If Leonore Wilson, Napa County's new poet laureate, has her way, local residents will bump up against poetry in unexpected settings over the next year or two.
“I have seen poetry thrive in the valley in the 70's and 80's, then slowly come to a virtual standstill,” said Wilson, the county's ambassador for poetry and literary arts. “Coffee houses didn't want readings, neither did bookstores. Poets disbanded — writing and hibernating in the privacy of their homes.
“Something very real was missing in the valley that once knew the presence of that genius, Robert Louis Stevenson,” she said.
During a two-decade poetic lull she noticed that even her most talented student poets at Napa Valley College weren't interested in venturing outward with their verse.
“Only recently have I seen poets come out of their caves and engage. I want to push them to do so for poets are music-makers, truth-tellers, subversive lights,” said Wilson, who became poet laureate in June.
Wilson is a former Napa Valley College creative writing instructor who has won numerous awards for her own writing for over a quarter century. A collection of her work, “Western Solstice,” was published by Hiraeth Press.
As poet laureate, Wilson has written a poem to dedicate the American Canyon Library, spoken with eighth graders at Robert Louis Stevenson School in St. Helena, given a talk and presented a poem at the Napa County Library's literacy dinner.
In late October she hung 10 poetry broadsides (framed poems) featuring the work of local poets in Alexis Baking Company, located at 1517 Third St. She will be changing the poets' work from time to time.
“The poetry comes from all types of folks in the valley,” she said. “Poetry reaches all segments of the population. No one should be excluded.”
The installation of poetry at ABC is just the beginning of what Wilson intends to do. Although Wilson is funding the poetry projects herself, she has ambitious plans for her poet “to do” list. The following is merely a sampling of what she hopes to accomplish during the next two years.
By Christmas, Wilson hopes to have installed her first “poetry home,” an imitation mailbox with poems inside, on the Napa River Trail. She is seeking approval from the city.
The idea came from Ronna Leon, former poet laureate of Benicia, who had the poetry homes installed there. These boxes will be filled with poems of all sorts, Wilson said. People can take a poem at will and also contribute poems.
She plans to put up broadsides of bilingual poetry as well as children's poetry throughout the valley. She envisions smaller broadsides on restaurant tables with a Spanish poem on one side and the English translation on the other.
A poetry series featuring local poets as well as poets who write or wrote about the valley is in the planning stage.
In addition, Wilson wants to bring extraordinary Bay Area poets to read in the valley, host readings and poet picnics, teach free workshops and present movies based on poets throughout history. Several Bay Area poets have already expressed the desire to read here, she said.
“I want to bring poetry into local schools, hospitals and libraries — just about anywhere I can transmute indifference into artistic passion,” Wilson said.
She hopes to coordinate poetry contests, especially in the schools. One of those contests would involve the “River of Words,” a competition begun by former Poet Laureate of America, Robert Hass, to acquaint children with their local watersheds as well as the wildlife that live there. Wilson helped Hass with this contest and she also taught children using the guidelines from the teacher's handbook Hass developed.
Poets working with other artists collaboratively — not just poets, but also with painters, musicians and photographers — is a dream Wilson would like to see come true in Napa.
Wilson's community efforts are only part of her work as a poet. Since July she has published in four magazines and won a poetry contest.
“I tell myself daily to write my own work,” Wilson said. “Poetry, as I see it, is especially in demand today as we live in a world of climate change, war, poverty, corporate takeover and other pressing issues.”