“Art is a community force,” asserts Price Strobridge, who currently wears, in his words, the “poet’s tunic.” He was recently named this region’s third Pikes Peak Poet Laureate. His journey there wasn’t textbook, but it would make a great novel. Or at least chapbook.
“My father abandoned us,” he recounts of his early years. He lived for a time at the Myron Stratton Home, making him “the progeny of the gold miner” Stratton, who struck it rich in Cripple Creek in the 1890s and funneled much of his earnings into the formation of Colorado Springs and bequeathed funds to establish the home for the poor that still bears his name.
Strobridge’s high school English teacher assigned a reading of the prologue to The Canterbury Tales, and he can still “feel the music and those syllables rolling around.” He also cites Poem #15 of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind as an early influence.
In his 20s, Strobridge watched the film Dr. Zhivago and fell in love with Russian poetry, especially the works of Andrei Voznesensky and Yevgeny Yevtushenko. He has also found inspiration in the work of Emily Dickenson, the essayist Thomas Carlyle, and the scientist Nikola Tesla.
He has driven contracted rural mail routes near Fowler, Colorado and currently lays carpet, proudly “self-employed for 43 years.” Carpet-laying demand is heavy after the recent hail storm and ensuing flooding, so business seems to be good. He fielded several carpet-related calls during a recent interview, and another call from his wife, his “main muse” and “CEO” who illustrated his lone published book Unmasking the Heart.
His tunic comes with the phantom weight of unworthiness. Because he did not attend college, he humbly felt unqualified when he was named laureate, a position normally filled by traditional scholars. “I read here and there and bounce around like a fly. I’m not a real poet.” But advice from local poet Malcom McCollum helped: “Get over it, Price. We are all self-taught.”
Strobridge partly educated himself while “crawling on floors,” laying carpet and listening to audiobooks checked out from PPLD, including works by Robert Graves, W.H. Auden, T.S. Elliott, and Robert Frost. He is fond of reciting “I got my degree / In poetry / From PPLD.”
He also learned from other local poets, who he calls his “professors,” such as previous poet laureates Jim Ciletti (a gardener/chef/poet who conveys “a sensate burst of joy. He paints that plum” with words) and Aaron Anstett (“a real energetic voice” who enlivened the local poetry scene upon his arrival just over a decade ago).
The tunic-wearer now looks to offer similar encouragement to younger writers. “The art’s coming out of their pores! They’re a voice that hasn’t been recognized.”
So what advice does our Poet Laureate offer writers of all ages? For one, write when you are inspired. “If you don’t spear, or bring to earth, or clip its wings,” a poem will be lost. Also, “hear hints of rhythms in a waterfall.”
And how does one become Pikes Peak Poet Laureate? “ ‘Way leads unto way,’ Robert Frost said. ‘Way leads unto way.’ And here I am.”
The Pikes Peak Poet Laureate Project is a partnership between Pikes Peak Library District, Colorado College, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (COPPeR), and Poetry West.
by Price Strobridge
By words the mind is winged.
unlaurelled molting heap,
heaped on the leveled ground,
grounded by gravity of self,
he wore no gold-edged tunic,
like a thick book
on a narrow shelf
on the cliff’s rocky ledge
to line his wings
with lifting lines
(poetry his patagium)
spreading full wings
to the wind in the words
rode up the thermal gust
the world fell away,
like fledgling down.