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Valley Life | SPOTLIGHT

A Gift for Turning Everyday Life Into Poetry

May 21, 1999|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN

The search is over. Sunland-Tujunga has found itself a poet laureate.

The honor goes to Marlene Hitt, a 62-year-old former schoolteacher who writes a weekly column for the Foothill Leader. Hitt, who distinguished herself in a field of five candidates, is also a serious poet.

"She's a very powerful writer," says creative writing teacher Ginni Haddad, head of the Sunland-Tujunga community Web site, Verdugo Online.

Haddad was one of the judges of the competition, co-sponsored by the Web site, the Sunland-Tujunga Chamber of Commerce and the McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga.

Haddad was impressed with Hitt's ability to write well in such demanding forms as the villanelle, a 19-line verse that requires poetic gymnastics, such as repeating the first and third lines.

"Not an easy job," Hitt says.

One of the poems she entered into competition was a villanelle titled "Devil Wind," something people in Sunland-Tujunga are all too familiar with.

According to Haddad, the poet laureate must be "a poet of supreme craftsmanship, inspiring articulation, honorable character and profound love for Sunland and Tujunga's wildlife, rugged natural environment and individualistic residents."

She is also expected to be "a cheerleader for the community, one who may be called upon to render a toast, dedicate a park or write an ode for the Little League team."

Hitt is often inspired by her community. She wrote a poem earlier this month after the city decided that homeless people living among the shrubs and under local oaks presented a fire danger. Not everybody can turn community politics into stirring verse, but Hitt managed. She writes of an old man whose home is "a lawn chair/inside an elderberry bush":

City and The Chamber of Commerce

order the tree to be trimmed,

the elderberries cleared away,

the grasses trimmed to four inches

or less. It is fire season. Hazards,

like old men who live in bushes.

The bare earth will be hot to the touch,

there will be cracks.

Bugs will dry.

Fire will die from hunger.

Haddad doesn't see anything odd in her community's having a poet laureate. The arts have always flourished in the area, she points out.

John Steven McGroarty, whose Tujunga house is now the community's cultural center, was named California's poet laureate on May 12, 1933, which is why Hitt's appointment was announced May 12.

Tujunga was founded as a utopian community with cultural as well as economic ambitions, and the area has always had a rich mix of residents. As Haddad notes, the annual Fourth of July parade attracts not only equestrians and Rotarians but bikers, as well.

Hitt says she is greatly honored to be her community's official poet. She'll serve for two years without pay. She says she wrote her first poem in sixth grade at her teacher's command and found she loved writing, even when forced to do it.

"My grandmother wrote poetry, and I think I wanted to emulate her," she says.

Hitt has catholic taste in poetry. She savors the work of Robert Frost, Seamus Heaney, Donald Hall and others.

"I tend to read everyone, including Banjo Patterson, who's an Australian cowboy poet," she says.

With her husband, Lloyd, Hitt attends the weekly meeting of the Chuparosa Writers Group in Sunland and writes almost every day.

"I try to write at least one poem a week," she says. "They're not all good. But you must keep writing and you must keep reading. You have to keep learning and developing so you'll have something to say."

Hitt grew up in Sunland and lives on a dirt road there. For years, she worked beside her husband in the family's Sunland pharmacy. Now retired, the couple gardens, travels and digs for fossils with a local paleontologist. She loves the foothills and their good friends. But most of all, she loves to write, especially poetry.

"It feels so good," she says. "It feels so complete, so right. The only better thing is to make a good dinner and feed people."

The poem and the meal are both acts of creation. "One just lasts longer than the other," she says.

*

Hitt and other Chuparosa poets will read their poetry Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at the Sunland-Tujunga Public Library, 7771 Foothill Blvd.

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