Visiting literature professor Barry Spacks was recently appointed Santa Barbara’s first poet laureate, giving him the opportunity to spend the next stanza of his life elevating the role of the arts in the community.
The Santa Barbara County Arts Advisory Committee, the mayor and the Santa Barbara City Council unanimously elected Spacks to his two-year term. The poet officially became Santa Barbara’s cultural leader in an April 5 ceremony at Santa Barbara City Hall. Spacks, who has taught at UCSB’s College of Creative Studies since spring 2001, has been an involved resident of Santa Barbara for 25 years, and at the age of 74, has been writing poetry for over 50 years. Some of Spacks’ duties as poet laureate include attending city council meetings, educating elementary school children about reading and writing, creating an instructive website devoted to poetry and organizing and facilitating National Poetry Month in April.
Spacks has an extensive background in poetry writing, having published nine poetry collections including Spacks Street: New & Selected Poems, and most recently Regarding Women and The Hope of the Air. He said he started writing poetry in his late teens.
“I wrote my first poem at 17,” Spacks said, “after breaking up with my high school sweetheart.”
Spacks has made a career out of writing poetry, though he said he did not initially intend on doing so. Born to Jewish immigrants and raised in Philadelphia by a large, close-knit family, Spacks said he was expected to be a lawyer. The first in his family to graduate high school and go to college, Spacks attended the University of Pennsylvania. He said it was there he discovered his interest in literature, though he said he was still unsure of his final major.
“I was torn between linguistics, sociology and English,” Spacks said. “And one day, as I was with some of my friends and it came down to choosing what to major in, I told them I would ask the first girl that comes down those stairs [to choose for me]. The first and only word she ever said to me was ‘English,’ and from then, after studying literature more extensively, I was hooked on English.”
Spacks said writing poetry allows him to discover the deeper significance behind everyday occurrences.
“[Poetry] allows us to make sense of our ‘inner weather’ and observe what’s out there,” he said. “I wrote a poem called ‘Looking at a Lizard,’ but it has a deeper meaning about timelessness. My time is short, but I feel once I’m not alive, I’ll totally be in timelessness.”
Spacks also said he draws much of what he writes about from anecdotes from his own life.
“I wrote a poem that ends with a sub-poem on three pines that decided to grow up in the middle of the road that I take to get to a cabin,” Spacks said. “[The trees] just chose the wrong place to grow, but the poem is also about fate and innocence and how some people luck out.”
Spacks’ advice for aspiring poets includes a recommendation for a method of preparation before writing a poem.
“For preparation to write, one could go on what’s called a haiku walk,” Spacks said. “It includes a half-hour walk in complete silence where you just observe your surroundings and then write a haiku, not necessarily on what you saw, but you write after a state of deep concentration.”
Spacks said he feels poetry lives in everyone.
“Poetry lives,” Spacks said. “And anyone who says he or she is not a poet is a liar. Poetry allows us to reach through the surfaces and a find deeper meaning in life.”