Monday, March 14, 2022

Pamela Shea Passes the Laurels to ST 10th Poet Laureate Alice Pero on April 9, 2022


       What: "Passing of the Laurels" Ceremony for Alice Pero 

       When: Saturday, April 9, 2022 1:00 – 4:00 pm

       Where: Dayton Sculpture Garden,  10755 Art Street, Sunland 91040

Post by Maja Trochimczyk including material from two articles by Joe DeCenzo

On April 9, 2022, writer, teacher and musician Alice Pero will be inducted as Sunland-Tujunga’s new Poet Laureate.  The ceremony known as the “Passing of the Laurels” honors a writer of distinguished class and distinct voice who has displayed love and admiration for their local area.  The “laurels” refer to the honorary wreath awarded to ancient Greek poets and heroes for their achievements. The "Passing" will be conducted by 9th Poet Laureate Pamela Shea (2017-2020).  

The Sunland-Tujunga Poet Laureate program was established in 1999 to honor the legacy of John Steven McGroarty who served as California State poet laureate form 1933-44.  He was a poet, playwright and author who, for 40 years penned a column for the Los Angeles Times titled "Seen From The Green Verdugo Hills."  His former home at 7570 McGroarty Terrace in Tujunga was donated to the City of Los Angeles and now serves as the local Arts Center.  It is managed by the Department of Cultural Affairs and has been closed to the public since March of 2020 due to the pandemic and remains closed pending the lifting of all COVID-19 restrictions.

Ms. Pero was actually elected to her new post in 2020, but her official induction has been postponed on several occasions as a result of county health mandates.  While the McGroarty Arts Center, the customary host of the “Passing of the Laurels” ceremony, is unavailable, the former home of late artist and sculptor Wendell Dayton will open its gates to the public for this prestigious event.  It’s a recognizable and lovely location surrounded by an outdoor sculptor garden in the Shadow Hills section of Sunland.  


As a poet, Ms. Pero began giving public readings of her work in 1984.  She has performed her work in dozens of venues in New York State, Austin and Los Angeles.  For more than 15 years Alice Pero has called Sunland-Tujunga home.  “I have absorbed the spirit of the desert wash, the plants, animals and birds and they have all become part of my poetry.”  When further asked what she finds unique about the foothill surroundings, Ms. Pero said “Unlike the crowed rush of the cities I have lived in, there is space and a connection to living things here.”  Not all are familiar with the title of Poet Laureate or what they do for a community.  Ms. Pero explains, “A poet feels the pulse of the city, the people and all of nature.  The program elevates the cultural level of the people it serves and honors the poet who has the traditional role of lifting hearts and soothing souls.”

Ms. Pero’s poetry has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies including National Poetry Review, California Quarterly, We Are Here, Coiled Serpent and Altadena Poetry Review.  Her first book of poetry Thawed Stars was praised by renowned poet Kenneth Koch as having “clarity and surprises.”  She is the founder of the Windsong Players Chamber Ensemble and the ongoing poetry reading series “Moonday” which, since 2002, has featured published poets on both East and West sides of Los Angeles including a nine-year run at the Flintridge Bookstore in La CaƱada.  

As a member of California Poets in the Schools, she is committed to the creative development of children.  “For years I worked in inner city schools as a volunteer tutor and poetry workshop leader with mostly Hispanic children in South Central L.A. as well as the underserved areas of Brooklyn and Staten Island, NY,” says Ms. Pero.  When speaking of her mission as new Sunland-Tujunga Poet Laureate she confidently states “Awakening the creative spirit in children of all races and ethnicities is paramount as these children are our future.”

Despite being held in the “on-deck circle,” Ms. Pero who is not one to languish continues to promote poetry and literacy through Zoom meetings, continued publications and the founding of a Poet-In-Residence program at Fair Oaks Academy.  She is eager to begin her term of service as Sunland-Tujunga Poet Laureate as restrictions for gatherings are lifted.  “It’ll be wonderful to once again have live readings and workshops in libraries and schools,” exclaims Ms. Pero.  “Sunland-Tujunga is unique having nurtured a poet laureate program for 20 years.  What other municipality can boast of this?”

Since 2020 Ms. Pero has served on the board of the California State Poetry Society as Chair of Monthly Poetry Contests.  In addition to Thawed Stars, she published a poetic dialogue with Elsa Frausto dedicated to Sunland Park. Her newest book, Beyond Birds and Answers, written as a dialogue with New York artist Vera Campion, has been featured in two reviews in the Poetry Letter no. 4, 2021, by Toti O'Brien and Neal Leadbeater.

You can find out more about Alice Pero's views on poetry, music, and creativity in the interview published on the Shoutout LA website:

Wendell Dayton walking through his sculpture garden.


The Wendell Dayton Sculpture Garden is a private cultural site in development honoring the work and memory of American sculptor Wendell Dayton (1938-2019) and located in Sunland on Art Street. Dayton was a local artist who created sculpture for six decades and gained critical acclaim at the age of 80, when his rich oeuvre was celebrated by major galleries, institutions (including LACMA), and the arts media.  The site is managed by the Wendell Dayton Foundation and plans for exhibition and performance spaces are in progress.

One of the sculptures, orange and oak trees seen from Art Street.


Article by Joe DeCenzo

 Writer Pamela Shea is nearing the end of her term of service as Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga.  For her last official act, she will provide a public reading of some of her cherished work on April 9, 2022, where she will place the laurel wreath on the head of newly elected laureate Alice Pero.  

Ms. Shea was raised in the foothills community of La Crescenta and studied at the University of Redlands.  She later moved to Sunland and proudly raised three children while drawing inspiration from nature that surrounds the area.  The triumph and strife of relationships and family were the fuel that “ignited her pen” while she developed her writing en route to her election as 9th poet laureate of Sunland-Tujunga in 2017.

Village Poets with Pamela Shea at her "Passing of the Laurels" ceremony in 2017. Elsa Frausto, Dorothy Skiles, Marlene Hitt, Joe DeCenzo, Pamela Shea and Dr. Maja Trochimczyk

As Poet Laureate, she was committed to “taking poetry to the people” at many venues in and around the foothills community.  In 2017, she honored the firefighters, volunteers and staff of the McGroarty Arts Center whose grounds and structures were threatened by the “La Tuna” fire that consumed 7,194 acres of the Verdugo Mountains.  Being featured by the Windsong Players Chamber Ensemble was one of her fondest and most exciting memories.  They accompanied her with dulcet music while the California Contemporary Ballet performed a captivating dance.  

During her term, she helped coordinate and participated in the Gathering of California’s Poets Laureate in 2018 hosted by then California State poet laureate Dana Gioia.  The event held at the McGroarty Arts Center assembled 63 current and former poets laureate from dozens of regions around the state. Near to her heart, in 2019, she was among the presenters at the Sunland-Tujunga library when they celebrated the life of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Friend of the Tuskegee Airmen on his 99th birthday. During her term, she published poetry in California Quarterly, Altadena Review, Spectrum and other poetry journals and sites.  Her biography and several poems are also included in We Are Here: Village Poets Anthology edited by Dr. Maja Trochimczyk and Marlene Hitt to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Village Poets Monthly Readings. 

The title of poet laureate dates to ancient Greece when a laurel was used to form a crown of honor for poets and heroes.  The mantle is bestowed on a writer who exhibits excellence in their craft with a body of work that brings insights and perspective to the human experience as well as emphasizing a love for the local area they represent.  Serving as 9th Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga “was a dream come true for me,” says Ms. Shea.  “It gave me confidence to expand my poetic style and submit my work for publication.”  Community service is inherent in the post.  The poet laureate is often asked to speak at public events or provide a dedication during auspicious moments. 

“I was proud to represent Sunland-Tujunga before the Los Angeles City Council and thrilled to write poems for the McGroarty Arts Center, Bolton Hall Museum and Verdugo Hills YMCA.”  Her most emotional memory came in January of 2020 when she stood before the 150 year old oak tree at Sunland-Tujunga branch library and eulogized it on the eve of its removal.  Steeped in the history of generations who enjoyed the beauty and shade of its sprawling bower, her poem spoke of its life and hope for the three small Coast Live Oaks that were planted in its place.

View of Sunland-Tujunga from the Big Tujunga Wash, 
photo by Maja Trochimczyk


The photos below were mostly taken by exceptionally talented Irene Kalents, some snapshots are from Facebook posts by Thelma Reyna and Maja Trochimczyk, taken by Izabella Zuralski and others.