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Guest Column

Reflecting on my year as Laguna’s Poet Laureate

By Kate Buckley

It’s been my great honor to serve as Laguna Beach’s inaugural poet laureate, working as a brand ambassador for poetry and the literary arts in Laguna Beach. My platform included educating and inspiring residents and visitors to read, write and engage with the written word, and to demonstrate how poetry and the literary arts immeasurably enrich our lives, our community, and provide a more nuanced filter through which to view reality.

My mission was to get poetry and literature out of the intimidating ivory tower and make it accessible – and relevant – to the residents of Laguna Beach, through sharing original content as well as organizing public readings, classes and workshops, and Laguna Beach’s first ever official Literary Festival. I taught at venues like Glennwood House, Laguna Beach Boys & Girls Club, Laguna Beach Public Library, Laguna Beach Susi Q Community Center – even the Sawdust Festival and the Festival of Arts. I encountered many bright and passionate people, eager to hone their craft and expand their understanding of poetry and the literary arts. My work with children and young adults was especially gratifying – our future is in good hands.

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Photo by Mandy Bell

Francesca Bell and Kate Buckley

Apart from creating and teaching classes and workshops, one of the highlights of my tenure was the creation of my Poet Laureate Showcase Series which brought nationally acclaimed poets and writers to Laguna Beach. I’m very grateful to my Spotlight Series partner, Laguna College of Art + Design, for lending their gorgeous gallery on Ocean Avenue as the home for the reading. Their generosity (and that of all the poets and writers who graciously shared their time and talent!) provided an amazing opportunity for the residents of Laguna Beach to hear world class poets and writers in their own backyard. I’m proud of creating a platform that I hope endures long after my tenure ends, and proves of benefit to future laureates and the people of Laguna Beach.

I also gave readings or spoke at venues as disparate as Chapman University, Laguna Live!, Sunset Serenades, Laguna Beach Public Library, and the Festival of the Arts Birthday Bash (at which I read both the old Festival-themed poem along with the new commemorative poem I wrote for the occasion). Additionally, I created and shared regular content for the City of Laguna Beach’s website and social channels. I also created the “Poetry Moves You” program – curated content (thematically appropriate excerpts from poems) shared at bus stops throughout town. That was a lot of fun to do!

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Photo by Mandy Bell

Poet Grant Hier reads at the LitFest

Being the first of anything is hard, and that proved true for my inaugural term as poet laureate. Challenges included building awareness and audiences, building a platform, building processes and systems, creating relationships and partnerships, identifying needs and opportunities, creating content and curriculum, as well as a copious amount of PR, and doing all of this with no budget or staff. And yet, I found all of this to be quite fun – an exciting challenge that dared me to grow and stretch, all while giving back to the community I love so much. I am grateful for the opportunity – my thanks to the Arts Commission and the City of Laguna Beach.

My tenure recently culminated with the first ever official Literary Festival (4/14/18). The Laguna Beach Lit Fest was a day of classes, workshops, panels, craft talks, and readings by notable poets and writers. Events also included a children’s poetry circle and readings by local literary groups, Laguna Poets and Third Street Writers. I’m so grateful for the generosity of these amazing poets and writers, as well as the engaged audiences that made this so much fun! I hope it proves the first in a long line of many literary festivals in Laguna Beach. 

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Photo by Mandy Bell

Elena Karina Byrne at the LitFest

Speaking of which, here’s my best advice for the literary laureate to be appointed: If you want to do it right, it’s a lot of work. Take how much work you think it is and then multiply it by a factor of ten. So ask for help, early and often! The best thing I ever did was to start talking to other poets and writers in my network and ask them for help. They were so generous with their time, talent, ideas, and wise advice and I am forever in their debt. 

Special thanks to Francesca Bell, Noah Blaustein, Elena Karina Byrne, Victoria Chang, Grant Hier, Garrett Hongo, Sarah Maclay, Christopher Merrill, Eric Morago, Kathryn Nuernberger, Victoria Patterson, Mary Jane White, and Tom Zoellner. You guys are simply the best! I also could not have done it without my Spotlight Series partner, the LCAD Gallery, and the gallery manager, the kind, generous and resourceful Bryan Heggie. The Laguna Beach Library was also a welcoming partner to several events, including the Laguna Beach Literary Festival. My warmest thanks to all.


Kate Buckley’s essays, poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in variety of prestigious literary journals and she has won many awards including a Gabehart Prize for Imaginative Writing (poetry) and North American Review’s James Hearst Poetry Prize, selected by Molly Peacock. 

Kate studied at Transylvania University and the University of Kentucky where she earned a BA in Advertising, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. She is the Founder and CEO of Buckley Media Group, and an active volunteer in her community.

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