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City Lights: The Poet Laureate of reader comments

April 04, 2012|By Michael Miller

Last week, Times Community News got a surprise visit from a poet. No, Rita Dove or Mark Strand didn't stop by the newsroom. But our story on DrunkRescue, a new Huntington Beach business that offers rides home for out-on-the-town drunks, got an online reader comment much different from the usual anonymous posting.

It was different, mainly, because it was written in rhymed couplets. I emailed the author and asked for his or her name so we could print the comment in Mailbag (it's in our letters page this week), and a return message revealed that Michael P. Ridley — a.k.a. The Alaskan Poet — had sent it anonymously.

Then again, for those familiar with Ridley's work, the poem's author may have been easy to guess. Ridley, a lawyer who lives in Costa Mesa, has a history of posting poetic reader comments and once wrote a column (in verse) for the Orange County Register. He also runs a pair of poetry blogs: one, http://www.alaskanpoet.blogspot.com, dealing with personal issues, and the other, http://www.alaskanpoetcommentator.blogspot.com, weighing in on news of the day.

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All his poems are written in the same freewheeling style, with rhymed couplets, wildly irregular meter and lines sometimes so long that they require a second intake of breath to read aloud. If you've read works by the 20th-century satirist Ogden Nash, you may get the idea.

I arranged an interview with Ridley and expected him to tell me he was a Nash fanatic. Instead, he cited his main influences as Dr. Seuss and the Yukon poet Robert Service, whose work he devoured growing up in an Alaskan fishing town. He admitted without hesitation that he isn't a poetry scholar and that his attempts to write free verse have come to naught.

But Ridley has one skill that likely eludes the average Poet Laureate: He can finish poems quickly. When he read the DrunkRescue story, he said, he didn't have to worry about early drafts or revisions.

"I read that and, literally, within two minutes I had done the poem," Ridley told me.

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