Supervisors Find Rhyme and Reason for Poet Laureate

4/22/2013--Supervisors find rhyme and reason for poet laureate 
By Michelle Durand 
San Mateo Daily Journal 
Two county supervisors say there is rhyme and reason for San Mateo County to name an 
honorary poet laureate who will elevate the literary genre for residents, advocate the arts and 
contribute to literacy. 
“Poetry kind of gets a back seat,” said Supervisor Carole Groom who climbed on board with the 
idea at the request of Supervisor Warren Slocum. “Yes, we do have serious issues like health 
and the criminal justice system but it’s important residents take time for themselves and enjoy 
themselves and the arts.” 
Slocum and Groom on Tuesday will ask the full board — perhaps even wax poetic? — to 
establish the county’s inaugural poet laureate program and create a two-member ad hoc 
committee to pick a nominee. The two-year post will be honorary and have no fiscal impact. 
During his or her tenure, the poet laureate will hold public readings, participate in civil events 
and propose and lead community projects and school events. 
Slocum’s fondness for poetry was sparked by a family member whose poem about Vietnam 
vets struck a chord. During his supervisor campaign last year, he visited a group of “art folks” 
and was peppered with questions about public art, architecture and historic preservation. From 
there, the idea of a poet laureate grew. 
Like Groom, he agrees poetry gets short shrift but hopes for a change. 
“Part of the goal is to, in our county, elevate poetry and get people excited about everyday 
moments,” he said. 
The county is getting help on the plan from California’s poet laureate and some local professors 
of humanities, he said. 
While the idea of a poet laureate is far from prosaic, it is a now-common position in the state of 
California and a number of its counties and cities. The Bay Area alone has poet laureates in the 
counties of San Francisco, Marin, Napa, Sonoma, Alameda and Santa Clara. 
Groom said she recalls when poet Robert Frost read his piece in freezing cold weather at 
President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. A book of his poetry still sits on her shelf. 
That type of connection to poetry and other types of art is what creation of the post aims for, 
Groom and Slocum both said. Not that Peninsula residents are lacking in culture, Groom said — so many head up to San 
Francisco for theater or opera.  But the poet laureate is a way to cultivate something more local. 
Poetry and literacy is also a way to make residents, particularly the youth, more well-rounded, 
which in turn helps them excel in later grades, she said. 
While no nominees are in the pipeline yet, the idea of the program is already gathering backers. 
San Mateo resident Maurine Killough, who last year won four awards for poetry at the San 
Mateo County Fair, will read the winning piece in support of the proposal at the supervisors’ 
meeting. Groom will also read a favorite as will Slocum who has picked poet Billy Collins whose 
wry humor he appreciates. 
Slocum also expects the nominee pool to be deep. 
“There is no specific potential nominees in mind yet but I know there are many talented folks in 
San Mateo County who would be interested,” Slocum said. 
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