Sacramento has a rich history when it comes to poetry and spoken word. Our poets, programs, organizations, and activations are recognized nationally and internationally.
Artists from Sacramento impact the world with their words daily. If you haven’t been out to Mahogany, Luna’s, Sol Collective, The Brickhouse, Foreign Native, the Sacramento Poetry Center, or any of the other open mics around this city, you might have missed the training grounds where some of the most important poets of this generation have shaped their voices and the progression of an art form. Earlier this year Sacramento Area Youth Speaks alumni Alexandra Huynh became the National Youth Poet Laureate.
Sacramento poets making history is nothing new. This Tuesday, the city celebrates its 35th annual Sacramento Poetry Day; a day that wouldn’t exist without some wild poets with a big vision.
Circa 1984, a Sacramento poet named B.L. Kennedy had the idea to collect and curate works from writers around the city. His friend Patrick Grizzell got behind the idea and presented it to the Sacramento Poetry Center, which launched a city-wide community effort to promote it and raise funds to produce it.
Kennedy and Grizzell enlisted Ann Menebroker, Douglas Blazek and C.K. Dobbs to edit the written portion. The collection would eventually be published by the Sacramento Poetry Center and become known as Landing Signals (taken from the title of a tapestry by poet/artist D.R. Wagner), the city’s first poetry anthology.
An audio collection of additional works accompanied the book, edited by Kennedy and Grizzell, and recorded to cassette tape (kids, ask your parents). The project was completed and released in 1985. Mayor Anne Rudin, who was enthusiastic about the city’s arts, caught wind of the first-of-its-kind anthology through a young state administrator named Carol Finley, an avid supporter of the arts. Finley approached the mayor about officially recognizing the Landing Signals project and the rest, as they say, is history.
Thirty five years since the proclamation that states: “WHEREAS, October 26, 1986 represents a turning point for Sacramento’s poets,” while recovering from a global pandemic we are at a new turning point; one that requires a paradigm shift regarding our connections to ourselves, each other and nature. Pandemics have historically included cultural shifts, including the development of print media, the movement for universal health care and the birth of a middle class. They have also inspired incredible bursts of human creativity including the Italian Renaissance, the rise of Jazz, and the Harlem Renaissance.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the poets of Sacramento for their contributions to the city and our own renaissance over the last two years. The landscape has changed so much in my brief and quarantined time as Poet Laureate. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes next.
I also want to encourage the yet-to-be poets of the city to write a little on Oct. 26 and have fun with it. Poetry is how we speak ourselves into existence, so don’t be afraid to write without limitation.
There are many styles, whether short forms like Haiku, Acrostic, Limerick, and Cinquain, or longer forms like sonnets, narrative poems, and elegies. Or you could just write free verse. Rhyme or don’t rhyme. Write a rap. Write an affirmation. Create your own meter or follow someone else’s. Google what meter means and realize that every good speech and song has one too.
A lot of things are poetry that you don’t realize. And a lot of us are poets without realizing it. I love you. Keep writing. Keep healing. Happy Sacramento Poetry Day.
Andru Defeye will be reading alongside Sacramento’s first Poet Laureate Viola Spencer and Patrick Grizzel online and in-person at the Sacramento Poetry Center Tuesday at 7pm. Open Mic as well. Sacramento poetry performances and interviews will air throughout the day on the Sacramento Poetry Salon Facebook page.