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An Interview of Melinda Palacio, Current Santa Barbara Poet Laureate

Updated: Apr 15

by Lida Sideris

Poet Laureate Melinda Palacio's poetry was recently featured in Volume 10 of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal as part of the Poets Laureate section of poetry.

Lida Sedaris: You have been Poet Laureate for a year now. Has it changed the way you write poetry?

Melinda Palacio: Being the current Poet Laureate hasn’t changed the way I write, but I think I am always evolving as a person and a poet. 

Lida: You once said that “Santa Barbara is the city that made me a poet.” Tell us about how that came to be.

Melinda: Santa Barbara is where I gained my poetic license, a literal certificate thanks to the city’s second Poet Laureate, Perie Longo. When I arrived in Santa Barbara twenty years ago, I was a journalist with a background in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley, (undergrad) and UC Santa Cruz (graduate school). I had an appreciation of poetry but didn’t see myself as a poet until I started taking advantage of the many poetry workshops and readings in town. I treasured the poetic license that Perie gave me in her class. Sure, she gave one to all her students, but she also awarded me First Prize in poetry at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference twenty years ago. It gave me the confidence to start entering my poems in contests and in journals and anthologies. I wouldn’t be the poet I am had I not moved to Santa Barbara and joined our wonderful poetry community. Santa Barbara inspired me to write about the beauty of our town and to revisit key moments in my childhood that made me the poet I am today, the Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara. 

Lida: Lee Herrick, California’s Poet Laureate, once said, “Melinda Palacio’s poems…examine human behavior and relationships with wisdom and grace.” Is that your objective when writing poetry?

Melinda: I am honored that Lee Herrick has endorsed my poetry and says I examine human behavior with wisdom and grace. You asked if that is my objective. I try not to come to writing with an agenda, but rather let the poem decide on its mood and form. In this set of poems, you will see that sometimes poems need to set aside wisdom and grace, especially when responding to social justice issues and taking a stance or risks with writing.

Yes, I write in many different genres, including fiction, nonfiction, journalism, and song writing. Each discipline is very different, but I usually know after the first draft whether I am in for a longer novel or a poem. I enjoy the satisfaction of writing a poem. A whole world can be captured in a sonnet. 

Lida and Melinda teach a publishing & marketing workshop together at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. See more here.

Lida Sideris’ first stint after law school was a newbie lawyer’s dream: working as an entertainment attorney for a movie studio…kind of like her heroine, Corrie Locke, except without the homicides. Lida is a recipient of the Helen McCloy Mystery Writers of America Scholarship award and a Killer Nashville, Silver Falchion Award Finalist for her last two books, which were both selected top mysteries of the year by Kings River Life Magazine. She lives in the northern tip of Southern California with her family, rescue dogs, and a flock of uppity chickens.

Melinda Palacio is an award-winning poet, author, and speaker. She is the Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara. Born and raised in South-Central Los Angeles, she currently lives Santa Barbara. She holds two degrees in Comparative Literature, a BA from the University of California, Berkeley and an MA from UC Santa Cruz. She is a 2007 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow and a 2009 poetry alum of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Melinda’s latest poetry collection is Bird Forgiveness, 3Taos Press in 2018.

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