David Starkey

David Starkey directs the creative writing program at Santa Barbara City College. Among his poetry collections are Starkey’s Book of States (Boson Books, 2007), Adventures of the Minor Poet (Artamo Press, 2007), Ways of Being Dead: New and Selected Poems (Artamo, 2006), David Starkey’s Greatest Hits (Pudding House, 2002) and Fear of Everything, winner of Palanquin Press’s Spring 2000 chapbook contest. A Few Things You Should Know about the Weasel was published by the Canadian press Biblioasis in 2010. In addition, over the past twenty years he has published more than 400 poems in literary journals such as American Scholar, Antioch Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Cutbank, Faultline, Greensboro Review, The Journal, Massachusetts Review, Mid-American Review, Nebraska Review, Notre Dame Review, Poet Lore, Poetry East, South Dakota Review, Southern Humanities Review, Southern Poetry Review, Sycamore Review, Texas Review, and Wormwood Review. He has also written two textbooks: Creative Writing: Four Genres in Brief (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008) and Poetry Writing: Theme and Variations (McGraw-Hill, 1999). With Paul Willis, he co-edited In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare (Iowa, 2005), and he is the editor of Living Blue in the Red States (Nebraska, 2007). Keywords in Creative Writing, which he co-authored with the late Wendy Bishop, was published in 2006 by Utah State University Press. David Starkey is also the publisher and co-editor of Gunpowder Press.


David Starkey responded to the following questions in 2014 in an online interview with Felice Tsui.

Did you set any goals for your term as poet laureate? Were you able to achieve them during your term?

I wanted to be part of the community overall—not just the arts community.  I had an idea that I would solicit poem ideas from members of the community then make videos of them.  Poems for Santa Barbara, which can be found on Vimeo and YouTube is the result of that goal.

According to the Santa Barbara Arts Advisory Committee, the Poet Laureate ‘shall seek to advance awareness of and appreciation for literary arts and humanities’. How do you think you raise awareness of and instill appreciation for literary arts and humanities?

I think simply being out in the community, talking to people, giving readings, looking for opportunities to productively insert yourself into the civic conversation.  I was helped a great deal by hosting The Creative Community arts interview program on TVSB.

What programs did you establish to promote the community awareness of literary arts and to encourage the development of personal creative interests? What strategies did you use in your programs to cultivate this sense of awareness and appreciation for the literary arts?

I mostly worked with existing programs: Poetry Out Loud, readings at the Channing Peake and in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.  Again, The Creative Community, which I had already been hosting for some years, came in very handy.

What qualities do you think distinguishes the Poet Laureate? What qualities should a successful Poet Laureate have?

The Poet Laureate needs to have been an integral part of the literary community for at least three or four years.  And I think the ideal Laureate is always going to be someone who is always looking to foster the work of other poets rather than simply using the position as a platform for self-promotion.  Fortunately, all the Poets Laureate have met those qualifications.

The Poet Laureate may be asked to write poems for specific events. What were some requests that stood out for you? Any favorites? Most surprising?

The Poems for Santa Barbara video was definitely the highlight, as I was able to respond to a number of different requests, then draw on the talents of my director and videographer to bring the poems to life.

How did your past experiences and works in poetry prepare you for the position of Poet Laureate?

I had been writing and publishing poetry for decades before I was selected as Poet Laureate.  I think that long experience, especially in the poetry world outside of Santa Barbara, is just as important as frequent and enthusiastic participation in local events.

Were there any challenges you faced during your term? If so, how did you overcome them?

Not really. The entire experience was a real joy.

How were you inspired by past poet laureates, if at all?

I knew I had big shoes to feel after Barry Spacks and Perie Longo.  They inspired me by example.

What or who inspires you to write, and why?

I have many different inspirations.  I often get interested in a series of poems on one topic—my book about Rome, Circus Maximus, is a good example—and then write in that vein for months at a time.

What would you say to readers who find poetry difficult?

Be willing to listen more carefully, to re-read, to have confidence that a good poem is worth taking the time to figure out.

What is the most important aspect you’ve learned from being Poet Laureate?

Poets are often very private people, but I’ve learned there’s a special place in the public forum for private art.  I hope we continue to have a Poet Laureate in Santa Barbara for as long as I’m around!