Jeff Knorr

Q&A: Jeff Knorr, Sacramento's new poet laureate

Published: Monday, Sep. 17, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

Jeff Knorr, a professor of English literature at Sacramento City College, was recently selected by the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission to be the city's poet laureate for the next two years.

Originally from San Leandro, Knorr obtained his bachelor's and master's degrees from Chico State. He has written three books of poetry.

What is poetry?

Poetry is being struck by mystery and moved by it. The early poets were called mystics. They were concerned with the metaphysical nature of the world.

How did you get into poetry?

I got into poetry by a fluke. When I was a kid, my dream job was to be a park ranger at Yosemite National Park. I started college studying biology but was having a rough time. Ultimately, I wound up switching majors to English.

Do you think poetry is dead or dying?

Oh boy, I hope not. It's not dead; people still love poetry. It's the job of poets to keep it alive. That means writing work that is accessible, yet challenging.

What do you do at a poetry reading?

A poetry reading is when people gather to hear poets read their work. It's about feeling the work come to life.

What are you going to do as Sacramento's poet laureate?

I would like to raise $10,000 to get writers into elementary schools to work with children. The writers will teach poetry and fiction writing. I would also like to bring authors of various genres and different ethnic groups together for a mini-festival.

Can anyone be a poet without training?

We can all sit down and write for our own personal growth, but when we wish to broaden the circle, that's when we need the training.

What are the challenges of getting people into the door of poetry?

People feel confused by poetry; they are stumped by it. Somewhere along the line, they've had a bad experience with it. Oftentimes, it's about reminding people to relive the positive experiences of poetry.

What's the best way to experience poetry?

A nice way to experience poetry is to go out and enjoy a reading, but if you can't do that, log on to the Academy of American Poets website ( There, you will find a huge array of poets and voice recordings of their work. What's the biggest challenge facing poets today?

Nowadays, the general public is reading less. To be a poet, you have to be engaged in the quest for beauty. I worry that as a culture, we're not always engaged in finding beautiful things.

We're engaged in math and science, but the arts are cut because they are viewed as nonessential. That's a very dangerous place to go.

What's the most rewarding thing about being a poet?

For me, it's after I read a poem and someone comes up and says, "Your poem reminded me of when… ."

Where do you get inspiration for your poems?

It comes from my domestic life – things I do, see and feel every day. I am inspired by the outdoors and the natural world.

Who should fund the arts and why?

As a citizenry, we should support the arts. Arts help beautify the community. To be engaged in a quest for beauty has a humanizing effect and helps one live better.

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Read more articles by Richard Chang

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