Tuesday Poets at the Library

By Leah Ullman

Amid the hustle and bustle of state street, the Santa Barbara Public Library harbors a quiet club in the historic “fireplace room” of the library. This event, called “Tuesday Poets at the Library”, gathers every third Tuesday of the month, attracting and reuniting a myriad of local writers. The beige plastic chairs and fake tea candles lined around the mock-fireplace sets the vibe of the gathering. Before the reading, friends of 40 years converse, laughing and discussing the current political climate. SB’s Poet Laureate and host of the event, Enid Osborn steps up to the podium and asks everyone to take a moment of silence reflecting on the passing of poet Mary Oliver. A collective somber mood fills the room. Osborn encourages everyone to search up one of Mary Oliver’s best poems, “The Summer Day”, a suggestion greeted by murmurs of agreement.

Three poets showcasing their works this week were Kathee Miller, a psychotherapist, Ronald Aden Alexander, a teacher, and Nancy-Jean Pement, a full-time writer and Francophile. Kathee’s poems painted pictures of beautiful landscapes and animals, creating picturesque scenes with her eloquence of words. In her poem “Miniworlds/Tablecloths” referring to WW2, Kathy writes “Grief was sewn into generations like a tablecloth.” The next poet, Ronald Aden Alexander, incorporates LGBTQ issues into his writing. An HIV survivor and LGBTQ activist, Ronald founded the Whitman-Stein Poetry Fest / Poetry on a Slant, a celebration of LGBTQ poets. Additionally, a short film was inspired by his poem “Zebra” and has been in LGBTQ and other film festivals. The last and most accomplished poet, Nancy-Jean Pement, writes primarily about her french-Canadian heritage and experience growing up in the Outaouais region of Quebec. Most recently, Nancy-Jean has been experimenting with post-structuralism and post-modernism in her writing. In her poem “A History of Solitudes” she writes “I had nothing to learn from the word ‘or’ and the binaries of it.”

As Nancy-Jean finishes the last line of her poem, Osborne steps back onstage and closes off the reading by thanking everyone for coming. This event was the second to last meeting of Tuesday poets, and the last one will be in March.

Employee of the SB Public Library, Jace Turner, told me more about the event. Jace explained how every two years the local Poet Laureate steps down and a new person is nominated by the people for this distinguished position. The poet laureate program was created in 2005, and has had 7 laureates in the past. According to the Santa Barbara County Office of Arts and Culture, “The Poet Laureate represents and celebrates the diversity and history of Santa Barbara. As a spokesperson for the City’s literary community, the Poet Laureate shall endeavor to promote the artistic achievements of the City of Santa Barbara and shall actively participate in ceremonial, educational, and cultural activities in the community at various times throughout their term of service.” The position is open call, so feel free to nominate anyone you think would contribute to the arts and culture in the literary community of Santa Barbara!

The following is the poem “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver


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