One day, Eloise Klein Healy would like to read her poems aloud in a sports arena.
Healy, who becomes the first poet laureate of Los Angeles starting today, envisions a future where the public is as captivated by good literary work as by a baseball or football game.
"Imagine reading before 42,000 people, with all of it up on a Jumbo-tron," she said in a recent interview. "That's what I would like to do someday, to bring poetry to places it's never been."
The position of poet laureate was created earlier this year by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who wanted to highlight the city's rich arts and culture scene. The mayor appointed a panel, which sorted through more than 40 entries before recommending Healy and two other finalists. Villaraigosa made the final selection.
"As the arts and culture capital of the world, Los Angeles' 4 million residents and 26 million annual visitors deserve a poet laureate able to elegantly express the beauty of our city in words," Villaraigosa said.
Healy, 69, lives in Sherman Oaks. As poet laureate, she will have to write some works featuring Los Angeles, hold readings in the city and speak about the poetry community in her travels.
"Fortunately, I have a book coming out in February, so I will be able to fulfill that as I travel," Healy said.
The new book, "A Wild Surmise, New and Selected Poems and Recordings," has a unique feature where readers can access recordings through QR codes embedded in the books. If they do not have mobile devices capable of reading the QR codes, they can go to her website, www.eloisekleinhealy.com, to hear the poems.
Healy will get $10,000 a year in compensation from the city Department of Cultural Affairs for the two years she will serve as poet laureate.
"As a poet, you are not used to making money," said Healy, who supported her work over the years by teaching at high schools, at California State University, Northridge, and, most recently, at Antioch College.
Healy is a native of El Paso, Texas, who moved to Los Angeles with her family 58 years ago.
She said she tries to write poems that are accessible to people not familiar with poetry.
"I would like more people to feel comfortable with poetry, and that's why I would like to take it to places you don't associate with poetry," she said.
Healy said her selection as poet laureate came as a surprise.
"I had heard about it and a friend suggested I apply for it, but I was so busy, I didn't have time and told her to go ahead and nominate me," Healy said, adding she had to submit examples of her writing to the city panel.
Healy was chosen by a six-member Poet Laureate Task Force, chaired by poet Dana Gioia.
"The selection committee worked with great care and enthusiasm," Gioia said. "We read through piles of books searching for the best candidates. Many of the best poets in Los Angeles applied for the position."
He said there were 40 strong candidates vying for the post and the task force narrowed it down to three, who were submitted to Villaraigosa for the final choice.
"There were many strong candidates," he added. "The (final) three were chosen for ... (their) acknowledged literary excellence, deep ties to Los Angeles, a willingness and aptitude for public service."
Gioia said the task force wanted to recommend someone who "was impeccably distinguished.
"What also impressed us was she gave us a long and detailed plan about the sort of things she would like to do. I think we were all impressed with her expression of commitment."
As for her poetry and her selection as the first poet laureate, Gioia described it as "direct and intelligent."
"This is a small but significant step in the cultural history of Los Angeles and we were aware of that as we made our choice," he said.
Healy has been active in the Los Angeles poetry scene for decades, writing seven books, including "The Islands Project: Poems for Sappho," in 2007 for which she was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Poetry.
Awards she has received include the grand prize of the Los Angeles Poetry Festival Competition, a Pushcart Prize Nominee and a former artist- in-residence at both the MacDowell Colony and Dorland Mountain Arts Colony.
Healy is co-founder of the ecotourism and arts venture ECO-ARTS and helped to establish the Red Hen Press imprint Arktoi Books, specializing in works by lesbian authors. Healy is the founding chair of the Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Antioch University in Los Angeles.
Healy, who is openly gay, has lived with her partner for 24 years.
"When I was teaching, the first thing I would tell the class is I am lesbian and if they had a problem with that, we should deal with it," Healy said. "In all the years, there was only one woman who ever had a complaint."
Healy said she remains surprised at all the changes of the past decade where gay marriage is now accepted and there is a higher level of tolerance than ever before.
"I am a lesbian poet, but I'm also a baseball poet," Healy said. "I love the Dodgers and one of my dreams is to throw out the first pitch some day."