It’s spring and poetry’s the thing

Celebrated poets will be reading selections of their works beginning this Saturday to kick off the annual “One Book, One City-Malibu” month-long celebration.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

To celebrate the annual “One Book, One City-Malibu” month of April, the city and the Malibu Public Library is featuring the book “California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present,” edited by Dana Gioia, covering the work of 101 Californian poets from the past 150 years.

The One Book, One City event kicks off Saturday at the library with readings from award-winning California poet Jane Hirshfield and the director of the creative writing department at Pepperdine University, Dr. John Struloeff.

“Poetry’s job is to preserve whatever the mainstream culture ignores,” Hirshfield said in an interview with The Malibu Times. “Its job is to be anti-Hollywood, which gives us the ‘heroic’ story. Poetry gives us the private story.”

A graduate of Princeton University, Hirshfield is, as she said, “the rare poet who is not a full time academic.” She has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations and published extensively. At the One Book, One City launch, she will read from her 2006 collection of poems, “After.”

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Hirshfield’s historical research into poetry as an art form has swept from poetry in medieval Japanese courts to free-form verse of today.

“Aristocratic women of ancient Japan had extraordinary freedom of expression,” Hirshfield said. “Their poetry reflected an unparalleled intelligence and feminism of a highly developed culture. Today, we have guerrilla poetry and rap. We are irrepressible creatures and everyone has some form of expression. I’m ridiculously optimistic for poetry even in the midst of trash culture.”

Struloeff believes that, rather than being an obsolescent art form, poetry adapts with the times.

“Poetry fifty years from now? It will flow with profound changes in technology and communication,” he said. “Performance poetry is taking the whole form in a different direction.”

Struloeff teaches a broad range of courses in creative writing but said he is excited about the study of spiritual writing.

“It’s a study of texts from a variety of spiritual backgrounds,” he said. “People’s beliefs are important. With spiritual poetry, you see a wide range of how far people go in expressing abstract ideas. Society forces us into a box and I’m trying to open that door to giving their characters a voice.”

Struloeff will read from his collection of poetry, “The Man I Was Supposed to Be.”

One Book, One City events will include a “Carry a Poem in your Pocket Day” for Malibu High students and staff (April 17) and a children’s poetry workshop directed by children’s author and poet, Joan Bransfield Graham (April 22).

“In two of my children’s poetry books, “Splish Splash” and “Flicker Flash,” I do what I call Concrete Poems,” Graham said. “The poems are written in a format that take the shape of the subject of the poem, like a wave or the sun. I’ve even done a self-portrait shaped poem, which makes it both auditory and visual.”

“Splish Splash” has gone into its 10th printing, Graham said.

“We are born loving rhythm and kids naturally respond to it,” Graham said. “With poetry, you make it a duet with your reader. Each poem is a discovery.”

Hirshfield uses poetry to transcend cultures and borders. “I did a symposium in the Middle East with several other writers,” she said. “Whether in Syria or Jordan or Ramallah, they all said they wanted to hear the same thing, a love poem. Imagine! They wanted to hear about rock and roll, blue jeans and poetry-the language of love.”

The City of Malibu and Diesel, A Bookstore are also sponsoring a poetry-writing contest this month, with prizewinners announced at a poetry reading and workshop to take place at Godmother Café on April 26.

April being National Poetry Month, verse of every kind can be found in the most modern of venues. Public Broadcasting Service is launching a new program at PBS Online (pbs.org) called Poetry Everywhere and will feature animated interpretations of beloved poems, American poet laureates reading their own work and celebrities, including Wynton Marsalis and Blair Brown, reading their favorite poetry.

Hirschfield said some of her poems are included in a program broadcasting poetry on public transit systems through a program by the Poetry Foundation.

In an essay she published for the Middle East symposium, she wrote, “Good poetry-allergic to the manipulations of slogan and propaganda-can bring to expression things inexpressible in any other mode.”

Graham said poetry can take surprising forms. “At my workshop, I will be reading a poem in sign language,” she said. “It is a logical next step and translates beautifully.”

More information on the One Book, One City April events can be obtained by calling the Malibu Library at 310.456.6438.More information on nationwide poetry programs can be obtained online at pbs.org/poetry or poetryfoundation.org.

There are two poetry contests, one for children up to the age of 14 and one for those 15 years and older. All forms of poetry may be submitted and the poems do not have to be California oriented. The deadline for submissions is April 24. Poems should be sent to Diesel, A Bookstore, 3890 Cross Creek Rd., Malibu, CA 90265, with name and phone number. More information about the contest can be obtained by calling 310.456.9961.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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