LA poet laureate Lynne Thompson on the ‘kernels of poems’ inside all of us

By Kathryn Barnes

Lynne Thompson is LA’s 2021 poet laureate. The program is a partnership between the Department of Cultural Affairs and the LA Public Library that aims to enhance the city’s appreciation of the literary arts and reach people who have limited exposure to creative writing. 

A native Angeleno, Thompson says the city informs the way she writes.

“[LA] neighborhoods are so unique in their configuration, and how they fit into the city as a whole,” she says. “That has really affected how I might approach a particular topic, whether I'm in the northeastern part of the city, or the southwestern part of the city, in the ocean, or near the mountains, that all comes into play, almost always, in my poems.”

During her term as poet laureate, she plans to develop a project that gets middle and high school students writing about what makes their neighborhoods unique and iconic to them. 

“Maybe an icon to me would be the Hollywood Bowl, but to a 15 year old, something else is,” she says. “So I really want to get them engaged in thinking about what makes their city their city, what they like about it, what they don't like about it, what they want to preserve, and what they've been sorry to see go.”

She has also launched a podcast with the LA Public Library called Poems on Air, where each week she reads someone else’s poem. 

Here’s one of her own:

Los Volcanes de Brea

Micro-fossils: primordial woods, insects, mollusks, 

seeds, and pollen grains. Covering the asphaltum: 

dust, leaves, waters, old bones that darken the pit.

Rancho La Brea, once a salt mine, now Hancock Park, 

is mired with the remains of tens of thousands of years. 

Found during one expedition, 1769, led by Sr. Portola,

dire wolves, saber-toothed cats, pill bugs trapped in 

tar geysers issuing from land-like springs. Magpies, 

garter snakes, mammoths, scimitar cats. Well-kept,

trace of the La Brea woman (who probably suffered 

a violent death at eighteen or twenty) ritually interred 

with dog. Also found: falcons, ragweed, one Andalusian.

— By Lynne Thompson, previously published in Moria Online, December, 2017