Beclee Wilson, Napa County’s new poet laureate, is eager to help raise the appreciation for poetry across the Napa Valley.
Her appointment was made official Tuesday morning by the Napa County Board of Supervisors. The board voted unanimously for Wilson to serve the two-year term for the voluntary position.
Fellow St. Helena resident Bonnie Long was the only other nominee who submitted a complete application for the position.
“I feel I will bring to the position a variety of opportunities to extend the work done by past poet laureates,” said Wilson. “I love having the opportunity to spread poetry around in more places and to a variety of audiences.”
Applicants for poet laureate were reviewed by the Napa County Library Commission this year, said Napa County Library Director Danis Kreimeier. The Library Commission then recommended Wilson to the Arts Council Napa Valley.
“I don’t know how the Library Commission and the Arts Council were able to pick one, because I was torn both ways,” said County Supervisor Mark Luce about the selection process. “But I appreciate them going through that selection process.”
Both Kreimeier and Olivia Everett, president and CEO of Arts Council Napa Valley, were present for Wilson’s appointment, as was the former poet laureate, Leonore Wilson.
“She definitely comes to us highly passionate and highly qualified,” said Everett, regarding Beclee Wilson’s nomination. “Her history of being involved in the community is really inspiring to see.”
The county’s new ambassador for poetry and the literary arts has had a lifelong love for both written and oral expression. As a young child, Wilson said she was already memorizing and reciting poems and the lines of plays for fun.
While studying at Northwestern University’s School of Speech, oral interpretation of literature and performance in theater opened her up to different forms of learning. Wilson earned her master’s in public address from the University of Michigan and her doctorate in rhetoric and communications from the University of Minnesota.
“I think I learned from theater that there are lots of different ways to be a person,” said Wilson. “I look forward to being available for readings of my own poetry or to gather other people’s poems.”
For Wilson, a resident of St. Helena for the past 15 years, creating an appreciation for poetry throughout the community is her way of keeping an important tradition alive.
“Poetry has always been central throughout the world, whether it’s Iran, China, or Japan, where every year the emperor writes a poem on his birthday,” said Wilson. “Poetry has always played a part in the lives of human beings.”
During the last few years, fourth and fifth graders at St. Helena Elementary School have benefited from Wilson’s knowledge of poetry as she has created programs to help young students develop their own passion for the written and spoken word.
“Having introduced 300 5th-graders to their inner poet, watching them share their work with friends and strangers, writing me ‘thank you’s’ for giving them a love of poetry, working with them to read in public, and inviting me to write a poem celebrating their grade school graduation, it doesn’t get much better than that,” Wilson said.
Wilson is currently working with local teachers to make April’s National Poetry Month celebration a bigger event than it currently is in elementary schools and expanding it at all grade levels throughout the Napa Valley.
“What I love about working with kids is that they learn to develop an outlet for their feelings and observations of life,” said Wilson.
Wilson’s students have been able to read their poems at Napa Valley Roasting Company over the last few years in order to learn the oral meaning of poetry, said Wilson. “There was a time when many people couldn’t read, so poetry was an oral medium. I sometimes tell people that I write to be able to read. I love the public moment.”
Classes offered through Napa Valley College and the Rianda House Senior Activity Center have allowed Wilson to connect with other poets living in the Napa Valley. She has also participated in the Napa Valley Writer’s Conference on five different occasions.
“There is a big opportunity for the poet laureate to expand the awareness of and support for this Napa Valley treasure,” said Wilson about the Writer’s Conference. “If children can bring in the crowds at coffee houses, so could the really gifted poets who attend the conference.”
Wilson has published three books of poetry: “Woman in Bits and Pieces,” “Tassajara Wind,” and her latest collection, “Winter Fruit.” As a gift for friends, Wilson also compiled a special collection of poems that featured her artwork.
Living in St. Helena has allowed Wilson to connect with other artists. Some of her St. Helena supporters made the early trip to Napa on Tuesday to be with Wilson on her big day.
“I want to thank Leonore Wilson for the wonderful basis you have given on behalf of poetry,” said Wilson, as she accepted her new role on Tuesday. She also thanked her colleagues, the Solstice Writers (a local creative writing group) and her husband of 54 years, John Wilson.
Although Wilson already has several ideas on how to spread the poetry bug throughout the valley, she also hopes to work with local organizations to create a county-wide appreciation for the art form.
“One thing I’d like to see is more poetry published in our local paper,” said Wilson, who will serve a two-year term as poet laureate. “That’s something that would really help spread the word.”