THE EL SEGUNDO QUARTET
The El Segundo Scene (TESS) was established in February 2018 as a small local guide to local artistic activities. No longer small, it now produces more than 10,000 copies monthly, delivering free to homes as well as key public collection hubs across the entire south bay area of Los Angeles, including Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Westchester, Marina del Rey.
Since Amanda Gorman's poetic contribution to the US presidential inauguration in 2021, there has been a raising of the profile of poetry in the US. It gave TESS the confidence to act on something they had been thinking about for over a year: a poet laureate. Since I knew TESS co-founders, I was asked to undertake the work and, in March 2021, I was published as their first Poet Laureate, a poet whose work generally commemorates place, people and events.
I have chosen to celebrate the area through 12 instalments of a narrative poem - using Water, Earth, Air and Fire as the framework. The style is reminiscent of Longfellow and my hope is that adults and children alike will be able to enjoy it. The parts appear here as they are sent to the magazine.
photo couresty of Songbird part of Creative Commons
Before us, and the Mariposa Blue*,
Before liquid trees, human commotion,
Before great machines took off and flew,
There was the sea, the wild, wild ocean.
Boiling once, it carved its bed,
Unseen it pacified, knew sleep,
We - barely hatched - dared its dread,
Fed off its might, the risky deep.
Ahead of those here on the shore,
The Tongva** stood, perhaps hands to brow,
Scanning sunset hues for more,
A mortal bridge from then to now.
*The Mariposa Blue is a local name for the El Segundo Blue Butterly (Euphilotes battoides allynia) an endangered blue butterfly unique to El Segundo. ** The Tongva are an extinct indigenous tribe of people native to California
The La Brea Tar Pits photo couresty of Kimon Berlin,
Before us, and the California trails,
Before us, sea views to Appalachia,
Before birds, mammals, flies or snails,
Is Laramidia, uncarved by glacier.
In a golden state, with double shore,
Grazes the gentle Augustynolophus.
Comes then the ice, at last the thaw,
Dire wolves, sabred cats, predate us.
Now on this still fragile, moving land,
Where we brave our many homes,
We dance, undulating, on dunes of sand
Milled from the churning of rock and bones.
For EARTH Part 1 of the Quartet I was greatly helped by Kenneth Campbell, long-time scholar and academic associate of the La Brea Tarpits and Museum in Los Angeles. Without him, creatures, seas and land would have all been a misleading jumble. I thank him for his thoughtfulness in taking on a poet and using science to guide her way. Any mistakes are my own.
Before us, the white crowned sparrow views
A dawn Pleistocene horizon.
Before us, he rides on thermal spew,
Volcanic jets of vapour rising.
Amid rabbitbrush, the zephyrs tease,
Glad gusts snag the juniper.
Weed-rot, still bogs, perfume the breeze,
Not sloth, nor cat, nor wolf dare stir.
Above Teratornis meets the sky,
She, shared forbear of a condor son.
Her wings beat a lonely lullaby
For a world whose day is almost done.
During the research for this stanza of The Quartet, I came across an article by the great conservationist Rich Stallcup where he wrote of a Californian prehistoric dawn scene. This verse honours him and the distant past he evoked so well.
I tried to make contact with Mr Stallcup but was too late. He died in 2012. I was, however, fortunate to meet Melissa Pitkin from the former Point Reyes Bird Observatory, now Point Blue Conservation, who then put me in touch with Moe Flannery and Christine Garcia at the California Academy of Sciences. Such are the wonders of the Internet and the willingness of these three women to answer my questions! I am grateful for their time.
Any mistakes are my own.
Here you can see Kevin Beaudin, Erik Krenz and Jim Burt hard at work in clay at the Blue Rhino studios in Eagan, Minnesota in the USA, creating a life-size sculpture of the Teratornis. Artisans fashion the materials, artists envisage the end-product and engineers ensure the underlying structure is sound, Their life-size exhibits appear in collections worldwide. See how the Teratornis compares in size to a human being, and also how unexpectedly relevant they remain. They are a window into our prehistoric past, yet, in the present, they also provide us with flights of imagination, opportunities for artistry, and a platform for specialised employment. Photo is used by kind permission of Tim Quady at Blue Rhino.