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SBPL Chats with Santa Barbara’s 10th Poet Laureate Melinda Palacio

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Poet Laureate Melinda Palacio

The City of Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Program was established in 2005 to inspire and remind the local community of the power and beauty of poetry and the spoken word. SBPL serves as the “home” of the Poet Laureate by facilitating free, community poetry readings, writing workshops, and events. We caught up with Santa Barbara’s first Chicana Poet Laureate, Melinda Palacio, an internationally-lauded poet, author, and speaker.

Can you share a little about how and when you found poetry (or poetry found you).

When I was in middle school, I played Langston Hughes. My big role was standing up and saying: I am Langston Hughes, a poet.  However, it wasn't until I came to Santa Barbara that I found my poetic voice. As you know from my inaugural poem, Santa Barbara itself is a poem. This is the city where I wrote my first published poem, “How Fire Is a Story, Waiting.” The title poem is now a book and a song. The book is currently sold out and is being reprinted.

How would you describe your writing practice? Do you write daily? Any special time of day or place that you like to write? How or where do you find your inspiration for poems?  

I have a background in journalism and therefore I often write under the pressure of some sort of deadline. I wish I could say that I have a beautiful ritual and summon my muse with candles and a chant, but I don't. I sit down and write with pen and paper, then I (re)write on the computer, then I print out what I have, and then I sit in a place away from my workspace and read what I have aloud and then I rewrite. As a poet, I love that inspiration is everywhere in both the beauty and the struggles of the world.

Which poets are you currently reading? 

In the last few months, two U.S. Poet Laureates have visited Santa Barbara: Ada Limón and Joy Harjo. They both have new books that I've been enjoying. 

Working on any writing projects?

I always have more than one writing project going. I have a novel that I often return to. I have started writing companion songs for some of my poems. As Poet Laureate, I write a bimonthly poetry column: The Poetry Connection for the Santa Barbara Independent, where I talk about what it's like to be a poet laureate and where I encourage readers to send in their own poems for possible publication in the column.  
 
As Santa Barbara’s Poet Laureate, what are some of your aspirations for the position?

I plan on supporting poetry in non-traditional spaces and promoting outdoor readings in connection with the Library's on the Go van. I'd like to see more public poetry and more people fall in love with poetry, especially those who don't read too much poetry. This is why the partnership with the library is so important. People don't have to invest in buying poetry books, they can begin their poetry journey by checking out books from the library. I'm also interested in cultural exchange through poetry and our sister cities and beyond. 

If community members have ideas for poetry programs, how can they reach you?

They can visit my website, melindapalacio.com, and send an email through the contact form or reach me directly at the Independent: poetry@independent.com 
 
Melinda Palacio
Santa Barbara Poet Laureate