Perie Longo

Perie Longo was Santa Barbara’s second Poet Laureate, serving from 2007-2009. Perie Longo’s website is www.perielongo.com

Perie’s love of poetry influences all aspects of her life. She was Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara (2007-09) and the president of the National Association for Poetry Therapy (NAPT) from 2005-07. She is a Registered Poetry Therapist (PTR), and Mentor/Supervisor for those seeking training in that field, a Marriage and Family Therapist, and a widely published poet. In 2012 she was honored with the Woman of Achievement Award from the Santa Barbara Chapter of Association for Women in Communication (WAC).

Since 1984 she has been a poet-teacher through California-Poets-In-the- Schools. For many years she has led the morning poetry writing workshop for the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and also leads the Santa Barbara Summer Poetry Workshop, a two day retreat for those wanting to focus on the craft of writing and increase their confidence as poets.

In 2005 she was invited by the University of Kuwait to present a talk on Poetry as a Pathway to Peace. She presented several talks and workshops while there, and found the people of Kuwait very open, friendly, and enthusiastic toward the subject of poetry and healing. She has been featured on the Charles Osgood radio show, the Huffington Post, The Poetry Foundation, and on Nov. 27, 2008 she was interviewed live by a radio station in Bogata, Columbia about the “Miracle of Therapy through Poetry.”

BOOKS

  • Baggage Claim (Wordtech, 2014)
  • With Nothing behind but Sky: a journey through grief (Artamo Press, 2006)
  • The Privacy of Wind (John Daniel and Company Inc ,1997)
  • Milking the Earth (John Daniel and Company Inc ,1986)

POETRY AS LAUREATE

Perie Longo 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?

As second poet laureate, I took my lead from what the Arts Advisory Committee might want or need from me and advise from dear Barry Spacks, 1 st Poet Laureate. My goal was to serve the community as needed, write poems as desired or outlined, educate the public about the post of Poet Laureate and the importance of poetry in our lives, and to begin assembling an anthology of poems by several local poets about Santa Barbara. I accomplished all but the last. I still think it is a great idea, to have said anthology, in hotels and motels across the county.

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 do so with everything I do whether it is as my role as a therapist, poetry therapist in several groups I run a week, as a poet in the schools, or working poet. By this time since my laureateship, everyone I know and work with is aware of the post, which at the time they were not. That it exists, in itself, shows how Santa Barbara supports poetry, and looks forward to what comes next. On another note, every time I have a poem published in a literary journal, my bio mentions I was poet laureate of SB 2007-09).

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?

See reply to #2. I did not establish any programs other to have a monthly or bi-monthly poetry reading of open mics for all SB poets at a local coffee shop. I also organized April Poetry Month for 2 years as PL, and wrote a monthly column about poetry for the Independent, reviewing poetry books of local or visiting poets.

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

Strong communication skills, a desire to serve and strengthen a connection between poetry to various aspects and groups in our community, creativity, ability to reach out to others to make them aware of poetry, a good sense of humor, and love of poetry that inspires others.

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?

One of the most satisfying, surprising and rewarding was writing a poem for the 225th anniversary of the founding of the Presidio. My poem was a major part of that celebration and from that I was invited to read the poem at some local elementary schools as a way to teach about the history of Santa Barbara. It was a difficult poem to write to create a positive poem, to balance the history of the Spanish and Chumash cultures. I was pleased with the results at the end. I also liked writing poems for agencies or events outside the parameters of the post, like for the retirement of Gail Rink from Hospice, some weddings and birthdays, etc. which I still continue to do.

Another was writing a poem responding to Freud’s question: “What Do Women Want?” for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 2009 Annual Awards Event with the theme Women for Peace. It took a long time to write, thinking of women all across the globe during great political unrest, which is always going on. It surprised me how much I had to say on the subject that ran very deep, but I had never had the opportunity to express it.

That is one of the greatest things about writing to a commissioned poem.

I also liked writing a poem about jazz for the Jazz Society, and to learn April was also Jazz Month. I liked writing about the importance of the Arts for the City Council, and indeed any poem they asked me to write for various City Council meetings, and for writing a poem for Solstice in 2009 with the theme of “Star,” which was my little granddaughter’s first word. Uniting the universal with the personal is always a pleasure.

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

I had been teaching poetry in grades K-12 through the California-Poets- in-the- Schools classroom for over 20 years at the time. On a weekly basis I wrote poems for children to go along with lesson plans to inspire them to write. I was well immersed into the community in that role and as a therapist with a few different agencies. I also had been writing poetry since I was a small child, and teaching poetry to adults privately and with the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.

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

The only real challenge was writing something poetic for unpoetic situations. Often our best poems are not “occasional” poems. It is a good challenge for a poet. I would often look for a quote that had something to do with the occasion, and use the quote as a way to think “outside the box”, and go inside the situation and find the poetry.

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

Barry Spacks, who recently passed away, was a most positive influence, guide and friend. He often gave a little advice on how to proceed with a difficult assignment, and he was just so gracious, dignified, and a true gentleman as well as phenomenal poet. He set the gold standard for the rest of us, I believe. I am so impressed with how the Poets Laureate who followed me have developed the position.

What or who inspires you to write, and why?

Almost everyone and everything. I have my favorite poets who I try to emulate, or at least let their words enter my heart to find my own. The news inspires me, my family, friends, my past, present, and future, especially now in the aging process. If I see something unusual or beautiful, or sad, I like to write about it. A floating seedpod becomes a metaphor for world peace. A photo of a moose in the newspaper with the headline of “Endangered Species” becomes a metaphor for the catastrophe of the massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I like looking for the metaphors in all small, beautiful and unimaginable situations.

What would you say to readers who find poetry difficult?

I’m asked that at least once a week by non-poets, “What makes a poem if it doesn’t rhyme?” or last month, after I read from my new book Baggage Claim, someone said, “That’s not poetry. It doesn’t even rhyme!” When you put your soul out for the world to see, it rather stuns you. My heart sank at first, like “Oh no, I’ve failed. I’m no good.” But I have to let that go and try to answer, uneducated comment that it is. I often say, “Poetry is music without the melody, but finding language to get others to pay attention to the unsung songs in our heart.” To the latter comment, I might say, “In unrhymed poems there is slant rhyme, pattern, repetition of sound, language and a way of thinking that is metaphoric. You just have to listen for it.”

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

I recently came across this quote that says it for me:

Poetry is, above all, a singing art of natural and magical connection because, though it is born out of one person’s solitude, it has the ability to reach out and touch in a humane and warmly illuminating way the solitude, even the loneliness, of others…poetry is one of the most vital treasures that humanity possesses; it is a bridge between separated souls.

— Brendan Kennelly (Irish poet, b 1936)

I’ve learned how much poetry matters to all of us, that it feeds our souls, that when given the opportunity, all people really love poetry if they hear words that open their hearts.

When I went to Kuwait in 2005 (before being Poet Laureate) I learned how poetry speaks to another that unites people, no matter how different their religion or politics. It’s what makes us human, and unites our differences.