Longtime poet gets her wreath: Sojourner Kincaid Rolle to be 2015’s City Poet Laureate

Sojourner Kincaid Rolle

The Santa Barbara Arts Council will celebrate the announcement of Sojourner Kincaid Rolle as this year’s Poet Laureate with a special ceremony this afternoon during the City Council meeting at city hall. Coinciding with National Poetry Month, the award will kick off a full two years of special events and commissioned writing for Ms. Rolle, who has long been a part of the Santa Barbara poetry community, and has been one of the important players in the creation of the Laureate title through the Arts Commission. April will be the busiest month for the poet, with a full schedule of events and appearances.

Previous Poets Laureate include Barry Spacks, Perie Longo, David Starkey, Paul Willis and Chryss Yost.

“I’ve been showered with notes and messages and calls already!” said the jubilant poet. The position of Laureate is something she originally had no desire to hold, back when the first winner, Barry Spacks, was announced in 2005.

“I’ve always been so public as a poet, I knew there were other people in the community who could be Poet Laureate. I didn’t need any more public exposure – that was my thinking initially. But now I’m beside myself. I can’t believe I would feel so excited.”

What changed? Ms. Rolle says it was the energy of the community who suggested her nomination, and her activity within the schools. She feels that her visibility to the various student poets she’s encountered does a lot to encourage a new generation.

Her first task will be to write and read a poem for today’s ceremony, then soon after create a work for the 50th anniversary of Santa Barbara Beautiful. There are two more commissions coming soon.

Ms. Rolle has been active in Santa Barbara’s community and literary scene for 30 years. Some of her collections are “Black Street” (2009), “Common Ancestry” (1999) and her most recent work is a book of poems for young people, called “The Mellow Yellow Global Umbrella.” She also has written plays, appeared in several poetry anthologies, and organized poetry events including the “Song of Place” poetry project through City@Peace, the Annual Young Writers Poetry Contest; and the Martin Luther King Poetry and Essay Contest. For the past 13 years she has organized an annual tribute to poet Langston Hughes, and is a highly visible peace activist.

“There’s something special about poetry and about its history in the world,” said the poet. “I was thinking about Santa Barbara Beautiful and how we are a city of trees. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were also a city of poets? Because we are. There are a lot of poets in Santa Barbara. Having poetry out there is good. I’d like people to consider including a poet if they are going to have an event.”

One of her missions that will continue through these next two years is increasing the amount of poetry in the schools. “It’s a form of self-expression,” she said. “And it’s about giving young people the tools to express themselves.”

As for being called the Poet Laureate, Ms. Rolle says she’s at ease with the title, because so many of the duties required of her – community outreach, speaking engagements – are things she does already.

“But now I have a license!” she laughs. “A license to poet!”

A brief reception with all City Poets Laureate will take place today, Tuesday, April 7 in the Mayor’s office prior to the start of the City Council meeting at 2 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall. For more information on the City Poet Laureate Program, contact the County Arts Commission at 568-3992 or www.sbartscommission.org or www.sbpoetry.net.

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