Poetry Connection: The Laureate Series

Poetry Connection Column: previously published in the Santa Barbara Independent
By Melinda Palacio, Santa Barbara Poet Laureate


A SRO crowd at the new Laureate Series in Santa Barbara.
Madeline C. Miller, Solange Aguilar, and Melinda Palacio

Last week’s Laureate Series at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Paseo Nuevo was the first event I’ve hosted in a while. That it was on a First Thursday, meant there was a built-in audience. People know that museums offer free admission, sometimes refreshments, and that they are may wander in and out.

I was happy that most of the audience who sat in the chairs, eagerly awaited the poetry and stayed for the hour-long program. The current exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art features Pointing Star by Sarah Rosalena, on display through July 30.

The MCASB will continue to host the Laureate Series, the next event will be in September. Exciting news, given that there hasn’t been poetry there for several years. The museum was also on the brink of extinction, but Freddy Janka came to its rescue. Roger Durling writes about the museum’s revival.

What I’ve learned about event planning is that the location should be secured first, something I didn’t have pinned down until a few weeks ago. I have much to learn about event planning. I was lucky the MCASB didn’t have a First Thursday event for June.

In my mind, the programming is more important than the location. I was willing to huddle in front of an empty store front in the middle of State Street. I’m glad I didn’t tell this to the featured guest, California State Poet Laureate Lee Herrick. However, Lee has such a calm and charming demeanor, I’m sure he would have gone with the flow. Lee was the perfect choice to inaugurate this series because of his familial ties to Santa Barbara. His great grandmother built the first house in Rincon, and his family in Ojai grows tangerines. Try the Pixies next time you’re at the farmer’s market.

Lee has a wonderful way of listening to the world. He says ‘we are walking, breathing poems.’ Despite his early childhood trauma of having been given up for adoption in Daejeon, South Korea, where he was born, there is no doubt he belongs to California, where he grew up with his adoptive family in Modesto. He served as the Poet Laureate of the City of Fresno from 2015-2017. He wrote the definitive California poem, “My California.”

In hindsight, I’m glad we were able to host Lee at the Museum of Contemporary Art and not on the street, although I do plan on having some poetry programs on State Street in the near future.

Lee also appreciated reading with our Youth Poet Laureate Madeline Miller and special guest Solange Aguilar, a first-place winner in the Santa Barbara Poetry Slam. Solange was one of the poets I met at the student luncheon for Joy Harjo. Both Solange and Madeline are powerful voices to look out for. The future of poetry is safe.