Among the duties of a poet laureates in California are to write an ode to their respective cities.
So in keeping with that charge, Ron Koertge, who holds the distinguished role in South Pasadena, has written one for the place he calls home.
“There’s no off the rack ode that fits every city,” explained Koertge, who met with about 60 poet laureates in the state at a recent gathering to exchange information. Among the topics was the importance of each poet laureate represented to write an ode.
And key to a writing a successful one, pointed out Koertge, are that the words must absolutely capture what the city is all about.
So, in pursuit of writing the perfect ode, he worked with the local media, inquiring from readers in both online and print newspapers what they liked about the town they reside, including “where you like to walk, where you like to bike, where do you eat, where do you loaf, where do you picnic, where do you take your kids?” he asked as part of his curious nature.
About 20 to 25 responses from citizens came Koertge’s way, and he tried to include them in his Ode to South Pasadena, which he read last week to the local City Council and audience members at the regularly scheduled March 20 meeting at City Hall.
“They asked me to include the parrots, they asked me to include the coyotes, they asked me to include the Gold Line [light rail system,” he explained, telling the council about the answers received from the public.
“I could do most of those things,” Koertge said, considering all suggestions for the city’s ode.
His favorite idea came in the form of a picture of a lawn sign with five words he worked into the end of the ode: “Hate has no room here.”
Koertge, a nationally acclaimed writer, like others, knows it won’t and never will.
Some say there’s no one better to represent the city as its poet laureate. Koertge is the author of many celebrated novels, including “Stoner & Spaz,” “Strays,” and “The Brimstone Journals” – all American Library Association (ALA) Best Books for Young Adults. He is also a two-time winner of the PEN Literary Award for Children’s Literature. An adaptation of his 2014 poem “Negative Space” was nominated for Best Animated Short at the 2018 Academy Awards.
Following the reading of the Ode to the South Pasadena City Council, Koertge and his wife, Bianca Richards, the past president of WISPPA, Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Activism, presented the City Council with a framed copy of the message. It will be hung at a yet to be determined location at South Pasadena City Hall, where the public will have an opportunity to appreciate it.
“It’s a beautiful piece, thank you so much,” said South Pasadena City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe.
Added, City Councilmember Diana Mahmud, “Thank you to Ron and Bianca. You are so generous with your time, but to have it framed for the city is really appreciated.”
The following is Koertge’s Ode to South Pasadena:
Ode to South Pasadena
By Ron Koertge
South Pasadena Poet Laureate
Water made the orange groves possible though all that remains now is
the name of a boulevard that celebrates them just as Mission Street
and El Centro celebrate the heritage of the city. Today kids in orange-and black
drink root beer floats at the Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda
Fountain as they flirt with their phones. Parents wait for a table at Gus’s
Barbeque, and grandparents snap pictures of toddlers around the
enormous Moreton Bay Fig Tree by the library as they remember when they
were children grinning into their own fathers’ cameras. The Cawston
Ostrich Farm is just a memory but the Dinosaur Farm opens at ten a.m.
Waiting on the shelves at Vidéothèque are films that debuted at the
Rialto Theater in 1925. Hollywood has a second home here, transforming
parts of the city into Indiana or Massachusetts. Then crews dismantle
everything the next day, leaving the neighborhood intact just as relentless
freeway fighters kept the city whole and undivided. Beauty is
everywhere in South Pasadena. Early morning light, yellow and mild like
a shawl that has been laundered a few times, falls across joggers and
commuters. It wakes the parrots that circle and squawk. Passengers on
the Gold Line put on their sunglasses. Just below Grand Avenue,
a pair of coyotes make their way back to the arroyo. As a truck bound for
Trader Joe’s rumbles by, they slide into some shrubbery and
disappear. On the lawn a sign says HATE HAS NO HOME HERE.
A house sparrow and a robin land and begin to sing.