Providing a unique and inspiring voice for Malibu, Malibu’s first Poet Laureate, Ricardo Means Ybarra, felt surprised, elated and honored when he was chosen for the post last March.
There is a wonderful group of art supporters in Malibu,” says Ybarra. “The idea is to enlarge the arts and cultural programming for the community, our children and ourselves. To be included in this group is such an honor.”
First proposed by Malibu resident Ann Bruxie, long-time coordinator of the community “Tales by the Sea” poetry and storytelling event, the Poet Laureate Program came to life with support from the Malibu Cultural Arts Commission and the Malibu City Council. The two-year term position includes a $1,000 stipend and requires the Poet Laureate to promote poetry in local classrooms and throughout the community.
Ybarra, a published author and teacher of poetry in the California Writers in the Schools program, was selected as Malibu’s Poet Laureate by a panel headed by Pepperdine University’s Creative Writing Department Chair Dr. John Struleoff, an Esteemed Writing Fellow of the National Endowment of the Arts and the Wallace Stegner Program at Stanford University.
Ybarra’s post takes him to local schools, where he enjoys sharing his love of poetry with students.
“Meeting students and other artists, not just poets,” are perks of Ybarra’s post he finds especially rewarding. “My ‘post’ speaks and honors all the arts and everyone involved because everyone has a creative spark,” adds the 6th generation Californian.
“I am very proud to be a 6th generation Californio on my Mexican Ybarra side of the family,” says Ybarra, who grew up in Echo Park/Silver Lake, which he describes as a “fascinating childhood and neighborhood.”
Ybarra, who started writing poems in his 30s, finds inspiration for his writing in relationships and everyday events. He says his favorite topics to write about are “things I don’t understand or know too well.”
Ybarra found a mentor in renowned SoCal poet Benjamin Saltman and names several poets among his favorites, including Neruda, Wanda Coleman, Sandra Cisneros, Uncle Walt and Wooi-chin J-son.
When it comes to offering advice for aspiring poets, Ybarra says keeping in mind that “not every poem works” is a good rule of thumb. And as for writer’s block?
“Love writer’s block,” he laughs.
As Poet Laureate, in addition to working with local students in classrooms at Point Dume Marine Science and Juan Cabrillo Elementary Schools, Ybarra has participated in several community events, including the annual Concert on the Bluffs, where he read his poem, “America” (see sidebar); the Go Fly a Kite poetry event celebrating the kites of Tyrus Wong at Malibu City Hall; and the Pizza Poems workshops featuring students’ poems on pizza boxes.
The community is invited to the monthly Poetry Open-Mic events at the Malibu Library and the upcoming Call to the Wall reading, an event featuring other poet laureates and emerging voices in May.
When he’s not writing poetry, Ybarra loves to surf, swim and walk his Dachshund, aka “7 lbs. of fury!”