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Eloise Klein Healy accepts L.A. poet laureate post in ceremony

December 07, 2012|By Hector Tobar
  • Eloise Klein Healy accepts the role of Los Angeles' first poet laureate. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa introduced her.
Eloise Klein Healy accepts the role of Los Angeles' first poet laureate.… (Nick Ut / Associated Press )

The first poet laureate of the city of Los Angeles accepted her post in a room surrounded by books — books for children and her own slender volumes of poetry.

Eloise Klein Healy, 69, was officially named L.A.'s poet laureate in a ceremony Friday at the Central Library downtown. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa chose Healy from a list of three finalists named by a selection committee and introduced her to the public at a press conference on Friday.

“One of our most beloved governors … once said famously, ‘You campaign in poetry, and you govern in prose,’” Villaraigoisa said, quoting former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. “Today, we’re here to govern in poetry.”

Healy will serve for at least a year, or as long as two, earning the-less-than-princely annual sum of $10,000. She will travel the city, visiting its schools and neighborhoods, as an ambassador for literary art.

“L.A. is a city of writers, it’s a city that inspires writers, but it’s also a city that’s done very little to celebrate its writers,” the mayor said. “I chose Eloise because of her belief in the power of poetry and her a commitment to sharing that power far and wide.”

With the mayor at her side, Healy read from a poem written when she lived in the immigrant and bohemian L.A. enclave of Echo Park.

“Artemis in Echo Park” (the first poem in the book of the same title) is a wonderful evocation of several centuries of Los Angeles history and how that history can be felt in the landscape of the city. The poem begins with the poet backing out of her driveway (an consummate L.A. moment) and onto a street. It reads, in part:

This is a trail, even under asphalt.

Every street downtown cuts through adobe

and the concrete wears like a curve

of a bowl baking on a patio or the sway of a brick wall

drying in the sun.

The life before cement is ghosting up

through roadways that hooves and water

have worn into existence forever.

Klein’s appointment marks the end of a long wait for L.A’s small but influential community of poets. Mayor Villaraigosa said it was Lester Graves Lennon, a poet and investment banker, who approached him with the idea seven years ago, not long after Villaraigosa won election.

“I told him, ‘You should be the one to appoint the first poet laureate,’” Lennon told me before the ceremony began. This year, Lennon accepted a position on the committee to choose that laureate.

Of Healy, Lennon said:  “She has strong roots in L.A. and is a great poet.”

Healy was born in El Paso, raised in Iowa and moved to Los Angeles as a 10-year-old in the 1950s, as The Times' reported today.

She’s been a figure in the L.A. poetry scene since the 1970s, reading at Beyond Baroque, the legendary writing center in Venice. Later, she taught poetry at the equally influential Woman's Building in downtown Los Angeles.

She is the author of seven books of poetry.

hector.tobar@latimes.com

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