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Earlier this month, renowned lesbian poet Eloise Klein Healy was selected by Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to be the city’s first poet laureate. Healey is 69 years old and has long been involved in the L.A. arts community, particularly the 1970s feminist movement. A Lambda Literary Award finalist for 2002’s Passing, she’s also the founding editor of Red Hen Press’s lesbian imprint, Arktoi Books, and graced our Poetry Spotlight with two of her poems last year. Much of her impassioned work is centered on the city of Los Angeles, as well as her personal experiences with sexuality. Writing for The Huffington Post about the selection process, Kate Gale included Healy in the rank of poets “who generations of poets have grown up with, poets for whom community is part of how they breathe in the world.”
Healy took a moment to talk with Lambda about the position of poet laureate and what she hopes to accomplish within the position.
How does it feel being named the poet laureate of Los Angeles?
After years and years and years and years of writing poetry and publishing books, and struggling to get reviewed, and never even getting reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, I think this tells people to just keep at it. I swam up the stream. Just keep at it. I never gave up.
Also, in a way, I have a calm feeling. I know this is not an overwhelming position for me. I’ve read in thousands of places. I have had various jobs in education. I have done administrative work at colleges. I have basically been everywhere with my poetry.
What would you like to see happen with this position?
There are couple of things that I have to do. I have to conduct [several] readings. I have to write poems about the city. I have to go to schools. I have to work with the city at some local events. Those things are not difficult. They are educational and ceremonial aspects of the position.
Part of my larger plan is to convey and bring forth a larger literary picture of Los Angeles. I want to bring the literary picture of Los Angeles more in to focus, for both those outside of L.A., and even for people who live here who may not be aware of it. There are literary communities here who have been overlooked. We have a lot of wonderful writers here who have been overlooked by the national press. Many of them never get any coverage here even if they win prizes. People think the only creative things that happen in Los Angeles happen in the entertainment industry. There is a lot of talent here. I would like to bring that to the surface.
Do you think there is an L.A. literary aesthetic?
I would say it is less like a city and more like a country. L.A. is so vast. Does France have an aesthetic? There is not just one aesthetic. There are just so many different writing communities here.
Anything else you hope to accomplish?
I think it is really important to reach out to people who think literature or poetry is not for them, or that they do not have any connection to [poetry], and try to forge a connection. I hope to be a poet laureate who goes to places where poetry is not usually present or go to places that a poet laureate is not expected to go—even if it means talking to someone in line at the grocery store (laughs).