Poet Quincy Troupe reflects upon on his experiences

    Writer, poet and UCSD literature professor Quincy Troupe earned yet another accolade in his field by being named a finalist for the California poet laureate.

    This nomination is only one of many awards in Troupe’s notable career.

    Troupe, 62, has a resume that is internationally renowned. A recipient of two American Book Awards, a 1991 Peabody Award, numerous lifetime achievement awards, National Endowment of the Arts Awards and a New York State Council for the Arts Award, he continues to generate illustrations work.

    The California Arts Council notified Troupe near the end of March that he had been selected as a poet laureate finalist among 55 nominees. The other finalists for the first official state poet laureate are beat poet Diane Di Prima and Francisco X. Alarcon, who is commended for his English and Spanish prose.

    “”Even if it is me, someone is not going to be selected, so you have elation and you have regret,”” Troupe said. “”It was not something that I auditioned for; Di Prima I know real well, and I know Alarcon, and everybody can’t be the one.””

    The two-year title has been awarded five times since 1915, but this is the first year the appointment is being officially selected by the state. The recipient of the post will tour his or her poetry statewide to leaders and citizens, spreading the written art.

    He describes himself as low-key but energetic. Troupe acknowledges that he has a “”presence”” when he walks into a room.

    “”My students know of my career, but they take my class because I am a good teacher,”” he said. “”I don’t think of what I have done. Alan Ginsburg told me that we both really needed to catch ourselves and not let anything in our career affect our demeanor.””

    Troupe wants to help his students develop a sense of themselves through their personal work and diverse selections of poetry. In his course, students write, read and critique great writers.

    “”I am addicted to great writing, and I want my students to be aware of those in our world,”” he said. “”I knew when I came here that this was a science school, but I want to give the students the opportunity at great stuff in this field.””

    Troupe cites the length of classes as a problem at UCSD. He feels that although it is not a popular view, literature cannot be taught well in a 50-minute discussion.

    “”Poetry and literature can change people and students, and I want them to change in a positive way,”” he said. “”That is my job.””

    However, Troupe’s job used to be sports. A basketball career in high school and college led him to the hardwood in Europe. Being a member of several all-league Army, French and European teams earned him sports fame as well as debilitating knee injuries.

    After the third and final blow-out in the 1960s, Troupe turned to writing when he was in his twenties.

    “”I never thought I was going to be a poet; nor did I think that I was going to be a college professor,”” Troupe said. “”My mother read poetry to me on Saturdays when I was young and I hated her for that; everybody in the neighborhood was laughing at me because poetry was considered ladies’ work to my athlete friends, which is totally untrue.””

    Troupe’s first work was a “”terribly bad novel”” about an exiled African-American in Paris. He penned it when a knee injury kept him sidelined from his Parisian basketball team. Through friends he met philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre, with whom Troupe was not impressed.

    “”I did not know at the time who he was — he was a beady-eyed guy who told me first that he hated poets, but that I should write poetry,”” Troupe said. “”He told me that I should get control of the words and I should always carry a notebook, and to this day I still do.””

    Whatever runs through Troupe’s mind at any point in the day, he reaches into a black shoulder bag bought specifically for his notebook and jots it down. He thinks in phrases and lines of what could be a larger work. Hundreds of these notebooks have been filled.

    Once he controlled his words and found a vein through which to channel his energy, Troupe moved from France to back to the United States. In Los Angeles he worked as a journalist. He then began to teach writing.

    Touring the nation doing poetry readings and lectures on African-American literature, Troupe began to be recognized by major universities across the nation. After work in Ohio and New York, Troupe was publishing poetry and literature. The publicity machine was moving faster and faster.

    “”Fame can be an albatross if you let it be — what is important to me is to do good work with my writing and my students. Fame is fleeting because history is replete with people who were famous then it was taken away. Fame cannot be taken seriously,”” Troupe said.

    Following 20 years in New York, Troupe turned down a professorship at Harvard and opted for San Diego life.

    “”There were a lot of good people here like Fanny Howe, Jerome Rothenburg, David Antin, the late Shirley Anne Williams — it was just a wonderful faculty,”” Troupe said. “”I came to be part of a great faculty and I wanted to be part of what I thought what would be an interesting community.””

    Dogtown and Z-boys

    Narrated by Sean Penn

    Starts May 3 at Landmark Hillcrest

    Rated PG-13

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