His hands relentlessly hammer away at a keyboard as his adept fingers create art that cannot be equaled. Although he is not making music, his poetic writing lands as softly as meticulously chosen notes in a new concerto. He lives and breathes written and spoken verse, spreading not only his own art, but the art of his colleagues as well. He is the inaugural poet laureate of Clark County, Wash., and his name is Christopher Luna.
The Clark County Arts Commission created the position of poet laureate to acknowledge Luna’s work in building community and helping the public engage with poetry over the past decade. A poet laureate, it explains, may act as a cultural ambassador, compose poems for special events and occasions, and is generally expected to represent his or her community at events as a culture bearer.
“The main duty of a poet laureate,” the Commission says on its website, “is to promote the art of poetry and literature both within and without the community. In addition to being a poet of stature, the poet laureate has to be able to work with community, reflect on the experiences that define our diverse lives as residents of Washington … and feed the aesthetic education of the public about the power and magic of words.”
Luna’s term began on January 22, 2013, and will run through the end of 2014.
A Ridge native and 1995 graduate of St. Joseph’s College, Luna majored in film study for three years at SUNY Purchase College before finding himself drawn to SJC for its open-ended curriculum.
“I chose the College because they did not try to make me take any classes that did not interest me,” he says.
While at Long Island Campus, Luna pursued general studies in the College’s adult learning program and studied a plethora of different subjects, ranging from religion to photography and everything in between.
Throughout this time, he continued to pursue his true passion of creative writing. “I have been writing since I was 11,” he says. “I was initially inspired by Stephen King and John Irving, and attempted to write short stories that resembled The Twilight Zone or horror films.”
It was during his time as an SJC student that he became inspired to pursue an M.F.A. in writing and poetics. “I read Allen Ginsberg’s Collected Poems and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass,” he says, “and I haven’t wanted to do anything else since.” According to Luna, he was so inspired by these poets that he spent a week in 1994 at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colo., which was founded by Allen Ginsberg in 1974.
It was in Boulder that the young poet was afforded the chance to learn from his very source of inspiration: Ginsberg himself. “I spent a week learning from many of the people whose lives and work had inspired me” he says. “That week was enough to change everything, and I later applied to the M.F.A program.” He graduated in 1999.
So how did this young man from Long Island find himself so embraced by a community 3,000 miles away from his hometown? The journey was an extremely difficult one, Luna explains, as it led to a prolonged period of unemployment and personal and professional uncertainty, but the experience helped shape him as the person he is today. Luna cites his son, Angelo, as his saving grace, and says that he has since found happiness with fellow poet and visual artist Toni Partington, who he describes as “a true partner in life.”
Luna and Partington are co-founders of Printed Matter Vancouver, an organization that provides services to poets and writers including editing, coaching, workshops, manuscript layout, format and production. The couple plan to wed in July 2015.
In addition to holding the position of poet laureate, Luna teaches writing intensive workshops at Washington State University Vancouver, Clark College and Niche Wine and Art Bar. He is also the host of Ghost Town Poetry, a popular open-microphone poetry-reading series he founded in 2004, and co-editor of a collection of poems under the same title. The series is an outlet for artistic expression where other artists are able to share their creations in a safe and judgment-free atmosphere.
“My Ghost Town poems (published as a chapbook in 2008) were my way of dealing with being a stranger in a strange land,” Luna says. “We have a great community of writers, artists and musicians here who have managed to carve out a great scene while living in the shadow of Portland. As a Long Island native, I was quite familiar with the dynamic of trying to create in the shadow of a hipper city. This allowed me to help the poets in Vancouver learn to hold their heads high and not wait for validation from the other side of the river.”
“Christopher Luna has done an exemplary job as our first county poet laureate,” says Pat La Croix of the Clark County Arts Commission. “ He’s had the task of being the first, introducing the concept to teachers in the several school districts in this area. We chose Christopher as our first because of his reputation. He was already a force in the literary community with monthly poetry readings, teaching at the university, etc. This appointment broadened the scope of his influence and he has the potential to reach many more people in the county in the coming months.”
The poet says his favorite part of what he does now is helping to foster the artistic talent of others. “I love helping people to fall in love with words and watching them blossom as they give themselves permission to begin expressing themselves for the first time,” he says.
Luna’s advice to students who seek to be writers and artists is to never stop reading and writing. “Don’t stop reading and don’t pay attention to anyone who tells you that you can’t write,” he says. One obstacle that he continues to face is society’s marginalization of creative people.
“Many people only ascribe value to that which generates income,” he says, “What’s wrong with doing something for its own sake, or for the purpose of bringing beauty and understanding into the world?”
For more on Christopher Luna ’95 and his work, check out the following sites: