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Salinas' poet makes art in the schools a priority

Marcos Cabrera, Art Beat Magazine (Monterey Herald), May 2013


Want an indication of the unifying power of Salinas Poet Laureate James B. Golden's work? Get a load of the effect that his poem, "Way to Salinas," had on the divided City Council, which appointed Golden as the city's first poet laureate."The first thing (Salinas Mayor Joe Gunther) said was, 'This is the first thing that the whole council has agreed on, ever,'" said Golden with a laugh, on the phone from Los Angeles.Golden, who was officially introduced in his new role April 27, will serve as the city's poet laureate until April 2015. He is scheduled to appear at the city's Youth Poet Laureate competition in June. The young poet has not yet been named, and announcement on date and location is pending.Golden said he plans to work closely with the city's youth poet laureate while also producing five to six programs during his tenure."


And wherever I go nationally, my intention is to call attention to Salinas and recognize it as a literary hub," he said.In 2012, Golden's book "Afro Clouds & Nappy Rain" won the NAACP Image Award for poetry. It was a huge accomplishment for the young writer, who graduated from North Salinas High School in 2003 and studied creative writing at CSU-Northridge.


Golden said he was especially moved by his award because in 2011, his favorite poet, Nikki Giovanni, had won the award."It was just a really out-of-body experience for me. It didn't hit me until about six months later that I had won," said Golden. "Once I started talking to my mentors in Salinas, like (North Salinas High School English teacher) Elizabeth Birkeland, then I started to understand the significance. I knew that (to go from being) a little black boy with big dreams who grew up in a small city, to get national attention for his poetry book, I could do anything."


Golden's poetry celebrates the contemporary experiences of young African-Americans while delving into both the poet's professional and personal life.As a big-city music and pop-culture writer, Golden's work references stories about current artists."On The Occasion Of Frank Ocean Coming Out," from his recent book "The Inside of an Orange," is a standing ovation for the R&B/hip-hop artist's revelation of a previous relationship with a man.The poem opens with the proud line "Hip Hop grew up today."


Other selections in the book include odes to Erykah Badu and the late Donna Summers and Whitney Houston."Afro Clouds & Nappy Rain" reveals personal experiences.The poem "I Took The Bones Out For You" is dedicated to a deceased aunt. It briefly references a memory of attending the Salinas carnival in 1993.


His next book, a collection of poems inspired by his home state of California, includes several references to Salinas.Among them is "Way to Salinas," which is narrated as a drive through the city, exploring the sights and landmarks that make it special.


"It highlights the very best of Salinas and talks about the people who migrated there. It talks about the Chinese immigrants there, it talks about the field workers who were there, and particularly, the landmarks in Salinas, like Roy's on North Main Street," said Golden. "I did a little tribute to the high schools and the churches."


James aimed for accessibility in writing a love letter to his hometown."I wanted the poem to be something that everyone could celebrate. Something that was classless, that was any age, any race, anybody from any religion could appreciate," he said. "Something that represented how universal the city is and how much of a melting pot it's become over the years."


Golden said he wants Salinas residents to understand that art is his life. Everything he experiences is released and channeled through art.He's concerned with the state of the arts, particularly poetry, in public schools. He plans to use his position to promote arts among youth and ensure music, creative writing and the like remain in place at public schools.


"It's important my life is an inspiration to other people. That's the reason I write, because I want to inspire other people," he said. "I believe everybody is creative and we need to keep that creativity flowing."


Follow Marcos Cabrera on Twitter at He can be reached at 646-4345 or at

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