Poetry Connection: El Salvador Edition

Previously Published in the Santa Barbara Independent

Last Sunday, poet Alexandra Lytton Regalado gave a salon style reading and discussion at the Ridley Tree House where she is in residence for the week, thanks to a collaboration with Santa Barbara City College and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. I’ve had the opportunity to connect with Alex over the years, first at a writing conference and later through Swwim Everyday, an online journal for women-identifying poets where she is an editor.

It is no coincidence that her last name sounds like the Spanish word for gift: Regalo. As much as she is honored to reside in a home overlooking the mountains, during one of Santa Barbara’s many good weather weeks, she is a gift to the city. Don’t miss her free workshop on Thursday. I didn’t have much advance notice either or else I would have talked up her reading in previous columns. The salon’s intimate setting allowed the poet to speak to us candidly with what she called, confianza or to confide amongst friends. She said Sunday’s event was like a gathering with friends.

Alex describes herself as a double agent because she was born in El Salvador, left for Miami as a child during the country’s civil war and moved back to El Salvador as an adult. She has spent 24 years in Miami and 23 years in El Salvador. Now, she finds herself the Matriarch of her family. As the adult in charge, she says she is comfortable being displaced.

Her words carry the weight of being the matriarch of her family as well as the eldest sister. With this responsibility comes a grit that Regalado says is natural for Salvadoran women who must have the quality to aguantar (to withstand). She says being the keeper of memory is the hardest. When her sisters want to throw away old photographs of unknown people, Alex feels compelled to dig into memory and name those unknown faces. She says she has rescued many photographic memories from the garbage. As the matriarch of her family, she is sensitive to the fact that those saved photographs represent a grief for those who are only with us in photographs. For Regalado, grief is always expected. She describes grief as a way of life, an inheritance.

Photography and the visual arts are dear to Regalado. She has a degree in visual art and photography. She is still fascinated by visiting museums. I loved the way in which she discussed how we translate a poem or song in the same way we might ascribe meaning to a painting in a museum The idea of honoring personal interpretation makes poetry more accessible to people, yet another form of poetry connection.

Alex said this isn’t her first residency, but her third; however, it is her first in California. “The house is full of light and has amazing views of mountains I can see from my desk window,” she said. It also helps that the Ridley-Tree House is in the same neighborhood as her sister-in-poetry, Emma Trelles, previous Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara. Alex has had a long-standing connection to Santa Barbara via Emma Trelles and the Mission Poetry Series, she has translated She also served as judge for this year’s Alta California Chapbook Prize. “I’m honored that three Santa Barbara poet laureates attended the reading,” she said, “I’m looking forward to Thursday’s free workshop at SBCC from 3 to 5 pm at the Multimodal Lab—I’ve developed writing exercises centered around wonder and loss and a great reading packet of poems to share with the group.”

Upcoming Poetry Events:

Wednesday: Hospice Light Up a Life. I will be sharing a poem at the Light Up a Life Ceremony in Montecito, 4:30 pm in the Upper Village Green, 1504 E. Valley Rd.

Saturday: Hospice Light Up a Life. Carpinteria, 5:30 pm at the Seal Fountain 884 Linden Ave.