Thursday, April 20, 2017
Probably the first thing most people notice about Santa Barbara’s new poet laureate, Enid Osborn, is her smile. It’s shy but friendly and, like everything about Osborn, seems to come from someplace centered and genuine. Her voice, too, is an instrument of welcome. Although she has lived in Santa Barbara for nearly 30 years, Osborn was born and raised in New Mexico, and she still retains more than a trace of a warm Southwestern drawl.
Osborn’s sincerity and good cheer were very much on display on April 11, when the Santa Barbara City Council approved and installed her as the city’s seventh poet laureate, a position she will hold until April 2019. A homemade garland crowning her long silver hair, she read her installation poem, “Call Me Poet,” to a standing-room-only crowd of onlookers, some of whom had come from Ventura and San Luis Obispo to wish her well.
In a city with so many bards, the competition to be the next laureate is always formidable. However, among poets, the choice of Osborn was not surprising — she is, after all, famous for attending just about every public reading in town — and according to the County Office of Arts & Culture, she “received numerous nominations from a diverse group of educational institutions, poets, and local organizations.”
Elizabeth Owen, chair of the Poet Laureate Selection Committee, said Osborn writes “wonderfully vivid, emotional poems that evoke a unique sense of place. Her poems are accessible and inclusive, appealing to a wide audience.” The most complete collection of Osborn’s work can be found in When the Big Wind Comes, published by Big Yes Press, but she has also published numerous shorter “chapbooks,” most recently Pedregosa St., which “talks about life in Westside Santa Barbara … including the death of a dear neighbor, trains, insomnia, a spirited old house, the multicultural neighborhood I inhabit,” Osborn said. She is also drawn to “Family. Trees. The natural world. Death and transcendence. I studied Latin American writers and got a heaping dose of magic realism, which runs through my work. I seem to write about birds and insects a lot,” she added.
While Osborn has not yet identified a single big project for her two-year term, she embraces Library Director Jessica Cadiente’s goal of facilitating “new programs that will bring poetry to a wider audience.” Osborn also plans to help create new opportunities for poets to read and challenges other area poets to do the same. She wants to “be an energetic ambassador for poetry and the many gifted poets in our area, including quieter voices we may not have heard.” Finally, she said, “I have a heart for youth and want to turn young people on to poetry through the library, schools, and Poetry Out Loud.”
Despite her well-known optimism, the area poetry scene isn’t entirely rosy for Osborn. She noted that while “the achievement of laureateship has created excitement among the poets here, something to reach for … we have become self-impressed. A certain elitism has crept in that we didn’t used to have. Being a grassroots poet, I would naturally steer us toward greater inclusiveness.”
Still, she quickly acknowledged that “we are a tight-knit family of poets here in Santa Barbara. We have a strong identity, and we take care of our own.” And when asked what it’s like to be poet laureate during Santa Barbara’s incredibly busy poetry month, Osborn replied, “It’s glorious.” Then she flashed that smile, and you know that for Enid Osborn, “glorious” is probably just the right word.