive with a gas for poetry to mean waiting all that plaque between want and does not today. This waiting is shapeless. The unsettling nothing outside on the wet lawn. The no end, perhaps no idea what after fields like that waiting.
Speaker 1: 07:16 Thank you for that. Can you describe what it is about writing that poem that helps you through this process?
Speaker 2: 07:24 I think that poetry does work differently with different writers and so we would all experience it somewhat different. In my own particular case, it is, uh, expressing things that I was not necessarily aware of in the writing process. I think that the writing of points is both a cognitive process where we start with something, either an idea or an image, but oftentimes then we are led by what is in our unconscious, what we have been thinking about for a long time. And so oftentimes when I finish a poem and I've edited it, I take a look at it and I'm surprised at what I'd felt. And it's often things that I guess I knew about, but I was not brought to the conscious level. So I think from my own case, when I can see something that has form and shape, it makes me handle it a little better. I understand this waiting now and it is not such a black unknown. It doesn't have necessarily the shape that I'm looking for, but I understand it a little bit better because I brought that out to the Sheriff's office that was in me.
Speaker 1: 08:28 Hmm. So for people who are listening and are thinking, well, gosh, perhaps I would like to try my hand at writing a poem. Do you have any, any advice for how to get started?
Speaker 2: 08:40 Well, um, that if, if there was a book that said how to write poetry, I wouldn't be here.
Speaker 1: 08:48 What about the people
Speaker 2: 08:49 possibly doing it? But there isn't a book for it. The burst thing, if you're not used to writing poetry, write what heart tells you and if your understanding, if you're curious about what is it, there is a tremendous amount of poetry that's on the internet that can give you ideas. You can even put in points about waiting and oftentimes you will find a lot of websites that will have points directly to that to give you some idea of what the shape looks like, what people are saying and how that may impact you. Writing poetry is about 20% writing and 80% reading in order to be inspired. So turn to those things but let your heart speak.
Speaker 1: 09:29 And as we mentioned, you are actually inviting people to send their poems to uh, to this, to meet this challenge. Tell us how they can do that.
Speaker 2: 09:40 Uh, there's a website. It is uh, San diego.gov/poetry together on that it leads you to where you can submit. And also you can read the point, the three points that I chose from last week. You can read a little bit about the whole program that's there, but you can submit your points at San diego.gov/poetry together. The program is called San Diego poetry together challenge.
Speaker 1: 10:12 And actually I found that if you just Google San Diego together poetry challenge, it'll pop right up. Yep.
Speaker 2: 10:19 Yeah, it is pretty easy. It's now everywhere. So it's pretty easy to find where you can submit your point. You put them into a word file and press send
Speaker 1: 10:29 and what will happen to the poems that, that you eventually pack, right?
Speaker 2: 10:34 Oh, the central website. And they're sent to me about every other day throughout this week and I sat down and look at them, read them, and I kind of do a sorting about the ones that I think have good poetry craft, that have tremendous inspiration, that address the ideas that we're having or the thoughts that we're having about or that the people are about. Corona virus and I kind of do a little filtering to where I pick the ones that most impact me. And then at over the weekend, I take and shuffle those around and uh, see the ones that impact me the best. And we put those out to three. So I get to read every single one of them.
Speaker 1: 11:19 And then some of them were published and they don't have to rhyme, right?
Speaker 2: 11:24 No. In today's world, rhyming is a difficult process to do it. Right. And so with the advent of free verse, which has seemed to have loosened up all of us a lot, there's less rhyming, but rhyming is fine. Do a good job with rhyming. It's still out there and I still like it.
Speaker 1: 11:43 Well, Ron, thank you so much for your challenge.
Speaker 2: 11:46 Thank you so much for having me and promoting poetry together for San Diego. We all need it.
Speaker 1: 11:52 We do. We've been speaking with Ron Salisbury, who is San Diego's first official poet Laureate.