Life in Statues
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With a quaint and tranquil environment, La Casa de Maria was a fitting setting for the poetry reading “Lives of Statues” on the evening of Sunday, September 10th. An interfaith sanctuary originally founded by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, La Casa de Maria has opened its gates to retreats, conferences, workshops, and individual time for spiritual renewal over the years.
Hosted by Santa Barbara’s current Poet Laureate, Enid Osborn, “Lives of Statues” featured two of the city’s past Poet Laureates, including David Starkey (2009-2011) and Westmont’s own Dr. Paul Willis (2011-13). The reading, emceed by local poet, writer, and artist Linda Saccoccio, reflected on the presence, beauty, and importance of statues in nature, history, and art. As Linda Saccoccio stated in her introduction to the night, “statues exist [...] and have lives of their own.”
David Starkey, Santa Barbara’s 2009-2011 Poet Laureate, director of the Santa Barbara Community College Creative Writing program, and co-editor and publisher of Gunpowder Press, began by reading his own poem “Sacred Figures,” which was written in response to the Jolika Collection of New Guinea Art at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Vivid descriptions of Starkey’s encounters with the figures of the exhibit continued throughout both his original works in response to a recent visit to Rome and through four selected readings from other authors. David Starkey closed his portion with two original poems which reflected on current issues of race and history. Specifically relevant, his final poem, “Death of a Confederate Soldier” depicted the tearing down of a confederate soldier statue.
Dr. Paul Willis, professor of English at Westmont College and Santa Barbara’s 2011-2013 Poet Laureate, followed with a selection of original poems and Shakespearean sonnets. His first piece of the evening, fittingly titled “The Virgin and the Museum of Natural History,” was written in dedication to the Museum of Natural History about the statue of the Virgin Mary. Following this piece, Dr. Willis transitioned to nature-oriented poems featuring motifs of statues which he observed in various organic environments, including a piece on the local landmark of “Lizard’s Mouth,” and a reflection piece inspired by experiences during his sabbatical as the artist-in-residence at North Cascades National Park. Towards the close of his segment, Dr. Willis also read Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 55.” Westmont student William Ellzey warmly received the sonnet as his favorite moment from the evening: “It was so refreshing to hear the wisdom of a previous master of the art, along with hearing modern voices on the same topic,” William stated.
Finally, the evening closed with Enid Osborn herself reading her work “A Milagro is Not a Coin,” inspired by her time observing the statuary in a cathedral in central Mexico. When asked about her inspiration for the reading’s theme, Enid Osborn replied, “ I have always liked the idea that statues have lives of their own. I was working on the poem, ‘A Milagro Is Not a Coin,’ about the talking statue San Martin de Porres in Guanajuato. I have also completed a few other poems featuring statues.”
The final poem of the night titled, “The One-Handed Mary” was inspired by Enid Osborn’s time serving at La Casa de Maria and her appreciation for the statuary spread across the grounds. Halfway through the final poem, technical difficulties struck and the sound system cut out. The fans in the room were switched off to eliminate white noise so that Enid Osborn could read away from the microphone and be heard by the audience, creating a serene and intimate close to the evening as a whole.
“Lives of Statues,” was in the words of Enid Osborn: “ unique in my experience. There is something about a good theme that brings together the best and most surprising combinations of original work and our collected works of others. I am partial to themed readings and hope to put on a few of them each year.” This event will be followed by more readings featuring both original works by local writers and favorite selected poems. The schedule for upcoming readings can be found at sbpoetry.net.