Emma Trelles shares her journey to the Central Coast
It was under the crystal blue skies of southern Florida that Emma Trelles first developed a love for words and language.
While attending Everglades Elementary in Miami, the young student developed a fascination for poetry and writing. Encouraged by her language arts teachers throughout her elementary years, Ms. Trelles learned about haiku and free verse, which laid a foundation for her future as a wordsmith.
The encouragement she received in school to read and write was further fueled at home by her mother, who allowed Ms. Trelles to explore the world of writing that was available at her fingertips.
“My mom really is the one that cultivated this great love of books and language in me, and I think in my brother as well because she took us to the library every week and instilled in me this love of words,” Ms. Trelles told the News-Press. “She let me read whatever I wanted, no matter how strange it might have seemed to her, and I think that was really the beginning of me falling in love with literature and poems.”
This foundational love of poems and writing established as a child would follow Ms. Trelles through her life and career, igniting a path that would eventually lead her to the rich community of poets in Santa Barbara.
In mid-April, Ms. Trelles stepped into her role as Santa Barbara’s new poet laureate. She began her two-year term April 13.
“I (am) so excited and deeply honored that I was selected to do something that is so at the heart of my life — writing poems, reading poems, sharing them, creating communities through poetry,” Ms. Trelles said. “I’m really looking forward to manifesting all of them in my role as poet laureate over the next two years.”
Before moving to Santa Barbara about seven years ago, Ms. Trelles was deeply involved in the vibrant arts community that existed in southern Florida.
After graduating from Florida International University with a master’s in fine arts and creative writing, Ms. Trelles started working as a journalist at various newspapers in southern Florida. During this time, she gained experience as a visual art critic for the Sun Sentinel, while continuing to write poetry in her spare time.
Inspired by the visual art she was reviewing every day, Ms. Trelles amassed an impressive collection of poems that she decided to submit to the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize in 2010, an annual contest run by the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. The contest invites individuals from the Latinx community to submit poetry to the contest, and the winner has their poetry published by the university press.
Ms. Trelles won the award in 2010 and saw her poetry book “Tropicalia” published shortly thereafter.
When she won this prize, Ms. Trelles said she had no inkling that she would ever leave Florida’s sunny shores to move to California. But looking back now, she sees an interesting parallel.
Andrés Montoya was an influential Latino poet from Fresno, and looking back, Ms. Trelles realizes the award gave her a tie to the West Coast before she even stepped foot in Santa Barbara.
“Poetry was drawing me in some way and connecting me to California and the West Coast before I even realized it,” Ms. Trelles said.
When Ms. Trelles and her husband, Mike Zolezzi, made the move to Santa Barbara in 2014, it was the first time either of them had ever left their Floridian community. Seeking change and a fresh start, Ms. Trelles and her husband began a new life on the Central Coast, and they became enthralled with the vibrant arts, writing and music community that existed in Santa Barbara.
Shortly after her move, Ms. Trelles began working at Santa Barbara City College as a tutor. She eventually joined the English Department, where she remains on staff today.
While working at the college, Ms. Trelles actively sought opportunities to engage with the community of poets in Santa Barbara. As she looked for places to get involved, poets Paul Fericano and Susan Blomstad asked her to take over the Mission Poetry Series, which they had founded in 2009. The series operated out of the Santa Barbara Mission and showcased the work of local poets through events and publications.
Ms. Trelles accepted the offer and has chaired the Mission Poetry Series since 2014. Within the past seven years, Ms. Trelles and her husband began a partnership with the Santa Barbara Public Library to host multicultural poets from around the world through various events and poetry readings.
“I’m really grateful to be able to connect with poets from everywhere and present them alongside our hometown poets,” Ms. Trelles said.
Ms. Trelles’ roots in the Santa Barbara poetry community have grown deep since her move to the region in 2014, and members of the city’s Arts Advisory Committee took notice.
When it came time to elect a new poet laureate to represent the city in January of this year, former poet laureate David Starkey approached Ms. Trelles and asked if he could nominate her for the position. Flattered by the proposition, Ms. Trelles said she allowed him to submit the nomination accompanied by a few samples of her work.
After a few weeks went by, Ms. Trelles received an exciting phone call from Sarah York Rubin, the executive director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Arts and Culture. That’s when Ms. Trelles learned she was named the poet laureate, a role that allows her to amplify voices and foster creativity among the growing community of local poets.
The city of Santa Barbara chooses a new poet laureate every two years. Poet laureates must live or work in Santa Barbara, have poems published in books or online platforms, be an active member in the local arts community and be distinguished by special honors, awards and other recognition.
According to Ms. Rubin, Ms. Trelles fulfilled all of these requirements and came highly recommended by members of the local poetry community.
“Emma has such wonderful energy as a poet and as a teacher,” Ms. Rubin told the News-Press. “I’m really looking forward to seeing her expand on all of that energy and to bring her expertise as a global citizen and an educator and share that with the greater Santa Barbara community in greater ways.”
As poet laureate, Ms. Trelles plans to spearhead various projects to increase involvement in the local arts community.
For her first project, Ms. Trelles plans to host a chapbook contest for Latinx writers in Santa Barbara in partnership with Gun Powder Press. A chapbook is part of a centuries-old tradition of distributing poetry and community news in a small book.
For Ms. Trelles’ contest, she wants to encourage local Latinx community members to submit microcollections of poems, and the winning collection will be published and distributed as a chapbook by Gun Powder Press.
Through this project, Ms. Trelles hopes this will increase visibility for emerging Latinx writers in the community.
“Latinx writers are historically underrepresented in publishing, so I just love the idea of a community press publishing a community writer featured at a community reading center,” Ms. Trelles said. “Just keep it all local and sort of in the family. The chapbook (contest) would be open to people writing in English, Spanish or both. We definitely want to create a bilingual component to it as a way of building bridges.”
Ms. Trelles is also continuing to write her own poems in her spare time. Often inspired by nature and the events occurring around the world, Ms. Trelles said the unprecedented events of the past year have inspired her to reflect on both the pain and beauty she is seeing and experiencing.
“I think that the events of the last year have been kind of devastating in multiple ways for everyone,” Ms. Trelles said. “I’ve been really fortunate that I’m healthy and my husband and family and friends have been largely healthy throughout all this, but a lot of people have suffered and a lot of people have lost loved ones, their jobs .. I feel like my role as a poet is also one of a documentarian. I think it’s important for me as an artist to record how I’m processing those losses and what kind of beauty I am looking at to sustain me through these difficult times. I have to say that the natural beauty of Santa Barbara has really been something I’ve held on to as a source of comfort.
“I feel like my creative work this last year combines sorrow and lament with beauty and resilience.”