Poetry in the Foothills

by Marlene Hitt

Yucca in Big Tujunga Canyon, (c) 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk

Sunland-Tujunga has had its share of poets and writers, with at least two poetry groups at any one time and a Poet Laureate program.

The current Poet Laureate Program began as a tribute to John Steven and Ida McGroarty, who used their home as a gathering place for prominent town citizens to enjoy cultural and fund raising events. The McGroartys were probably the towns most famous citizens. John wrote a weekly page in the Los Angeles Times in which he romanticized the Beautiful Vale of Monte Vista and the town of Tujunga, full of wondrous attractions and good folks. A man of many talents, he was know as an orator, congressman, columnist, publisher, historian, playwright, poet and community activist.

McGroarty served as Poet Laureate of California, 1933-1944. The reading of one of his poems, “Just California”, was required by all California elementary school students. Because of this legacy, Virginia Haddad, Tujunga poet and teacher at the McGroarty Art Center decided that we should carry on the tradition in order to stress the importance of the artists and writers, past and present, of this community. She began, in 1999, a program to elect a person worthy enough to represent us as Poet Laureate.

Maja Trochimczyk, Laureate No. 6 receives her laurels and diplomas from Joe DeCenzo, Laureate No. 4, April 2010.

Many communities have caught on to this idea. At PoetsLaureate.com you can see photos of nearly all the California small town Poets Laureate. A Poet Laureate must be a writer who honors good craftsmanship and also be the most representative of the community.

For the two year term of our local Poet Laureate, he or she will have duties that challenge him or her to adapt well to a variety of occasions: the maker of a toast, the bestower of a prize, the dedication of a park, the composer of an ode to the Little League team and such. As well as a position of high honor, this is a position of community service. The poet Laureate is an ambassador, a cheer leader for our community.

Many events have been hosted or enhanced by our poet ambassadors. All have written books. This program is part of the many faceted community activities in the 91040 and 91042 zip areas.

Dorothy Skiles, Laureate No. 7, reads in McGroarty's Home, now McGroarty Arts Center, April 2012.

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