April is National poetry month, and Santa Cruz is teeming with poets. We have published poets, poets just learning how to hold a pencil, and closet poets who keep their poems hidden as if they were evidence of a scandalous love affair.
David Swanger's job as the county's second ever Poet Laureate is to shine a light on all types of local poets—not just in April, but through 2013 as well. Bringing unpublished poets into the circle is one thing the former UCSC professor, who was appointed to the two-year Poet Laureate position in February, does particularly well, too.
Between 1998 and 2000, Swanger edited The Poet's Corner in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Over the course of two years, he published 200 poems written by locals who otherwise wouldn't have seen their poems in print,
from grandmothers to school children to those closet poets we talked about.
"It was quite touching to see how many people were writing poetry, and how many of them wanted to be published," Swanger said. "I'd say the majority of poets also want their work out there for people to see, people they don't necessarily know, but what we call the public, the readers."
For Swanger, poetry is a way to express the human condition and also, most importantly, to make connections with each other.
He describes it best when he talks about his Poem "Wayne’s College of Beauty," a poem he wrote about a beauty salon that once existed next to the Nickelodeon Theater in downtown Santa Cruz. (It also happens to be the title of his latest poetry book, which can be found for sale at your local book shop.)
"I used to walk past it all the time and I remember I was going to write a
satirical poem about it, satirizing the use of the word 'college,’” Swanger
said. “I would see the young women who worked there standing outside on their breaks, they looked kind of tough.”
But Swanger's poem bloomed into something different than his initial perceptions of Wayne's College of Beauty, and probably one closer to reality.
"When I wrote the poem it actually became a love poem," he said. "There was a tenderness between the young women and the elderly women who went there to get their hair done. It was the young taking care of the old and in a sense loving them."
Poetry is also important because it allows the reader to form an empathetic connection with the poet themselves, according to Swanger.
Although he doesn't like to give heavy advice or make rules about writing poetry, the man is a retired college professor, after all, and admits that he loves a good metaphorical nugget in his poetry.
"Poetry is a big house, though it's got many rooms," said Swanger, who considers some rap songs and musical lyrics to be poems too.
Swanger hopes to bring back a "Poetry Corner" in a local newspaper soon, but for the time being, he has been active in participating and helping to promote poetry readings in the area—including reading to the City Council members in Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz, and Capitola. (He'll be visiting Watsonville next!)
"I think this is how poetry and literature lives in America. It lives because of libraries and schools and small organizations that sponsor readings and contests and events," Swanger said. "It's not just best sellers in the New York Times and it's not who reads at the presidential inauguration every four to eight years. We have a lot of poetry just right here."
Upcoming Poetry Events in the County:
On April 25, there will be a Poetry Reading to honor the late Adrienne Rich, a local Santa Cruz poet who died a few weeks ago. This event is open to the public, and attendees can choose one poem to read by Rich. The event is at Kresge Town Hall at UCSC, at 7 p.m.
On April 26, there will be a Poetry Reading at the Felton Community Hall at 6191 Hwy 9 from 7 to 8 p.m.
Read more about David Swanger HERE. You can buy his latest book, Wayne's Beauty College, at Book Shop Santa Cruz, or on Amazon.com.