The woman in the green frizzed-out wig and red cap and gown beamed at the 40 young children assembled at the Fountain Valley Community Center. The children stared back, some grinning, some leaving their seats to run to her.
Dr. Fanta Cee, also known as Clara Peck Schultz, also known as the poet laureate of Fountain Valley, was about to present the Poe Family puppets: Poe-Et, Poet-Ettic, Poe-Etta-Klee, Poe-Mom and Poe-Pop.
"One good thing about this is you get to swim in love," Schultz said, hugging a little boy.
Schultz introduced the puppets with a rhymed invitation from her poem called "Eop's Corner":
Write a poem on a fig - leaf
Wave it in the air
Hang it on the Poet-Tree
Poems are to share....
Behind her, a fig tree branch propped up in a bucket serving as the "poet-tree."
Schultz, 65, is the author of Fountain Valley's official poem, called, aptly enough, "Fountain Valley," which was adopted by the city in 1974. For more than 15 years she has been giving public performances of poetry at libraries, schools, teachers' conventions and children's folk festivals because she believes musical language should be a part of daily life.
"You need poetry in every single human being in the world," Schultz said. "I don't think scientists are doing such a hot job of preserving the world. It's up to the arts and God almighty to pull us out. Not everybody believes in God, but everybody can respond to art, to poetry."
A total of 250 children, ranging from 2 to 8 years old, came to Schultz's three presentations Monday to listen to the "doctor," help chant poems and giggle at several "silly-willies" she had written:
Silly-willy used the glue
To brush his teeth last night
Now he cannot talk or sing
His teeth are stuck too tight!
At each session, Schultz held the children's attention by "the warmth she generates," said Phyllis Brown, Fountain Valley's head librarian. Schultz's appearance earlier this week had helped launch National Children's Book Week activities at the Fountain Valley Public Library.
Schultz, who has been a poet all her life, wrote the "silly-willies" when her own three children were small. She also writes historical and inspirational articles as well as adult poems, some of which were collected into a book, "Because of the Wind in the Wheat," published by the Bristol, Ind.-based Wyndham Hall Press. Friends and the library have published other Schultz poems in two small books, "Personal Passion" (a long religious poem) and "Cameron's Tale" (a children's story).
Schultz wrote Fountain Valley's city poem at the request of the Fountain Valley Bicentennial Committee, of which she was a member. Today the poem hangs, framed, among plaques on a City Council conference room wall. Beneath the verse, the author is described as the "Fountain Valley Poet Laureate."
City Council minutes show no record of Schultz ever being formally appointed to the post, but Jan Wilhelm, former chair of the city bicentennial committee, said she and other community leaders consider Schultz to be the city poet laureate. And she is "introduced from countless (civic) platforms" as such, Schultz said. She has also written commemorative poems for her home town's library and historical society.
In general, city poet laureates and official city poems are rare, although many cities have adopted official songs. Calls to a number of Orange County, Los Angeles and Riverside city halls and arts organizations turned up only one other local poet considered to be his town's laureate--T. Duncan Stewart of Newport Beach. Stewart wrote some Bicentennial poems for Newport in 1976 but has not written an official city poem.
Many state poet laureates have been named across the country, however. (Los Angeles writer Charles Garrigus, a retired legislator, is poet laureate for California.) According to Elliot Figman, executive director of the New York-based Poets and Writers organization, the laureates' duties vary from state to state. Some poet laureates write verse for various civic occasions. On a national level, earlier this year Robert Penn Warren was named the first U.S. poet laureate.
John Brander, a Santa Ana lawyer who is the chair of the literary arts disciplines committee of the Orange County Arts Alliance and editor of the California State Poetry Quarterly, believes poet laureate awards should not be too frequently bestowed or it would "diminish" the awards' significance. However, he added, "Clara Schultz has been prominent in Fountain Valley for many years, and in her case, it (the designation) has meaning for her community."