Writer Kate Buckley shares her plans to champion the literary arts as the city’s first poet laureate.
By Susan Kathleen Hogoboom and Laguna Beach Magazine Staff
With a scenic coastline and captivating canyon, Laguna Beach offers plenty of artistic inspiration, which leads some to paint and others to wax poetic. So it’s no wonder that the city’s leaders finally decided last spring to establish a poet laureate position. Award-winning writer Kate Buckley was selected as the first to serve in this role, appointed May 1 for a one-year term.
Buckley, who has lived in Laguna either full or part time since 2000, works as CEO of Buckley Media Group, a boutique branding and premium website domain firm. Originally from Kentucky, she earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Spalding University and has garnered much recognition for her work: The four-time Pushcart Prize nominee—considered for both her poetry and creative nonfiction—was also honored with the Betty Gabehart Prize in 2007 and the North American Review’s James Hearst Poetry Prize in 2008.
Buckley’s short story, “The Gods of Flight,” was included on the Bridport Prize shortlist in 2013 while her debut book, “A Wild Region: Poems & Paintings” (Moon Tide Press, 2008), was named Reviewer’s Choice by Midwest Book Review and clearly demonstrates Buckley’s impressive creativity as she uses both literary arts and reproductions of her own paintings to complement each other. Classically trained, Buckley embraces mostly acrylics and mixed-media collage to create colorful, dreamlike depictions inspired by mythology and the modern world’s philosophical dilemmas; her paintings have even been displayed in local galleries.
Whether putting brush to canvas or pen to paper, Buckley is talented beyond words. As Laguna’s inaugural poet laureate, she has already penned a commemorative poem in honor of Festival of Arts’ 85th anniversary and organized a Poet Laureate’s Showcase Series, which presents nationally acclaimed poets at local venues. The next installment, Nov. 9 at LCAD Gallery, features Sarah Maclay and will debut an anthology of Southern California poets.
She also has led several workshops and is coordinating the city’s first poetry festival in April, with more to come in the months ahead. We caught up with Buckley to discuss her new role and the inspirations that shape her poetry, which will be shared at various events, on the city’s website and through its cultural arts e-newsletter.
What about Laguna Beach inspires you?
I’ve lived in a lot of places as an adult … but Laguna Beach is my favorite. It’s nothing short of magical. The energy here, the beauty, the people, the art, the wild beauty of our blue belts and green belts—the hillsides tumbling down in a wildflower-studded lush rush to the sea, the coves, the trails (I’m a hiker)—it’s all wildly inspiring to both my poetry and my life, and remains my favorite place to be.
What is your role as poet laureate?
As poet laureate, I will work to enhance awareness and appreciation of poetry and the literary arts in Laguna Beach—to share how they can illuminate each and every life; how they are not only illuminatory, but necessary, now more than ever.
What have you accomplished thus far in your efforts to engage the public and to generate interest in and appreciation for poetry?
I’ve done a number of readings and events … and shared quite a bit of content, but my proudest achievement to date is working with youth. … Most recently, I had the pleasure of teaching teens at the Canyon Branch of the Boys & Girls Club. The entire class was delightful, but there was one young man who had moved here from Mexico, had never written a poem, and then at the end of the class crafted a poem so magical, moving and mystical that I not only had chills, but tears in my eyes. I encouraged him to keep reading and keep writing, and followed up with a list of recommended authors for him. I hope he takes me up on it. His is a talent with which to be reckoned.
Why is it important for students to have access to literary arts education?
Poetry is yet another language, another filter, through which to view reality. It teaches us empathy, complex thought, and makes us more effective storytellers. And its influence goes beyond the literary arts and social sciences: Sekou Andrews, a national poetry slam champion turned inspirational and keynote speaker, argues that poetry teaches us how to better brand companies and create captivating narratives. It has even been said that the MFA [or Master of Fine Arts] is the new MBA.
What upcoming engagement events are on the docket for you?
I’m very excited about my Poet Laureate’s Showcase Series. … Past features have included Noah Blaustein, Christopher Merrill and Kathryn Nuernberger. … This is an opportunity for the residents of Laguna Beach to hear world-class poets in their own backyard. I hope all residents take advantage of the generosity of these poets in sharing their time and talent with us.
How old were you when you began writing poems, and who or what inspired you?
I wrote my first poem at age 3 ½. My mother—luckily or regrettably, depending on your perspective—laminated it. … My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all read to me, sang to me, took me to the library and [to] arts and literary festivals. Art and literature have always been a part of my life—I’m extremely fortunate in that regard.
What advice do you have for any of our readers who would like to get started composing poetry?
Read widely, profligately and wantonly. Read 20 poems for each one you write. Avail yourself of excellent books on craft and technique—learn the rules so you know just how to break them.
Read Laguna Beach Poet Laureate Kate Buckley’s work online at KateBuckley.com or lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/art/poet_laureate, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @katebuckley1. Her books, “Follow Me Down” and “A Wild Region: Poems & Paintings” are available at Laguna Beach Books, in-store and with advance order, respectively. To sign up for the city’s cultural arts e-newsletter, which includes poetry shared by Buckley, go to tinyurl.com/y9498q7g.