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July 01, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, July 01, 2005

Meter and rhyme Meter and rhyme (July 01, 2005)

Newly appointed Poet Laureate discusses poetry and its future

by Rebecca Guyon

Pleasanton is one of the few cities in the nation that has a Poet Laureate and recently, local writer Cynthia Bryant was named to the position. As Pleasanton's voice of poetic reason, Bryant is charged with cultivating the sharing of poetry in the community. This may seem like a tough job considering that, in recent years, some believe poetry has moved out of the mainstream, but Bryant doesn't see it that way.

"I think (poetry) is making a comeback," she said. "It has always had an underground system, but is getting more mainstream. You can tell when you see performance poetry in TV commercials or see a poet read a poem about his cancer on TV. And there have always been songs; song lyrics are nothing but poetry. We are surrounded by poetry every day, but get a narrow view of it from our education system."

In fact, Bryant says that much of the way we think of poetry is based in an education system that focuses too much on searching for meaning and less on the emotive quality of poetry.

"The body isn't beautiful when you dissect it, same for poetry," she said.

One of Bryant's goals as Poet Laureate is to reverse this perception by catching youths' interest with local poetry slams. Slam poetry is a type of performance poetry that focuses as much on the poet's ability to recite the poem as it is the actual content, which is why it has garnered criticism from certain literary circles. However, Bryant says you can never discount an entire genre and believes much of the criticism comes from narrow minds that see it as a question of "literary versus street."

"When you go to see performance poetry and slam, there is so much energy there," she said. "It's an exciting thing, and a good thing. I think anything that gets people up and excited and saying what they need to say is important."

Communities need venues to explore poetry, whether as a slam or simply an open mic night, not only to foster art appreciation, but also to provide writers with a support system, Bryant said. Having a community of poets to speak with was key for Bryant at times when she doubted her own talents.

"If you get into writing and you're going to readings, you become part of the community of writing, and they become a second family," she said. "We all have doubted ourselves before, so it's good to have that support from other writers because they understand."

Bryant is enmeshed in the Pleasanton writing community, and has been for many years, as evidenced by her six self-published books of poems in the Pleasanton Public Library. She has also been active as the coordinator for the Alameda County Fair's poetry competition for the past two years. This year, 100 entries were submitted and only 16 awards were given, one of which is the Charlene Villella Award for Best Nature Poem. This is a new award to honor the late Charlene Villella who also served as Pleasanton Poet Laureate and was friends with Bryant. The other awards include Best of Show, Best of Short Poems, Best of Long Poems, Best of Formal, Silver Awards and Honorable Mentions. Slightly more than half of the poems entered in the contest are framed and currently on display in the Fine Arts section of the Fair.

Even though being active in the community is nothing new to Bryant, her new role as Poet Laureate will give her the opportunity to be more visible as a writer. She also will get to hobnob with poetry's biggest names, such as former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Collins will be giving a reading at the Amador Theater in April of next year, and Bryant will give the introduction.

"It's one of the perks of the job," she said.

Bryant's poetry: (Italicize) This is a more recent poem Bryant wrote upon hearing that Charlene Villella had terminal cancer. Ebb

Grief is a tsunami that rides the night like cancer rages through her body deftly dragging down hope cell by cell by organ the undertow grabs pulls her out to sea holds the maligned body under while the weight of dark water shakes loose that which must go on from what in time will wash ashore drenched in our tears -Cynthia Bryant, Pleasanton Poet Laureate

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