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Arts | Coolture

Put that English degree to good use: San Diego’s looking for its first poet laureate

poetry word cloud on an isolated vintage blackboard
Poet laureates have a long history in the U.S.
(Marek Uliasz)

City officials are seeking San Diego’s first poet laureate.

During a two-year term scheduled to begin in December, the selected artist or artist team will create original works, perform readings, and develop a public project “that will celebrate the city and make poetry more available and accessible to residents in their everyday lives,” according to the request for applications. Total compensation: $20,000.

“Most importantly, the Poet Laureate will be the city’s poet, a civic poet — the people’s poet, whose role will be to elevate an already thriving literary arts scene and enhance San Diego’s cultural richness,” according to the job solicitation.

Poet laureates are considered ambassadors for their art form and have a history in the United States dating back more than a century. At the federal level, the first poet laureate was appointed in the 1930s and is affiliated with the Library of Congress. The current appointee is Joy Harjo. Past laureates include Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks, Billy Collins, Louise Glück, and Juan Felipe Herrera.

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California has had a poet laureate since the early 1900s. Herrera, who first found his artistic footing as a child growing up in San Diego, held that job, too. The position is currently vacant, awaiting an appointment by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

San Diego’s laureate will be selected by a panel of community members and literary arts experts working under the auspices of the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture. Criteria will include artistic excellence, originality, and experience with public engagement.

Under the contract as envisioned by the city, the laureate will produce four original works “about and inspired by the city of San Diego” each year, either poems, spoken-word pieces or both. The poet will also participate in a minimum of six public readings annually.

The public project will be developed in the first year and implemented in the second. Poets in other places have done a variety of projects; when Herrera was the state laureate, he put together “The Most Incredible & Biggest Poem on Unity in the World,” compiled from the contributions of hundreds of Californians. It stretched to more than 170 pages, “a rolling wave of poetry.” He used another project, “i-Promise Joanna,” to combat bullying.

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Applications are due Oct. 1, with final selection expected later that month. No laureate will be allowed to serve more than one two-year term.


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