Lynne Thompson is an award-winning African American poet of Caribbean heritage. She is nationally recognized as a trailblazer in contemporary literature. Lynne was appointed the City of Los Angeles poet laureate by then-Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2021.
The native Angeleno is a recipient of an Individual Artist Award and an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship. Lynne sat down with the L.A. Sentinel to reflect on her tenure before passing the torch.
L.A. Sentinel: Your job description reads, “Official ambassador of L.A.’s arts community; promoting and celebrating the written word, and representing the city’s rich literary scene.”
Lynne Thompson: I try not to think about that description. I was at a conference somewhere and someone asked poet laureates from all over the country about the size of their city or town. A friend of mine said, “So Lynn, how many people are in Los Angeles?” I replied, “13 million?” Yeah, I try not to think about that [job] description.
LAS: You paid your dues at The World Stage, the educational and performance art space in Leimert Park Village.
LT: At The World Stage, there’s a little sign at the edge of the podium that depicts a bull with a line through it. In other words, “No bullsh*t. Bring your real, genuine, authentic self to this mic.” I always think of that when I’m working on a poem or any form of writing. Bring the best poem that you can write that will resonate because it’s honest.
LAS: You’re a native Angeleno of Caribbean heritage.
LT: I’m very proud of my parents heritage. Like so many other immigrants, they came here with little to nothing and built a family. It took me a while to understand what the diaspora was. But the differences there resonate here, and are to be embraced and incorporated into this fabric. I have an open approach to the unique qualities that all of us bring to the table that make the richness of this country.
LAS: There have been highlights and lowlights.
LT: Let’s start with the lowlight. I was appointed in January 2021, smack dab in the middle of the pandemic. I couldn’t go out to schools and libraries because everything was closed. So I did everything virtually over Zoom. But the highlight was the “Day of Poetry” that we held at the LA Public Library in August. We had over a hundred poets that hadn’t seen each other in over two years, so they were happy to be in-community. That was my gift as poet laureate to them.
LAS: Are you obsessed with a particular theme?
LT: A lot of my poems deal with family; a lot of it is geographic. And music is playing throughout all my poems. I remember someone saying to me, “I’m not sure your poems are in the formal tradition.” The light went off in my head, “Here’s the problem: You’re listening to Mozart, I’m listening to Miles!” I was adopted, so what about that side of me? The question of where do we come from has been the overriding question in all my work.
LAS: You’re on …
LT: A woman’s body, aging, still loves itself;
kisses the air that surrounds it, loves the lips in full pout;
famous birthplace of all kisses;
the belly, brown, round, kisses its inverted button;
and the shoulders — oh, how I kiss my shoulders! ~ A Woman’s Body
Maybe it was reflex. Maybe it was memory and want — want for
the scent of soursop and sugar apples, memory of the flight of
a frigate bird, that made us drive every Sunday, down Vine Street,
past Forest Lawn Cemetery, to Griffith Park, where Daddy, nutmeg-
colored and clad head-to-toe in his all-whites, came to play cricket and make believe he was home in Buccament Valley, St. Vincent, West Indies, where he could be the man home would have made of him. ~ Émigré
For more information, visit https://www.lynnethompson.us/