Dedication to Lou Standifer

A few weeks after I became the first Poet Laureate of Fresno, I received an email asking if I could be a judge for a high school poetry slam competition. I accepted quickly, because I was doing everything I could at that time to promote Central Valley poetry, literacy, writing, performing, and all the awesome literary traditions we have here in the Valley. And this sounded like a great opportunity to listen to some teen writers and hear their voices.

The event was held at the alumni building at Fresno State. There were kids from both Clovis and Fresno High Schools. When I walked into the building I could see poets reading their notes and practicing lines, others reading books silently, some huddled in groups talking amongst each other. It was almost all teens. And although there was a strong energy in the room, it was quiet.

I was introduced to Lou Standifer, the organizer of the event. At the time, Lou was a teacher at one of the Clovis High Schools. He taught poetry and spoken word as an after-school project, and today’s reading was a culmination of all that work the teens had done over the semester. Lou was a presence. He was intense. All shoulders, chest and arms, a big guy. And his eyes were piercing. He shook my hand and thanked me for helping out. But the whole time, I could see his focus was on the kids.

The poets were amazing. All of them were teen poets, reading poems that they had written themselves. These poems were slices into the lives of each of these kids, what they were experiencing, what they were feeling. And Lou had set all of this up. Over the year he had shown them writing techniques, given them tips on how to perform in public, and then gave them a space to share their art. It was an amazing event, one that I will never forget. And it was one that I will be forever honored that I got to be a part of. And it was Lou that made that happen.

Over the next few years, I was able to see Lou perform at various poetry events in the Valley. He had a powerful voice, filled with great rhythm when he read his poetry. I was always a fan and loved his writing. But I also admired his dedication to promoting teen writers. He was always talking about them, meeting up with groups of teens at shows, making sure they had a chance to read their work.

One other thing I’ll mention about Lou was his dedication and love for his family. Lou’s son was diagnosed with Cancer a few years ago. Lou documented the journey on Facebook, creating a group to raise awareness and link people together in the fight against this illness. He took pictures of doctor’s appointments, treatments, the pain and joy. And all of this made the celebration of Lou’s son overcoming this sickness even sweeter.

Last year, Lou Standifer served as a judge for Fresno County Public Library's Annual Poetry Contest. This is a yearly contest that the library does to celebrate local poets. I ask recognized poets to be judges for our four categories (Children, middle school, high school, adult). Lou jumped at the chance, and I was so grateful to have him be a part of this because of his years of experience working with teen writers. He judged our high school poetry group. Because of COVID, lockdowns, and all the other things that were happening during 2020, we had the largest submission of poems that we’ve ever received.

With a heavy heart, I say that we lost Lou Standifer this year. I will miss his voice. I will miss his presence. I will miss his poetry. He influenced and inspired so many of us.

This year, we dedicate the Fresno County Public Library Poetry Contest to the poet Lou Standifer. I hope that his strong voice, his strong writing, and his strong story will inspire all of us.

--By James Tyner, Fresno's first Poet Laureate