Santa Barbara’s Poet Laureate (2007-2009)

By Beverlye Fead   |   March 15, 2018
Perie Longo was Santa Barbara’s Poet Laureate from 2007 to 2009

Some people you meet in life by pure coincidence and others are put in your path. I do believe Perie Longo was not only put in my path for a reason but changed the course of my life forever. I was a painter when I met Perie, and now I am a writer; more about that later.

At the age of 3, Perie and family moved from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her father was a zoology professor at Marquette University for 25 years. She graduated from Mount Mary University with a double major in English and drama and moved to Long Beach, California, for her first teaching job to high school students. She was only 20 years old with some seniors who were 18 years old.

They must have all had a crush on her.

Perie is the fourth child in a lineup of two brothers and two sisters, and she adores her siblings. They, along with her parents, have always been her greatest supporters and models.

Poetry came to her early. She was “seven or eight” when she wrote her first poem, following in her father’s footsteps; he wrote poetry for all the special occasions in their family’s lives. When Perie was 18, she collected and typed all her father’s old poems, organized them, stapled them into a book and gave it to her parents for their 25th wedding anniversary. How they must have loved that. Her parents always encouraged her in all her creative endeavors as her mother was a water colorist. 

Perie resigned teaching to take a year off and travel to Europe, try a bit of acting in Hollywood, and then finally returned to school to earn her M.A. in speech and communications at UCLA, where she taught for a year and a half and then met the love of her life, Phil, a widower with two sons, age 7 and 11. Perie and Phil married, and all moved to Santa Barbara, where Phil, an accountant at the time, went back to school to become an attorney. 

Becoming a Poet

Perie taught speech at SBCC and Brooks Institute during those years, all the while writing poetry. In 1982, she took the plunge and attended the Santa Barbara’s Writers Conference, whereupon she won the poetry award. In 1984, she began teaching the poetry workshop for the conference, which she does to this day.

She had found her path.

She was then asked to teach poetry classes for second through 12th grades with California-Poets-In-the-Schools. She became passionate for helping others find their voices through writing, noting how children’s self-esteem increased by leaps and bounds sharing their inner thoughts and feelings with others and being valued for that.

Perie returned to school to study psychology and in 1991 received a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Sierra University and earned her license to become a marriage and family therapist. By this time, she had published two books of poetry: Milking the Earth and The Privacy Of Wind.

Discovering Perie

Perie Longo was just 20 years old when she accepted her first teaching job in Long Beach, California

It was during this time I was given a diagnosis of 4th-stage cancer and a prognosis of two months to live. Someone suggested I take a class at Hospice from this loving poetry teacher. The class was called “Writing for Healing”. That’s when Perie walked into my life. I had no idea I would be writing my first book in her class, or that I too would win a prize at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference or that I would go on to write two more books, but that was the influence Perie had on me. I love writing poetry because of Perie. 

Her husband, Phil, had recently died as a result of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which brought her to Hospice originally, and it was poetry that took her through those difficult years. A year after he died, Hospice asked if she would like to facilitate a poetry-writing group for bereavement, which she happily agreed to do. She is still leading that group almost 15 years later, and I can only imagine how many people’s lives she has helped.

Her writing has taken her all over the world. In 2005, she was invited to Kuwait by a University of Kuwait professor who had read an article Perie had written on the Internet about the healing ability of poetry. The female professor wanted Perie to speak about “Poetry as a Pathway to Peace” and teach some workshops around the city. At a reception given for her at the ministry, a man stood up in surprise and said, “My old speech teacher from Brooks!” It was hard to imagine they would meet up again in Kuwait.

Perie was voted in as Santa Barbara’s second Poet Laureate, following her dear friend, poet Barry Spacks. She thought it was an honor that brought her closer to Santa Barbara and the subjects she was asked to write about. Previously (2005-07), she was president of the National Association for Poetry Therapy, an organization she has been actively involved with since 1990. She was honored with the Distinguished Service Award in 1994 and Outstanding Achievement Award in 1998. She also was awarded the Woman of Achievement Award from the Santa Barbara Chapter of Association of Women in Communication(AWC) in 2012. Whew!

Since then, she writes poems for the awardees and loves that because it keeps her in contact with women who are living their lives to the fullest. 

In “Retirement”

Three years ago, Perie retired from teaching children poetry after a 30-year run, though continues to teach adults privately as well as maintaining her practice as a Marriage and Family therapist, writing for healing groups at Hospice of Santa Barbara and Sanctuary Centers of Santa Barbara. If that weren’t enough, she runs a writing group focused on the joys and challenges of aging she hopes to expand in the future. And in 2016, she was delighted to try her hand at writing a story, which she read for Personal Stories III at Center Stage Theater directed by Maggie Mixsell

Perie’s greatest joys are her children: son Dana, an attorney, and daughter Cecily, a family therapist like her mother. Perie’s three grandchildren fill her with pride and awe and keep her laughing every day.

When I asked her what she sees for herself for the future, she replied, ”Really, more of the same. Maybe another book of poetry that focuses on the ups and downs of aging, and some more travel.” She feels staying curious and involved are secrets to aging well, having great friends and fun as the years keep unfolding in strange, beautiful ways, along with the difficult. “I think I prefer to age mindfully, rather than gracefully,” she said.

I believe Perie, now 77 years old, can count on aging both mindfully and gracefully. She confesses that she has no idea how she got to be 77 but no longer resists it. The number seven, she says, is her lucky number; she was born on December 7 the year before Pearl Harbor. She muses it is no coincidence she became the poetry chair of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation as a result of meeting the foundation’s president, David Krieger, in an Adult Ed poetry class in the early 1970s.

I asked for this interview before Montecito’s horrendous mudslides. Afterward, Perie wrote, “Seconds can change our lives forever, as we have painfully learned. We must not take anything for granted and remember that love, compassion, and gratitude for our blessings keep us going. I am in awe of all those who have suffered and do just that. We live in the most beautiful remarkable place on Earth with equally remarkable friends. We all have each other’s hearts and backs.

“What’s better than that?”


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