Thursday, January 26, 2006
|A&E| » LIT
Celebrated poet Lawson Inada has a fittingly poetic vision of the 10,000 Poems Project. “Whenever I’m in the Salinas Valley, I’ve always noticed the lettuce-harvesting machines,” Inada says. “We’re kind of the poetry harvest machine.”
Billed as an effort to reap poetry from all walks of life—from students to retirees, from novice beginners to Pulitzer Prize-winning poets—the 10,000 Poems Project is the first salvo in Inada’s bid to infuse the Salinas Valley with poetry.
“The large idea is to encourage the poetic spirit in everybody,” Inada says. “We want to encourage the idea that poetry is not just for greeting cards and academics. Everybody has a poetic spirit. A lot of people that you wouldn’t think are actually writing poetry.”
The author of such critically-acclaimed books as Drawing the Line and Legends from Camp, Inada began serving his tenure as the 2005/2006 Steinbeck Chair at Hartnell Community College and the Steinbeck Center last fall.
Despite his high-profile role, Inada is quick to point out that the 10,000 Poems Project was someone else’s idea.
“I was at a meeting with the planning committee detailing some of my plans as a chair,” Inada says. “I was outlining all these local places I was looking forward to going to as a teacher and poet—schools, civic organizations, public libraries, hospitals, Rotary Clubs, chambers of commerce—and Kim Greer [CEO of the National Steinbeck Center] said, ‘Wow, you’re going to be doing a lot. Why don’t we gather all this poetry you’re going to generate? Why don’t we do 10,000 poems?’”
Inada says the number 10,000 immediately resonated with the committee.
“Someone even suggested we check the Guinness Book of World Records,” Inada laughs. “It’s a great thing for the Salinas Valley and the Monterey Peninsula. We felt, c’mon, what’s stopping us from 10,000? Let’s challenge New York, Berlin, Tokyo. See how many they can get.”
To date, the response to the 10,000 poems project has been strong. According to Margie Harrison-Smith, curator of Education and Public Programs at the Steinbeck Center, organizers have yet to count the number of poems received, but she estimates it has reached around 1,000 since Oct. 12, when the project started.
Harrison-Smith says that organizers will begin inventory of the poems next month and will publish a number on the Web site at 10000poems.org.
“We are also going to publish some of them in Hartnell College’s literary journal, The Homestead Review, next summer,” she says, “But we haven’t really talked about an anthology or anything yet. We’ve been trying to keep the funding for this fluid so we can bring Lawson in so he can work in the community.”
Nonetheless, the poems are pouring in, and in different languages.
“We have received two poems from Australia and we’re getting a lot of poems from outside Monterey County and California,” Harrison-Smith says. “Some have been in Spanish and one was in Korean.”
Although the project is already one-tenth of the way to completion, Inada’s not sure what they’ll do when the project actually reaches the 10,000 poem mark. “When we hit that mark we’ll definitely have a celebration of some kind,” he says.
Inada encourages everyone to submit something and insists that a poem can be anything these days.
“You get an idea and you don’t have to work it out as a novel, you just jot it down,” Inada says. “Everybody’s got an everyday poetic experience. Especially if you live in a beautiful place like this.”
Inada says that poems can be on any topic. They don’t need to relate to or mention John Steinbeck. According to the project’s Web site, all forms of poetry will be accepted. They don’t have to rhyme. The poems can be serious, witty, heartfelt, light, pure fantasy, historically based, realistic, free verse, sonnets—in short, what ever strikes your fancy. There is no line limit. Multiple submissions are permitted. Previously published poems are also accepted as long as the rights still belong to the author.
“All you have to do is call it poetry, Inada says. “That’s the way it is today.”
Inada thinks Steinbeck would have approved.
“He’d love this—the community participation,” Inada say. “This project is definitely in line with his spirit.”
TO SUBMIT YOUR POEM TO THE 10,000 POEMS PROJECT, send it by mail to the National Steinbeck Center, 1 Main St., Salinas, CA 93901 or fax to 796-3828. Poems can also be dropped off at the National Steinbeck Center, Hartnell College Library, The Western Stage, or the Partners for Peace Office. For more information, visit 10000poems.org.