4/22/2013--Supervisors find rhyme and reason for poet laureate
By Michelle Durand
San Mateo Daily Journal
Two county supervisors say there is rhyme and reason for San Mateo County to name an
honorary poet laureate who will elevate the literary genre for residents, advocate the arts and
contribute to literacy.
“Poetry kind of gets a back seat,” said Supervisor Carole Groom who climbed on board with the
idea at the request of Supervisor Warren Slocum. “Yes, we do have serious issues like health
and the criminal justice system but it’s important residents take time for themselves and enjoy
themselves and the arts.”
Slocum and Groom on Tuesday will ask the full board — perhaps even wax poetic? — to
establish the county’s inaugural poet laureate program and create a two-member ad hoc
committee to pick a nominee. The two-year post will be honorary and have no fiscal impact.
During his or her tenure, the poet laureate will hold public readings, participate in civil events
and propose and lead community projects and school events.
Slocum’s fondness for poetry was sparked by a family member whose poem about Vietnam
vets struck a chord. During his supervisor campaign last year, he visited a group of “art folks”
and was peppered with questions about public art, architecture and historic preservation. From
there, the idea of a poet laureate grew.
Like Groom, he agrees poetry gets short shrift but hopes for a change.
“Part of the goal is to, in our county, elevate poetry and get people excited about everyday
moments,” he said.
The county is getting help on the plan from California’s poet laureate and some local professors
of humanities, he said.
While the idea of a poet laureate is far from prosaic, it is a now-common position in the state of
California and a number of its counties and cities. The Bay Area alone has poet laureates in the
counties of San Francisco, Marin, Napa, Sonoma, Alameda and Santa Clara.
Groom said she recalls when poet Robert Frost read his piece in freezing cold weather at
President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. A book of his poetry still sits on her shelf.
That type of connection to poetry and other types of art is what creation of the post aims for,
Groom and Slocum both said. Not that Peninsula residents are lacking in culture, Groom said — so many head up to San
Francisco for theater or opera. But the poet laureate is a way to cultivate something more local.
Poetry and literacy is also a way to make residents, particularly the youth, more well-rounded,
which in turn helps them excel in later grades, she said.
While no nominees are in the pipeline yet, the idea of the program is already gathering backers.
San Mateo resident Maurine Killough, who last year won four awards for poetry at the San
Mateo County Fair, will read the winning piece in support of the proposal at the supervisors’
meeting. Groom will also read a favorite as will Slocum who has picked poet Billy Collins whose
wry humor he appreciates.
Slocum also expects the nominee pool to be deep.
“There is no specific potential nominees in mind yet but I know there are many talented folks in
San Mateo County who would be interested,” Slocum said.