He shows up clad in black, hefting a bag of his chapbooks, exuding a hint of recently smoked cigarette, effusively friendly, fidgety, fond of gestures. Yeah, Bruce Isaacson definitely comes off like a poet in the raw and expressive tradition of The Beats. But now he’s official: He was recently named Clark County’s first poet laureate. And Isaacson, true to his style of invocative, personal, urgent verse, has already devised a five-point plan to infuse our lives with more poetry. “Being poet laureate is a podium to do things that will advance the practice and knowledge of poetry in the community,” he says.
If a five-point plan sounds perhaps a little suspiciously organized for a poet, credit Isaacson’s background. His father was a successful entrepreneur, and Isaacson has an MBA from Dartmouth and an MFA from Brooklyn College. After several turns in the corporate world — and making a splash on the spoken-word poetry scenes in San Francisco and New York — he moved to Las Vegas in 1995, where he eventually started his own financial consulting business. He also became a fixture at poetry readings at ’90s hotspots like Enigma Garden Café and Café Espresso Roma, known for his freeform spoken-word style that he developed under mentors such as Beat icon Allen Ginsburg.
That the businessman and the poet coexist in the same head attests to Isaacson’s idea that poetry isn’t the exclusive province of academics and obscure journals. As poet laureate, he wants to bring poetry to the people — and people to poetry. Academic poetry programs are great, he says, but, “I think there’s a place for poetry to spring up organically, for people who feel the need in their heart to study, read and write poetry, not just for MFA students or something like that.”
The five-point plan, you might say, is his way of giving customers (that’s you) the most bang for your buck. Among his plans: putting on a series of workshops and open readings (the readings kick off 6:30p July 24 at Winchester Cultural Center); publishing an anthology of locally grown poets; bringing poets into local schools for workshops; and hosting readings and classes from high-profile national poets. The goal? In a city surging with fleeting thrills, it’s all a way of celebrating what Isaacson calls “the world of feeling.” “The world of feeling is that which connects us to belief and values,” he says.
And who knows, he says, maybe the program will inspire the next Arthur Rimbaud, the French poet who famously flourished under the encouragement of schoolteacher Georges Izambard. “We want to be there with programs in place for people of all levels, because of some incredible poetic talent that might spring out of this population of 2 million,” he says. That would be poetic justice, indeed.