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A warm welcome to Monterey County’s first poet laureate.

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Summerhill portrait

Daniel Summerhill poses for a portrait at CSUMB in Seaside, Fri., April 2, 2021.

Aga Popęda here with even more poetry—based on all the emails I received yesterday, we have quite a few poetry lovers here in the county. With our hospitals filling up with more Covid patients, and our health service staff as overwhelmed as a year ago, we are all looking for good news and words of inspiration.

So here’s some good news: Monterey County has named its first poet laureate. The announcement was made by the Board of Supervisors today with a resolution “honoring Daniel B. Summerhill as the first recipient of the Monterey County Poet Laureate by the Arts Council for Monterey County.”

“The mission of the Poet Laureate is to elevate poetry in the awareness of Monterey County residents and to help celebrate the literary arts, serve as an advocate for poetry, literature, and the arts, lead a community project that makes poetry more accessible; and contribute to Monterey County’s poetry and literary legacy,” the resolution states.

Summerhill is a poet, spoken word artist and Assistant Professor of Poetry/Social Action and Composition at California State University Monterey Bay. He graduated from Pine Manor College in Boston with a major in creative writing and attended the New York State Writers Institute Scholar at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. He has a grant from the Community Foundation for Monterey County to pursue a literary arts endeavor with the objectives of preserving Black history in the Monterey area, fostering youth research and creative writing skills and leveraging art as a means of building community. 

The author of two books of poetry, Divine, Divine, Divine, (Nomadic Press, 2021) and the upcoming Mausoleum of Flowers (CavanKerry Press, 2022—you can preorder now; it will be published April 5), Summerhill moved to Monterey in 2019. Originally from the Bay Area, he is happy to be back in California. “I have two homes now,” he says. Summerhill chose CSUMB when applying for professorship because its creative writing program includes a civic action component (and is the only department in the nation to do so). 

Summerhill’s job as Poet Laureate will be to “elevate the exposure, participation and celebration of poetry in Monterey County through the lens of the people;” his term will last two years. “It’s a very ambitious outlook,” he says of the mission he is entrusted with. “I know that people here already have poetry and stories. I don’t need to expose them to poetry, but to help provide a platform for their voices to be heard.” In terms of concrete plans, the county’s first poet laureate is thinking of making an anthology of local poetry to be published in print, but also to be recorded as oral poetry.

“I think of poetry as chronicling and an inspiration for social action,” Summerhill says. His favorite writer is James Baldwin and he quotes Baldwin during our conversation, emphasizing the diversity of Monterey County. The legendary quote goes like this: “Every white person in this country—and I do not care what he or she says—knows one thing. They may not know, as they put, ‘what I want’, but they know they would not like to be black here. If they know that, then they know everything they need to know, and whatever else they say is a lie.”

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