City Begins Search for First Malibu Poet Laureate

The City of Malibu will soon be jumping on the bandwagon of a worldwide trend that began a little over three years ago — although no one is sure why — of various countries, states, counties, cities and towns appointing their own “poet laureate.”  The U.S. has one; the State of California has one — as do Ventura County, Los Angeles, Fresno and West Hollywood, among many others.

Malibu City Council approved the creation of a poet laureate position for Malibu, who will receive an annual stipend of $1,000 and serve a two-year term. The council also approved a selection process and the requirement that the individual be a Malibu resident or strongly affiliated with Malibu in some way.

Council Member Laura Rosenthal said in an interview after the decision that she wanted to thank the community for bringing the poet laureate proposal forward through the Cultural Arts Commission. 

“I’m excited to add another arts component to our city,” Rosenthal said.

The proposed responsibilities of the poet laureate position include representing the City of Malibu at selected cultural community events, working with the local schools and public library to promote poetry, and organizing an annual poetry invitational, where invited poets read their own and other poets’ works.

The idea of Malibu having its own poet laureate originated with Ann Buxie and Ellen Cohen, the longtime Malibu locals who founded the popular ongoing series “Tales by the Sea” and “Poetry by the Sea.”  They brought Jacob Wolfe in on the idea — the Pepperdine student who founded the Pepperdine University Poetry Society. 

“The poetry society was excited about the [poet laureate] idea and worked with us to formulate a plan,” Buxie said. The students brought in the poetry club’s faculty advisor, John Struloeff, director of creative writing at Pepperdine and a poet in his own right. 

Struloeff, or whoever happens to be head of the creative writing department at Pepperdine, has now been approved by the city to head a five-member Selection Panel, which will also consist of one member from the Pepperdine University Poetry Society, one member from Friends of the Malibu Library and two from the Malibu community. 

Rosenthal also suggested a Malibu High School student might be considered as a member of the selection committee — students publish poems in the “Inkblot” and sometimes have poetry nights. 

This committee will review the poems and cover letters submitted by applicants (after the names have been removed by city staff), and make the final determination on selecting the poet laureate. 

“[Struloeff is] in our corner, and he’s so interested in being involved in this,” Buxie said. “We wanted someone who would be impartial in helping to select the city’s first poet laureate.”

“Poetry speaks in a voice that searches and reveals the soul,” Buxie said. “It’s different from graphs, numbers and statistics, and that’s needed by all of us in these times. I feel so strongly that we need that voice present, and I think it’s very important that we bring this voice to celebrate special occasions, et cetera.” 

The Poetry by the Sea and Pepperdine contingent originally proposed the idea for a poet laureate to the Cultural Arts Commission on Sept. 27, saying, “The program intent is to keep the spoken and written word alive in Malibu, and to bring the art of poetry to the forefront.” 

The Cultural Arts Commission was convinced, stating they “believe that the creation of a Poet Laureate program in Malibu would keep poetry as an integral piece in Malibu’s artistic landscape, promote community awareness of the literary arts, and encourage community, members to develop their own creative interests.”

A Laureate Committee will provide support to the poet laureate, and will be made up of representatives from Poetry by the Sea, the Pepperdine University Poetry Society, the community, and the Malibu Cultural Arts Commission.  

“Each poet laureate will have their own ideas about what they want to do, and will want to make use of their own individual talents,” Buxie said. 

There will be an open call to the community for applications that can be submitted through the Cultural Arts Commission website from Nov. 30, 2016 to Jan. 11, 2017. Applications must include a cover letter answering specific questions and five poems. City staff under Recreation Manager Amy Crittenden will manage the process for applications and selection. 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story listed incorrect dates for application submission. The story has been updated to reflect city council-approved dates.

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