Poet Laureate Bids Adieu to Alameda

 

It has been my pleasure and honor to be Alameda’s Poet Laureate for the past two and a half years. I was selected by former Mayor Marie Gilmore in 2014 to pick up the mantle for a three-year term after the passing of Alameda’s first Poet Laureate, Mary Rudge.

Our styles as poets and leaders could not have been more distinct. Mary signed her emails and letters, “For poetry, always,” held numerous competitions and gatherings for her supporters and followers, and focused on publishing and open mic events with local and international poets. She laid the groundwork for all poets laureate to follow and I appreciated her passion, commitment and purpose.

When I took on the role, I needed to put my own stamp on the honor; as many people told me, I had Mary’s shoes to fill. In my tenure, I attended many community events where poetry was not the usual format (the Kiwanis Club, City Council and various fundraisers for the Midway Shelter, the Alameda Food Bank and the animal shelter, among others). 

Although I do enjoy my typewriter and quill pen, I brought 21st-century technology to the table by creating a Facebook page and live-tweeting poetry events; I hash-tagged everything possible with #whypoetrymatters. I went to any classroom that would have me, in public and private schools, for any age group. The students at Island High School who invited me to witness their poetry slam each December quickly earned my esteem for their truth, vulnerability and facility with language.

As a member of Alameda Peeps (a Facebook group), I was invited to read a group-written poem about — well, I’m not quite sure what it was about, but why does poetry have to be about anything, anyway? 

I was an official judge for three years for the Alameda Spelling Bee in February, sharing the particular delight of a well-spelled word with dozens of students and their anxious parents. And I participated in the annual Banned Books Week at the Alameda Free Library, reading the scandalous literary works of —shhh— Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss, along with Lois Lowry and J.K. Rowling, with not-at-all-guilty pleasure. 

Many people do not know that I was the founding editor of this newspaper; it’s true. In 2001, I was the first editor of the Alameda Sun and helped set the tone for locally owned community journalism that makes a difference. As a single mother, I wrote news and features on deadline while my youngest daughter played Barbies and colored under the kneehole of my desk. We lived on ad-trade pizza and sandwiches and the generosity of the Alameda Food Bank in those early years. I was editor at the Sun until 2006, then left for a stint at Alameda Magazine and freelance work. I returned to the Sun as publisher until I left the paper to write books in 2010. 

The Alameda Sun and Alameda are both a part of my history; starting a newspaper with creative friends Eric Kos and Eric Turowski helped me get past an ugly divorce, find my way in a new community and fly onward to the literary goals I set for myself long ago. Becoming Alameda’s Poet Laureate was never part of the plan, but what an exceptional experience it has been.

You may have noticed I said this was a three-year term, but I am nodding farewell a little early. Some of my friends know that my husband hurt his back a while ago. After several months of unsuccessful treatment, he has retired from his career, and thus we are moving from the Island City that we love to a little house in the redwoods in west Sonoma County. I look forward to finding a new literary community there, and a new normal (whatever that is). You can be sure that writing books and freelance journalism will continue to fill my days, as will poetry --- and Facebook posts. 

It’s hard to say goodbye to this island, with its close-knit community — from Chamber ambassadors to Peeps, with so much history, and events that help mark the months and years with both tradition and contemporary celebrations. I’ve been a proud Alamedan. I still am, in spirit. Thank you for entrusting me with your stories, and for listening to my words. 

 

Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author and poet. You can find her online at Facebook/JuliaParkTraceyAuthor and Twitter/@juliaparktracey.

Please turn to page 10 for Tracey’s original poem about Alameda.