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Chairman launches 2003 with poet laureate reading

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Register Staff Writer

John F. Kennedy once said, "If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a little better place to live."

Napa County Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht apparently feels the same way. Wagenknecht last year created a poet laureate position for the county, then had the first poet to hold the position and speak at his first meeting as board chairman.

Dorothy Lee Hansen, a published poet and former Napa school teacher, read several poems about Napa and beyond at Tuesday's hearing. Hansen enlivened the normally staid meeting with a performance that included her dancing from the podium and clapping and finger snapping by the audience.

"When you let artists in, you do open a Pandora's Box," she said.

Wagenknecht said he's been inspired to create a poet laureate for Napa since hearing Maya Angelou read her poems at President Clinton's inauguration.

"It's good to have a visionary," he said. "Poets are our visionaries."

Hansen lauded the board for allowing her time to speak, after supervisors dealt with less enjoyable issues such as the state budget shortfall.

"I'm glad to see you're paying attention to the spiritual world as well," she said

Hansen retired in 1986 after teaching at Vintage High, Redwood Middle and Browns Valley Elementary schools. Since then, she has traveled extensively on five continents as a poet and teacher of the Baha'i faith.

On Tuesday, Hansen began her reading with several unpublished poems about Napa. A poem entitled "Petite Sirah" was one of the shortest and most lighthearted:

"Petite Sirah, alfalfa hay,

Oakville in summer,

Hurray, hurray!"

Other poems described well-known spots in the area such as Oakville Grade and the long-demolished Connor Hotel. The poem "By Redwood Creek," like others, simply described an experience she had in that location.

"Red, unripened blackberry

underneath the fig.

Your brilliance saddens me.

I don't want to be like you,


brightly hard,

unmellowed in autumn."

Others covered her home state of Texas and exotic journeys beyond, which have been published in her books including "Africa to Me" and "Cedar Berries." In introducing one of those poems, Hansen explained the form of poetry can be underestimated.

"You may think of poetry as an innocuous task, but it's really very revolutionary," she said.

Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 256-2260 or


A poem by Napa's poet laureate

Napa County poet laureate Dorothy Lee Hansen read several poems about Napa during Tuesday's board hearing, including this one about a long-demolished Napa hotel:

"The Connor Hotel"

The Connor Hotel stands all alone

At the corner of Third and Main.

Her neighbors are all razed now,

But the river flows by just the same.

The old fluorescent lighted Chinese Cafe

Still stands among the storefronts

On the block across the way.

An old man staggers and climbs the stairs

To his barren yellow walled room.

The Connor Hotel stands all alone

At the corner of Third and Main

As he pulls the cord

On the twenty-five watt bulb,

And the light goes out again.

©Copyright 2003, Napa Register

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