Malibu poets to read work at Diesel

Roy Ringer and Ellen Reich

Roy Ringer and Ellen Reich will read selections of their poetry at Diesel, A Bookstore Sunday at 3 p.m.

By Chris Karmiol / Special to The Malibu Times

In his younger Malibu years, Roy Ringer surfed like so many other wet suit-wearing wave riders. These days, the retired journalist and political speechwriter imagines what the thoughts of small creatures living beneath the waves might be, such as young anchovies in their final fateful moments before getting scooped up in the beaks of hungry pelicans.

The anchovy, all unaware

That death is lurking in the air

Observes the pelican on high,

And wishes it had wings to fly.

In his lighthearted book of selected poems, “The Anchovy and the Pelican,” Ringer reflects on his life, his thoughts and often his wife, Vivian, in whimsical rhyming verses. He will read his poetry at the Diesel, A Bookstore on Cross Creek Road Sunday, along with fellow Malibu poet, Ellen Reich.

Ringer said he does not find poetry an easy task.

“Poetry is not a profession, it’s an affliction,” he said.

Ringer started in the newspaper profession at the age of 18, and after a serving in the U.S. Coast Guard in World War II, moved on to work with such publications as the Daily News (where he met Vivian) and the Daily Variety, with a final 10-year journalism stint as a Los Angeles Times editorial writer. In between he worked as a Democratic speechwriter, beginning with Gov. Pat Brown and then later for Sen. Robert F. Kennedy during his fateful 1968 campaign. Ringer was there when Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel.

“I never got involved in politics again after Bobby Kennedy was killed,” Ringer said. “I liked the man so much, traveled with him for weeks before he was killed. First John Kennedy was killed, then I said the hell with it.”

Tragedy pulled Ringer out of politics, and it’s also what pushed Malibu’s Ellen Reich into poetry. She said she began writing poetry in the Sixties, after her first husband died at age 36 from leukemia.

“It was a way for me to deal with the tragedy,” she said, “because I felt that I could get out some of my pain through the written word without burdening other people.”

During her elementary school teaching career, Reich kept at her craft and said she turned into a “closet writer,” never showing her work to anyone as she continued writing poetry and some fiction. At the suggestion of another poet, she began taking creative writing courses, honing her craft and sharing her work with other writers.

“I think I wasn’t a very good poet then,” Reich said. “… it took many years.”

Reich has released two poetry collections since then, and has had hundreds of poems published in poetry journals and newspapers, including this one.

While Ringer’s poetry is usually on the cheery side, humorous and rhyming, Reich said her poems are often more gloomy.

“I do tend to write on the dark side,” she said. “I think if I’m having a great time I’m not going to sit down and write poetry.”

Both poets, longtime Malibu residents, have written of the city’s sometimes dangerous natural hazards, such as verses from Reich’s poem, “Charred on the Black Breast:”

I’ve seen the barren-wasted

Malibu hills after wild-fire wars.

Their stubble-leavings black

and tortured. Stumps knob out

like awkward cactus flowers

on devil soil where ribbon snakes

Search for scorched meat

On little skulls of rodents.

“Malibu: To Stay or Not To Stay?” is Ringer’s ode to the natural dangers of coastal living.

Where disasters strike from out of the blue;

Where PCH cliffs come crashing down,

Thus isolating our little town.

And a long ago winter, the most severe,

Made a crumbling shambles of our pier.

Giant waves shatter beach-front homes to shreds,

Gales tear the roofs from over our heads.

Ringer plans to release his second book of Malibu-themed poetry entitled, “Lies of Poets and Other Verses; Bobs, and Bits From a Malibu Writer,” next year.

While he dabbled in poetry in the past, Ringer said he got serious after taking an Emeritus College poetry class for seniors at the Malibu Library (Reich took the same classes), and he seems more suited to the life of a poet than his former, fast-paced political and journalistic existence.

“No deadlines, no rush,” Ringer said, reflecting on his poetic, retired life. “Politics was a tough job. You’re working seven days a week and you’re not always enamored with the guys you’re working for.”

A one-time student of the Emeritus College poetry class, Reich now teaches her own creative writing course for seniors. She said she’s very involved in the local poetry circuit, and said she thinks the reading at Diesel will be a happening for her and her fellow poets.

“Poets seek out poets,” Reich said. “But to people that aren’t writing poetry, I don’t know what they think.”

Ringer is in it for the camaraderie as well, as he doesn’t see the reading as a way to sell his work.

“There doesn’t seem to be a big market for poetry in bookstores,” Ringer said. “It seems long dead writers sell much better than people writing poetry today.”