MERCED — Like a small seed, Merceds local poetry scene is growing, and one UC Merced Ph.D. student is determined to provide the care it requires to grow into a mighty oak.
William Benjamin St. Clair is the creator of a publication called Tree, a collection of poetry by local artists about topics related to Merced.
St. Clair called the free poetry magazine a labor of love, an outlet for the community and the brainchild of Coffee Bandits. Owned by St. Clairs wife, the local coffee shop in downtown Merced held poetry nights every month, which inspired the magazine.
St. Clair sat inside Coffee Bandits on Friday afternoon, working on the next issue, Tree 6. Tree is poetry by people in Merced for people in Merced, he said. We want it to grow, but the goal is to motivate people to write. Its about serving what the community wants.
The 26-year-old came to Merced from the Bay Area eight years ago to be part of UC Merceds growing opportunities, especially in research. He remembers the speech by first lady Michelle Obama, urging students to make the university part of the community.
St. Clair said Tree does exactly that by allowing anyone, residents or students, to publish his or her poems. I do believe its a craft of experience, he said. What makes a good poet is creating experiences that are distinct to you but communicates with others in different ways.
Tree was born about a year ago with help from an online fundraiser that brought in $1,800. The magazine is published once every two months, St. Clair said, and the money should be enough to create 12 issues.
There are no requirements for getting published in Tree, and poems are rarely censored. People can write using their real name or under a pseudonym, and each month has a theme, St. Clair said. Next months theme is heat.
In addition to being a poet, St. Clair is also a musician, having spent most of his life surrounded by music because his mother is an opera singer. He plays piano, acoustic bass and sometimes takes the microphone as a singer. Though music is a passion, St. Clair studies computational cognitive neuroscience at UC Merced, even lending his expertise as a speaker at a conference in Berlin last summer.
But perhaps what inspires him the most, St. Clair said, is making a positive impact to the community and changing Merceds image.
Being on campus and off campus, Ive heard so much about what Merced isnt, and people talking negatively about it, St. Clair said. To me, its about what Merced is.
The name Tree was selected for the magazine because a tree represents the growth of a community like Merced, St. Clair said.
St. Clairs wife, Melissa Eisner, 26, said Tree represents a positive and unique aspect of the Merced community. Merced suffers from a low self-esteem: people talking about Merced and saying negative things about it, Eisner said. But something like Tree, that is focused on local artists, reinvigorates the concept of what is unique to Merced.
That artistic self-esteem is especially important for the younger generation, Eisner added. I think its very important the younger community in Merced have the ability to ground themselves artistically, she said.
Tree recently published its fifth edition. Of 300 copies, most were distributed to downtown businesses. St. Clair said hes considering expanding the magazines reach but doesnt want it to become unattainable for aspiring writers.
Tree is available online at treepoetry.wordpress.com. Poets can also submit their work using the website.
Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or email@example.com.