In 1999, in conjunction with the Santa Barbara News-Press, a Millennial Celebration committee was formed, and the members selected David Oliveira as the city’s unofficial Poet Laureate. Oliveira read a poem on New Year’s Eve at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and his poem, along with several others by local poets, was published in the newspaper several days later.
According to Oliveira, “There was talk of going before the city council at the time, but I think after the great millennium night the committee lost its energy.” In 2002, Oliveira moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and it wasn’t until 2004 that the Santa Barbara City Council adopted the official resolution for the position.
Currently, being chosen Poet Laureate is fairly elaborate process. First, a fellow citizen nominates a poet who meets the following review criteria:
- a proven history of substantial publication of individual poems and/or books, including at least one work that is not self-published or by a vanity press;
- an established history of activity in the Santa Barbara literary community, i.e., readings, publications, public presentations, and/or teaching;
- and critical acclaim as demonstrated by special honors, awards, or other recognition.
All nominations are then put before the Poet Laureate Review Committee, which makes a recommendation to the Arts Advisory Committee, which in turn makes a recommendation to the City Council and the Mayor.
Text by David Starkey from What Breathes Us: Santa Barbara’s Poets Laureate, 2005-2015 (Gunpowder Press, 2016)
Every two years the City of Santa Barbara seeks nominations for the position of Santa Barbara Poet Laureate. The person selected shall seek to advance awareness of and appreciation for literary arts and humanities within the greater Santa Barbara community. As both a local resident and a distinguished poet, the Poet Laureate shall represent and celebrate the diversity and history of Santa Barbara. As a spokesperson for the City’s literary community, the Poet Laureate shall endeavor to promote the artistic achievements of the City of Santa Barbara and shall actively participate in ceremonial, educational, and cultural activities in the community at various times throughout his or her term of service.
The Poet Laureate for the City of Santa Barbara is an honorary position. The individual selected serves one two-year term, commencing in April. Nearing the end of the Poet Laureate’s term and prior to initiating the nomination process, the Poet Laureate Review Committee may extend an invitation to the sitting Poet Laureate to serve a second consecutive term, based on his or her performance.