The announcement of the City’s first Poet Laureate position came in December, and ever since Eloise Klein Healy has been fast at work creating a structure for Los Angeles to think about poetry. That task, although daunting, sounds poetic in itself: imagining landscapes and unlikely settings for poetry to take place, listening for ways to reflect L.A.’s diverse voices, visualizing tangible objects to disperse poetry. Healy, who has written seven books of poetry, has also played a pivotal role in the local literary community as an educator and publisher. As the founder of Arktoi Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press for lesbian authors, the co-founder of Eco-Arts, and the founder of Antioch University’s low-residency M.F.A. program, she is well-versed in not shying away from new challenges.
“I grew up in a café, and I learned that whoever comes in, you serve them, and I feel like everyone in the city of Los Angeles is my customer,” she says. So what might Angelenos look forward to with Healy as their server of poetry? She’s proposed an initial list of projects spanning from events in schools and libraries, to symposiums with teachers about how poetry is taught, to handing out local poems on postcards, to pop-up poetry events in barbershops and buses. “The more I can reach neighborhood spots, the more people are going to feel there’s something special about poetry—this is somebody reaching out to them, instead of them being scolded that they don’t read poetry,” she explains. “I’m a big believer in the power of the small.” But she just might go big too—she’s proposed an L.A. Poetry Day at Dodger Stadium.
As Healy searches for novel spots for poetry, she also wants to reach out to places like the Los Angeles Public Library that already have a supportive infrastructure and track record of celebrating poetry. On Tuesday, April 9 at ALOUD, Healy will converse with long-time poetry advocate Caroline Kennedy. Kennedy’s new anthology, Poems to Learn by Heart, collects over a hundred pieces that celebrate life moments and speaks to a range of readers. “It will be a far-ranging discussion on the role of poetry in the education and the development of children, which is particularly related to language and imagination,” says Healy, who has been an admirer of Kennedy’s commitment to and excellent taste in curating poetry.
What is Healy’s standard for good poetry? “Poetry is imagination acting on language and language acting on imagination, and all of these things that poetry asks of us are good training in our lives.” She later adds, “But poetry doesn’t have to be hard, just well-written.” Join ALOUD on April 9, for “Poetry to Live By.”
–Posted by Bridgette Bates