This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, April 19, 2000

April 19, 2000 - Poetry in America

I didn't get much sleep last night
thinking about underwear
Have you ever stopped to consider
underwear in the abstract
When you really dig into it
some shocking problems are raised
- "Underwear" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

My first car, a VW bug, cost me $350. Its most holy mission was the time I was sent to the Peoria airport to fetch an important American poet. That poet was Lawrence Ferlinghetti, author of the wonderful poem quoted in part above.

You must understand that I was just 19 years old. I had read some Ferlinghetti, but I'd never seen a picture of him. I once met Allen Ginsberg, another beat poet. I was a member of a writing workshop under the direction of Jim Scrimgeour, a confessional imagist poet at Illinois State University. So when Jim called me to say that he needed someone with impeccable poetic credentials (by which he meant "actually owning a car") to pick up Ferlinghetti for his university performance that night, I cheerfully acquiesced.

Jim asked me, "Do you know what he looks like?"

"No," I replied. "But how hard can it be to pick out a poet at the Peoria airport?"

And in fact, it wasn't hard at all. I admit that I did ask somebody else first, but quickly realized my mistake. The second person I asked was a close-cropped balding man with a beard. He was wearing a leather leisure suit, traveling with nothing more than an airline bag, a sort of big vinyl purse. He was sitting, cat-like, on one of the airport seats, calm and patient. (I was late.) "Are you a poet?" I asked. And he stood up.

I realize now that I was woefully unprepared. I did not give great conversation on the way back to the university and the reception awaiting him. I was a little cowed by his fame. Worse, I hadn't read much poetry at the time, believing it was good enough just to write my own. In short, I was young, awkward, arrogant, and ignorant. That's life.

On the other hand, he seemed to really enjoy riding in a bug. He talked about a VW bus he'd once owned, and had driven up the California coast, before he finally settled in San Francisco.

These days, Ferlinghetti, owner of San Francisco's famous City Lights Bookstore, even has a street named after him, which strikes me as a worthwhile thing to note in April, National Poetry Month. After all, how many living poets have streets named after them anywhere in Douglas County? Let's broaden that to include the entire Front Range. Heck, how many DEAD poets? Answer: none that I know of.

I mention all this not just to toss around the names of poetic celebrities I have known, but to sound a grateful note for the recent poetry café at the Lone Tree Library. I was pleased to discover that poetry is alive and well in the generation now in high school. I was overjoyed when one of the 22 people to attend pulled out a well-worn copy of Ginsberg's "Howl" -- a poem that defined the consciousness of another generation, and by now must be considered classic by the only definition that counts: endurance.

I am also pleased to report that Rod McKuen seems to have withered away without a trace. Good riddance.

But even more, I was gratified to hear some real poetic talent. Chelsea (Happy Birthday!) was one of them. So was a young man with a sensibility much like that of Edgar Allan Poe -- a fine sense of language. There were several young adults with astonishingly well-developed performance skills.

One of the things librarians do is to collect the works of those fortunate few who are published. But I think it might be equally important to provide a place where poets have the opportunity to read their works. Poetry is undervalued in our society. So are poets.

The good news is that not only does the Douglas Public Library District have the works of many fine, contemporary poets, but the next team is shaping up nicely.

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