Tell us a little about the poems that won the prize and how they are a departure from your earlier work.
I’m glad you asked that question! Here’s why: for the last year or so I have been experimenting with writing what I call “quiet” poems. They are all at once lyrics, but also meditative poems. I have been focusing on making imagery and the structural development of the poem have the space, and possibility to expand without my trying to find an essential meaning in every image, action or thought I describe in the poem. Then, in the rigorous revising process, I attempt to find sounds or cadences, so as to work on repeating these, or enhancing them – but not too obviously – through slant and/or subtle end-rhymes, or by the repetition of a particular cadence. I’m also quite obsessed by form and line-breaks – and the white space such choices create on the pages.
This all has been something I have worked hard on for the last 3 years, and with many more failures than successes, but the process is a most enriching experience. However, I had no idea -- none at all! -- if I was successful in this new direction I was taking. So, I sent my new poems out to reviews and competitions, to see if they would be taken or not… and I suppose that, for the editors at Five Points, I must have been doing something right!
As Santa Barbara’s Poet Laureate, what community-focused poetry projects are you excited about?
Before we were asked to stay at home and in isolation, I was very excited about curating the “Guess Who’s in Town” and the Santa Barbara Poetry Reading series. I also very much enjoyed giving free poetry workshops to seniors and to be available, once a month, to help anyone with their poetry by offering advice during my “The Poet is In” sessions at the Santa Barbara Public Library. Now – unfortunately – all this is going to have to wait.
However, I have another important project which I can do from home: I’m editing a poetry anthology which will be distributed for free in the waiting rooms of hospitals and clinics in Santa Barbara County. I have sent out a call for any poet living in our county to send in their poems for this project. In English, or Spanish, and we even have two or three poets from the Santa Inez Band of Chumash Indians who have submitted poems in Samala: the language of the Ineseño Chumash People. The publication of this anthology wouldn’t have been possible without the support and help of our very own Gunpowder Press, who publish poetry collections and anthologies and have two former Santa Barbara Poets Laureate at the helm: David Starkey and Chryss Yost. They are providing me with such kind help and support.
What have you been reading (or watching) to help you cope during the Stay-At-Home order?
That’s one of the advantages of this order: I have much more time, especially in the evenings, to read and watch movies on TV. And I am loving this! Right now, I’m reading a wonderfully original and inspiring poetry collection by California poet Danusha Laméris: Bonfire Opera. I’m completely taken by this book and am reading the poems slowly, to enjoy every one of them fully. I highly recommend the book. I’m also reading Gregory Orr’s book of essays on poetry and its craft: Poetry as Survival. And I always have a book or two that I love going back to: this month it has been Franz Wright’s Earlier Poems, and Mary Ruefle’s amazingly brilliant Madness, Rack, and Honey. I keep returning to that book! As for what I am watching – I’m an incorrigible fan of PBS’s Masterpiece Theater. And I’m catching up on years and years when I had no time to watch these programs. I’m watching a superb movie “The World on Fire” about WWII. The characters and stories are just breathtaking. And finally, I love watching documentaries, so I’m catching up on those also.
From your perspective, what are some of the takeaways from this experience? And how will they shape your life moving forward?
I have been deeply moved by the outpouring of generosity, kindness, and offering to help in the Santa Barbara Community – but also by innumerable people across the country. Unfortunately, the media also is showing us the opposite, many people not respecting their fellow Americans and putting everyone at risk. But I keep telling myself that this is the minority. That we are a country with a great, very great majority of good hearted, open-minded, respectful and loving people! My heart hurts when I think of so many families who are hungry, or can’t pay rent, or health insurance, or car payments. Who risk losing everything – or already have – because of the terrible devastation from of COVID-19. How I wish I could help more!
I’m hoping that we will have learned the lesson that – when faced with a true crisis – we do come together and try to help one another as much we can. Now I hope that we will also keep coming together to save our beautiful, suffering planet.
What’s one of the first things you’ll do when the Stay-At-Home order is lifted?
Definitely hug my family (daughter, son, and grandson!) and my dear Santa Barbara community of friends. Because I’m a widow and live alone, I haven’t hugged anyone or been hugged in the last 43 days…and it’s getting old! And I will be so happy to go out to eat with friends again, sit around a table together, and let life be like “the good old times” again! How spoiled we were before this terrible virus. How we took things for granted! How grateful we’ll be when we can enjoy them again, mask-less, in health, but, hopefully, with a lesson learned not to take nature, this planet, and our health for granted!
About Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Santa Barbara Poet Laureate 2019-2020
Laure-Anne Bosselaar grew up in Belgium and then moved to the United States in 1987. She is the author of The Hour Between Dog and Wolf, Small Gods of Grief, winner of the Isabella Gardner Prize for Poetry, and A New Hunger which was selected as a Notable Book by the American Library Association. Her latest book, These Many Rooms came out from Four Way Books in 2019. The winner of the 2020 James Dickey Prize for Poetry, she is a nationally recognized poet and has been reviewed in The Washington Post, Georgia Review, Ploughshares, AGNI, Askew, Miramar, and many others. She has edited a number of anthologies including Night Out: Poems about Hotels, Motels, Restaurants and Bars; Outsiders: Poems about Rebels, Exiles, and Renegades; Urban Nature: Poems about Wildlife in the Cities; and Never Before: Poems about First Experiences. She has also taught at a number of colleges and conferences including Emerson College, Sarah Lawrence College, UCSB, The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA, and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival in Florida.
Learn more about the Santa Barbara Poet Laureate program at Santa Barbara County Office of Arts and Culture.