Once upon a time, I was a young girl from the Midwest whose father would read poetry to her and her sister and brothers before bedtime. Some were poems about magical things like goblins and nymphs; others were about everyday things like watching a train at a railroad crossing, or the sound of lapping lake water. The rhythms and sounds of those poems, and the way a poet could convey a vivid experience or tell a story in so few words, stayed with me.

Many years later, after I moved to Laguna Beach with my husband and sons, I began to write poetry myself, as a daily discipline—like journaling, only with more structure.

I wrote a poem a day for a year, just to see if I could, and also took pictures and posted them to my blog, which I called Once by the Pacific, after the Robert Frost poem. I found that writing poetry was a way to pay closer attention to the world, or, to paraphrase the author Frederick Buechner, to listen to my life. 

And why poems and pictures of Laguna Beach? I love my community and sometimes can’t believe I get to live here. I am inspired daily by the beauty of the Pacific Ocean and by the beautiful spirits of the people I get to call friends and neighbors. Those are the things I find myself writing about the most. How could I not be moved by the buzz of excitement in town when a south swell arrives and almost everyone I know is checking the surf at Brooks Street? Or the hot-orange color of aloe in bloom in Heisler Park? Or the brittle loveliness of layers of ten million year-old fossilized rock at Crystal Cove?

I also realized that I could find poetry (and a glimpse of the ocean) even in the most mundane circumstances, like when I’m driving across town to retrieve kids’ forgotten wetsuits or deliver lunch money.  Or trying to remedy El Niño-induced water damage to our house. Or even waiting for my car to be repaired. Poetry provides a concentrated dose of awareness that every day—even the ones in which not much seems to happen—is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and therefore, infinitely valuable. 

Sarah Koops Vanderveen