Georgina Marie Guardado, poet laureate of Lake County, California, is the author of Tree Speak (2019) and the Literary Coordinator and Poetry Out Loud Coordinator for the Lake County Arts Council. In 2021, Guardado was awarded the Academy of American Poets Poet Laureate Fellowship to install poetry boxes, poetry display cases, tiny poetry libraries, and poetry murals in all eighteen communities in Lake County, California. She also plans to expand the project, with permission and the input of local Native officials and peoples, to the six Native American reservations in the county. To complete the project, Guardado will engage government leaders, local poets, artists, and youth.
Poets.org: You are the first Mexican-American and youngest to serve in this role for Lake County, which is very exciting! What do you hope for the future of poetry in Lake County? What support do you hope future poets laureate in California have?
Georgina Marie Guardado: I hope the future of poetry involves continuous support from the community at large, from poets to one another, and from former and future poets laureate. This support can look like checking in with each other, attending poetry events and encouraging others to, as well, and overall, ensuring poetry in the community remains active and alive. In Lake County, we are small, but we are strong. We are a rural, impoverished area that deals with common small town issues such as lack of medical resources, low literacy and graduation rates, high drug use, and employment concerns. However, we are a beautiful county with incredible wildlife, landscapes, and community resources that aim to resolve all of these challenges. I hope poetry can be a method of creativity and self-expression that can continue helping us survive through hardships and continue to be engaged across the county.
Additionally, I hope future poets laureate in California can be supported financially to aid their hard work. While this role is typically on a volunteer basis, some cities and counties are able to offer stipends while others do not. It is also important for poets laureate to be supported by their city and county officials, for confirmation that the literary arts, and art in general, is necessary and needed.
Poets.org: How can a poet, or poetry, bring a community together?
GMG: In the simplest terms, poetry and poets bring a community together through gathering, sharing, and acceptance. It is with poetry and other forms of creative writing that we share our stories, our truths, and our individual selves, and when we share this with others in the community, we bridge barriers, gaps, and divides whether geographically, emotionally, or other. It can let us know that we’re not alone in this and that each of us has a voice with a purpose.
Poets.org: Has being a poet laureate changed your relationship to your own writing in any way?
GMG: Absolutely. Being a poet laureate has encouraged me to dive deeper into my own vulnerabilities and share them with the public. This can be attributed to the fact that my term is running parallel with a pandemic, global warming, environmental catastrophe, racism, systemic inequality and injustice, and more. On some level, all of us humans (and an argument can be made for animals) are feeling vulnerable and have a longing to expose our vulnerabilities so we can connect with others. Realizing this has changed the trust and daringness I have in my own writing. I feel a new sense of exploration and comfort in addressing difficult subjects, and a willingness to share this with my community and poetry family. This, in turn, also changes me as a person who is healing from many traumas and learning to build strength day by day.
Poets.org: What part of your project are you most excited about?
GMG: I am definitely excited about working with many different folks in my community, but I am most excited to see poetry everywhere in my county. Lake County is very spaced out geographically, with many small towns being a good distance from each other, and some even considered remote. Not everyone on one side of the lake (Clear Lake) may be able to make it to the other side for poetry readings or workshops due to transportation, childcare, and more. So, to make poetry accessible by bringing it in some way to every town and community, for those who may love poetry or are completely new to it, is extremely exciting. It is also exciting to have funding to make this happen. Having support from the Academy is evidence that there is, in fact, a world of support for writers out there.
Poets.org: What obstacles, if any, did you experience when starting your project?
GMG: The main obstacle is navigating this project during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project is moving slower than anticipated and the response to my call for paid volunteers to assist with the project has been somewhat limited which I attribute to the fact that we can’t do as much in person as we would all like to. Many of us are also caring for ourselves or our families or may just be exhausted from everything going on in the world that any given person may not have extra energy to exert. Much of the project is being planned via email. Conversations and the actual building and installation of displays, as well as the celebrating, may occur with a smaller group than planned. Some celebrating will happen virtually, with photo and video documentation shared on social media. There is always a challenge as well in gaining the trust and participation of the Latinx and Native American communities, despite my belonging to both, so this is another obstacle I am working with.
Poets.org: How will this project expand to the six Native American reservations in the county? What input will local Native officials have?
GMG: It is my goal to offer this project to the Native American tribes in Lake County, and for their poetry displays to feature Native American poetry or little libraries stocked with poetry books from Native American writers. The Native officials will have input as to whether they accept and approve this offer, where they would like the displays installed, and they can choose any Native poets and creative writers to have their work displayed. They can also have any of their tribal members be involved in the building and installing of the displays, if they choose. It is imperative to acknowledge and celebrate our First Peoples’ voices, storytelling, poetry, art, and more.
Poets.org: Are you collaborating with any artists in the community to create the poetry murals? How are you selecting the locations where the murals will be displayed?
GMG: At this point, I am collaborating with the Middletown Art Center on the first mural, which will be located in Middletown. I will be collaborating with other organizations and artists, to be determined, in the coming months to bring at least two to three additional murals to other towns. The locations will be selected by the organizations that are interested in sponsoring a location and will be approved by city officials, if needed. It just so happens that there are two other arts groups that are producing murals around the county. So, if poetry murals are not favored, the poetry displays or little poetry libraries can be offered and chosen instead.
Poets.org: Is there a specific poem on Poets.org that inspires you and your work in the Lake County community?
GMG: Wow, I have been following Poets.org and The Academy’s Poem-a-Day for years! There are so many poems on Poets.org that inspire my work and me. I would have to say “Broken Retablo for Being on My Back, My Feet Bare & in the Air” by Joe Jimenez is a poem that has stayed with me for years. It reminds me to be proud of my heritage even when others diminish it, which is important to remember when holding a public role. I also have to say, “Instructions on Not Giving Up” by Ada Limón is a second, very important poem to me, which I go to for comfort and resilience. Her work always inspires me.