DICK EIDEN: His Passion for Poetry

North County Times
By Jim Trageser
April 11, 2010

Putting together a monthly poetry reading is no small task: There's a venue to arrange, a featured poet to line up, and a mailing list to maintain to make sure folks know about it.

Oh, and there's no money in it, either.

So what keeps Vista's Dick Eiden at the helm of Sunset Poets after more than eight years?

"When someone comes and says, 'This is the first time I've read my poetry in public,' that's very rewarding to me," Eiden said last week over coffee.

A veteran of Beyond Baroque, a literary center in Venice formed in the late '60s (he grew up in Pomona, and lived in Los Angeles for many years), Eiden said he's more comfortable behind the scenes than in front of the microphone. He writes poetry, but "I've never tried to get published very much. ... I've been published in local anthologies, but I don't send my stuff out the way a lot of people do. I'm still trying to write a poem that's worth sending out."

Eiden said that in 2001, he attended a poetry workshop in Prescott, Ariz., which reignited his passion for poetry.

"I got all excited about poetry again, but organizing comes more naturally to me than does writing poetry."

So in August of that year, he put together Sunset Poets ---- holding their first reading on Sept. 2, 2001.

While Eiden is probably best known locally for his work with the left-leaning North County Forum, a group that bestows annual awards to regular writers of letters to the opinion page of the North County Times, he said, "I've always kept Sunset Poets separate from the politics."

And if helping new poets find their voice is the most rewarding part of running a monthly poetry reading, Eiden said he feels the best way to help anyone improve their writing is to hear or read good writing. "Every time you are exposed to new ideas, you learn something." That philosophy has shaped the way Sunset Poets' monthly readings are organized.

"I've always tried to bring in a featured poet," he said. "It doesn't always work, but we try every month.

"I try to get someone from out of town, usually someone who has a new book out."

While he can't afford to pay the featured writers ---- there is no charge to attend a Sunset Poets reading, and thus no income ---- Eiden said a fairly regular stream of respected, published poets comes through the region to give talks at local universities or colleges, to do book signings or conduct other business. Many are more than happy to come read from their works and meet aspiring poets.

Among those who have read at Sunset Poets over the years have been Encinitas-based poet and revered anthologist Jerome Rothenberg, San Diego poet Steve Kowit, Cecilia Woloch, Eloise Klein Healy and Rayn Roberts.

If Eiden holds no great ambition for his own poetry, he says poetry enriches his life ---- and hosting Sunset Poets keeps him involved in the local poetry community.

"It's easy to fall out," he said. "I fell out for about 20 years" in the 1970s and '80s, when he was raising a family, working as a criminal lawyer and immersing himself in political activism.

"Doing the Sunset Poets thing keeps me into the poetry."

Eiden moved to San Diego County in the late 1980s. "We wanted to get out of the city," he said of living in L.A. "My mother-in-law lived down here, and we wanted to be closer to her."

He retired as an attorney to be a stay-at-home dad while his wife worked (their youngest is now off at college), and immersed himself in local political activity.

Asked to pick his favorite poet, he said he had too many to list, but then allowed that he finds himself coming back to the late Richard Brautigan quite a bit. "He's a wild and wacky guy."

And in an age when the dominant form of poetry is free verse, Eiden argued that even free verse still has a structure that differentiates it from prose:

"The line is still the main tool of the poet."


Sunset Poets hosts San Diego poet Kim Noriega

When: 3 p.m. April 18

Where: Hill Street Cafe, 524 S. Coast Highway, Oceanside

Cost: Free

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