Monday, March 16, 2020

Alice Pero Named the Tenth Poet Laureate of Sunland Tujunga

Ms. Alice Pero, an eminent California poet, flutist, poetry teacher and cultural activist, has been named the Tenth Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga for the years 2020-2022. Ms. Pero was selected for her role by a ten-person Poetry and Literature Committee, convened by Village Poets, a local voluntary group presenting poetry readings at Bolton Hall Museum in Tujunga. The Committee consisted of Chair, Joe DeCenzo, the Fourth Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga, and of other Village Poets of Sunland Tujunga, all former Poets Laureate – Dorothy Skiles, Marlene Hitt, Pamela Shea, Elsa Frausto, and Dr. Maja Trochimczyk. The Village Poets were joined by invited representatives of local organizations: Ms. Liliana Sanchez, President of Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council, Mr. Ardem Tajerian, Senior Librarian, Sunland Tujunga Branch Library, and Ms. Laurell Gells, Executive Director of the McGroarty Arts Center. The applicants submitted poems, biographic notes, and plans for their term of service; they participated in an in-person interview at the Bolton Hall Museum in Tujunga.

In their congratulatory letter, the Committee stated that Ms. Pero’s poetry “is truly accessible, emotional and relatable to many.  Her love and appreciation of Sunland-Tujunga is prevalent throughout her work.  Her sensitivity and skill as a poet and viable plan to foster the poetic creativity of the youth in our community have set her apart as the person most qualified to express in verse the life and hopes and aspirations of the people of Sunland-Tujunga.” Ms. Pero will start her service on April 26, 2020 and the official Passing of the Laurels Ceremony will take place this summer at the McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga.

Alice Pero’s poetry has been published in magazines and anthologies including Nimrod, National Poetry Review, River Oak Review, Poet Lore, The Alembic, North Dakota Quarterly, The Distillery, Fox Cry Review, The Griffin, and G.W. Review, California Quarterly, Coiled Serpent, Wide Awake, Altadena Poetry Review, and many others. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Altadena Poetry Review and California Quarterly. Her book of poetry, Thawed Stars, was praised by renowned poet, Kenneth Koch, as having “clarity and surprises.” In 2017 Shabda Press published a book of poems, Sunland Park Poems, written in Sunland Park by herself and former Sunland/Tujunga Poet Laureate, Elsa Frausto. The book also features photographs Pero took in the park.

Alice Pero and Maja Trochimczyk after a Windsong concert
with Maja as Featured Poet, 2017.

Pero is a teacher of poetry to children in schools for 29 years and a member of California Poets in the Schools. She is the founder of the reading series, "Moonday", ongoing in the Los Angeles area since 2002 and now located in Sunland. An accomplished flutist and former dancer, she created the performing group, "Windsong Players Chamber Ensemble" in 2015 which gives concerts regularly around the Southland. Pero continues to teach poetry to children throughout the Los Angeles area with a current residency at the Delphi Academy in Lake View Terrace. 

Pero lives on the edge of a Southland desert wash with her husband, Dennis, a pastoral counsellor, and she is the mother of two and grandmother of five.  She frequently takes her five year old grandson on walks in the desert wash in back of her house in Sunland, and he has developed a profound interest in nature, the local flora and fauna, particularly the bees that flourish on her very large rosemary bush.

Dorothy Skiles reads at McGroarty Arts Center, April 2012

The Passing of the Laurels ceremony, the tenth such event in 20 years was planned for April 26, 2020, but is now postponed to another date. It will be held at the McGroarty Arts Center (7570 McGroarty Terrace, Tujunga, CA 91042) as a celebration of poetry and the community.  The wreath of green olive leaves (olive for the oil of wisdom and spiritual inspiration, rather than laurel for fame) will be passed to Ms. Pero by the Ninth Poet Laureate, Pamela Shea, (2017-2020). The event, free and open to the public, will include music performances, presentation of honorary diplomas, and poetry readings by both the outgoing and in-coming Poets Laureate.

Pamela Shea (L) with Joe DeCenzo and Elsa S. Frausto, April 2017

Pamela Shea served as the Ninth Poet Laureate since April 2017. During her term as Poet Laureate, she has especially enjoyed writing poems for specific community events. A particularly meaningful event for her was honoring the volunteers and staff who fought the La Tuna Fire and saved the McGroarty Arts Center during the September 2017 fire.

Pamela Shea, photo by Meridyth MacDonald

Ms. Shea has also written for many events at the Sunland-Tujunga Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library; she particularly treasures the time when she wrote a special poem that she read at the library’s Celebration Honoring African American History Month, featuring Lt. Col. Robert Friend, one of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen. Another memorable event was reading her tribute poem for the Coast Live Oak Tree Celebration at the library in January 2020.

Ms. Shea dressed up as a Cat in the Hat reads to kids at LA Library, 2020

A city-wide event in which Pam participated was the NoHo Lit Crawl in October 2019, where she was part of the First Poet Laureate Parade. Through the L.A. Public Library, she contributed to the “Can We Get Your Autograph?” as well as the NEA Big Read events. She read at a meeting of SHPOA (Shadow Hills Property Owners Association) and participated in the 2018 Gathering of California’s Poets Laureate at McGroarty Arts Center hosted by Dana Gioia, California State Poet Laureate. In December 2019, Pam read a poem before the Los Angeles City Council in support of saving La Tuna Canyon as a historical and recreational site. During her term as Poet Laureate term she has achieved her goal in being published in a number of poetry journals and anthologies, such as the California Quarterly, the Altadena Poetry Review, and Spectrum. She looks forward to having a book of her poetry published soon.

McGroarty Arts Center with Commemorative plaque

The Poet Laureate Program was initiated in 1999 by local cultural activists as a tribute to John Steven and Ida McGroarty, who used their home as a gathering place for prominent town citizens to enjoy cultural and fund raising events. The McGroartys were the town’s most famous citizens. John Steven McGroarty (1862-1944) served as the California Poet Laureate from 1933-1944.  A man of many talents, he was known as a poet, journalist, congressman (1935-39), columnist, publisher, historian, playwright, and community activist.

The Assembly Proclamation declaring McGroarty Poet Laureate of California, 1933

McGroarty published several volumes of poetry, memoirs, and non-fiction. He wrote The Mission Play staged annually at Easter, and had a weekly column in the Los Angeles Times.  The reading of one of his poems, “Just California”, was required by all California elementary school students. The McGroartys donated their estate to the City of Los Angeles to serve as a cultural center for the local community.

Joe DeCenzo speaks to the audience, Passing of the Laurels, April 2017

In 2018, his memory was honored by Dana Gioia, then Poet Laureate of California, with the Gathering of Poets Laureate held at the McGroarty Arts Center – over 60 current and past Poets Laureate participated from the entire state, enjoying workshops and public readings, recorded by the California Arts Council, one of the sponsors of this worthwhile event.

Village Poets: L to R: Elsa Frausto, Dorothy Skiles, Marlene Hitt, 
Joe DeCenzo, Pamela Shea and dr Maja Trochimczyk

Mr. McGroarty’s involvement in the local community served as a model for future Poets Laureate that, so far, included: Marlene Hitt, 1999-2001; Katerina Canyon, 2001-2004; Joe DeCenzo, 2004-2006; Ursula T. Gibson, 2006-2008; Damien Stednitz, 2008-2010; Maja Trochimczyk, 2010-2012; Dorothy Skiles, 2012-2014; Elsa S. Frausto, 2014-2017; and Pamela Shea, 2017-2020.

Dr. Maja Trochimczyk with Joe DeCenzo, April 2010.

More information about the Poet-Laureate Program and former Poets Laureate is on the group’s website: Descriptions of past Passing-of-the-Laurels ceremonies may be found on the group’s blog, maintained by Dr. Maja Trochimczyk,

Village Poets with L.A. Poet Laureate Luis Rodriguez, L-R Dorothy Skiles, 
Marlene Hitt, Joe DeCenzo, L. Rodriguez, Maja Trochimczyk