Carol Muske-Dukes, Poet Laureate

December 12, 2008


Switchback Books Advisory Board member Carol Muske-Dukes named poet laureate of California!

She reflects on her post in today's L.A. Times:

Poetry is, like prayer, spun from the imagination -- from ultimate contradiction -- like the idea of a democratic crown. Who's lucky or brazen enough to wear this headgear? I'm brazen enough to bow my head and gratefully accept the honor. Born in Minnesota, I teach creative writing at the University of Southern California, have written books of poems and, for years, wrote a poetry review column for this newspaper. Our governor was born in Austria and his first lady was born into an American "royal" family sprung from Irish immigrants. Each of us, with our homegrown or immigrant souls, has an idea of what sort of poetry should come out of the state -- whether it should sound like Gary Snyder, Robinson Jeffers, Kenneth Rexroth or Robert Frost (born in San Francisco), or like Sor Juana, Carolyn Kizer, Jane Hirschfield, Marilyn Chin or Harryette Mullen. In a letter, Maria Shriver told me that California women are "trailblazers" in everything they do. I agree -- in particular about poets, those psychic pioneers.

An amazing L.A. poem by Carol:

Like This 

-- Morituri te salutamus.
Los Angeles Times, 1927

Maybe it's not the city you thought
it was. Maybe its flaws, like cracks
in freeway pylons, got bigger, caught
your eye, like swastikas on concrete stacks.

Maybe lately the dull astrologies of End,
Millennium-edge rant about world death
make sense. Look. Messages the dead send
take time to arrive. When the parched breath

of the Owens River Valley guttered out,
real voices bled through the black & white.
The newspaper ad cried, We who are about
to die salute you. Unarmed, uncontrite.

Gladiators: a band of farmers, entrenched.
And how many on the Empire's side recognized
the bitter history of that Bow? Greed drenches
itself in a single element, unsurprised.

Like strippers, spotlit. Tits and asses
flash red-gold, while jets shriek above.
Rim-shot. History, like a shadow, passes
over a city impervious as a bouncer's shove

to dreams. Images tell you what's imaginable.
Here comes another ton. We bathe in
what's re-routed from the source: a fable
of endless water in a dipper made of tin.


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