Wednesday, 29 May 2024

Gonzaga chosen as county's new poet laureate

Finalists for the title of Lake County Poet Laureate included, from left, Michelle Berger of Spring Valley, and Russell Gonzaga and Elaine Watt, both of Middletown. Gonzaga was chosen as poet laureate on Sunday, March 14, 2010. Photo by Tera DeVroede.



LAKE COUNTY – Lake County’s current poet laureate, Mary McMillan, was happy to “pass the baton” on to her successor, Russell Gonzaga, at the “Select and Celebrate Program” held last Sunday, March 14.

The event, hosted by Lake County Arts Council and Main Street Gallery in Lakeport, was also broadcast live on the community radio station, KPFZ 88.1 FM.

Gonzaga, who lives at Harbin Hot Springs near Middletown, won the vote among two other candidates, Michelle Berger of Spring Valley and Elaine Watt, who also is from Harbin Hot Springs.

“Harbin Hot Springs has become a community of artists,” said Gonzaga after being handed a bouquet of flowers and being encouraged to give a speech. “I’m proud to be a part of a community of creative individuals.”

All three poets were contenders, and each had a very unique presence. Before presentations, McMillan did admit that it would be a difficult decision to make – especially after everyone read their poetry.

Gonzaga was first up at the podium after several past poets laureate treated the audience of about 30 people to some of their work. He began with a performance poem which showed his character and energy.

His pieces were mixed with large body motions, Islamic chants and hip-hop raps – he is an Islamic Dervish as well as a part-time teacher. He dedicated one poem to his students, another to his son.

Watts answered Gonzaga’s energy and emphasis with modesty and reverence. Her voice was clear but soft, and so the audience was very quiet to listen more closely.

Berger brought the audience back to life, addressing them directly – asking everyone how they were doing. She garnered a few laughs before she began. Then, she gave the audience a disclaimer – she liked to find new ways to formulate what she writes about.

One piece was a result of flipping over two Tarot cards and writing on the images of them both. Her meter and flow were nursery rhyme-like but the words and stories within her poetry were mostly comical.

After all three candidates performed, three previous poets laureate – McMillan, Carolyn Wing Greenlee and Sandra Wade – had to select one of them.




Past poet laureates, from left, Mary McMillan, Sandra Wade and Carolyn Wing Greenlee discuss selection of the new poet laureate at the

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