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Amid crisis, San Francisco poet laureate curates daily inspiration

San Franciscans seeking daily inspiration during shelter-in-place need look no further than the SF Public Library.

Every day during shelter-in-place, San Francisco poet laureate Kim Shuck, the seventh person to hold the title, publishes a poem by one of her favorite Bay Area poets. A full archive of the project, which began in May, is available on the library's website.

Shuck personally invites work from poets she wants to feature, including former laureates Alejandro Murguía and Devorah Major. The authors come from varied backgrounds, including indigenous writers, like Paula Gunn Allen, and youth poets, like Greer Nakadegawa Lee.

“If you look into who they are," she says, "what I’m curating features an eclectic cross section of the community.” 

The project began when Shuck started posting a poem a day on her Facebook page when the city shut down in March. Michelle Jeffers, SF Public Library’s chief of community programs and partnerships, encouraged Shuck to bring the project to the library’s website.

“In these difficult times, I truly believe we need the arts — poetry, music, literature, and art — more than ever,” Jeffers says. “The daily poems are a balm to my heart.”

The project is slated to continue throughout the pandemic. That open-ended timeline doesn’t faze Shuck.

“Fortunately, I have a 600-poet list to choose from,” she says. “The Bay Area poetry community is a deep bench.”

Appointed by the late Mayor Edwin Lee, Shuck is nearly at the end of her third year in what was meant to be a two-year term as laureate.

The nomination form for the city's next poet laureate is now online, inviting San Franciscans to put forth nominations. Shuck will continue to serve until a replacement is identified, but she said she thinks that may take a while.

“I’m gonna float an idea that I don’t think is too outrageous, which is that I don’t believe the poet laureate is everyone’s first priority right now,” Shuck says. “The cool part for the city is that we have so many good choices, and that is awesome.”

She calls serving as poet laureate “more of a responsibility than an honor,” noting that she embraces the duties of the role by cramming her calendar full of engagements and events. Before the pandemic, she was giving an average of 20 in-person readings every month. One month, she did a total of 48. (For now, her readings are virtual.)

“I have given it my absolute best shot,” she says. “And I think people know that I would like a nap.”

June 12 poem, "as storms gather" by former San Francisco poet laureate Devorah Major | Image: Courtesy SF Public Library
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