The Poet Game
By Gary Singh
LAST WEEK the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution officially establishing a Santa Clara County Poet Laureate. According to the documents, the post of Poet Laureate will create, over time, a body of work that commemorates the rich and varied culture of Santa Clara County. California was the first state to informally name a Poet Laureate, and several other counties have established their own position at their respective levels. The post is an honorary one and the county will work closely with the Arts Council Silicon Valley to concoct a selection process and recruit potential candidates.
"What does a Poet Laureate actually do?" I hear you cry. Well, the resolution states that the Poet Laureate's duties can include representing the county through outreach related to poetry, presentation of appropriate works at the annual State of the County ceremony, and selected county-sponsored events, dedications or memorials. He or she should have resided in the county for five years, demonstrated a commitment to reading and writing poetry, embrace the opportunity to engage in civic discourse, and commit to serving a two-year term in the post.
Now, several poetic trajectories might be contemplated here. Being that San Jose is the oldest city in California, why does the county get an officially sanctioned Poet Laureate and the city of San Jose doesn't? If you've been around these meadows for any length of time, you know that the city and county governments don't exactly get along like jovial bards trading flowery love sonnets with each other. Most recently, San Jose sued the county for trying to build a concert hall out there in the badlands off Tully Avenue because the city wanted a venue closer to the historical site of the former Manny's Cellar saloon instead. After millions were spent, neither venue actually happened. It was poetic, to say the least.
Salman Rushdie once said, "A poet's work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep." I sided with the city on the concert hall calamity and I suggest a further lawsuit should be in order. The county must be stopped in their tracks, and the city must emerge victorious this time. I can see the headline now: "San Jose Sues County Over Poet Laureate Issue." On another front, Josť Ortega y Gasset said that "poetry has become the higher algebra of metaphors," so perhaps only a poet can reconcile the differences between the city and the county.
The flowery verse doesn't stop there. In another lyrical episode last week, the city of San Jose held a press conference in front of the empty lot where the Porter Stock building used to sit on South First Street, just north of San Fernando. As part of their next phase of downtown beautification, property owners have pooled their resources and added planters all along that block, along with Christmas LEDs, hanging flower baskets and other green regalia. Artist Paul Gonzalez painted a bamboo forest scene, pandas and all, on the placards in front of the vacant lot, and potted bamboo plants now rise up from behind the placards. The entire scenario contains more shades of green than one can find anywhere downtown. The property owners expect to dress up an additional four streets in upcoming years.
The lime-green-shirted Groundwerx employees—folks unleashed upon the public to clean the streets, give people directions and serve as roaming concierges—were busy as roosters tidying up the sidewalks for the press conference. Their honcho Chuck Hammers proclaimed at the podium that his cleaning crews have logged in 2,000 hours of scrubbing and sweeping downtown sidewalks since the company began, and that they had provided a combined total of 14,000 directions to downtown customers. As Emily Dickinson once said, "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry."