California

In 2001, California established a state poet laureate position, most recently held by Dana Gioia, who was appointed to a two-year term in 2015. He is the author of numerous poetry collections and books of literary criticism.

Janice Lobo Sapigao is the poet laureate of Santa Clara County, California.

In 2019, Chris Olander became the poet laureate of Nevada County, California. Olander will serve a two-year term.

In 2019, Aileen Cassinetto became the poet laureate of San Mateo County, California. Olander will serve a two-year term.

In 2019, Marisol Baca was named poet laureate of Fresno, California. Baca will serve a two-year term.

Robin Coste Lewis was appointed the Los Angeles poet laureate in 2017, which is a two-year term. She is the author of the National Book Award-winning collection Voyage of the Sable Venus (Knopf, 2015).

In 2017, Indigo Moor was named poet laureate of Sacramento, California. Moor will serve a two-year term.

Ron Salisbury was appointed the inaugural poet laureate of San Diego in 2020, which is a two-year term.

Kim Shuck was appointed the San Francisco poet laureate in 2017, which is a two-year term.

In 2018, Mike McGee was named poet laurate of San Jose/Santa Clara County, California. McGee will serve a two-year term.

In 2019, David Holper became the first poet laureate of Eureka, California. Holper, an educator and poet, will serve a one-year term.

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California poet laureaute
Dana Gioia

On December 24, 1950, Dana Gioia was born in Hawthorne, California. He received a BA from Stanford University. Before returning to Stanford to earn an MBA, he completed an MA in comparative literature at Harvard University, where he studied with the poets Robert Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Bishop. In 1977 he moved to New York to begin a career in business. For fifteen years Gioia worked as a businessman, eventually becoming a vice president of General Foods. In 1992, after publishing his first book of poetry, Daily Horoscope (Graywolf Press), in 1986, he left business to become a full-time writer.

Gioia is the author of several poetry collections, including 99 Poems: New & Selected (Graywolf Press, 2016), Interrogations at Noon (Graywolf Press, 2001), winner of the American Book Award; The Gods of Winter (1991); and Daily Horoscope (1986).

His critical collection, Can Poetry Matter?: Essays on Poetry and American Culture (Graywolf, 1992), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Award in Criticism. Since then, Gioia has published two other collections of criticism, Barrier of a Common Language: An American Looks at Contemporary British Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 2003) and Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture (Graywolf Press, 2004).

He has also written an opera libretto, Nosferatu, translated Eugenio Montale's Mottetti (Graywolf Press, 1990), coedited two anthologies of Italian poetry and four of the nation's best-selling college literature textbooks.

Gioia has cofounded two major literary conferences. In 1995 he helped create the West Chester University summer conference on Form and Narrative, which is now the largest annual poetry-writing conference in the United States. In 2001 he began "Teaching Poetry," a conference in Santa Rosa, California, dedicated to improving high school teaching of poetry. He has also taught as a visiting writer at Colorado College, Johns Hopkins, Sarah Lawrence, Mercer, and Wesleyan University. From 2003 to 2009, Gioia served as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2015, he was appointed poet laureate of California. He lives in Sonoma County, California, with his wife and two sons.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
99 Poems: New & Selected (Graywolf Press, 2016)
Pity the Beautiful (Graywolf Press, 2012)
Interrogations at Noon (Graywolf Press, 2001)
The Gods of Winter (Graywolf Press, 1991)
Daily Horoscope (Graywolf Press, 1986)

Prose
Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture (Graywolf Press, 2004)
Barrier of a Common Language: An American Looks at Contemporary British Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 2003)
Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture (Graywolf Press, 1992)

Dana Gioia

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California Plush

The only thing I miss about Los Angeles

is the Hollywood Freeway at midnight, windows down and
radio blaring
bearing right into the center of the city, the Capitol Tower
on the right, and beyond it, Hollywood Boulevard
blazing

—pimps, surplus stores, footprints of the stars

—descending through the city
                   fast as the law would allow

through the lights, then rising to the stack
out of the city
to the stack where lanes are stacked six deep

              and you on top; the air
              now clean, for a moment weightless

                        without memories, or
                        need for a past.



The need for the past

is so much at the center of my life
I write this poem to record my discovery of it,
my reconciliation.

                   It was in Bishop, the room was done
in California plush: we had gone into the coffee shop, were told
you could only get a steak in the bar:
                                      I hesitated,
not wanting to be an occasion of temptation for my father

but he wanted to, so we entered

a dark room, with amber water glasses, walnut
tables, captain's chairs,
plastic doilies, papier-mâché bas-relief wall ballerinas,
German memorial plates "bought on a trip to Europe,"
Puritan crosshatch green-yellow wallpaper,
frilly shades, cowhide 
booths—

I thought of Cambridge:

                   the lovely congruent elegance
                   of Revolutionary architecture, even of

ersatz thirties Georgian

seemed alien, a threat, sign
of all I was not—

to bode order and lucidity

as an ideal, if not reality—

not this California plush, which

                       also

I was not.

And so I made myself an Easterner,
finding it, after all, more like me
than I had let myself hope.

         And now, staring into the embittered face of 
         my father,

again, for two weeks, as twice a year,
     I was back.

              The waitress asked us if we wanted a drink.
Grimly, I waited until he said no...



Before the tribunal of the world I submit the following
document:

         Nancy showed it to us,
in her apartment at the model,
as she waited month by month
for the property settlement, her children grown
and working for their father,
at fifty-three now alone, 
a drink in her hand:

                   as my father said,
"They keep a drink in her hand":

                                  Name   Wallace du Bois
                                  Box No  128     Chino, Calif.
                                  Date   July  25   ,19 54

Mr Howard Arturian
     I am writing a letter to you this afternoon while I'm in the
mood of writing. How is everything getting along with you these
fine days, as for me everything is just fine and I feel great except for 
the heat I think its lot warmer then it is up there but I don't mind
it so much. I work at the dairy half day and I go to trade school the
other half day Body & Fender, now I am learning how to spray
paint cars I've already painted one and now I got another car to
paint. So now I think I've learned all I want after I have learned all
this. I know how to straighten metals and all that. I forgot to say
"Hello" to you. The reason why I am writing to you is about a job,
my Parole Officer told me that he got letter from and that you want
me to go to work for you. So I wanted to know if its truth. When
I go to the Board in Feb. I'll tell them what I want to do and where
I would like to go, so if you want me to work for you I'd rather have
you sent me to your brother John in Tonapah and place to stay for
my family. The Old Lady says the same thing in her last letter that 
she would be some place else then in Bishop, thats the way I feel
too.and another thing is my drinking problem. I made up my mind
to quit my drinking, after all what it did to me and what happen.
     This is one thing I'll never forget as longs as I live I never want
to go through all this mess again. This sure did teach me lot of things
that I never knew before. So Howard you can let me know soon
as possible. I sure would appreciate it.

P.S                                    From Your Friend
I hope you can read my                 Wally Du Bois
writing. I am a little nervous yet

—He and his wife had given a party, and
one of the guests was walking away
just as Wallace started backing up his car.
He hit him, so put the body in the back seat
and drove to a deserted road.
There he put it before the tires, and
ran back and forth over it several times.

When he got out of Chino, he did,
indeed, never do that again:
but one child was dead, his only son,
found with the rest of the family
immobile in their beds with typhoid,
next to the mother, the child having been
dead two days:

he continued to drink, and as if it were the Old West
shot up the town a couple of Saturday nights.

"So now I think I've learned all I want
after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things
that I never knew before.
I am a little nervous yet."

It seems to me
an emblem of Bishop—



For watching the room, as the waitresses in their
back-combed, Parisian, peroxided, bouffant hairdos,
and plastic belts,
moved back and forth

I thought of Wallace, and
the room suddenly seemed to me
         not uninteresting at all:

         they were the same. Every plate and chair

         had its congruence with

         all the choices creating

         these people, created

         by them—by me,

for this is my father's chosen country, my origin.

Before, I had merely been anxious, bored; now,
I began to ask a thousand questions...




He was, of course, mistrustful, knowing I was bored,
knowing he had dragged me up here from Bakersfield

after five years

of almost managing to forget Bishop existed.

But he soon became loquacious, ordered a drink,
and settled down for 
an afternoon of talk...

He liked Bishop: somehow, it was to his taste, this
hard-drinking, loud, visited-by-movie-stars town.
"Better to be a big fish in a little pond."

And he was: when they came to shoot a film,
he entertained them; Miss A—, who wore
nothing at all under her mink coat; Mr. M—,
good horseman, good shot.

"But when your mother 
let me down" (for alcoholism and
infidelity, she divorced him)
"and Los Angeles wouldn't give us water any more,
I had to leave.

We were the first people to grow potatoes in this valley."

When he began to tell me
that he lost control of the business
because of the settlement he gave my mother,

because I had heard it 
many times,

in revenge, I asked why people up here drank so much.

He hesitated. "Bored, I guess.
—Not much to do."

And why had Nancy's husband left her?

In bitterness, all he said was:
"People up here drink too damn much."

And that was how experience
had informed his life.

"So now I think I've learned all I want
after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things
that I never knew before.
I am a little nervous yet."



Yet, as my mother said,
returning, as always, to the past,

"I wouldn't change any of it.
It taught me so much. Gladys
is such an innocent creature: you look into her face
and somehow it's empty, all she worries about
are sales and the baby.
her husband's too good!"

It's quite pointless to call this rationalization:
my mother, for uncertain reasons, has had her
bout with insanity, but she's right:

the past in maiming us,
makes us,
fruition
         is also
destruction:

              I think of Proust, dying
in a cork-linked room, because he refuses to eat
because he thinks that he cannot write if he eats
because he wills to write, to finish his novel

—his novel which recaptures the past, and
with a kind of joy, because
in the debris
of the past, he has found the sources of the necessities

which have led him to this room, writing

—in this strange harmony, does he will
for it to have been different?

              And I can't not think of the remorse of Oedipus,

who tries to escape, to expiate the past
by blinding himself, and
then, when he is dying, sees that he has become a Daimon

—does he, discovering, at last, this cruel
coherence created by 
                   "the order of the universe"

—does he will 
anything reversed?



                   I look at my father:
as he drinks his way into garrulous, shaky
defensiveness, the debris of the past
is just debris—; whatever I reason, it is a desolation
to watch...

must I watch?
He will not change; he does not want to change;

every defeated gesture implies
the past is useless, irretrievable...
—I want to change: I want to stop fear's subtle

guidance of my life—; but, how can I do that
if I am still
afraid of its source?

Psychoanalysis: An Elegy

What are you thinking about?

I am thinking of an early summer.
I am thinking of wet hills in the rain
Pouring water.  Shedding it
Down empty acres of oak and manzanita
Down to the old green brush tangled in the sun,
Greasewood, sage, and spring mustard.
Or the hot wind coming down from Santa Ana
Driving the hills crazy,
A fast wind with a bit of dust in it
Bruising everything and making the seed sweet.
Or down in the city where the peach trees
Are awkward as young horses,
And there are kites caught on the wires
Up above the street lamps,
And the storm drains are all choked with dead branches.

What are you thinking?

I think that I would like to write a poem that is slow as a summer
As slow getting started
As 4th of July somewhere around the middle of the second stanza
After a lot of unusual rain
California seems long in the summer.
I would like to write a poem as long as California
And as slow as a summer.
Do you get me, Doctor?  It would have to be as slow
As the very tip of summer.
As slow as the summer seems
On a hot day drinking beer outside Riverside
Or standing in the middle of a white-hot road
Between Bakersfield and Hell
Waiting for Santa Claus.

What are you thinking now?

I’m thinking that she is very much like California.
When she is still her dress is like a roadmap.  Highways
Traveling up and down her skin
Long empty highways
With the moon chasing jackrabbits across them
On hot summer nights.
I am thinking that her body could be California
And I a rich Eastern tourist
Lost somewhere between Hell and Texas
Looking at a map of a long, wet, dancing California
That I have never seen.
Send me some penny picture-postcards, lady,
Send them.
One of each breast photographed looking
Like curious national monuments,
One of your body sweeping like a three-lane highway
Twenty-seven miles from a night’s lodging
In the world’s oldest hotel.

What are you thinking?

I am thinking of how many times this poem
Will be repeated.  How many summers
Will torture California
Until the damned maps burn
Until the mad cartographer
Falls to the ground and possesses
The sweet thick earth from which he has been hiding.

What are you thinking now?

I am thinking that a poem could go on forever.

Poem for a National Seashore

i.

    —& humans walked to the edge of the sand
  through a bank of verbena & fog;  
     they thought they’d never get over
the deaths, but they were starting to. Worry
     about money rested in their phones. Talk of
 candidates had stalled. Some sang. Grays of

    objects rested in their packs. They had come
to the edge with children or with friends. Big 
   nothing quieted the crows. Wings of dried ink.
The snake had gone back to the hills, to velvet &
the brian-grasses; it digested a mouse near its spine.
     Some sang. The fox went back & would never

meet the snake except through the ampersand.
     The memory of failure failed for an hour. Some  
        sang. The future was a cosmic particle
seen once a long time ago. Those who had tried
   too often walked with those who had yet to try
    as doubt can walk beside a radical hope—

 

ii.

some had cancer       some walked outside
       some were breaking up    a few

        were getting by      some walked past 
 pines    to their hearts’ desire    thinking
        of sex      or seeds      a few  asked  

    where nature is    bonnard-blue thistles  

yarrow leaves  narrowly     out to  sea   

axio-fog of August    down from bluffs    
   
      others rolled through  dune grass    some
 rested     depressed     a few  made sand-

cities  sandwiches       some went   birdward
 to sooty &  long-billed      murrelet     grebe

 

 iii.

—they had driven to the country, though as  
    a poet wrote The country will bring us no peace;
they took their children of light & flesh
      because the sign was the sun upon the earth,
it was not toxic assets, it was not forwards or
    options or swaps; the sign was not ruin upon

 the sea, for the sea saved some. A caterpillar of
   maybe it was the tiger moth inched along,  
     a few white bristles sticking up, bristles taller
 than the country, & Abronia latifolia's roots would
  not live past the country or the blue-eyed darner
    & the meadow hawk with its three life stages…

  By the sea the orbweaver rappelling beside
        the fleabane was bolder than the country,
          it didn’t see underlying leverage or hedging,
 didn't see collateralized debt obligations & rates,
    or see the probably 100 trillion traded on
what is called futures while the mountain lion that

    has a small future took her young through the O in
October. Human children rolled through dune grass,
 they had a simple laughter in the country, in sand
   so much older than the country, they had a little
gladness for that day while the sign, the shadow
 of death, passed over them but death did not—

 

iv.

      little  litter     on the littoral   shore

  where first peoples  set   tule boats  

     walkers     makers of    a burn tangle

left that ocean      before writing    nations

    whose words    are lost     thick low

mats  now named  beachweed or heliotrope

horned sea rocket       When  John Muir   

a sweeping man   settled farther inland      

that family farmer       grew  peach trees   

    o  ever now      after such sorrow  

      we dreamed       a red ladder of    

birth & death         being set down

 

 

 v.

   The sun paused. It was greeting the soul
  of the day.  The clouds gathered past money,
 they were cumuli- & cirri-, they were glauc-
& grise & gray. The friends talked
   with their thumbs on the tiny machines
& some walked or drank & some loved.

   On the mountain in summer
they had seen serpentine & saw it again
  today, black green not the color of money
  as if a serpent had slid beneath the birth
 of the sea & brought the burned
         waves to the rock.   The friends

had violence in them & they had
      silence too. By the waves the silence
        sounded like swswswswsw or ____ ,
 it sounded like     '''''''''   or even {{{{{. 
       Lichen hung in hashtags & the wind
   was braver than sports. Slowly they

 forgot the grief opening of the book  
& when they saw the secret serpentine
   they knew what could be both you
& not you, that snake & fox &
    word would live with the hooded,
  the ring-necked, the marbled, the blue—

 

vi.

                Otters swam in the lagoon,
            the gates opened in the reeds,
          no suffering between the myths or
         silver smelt diminishing. No metal or
       spilled oil where human hair had been
     used to gather it… Otters have one million
         little hairs per inch of skin so when
  between the reeds they passed they did not

 hurt with cold. Far out to sea 10,000 whales
             swam without the humans.
      The humans breathed when they saw them
not as dire. Liso- & lati- & beside. They stood
   in Abronia latifolia, cries of E or I when they
   saw the whales. Harbingers, Thoreau might
     have said. One tall boy named Finn saw three.  
There was aggression among large mammals

  but no merrill lynching, no goldman saching, 
      no bankers’ greed or quantitative easing
no negative interest rate environment
    yielding minus zero so students pay to be
in debt. There was none of that. Some willow
       buds bobbed in the lagoon, kelp bobbed
 between gray & brown otters’ heads in winter
       cress. Their happiness was research.
 

 

     vii.

             The humans had come     in        strong boats
                      when continents                were closer.
                  That is the theory         in        some accounts. 
          The continents floated        in        & suddenly
        naked-new bodies arrived      in        buckled dunes & radiating
grasses. When some made love     in       the wooden place
                             by the sea              in       autumn her hands were
                     always cold even         in       thick warm
                               fibers & out        in       the charismatic dusk,
  under the harvest moon set        in       the history of
                                   arrivals,          in      browns & gray of winter fog &
                                    maybe          in       the amount of time
                        it took for the         in-      side of them to become
               warm, jazz poured          in       as if from distant fires on
             the west shore, as if         in      animated orange code. Centuries
   passed. When sex was delicious one woman thought, here we are
       at a national seashore, almost nothing goes well for the nation
                  but land held in common past dominance & greed
                   which seemed like a real plan as if love were free

 

viii.

             & heard the reeds hissing    when
                       Drake stepped on land      creeks went
                        below       the new dead  in slim
                               fog  could not be comforted     

  dusky Chlorogalum pomeridianum       the "soap plant"

blooms on dry hillsides       white-crowns nearby

     cloudy  light flowers        wiry blue lines
     
Miwok dug up          hidden bulbs      used
 
     dye from leaves      for tattoos      used

raw bulbs    for lather       from cooked
   bulbs made       a sweet   starch       then      

 with the paste       they glued arrows 

 

ix.

In spring, when the field starts to think & the invisibles
are relaxed, sounds let themselves out to the left. Crows 
   & apples sanction their appeal & humans go out
     almost to the Point & see the baby elk that have
      have fuzzy fur on the horns, grasses through which other
 grasses push. Yellow mustard flowers like paintings in
Europe. The elk are standing out at the precipice
      past dread or Thursdays & the humans start to feel

 pleasure. Some humans don't want elk on their land
       & put up signs with poems: LET'S PROTECT/
BOTH ELK AND COW/ TIME TO BUILD / ELK FENCES NOW.
Humans want to have sex anytime they want but don't want
     the elk to have sex anytime & accuse male elk of
      drinking water before sex, even humans who might
 take property from humans in other countries think
  male elk are being unreasonable for drinking water,

      but the humans love beauty & can be released from
their positions because so many have doubts about
   doubts about what is called the natural world; far below,
      the sea lions are stretched out like rug samples,
  & the humans tarry, looking down at high waves crashing,   
   green with its leader into gray, crashing over what is lost;
the humans name what is lost while going home where
     they live in violence & hope & inconceivable longing—

 

x.

       In woods  where     the spirits stood

    among the signs     past usnea  hanging
   in wet bishop  pines    humans heard

   the loud instances     of wide hawk  

A red-tail      flew over them

E-E-E   & the anti-going   furred one
  crawled past    brown feet   of chanterelles

    waited while one     of the hawk's

          perfect E's flew     to the sky

             & found the     end of time

 

xi.
 
   They had come to the coast as they
        had come to songs as they had come
       to poetry.  When they were odd
children they went to the sea & saw
  the bronze stems in the sand, dune grass
 where the shaman starved & hurt sank
   quietly. The parents were anxious, so
the children tried to act normal to keep them

calm. They didn’t know about threatened
     corals or the sorrow of coastal towns.
The children tried to act normal in school
      when teachers brought packets of poetry.
On holidays, violent games with the cousins
            & the sea grew more toxic &
more lovely. Now they are grown, they’re   
    trying to feel a little less terrible

about everything. They might take a poem
 to the beach for a birthday or a wedding.
   Pelicans fly in their backward Zs.  Sand
is the residue of stars, edges echo eco
  eco, for the house is already beside itself,
        the edges not the center; the children  
laugh as they make the sand houses, not
      remembering they’ll remember —
 

 

xii. 

So it was that the dream went back past the signs

So it was in summer again the loved ones went out to
            the sea at a quarter to dusk

The part of them that could do nothing did nothing
            & the light of them walked along

Walked west forgetting not the horror but forgiving
            others who were happier & the amount

When they got to the waves they gave the ashes of
             the dead to the sea oh blankness cut loose
                        from the dream

& forgot for an hour the anger as they sat & shook
            the small stones from their shoes & walked
                        back over the bridge of fireweed     

Talking about events that mattered as the ashes were
            sucked back in the tide so loss could be lost
                         for a while as love kept them   
                                    in company beside —
                                               

                                                     
for the children & grandchildren of the seashores