Alumnus Ron Salisbury, MFA in Creative Writing, expands his circle of influence as first City of San Diego Poet Laureate

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

Ron Salisbury with dog, Pongo

The day he learned he was chosen as the city’s first poet laureate, Ron Salisbury reached out to his salon — a group of his closest confidantes — an inner circle of supporters who helped him achieve the honored title.

He was surprised by the great burst of attention he received after the announcement about his new role in early February. He was interviewed by KPBS, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and numerous media outlets all within the first week. “It’s a tremendous honor and privilege. The city has adopted me and I feel very welcome here — the writing community is so vibrant,” Salisbury said.

Chasing and Finding His Muse

“All my life I’ve been chasing poetry,” Salisbury said. “When I moved back to San Diego in 2008, I had more time to give to the writing process. Besides, what else did I have to do?”

He was accepted to Antioch College and CSU Long Beach, before he chose SDSU’s MFA in Creative Writing. He found the writing style and cost fit his interest. SDSU was the most logical choice and he “loved the big campus setting.” It was a natural fit for Salisbury. “It was tremendous fun and it was worthwhile since I knew the credentials would be beneficial for my teaching career,” he added. 

When he looks back on his time at SDSU he fondly recalls working with many professors like MFA Director and Professor Sandra Alcosser, visiting Professor Sherwin Bitsui, and Associate Professor Katie Farris. “The MFA program at SDSU was very accepting of an older poet who has published many poems,” Salisbury said. “The greatest benefit from the program was that I was forced to read work that I normally would not have read.”

High points include time with professor Stephen-Paul Martin, who was teaching outside of the genre, but in the creative writing program. Martin’s short story course was beneficial for Salisbury. “In essence I wrote a ‘flattened poem,’ and professor Martin was very supportive of me. He really encouraged the creative process,” Salisbury said.

While working on his MFA, Salisbury won the The Main Street Rag Poetry Award in 2015 with his book “Miss Desert Inn.” The 92-page book of poems was also a semi-finalist for the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, finalist for the ABZ First Book Contest, and first runner-up for the Brittingham and Pollak Prize in Poetry.

Balancing Writing and Teaching

“I’ve found over the years as much joy in writing as in being published,” Salisbury noted. “I truly enjoy teaching others about poetry. Teaching gives me as much fulfillment as the creative writing process and it inspires me to create — it refreshes me.”

Salisbury is a busy poet and teacher. He gives workshops every Wednesday and writes a lesson plan that introduces students to a poet or a writing style at the Writer’s Ink in Point Loma.

He also developed and teaches the 25-course certificate in poetry. He performs or goes to readings weekly, and he produces a new poem every Monday morning that he distributes to his circle of 450+ friends.

“In the past I’ve held workshops on how to give a poetry reading. Truthfully, most poetry readings are like a root canal. In class, we talk about how not to bore the devil out of people,” he said.

“I try to write every day. I’m not writing poetry; I think of it as a job. Some days nothing comes out, but a grocery list or a to-do list. It is the opposite of waiting to be inspired,” Salisbury said. “Some people imagine that the muse flies over and decides to visit — however, it just doesn’t work like that for most writers. You have to be there and available for the muse.”

Salisbury is thrilled to be the ambassador and face of poetry for the city. “My job is to expose people to poetry,” he said. During his two-year tenure as poet laureate, he will not only create pieces that celebrate San Diego, but expand the reach of spoken word and literary arts within the community.

“I represent the city, and being named the first San Diego poet laureate is a reward for ALL poets.”