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LA Literary Lore: Poet Rhiannon McGavin maintains LA roots while exploring new themes

Poet Rhiannon McGavin poses in a black jacket in front of a neon sign. The alumnus said she sees the city of Los Angeles as her inspiration, including its sunsets and overlooked natural landscapes. (Courtesy of Sadie Jean Spezzano)

By Arushi Avachat

June 7, 2022 3:52 p.m.

From themed bookshops to beloved book festivals, the Los Angeles literary world has something to offer every reader. Storytelling has long served as a tool of community building, and there is a space for all communities within the diverse, evolving LA book scene. Follow columnist Arushi Avachat in “LA Literary Lore” as she explores the vibrant literary landscape of the greater LA area.

Tara Desai/Daily Bruin
(Tara Desai/Daily Bruin)

For poet Rhiannon McGavin, LA will always be home.

Now researching abroad in Europe, the UCLA alumnus said she spent her adolescence in the vibrant LA poetry scene. A former Youth Poet Laureate of LA, McGavin said her first two poetry collections chronicle the coming-of-age experience and were informed by her connection to the city. As she completes her third book while pursuing her Master of Philosophy at Trinity College, McGavin said LA continues to be a meaningful source of creative energy for her.

“I have always written about Los Angeles,” McGavin said. “I think a lot of the same things that make Los Angeles perfect for the film industry … make it very easy to find writing inspiration.”

Though LA is not always immediately associated with nature and greenery, McGavin said the city’s natural landscape has nevertheless been of thematic importance in her work. McGavin said she cites sunsets, golden hour and UCLA’s jacaranda season as common points of poetic inspiration. In addition, McGavin said the hours she spent navigating public transit allowed her time to let writing ideas stew and ultimately deepened her knowledge and love for the city.

[Related: LA Literary Lore: The Ripped Bodice bookstore offers romance readers respite from reality]

Having grown up in LA, McGavin said writing about the city feels natural and nostalgic. As a teenager, she attended LA County High School for the Arts, where she first met friend and filmmaker Ariela Barer. Given that she does not have prior background in the literary space, Barer said she credits McGavin for introducing and endearing her to the world of poetry readings.

“I feel like every time I read her poetry, it’s like taking a really slow breath,” Barer said. “I love the sweetness and the romance that she can imbue in even the most horrific subjects.”

Among their favorites of McGavin’s compositions is the 2021 release “Grocery List Poems,” which Barer said encapsulates the care and thoughtfulness they appreciate about McGavin’s work. The collection is particularly special to Barer because she said McGavin wrote many of the featured poems in Barer’s apartment during the pandemic. In McGavin’s latest project, “Computer Room,” Barer said they feel McGavin exhibits objectivity and maturation as she explores new themes in her poetry.

Moving forward, McGavin said she feels excited to continue working on “Computer Room” while at Trinity. This project came about through McGavin’s contemplation of her childhood computer room, which she said represents the transitory nature of the aughts – the time between the years 2000 and 2009. Technological advances have rendered the concept of the computer room obsolete, McGavin said, and this change fascinates the poet.

“I wanted to … help expand the emotional language around our relationship to technology in a way that I think only poetry maybe has the space for,” McGavin said.

(Courtesy of Sadie Jean Spezzano)
McGavin stands in front of a colorful assortment of magazines and books. She said her current work in progress, "Computer Room," utilizes poetry to contemplate society's relationship with technology. (Courtesy of Sadie Jean Spezzano)

[Related: LA Literary Lore: YALLWEST festival returns with diverse array of books after 2-year hiatus]

As she prepares for her program at Trinity, McGavin said she plans to spend her summer researching technological history as well as refreshing her knowledge of both English and Irish literary canons. In particular, McGavin said the lucid, readable poetic style of Eavan Boland has been a rich source of inspiration during this stage of the research process. She said she is also excited for the return of in-person poetry events around London and Dublin, which have always been special for her given her upbringing in such settings.

Some of McGavin’s fondest adolescent memories come from her years performing at poetry slams in LA, she said. During her youth, McGavin said she would often attend open mics at Da Poetry Lounge, a community poetry space organized by poet Yesika Salgado. Given her own roots in the city, Salgado said she has always resonated with McGavin’s LA-focused pieces and has loved watching McGavin grow both as a woman and a writer. Years after their first meeting, McGavin’s blossoming career makes Salgado hopeful for the future of poetry, Salgado said.

While completing “Computer Room” and resuming in-person readings, McGavin said she cannot wait to see where her work takes her next. McGavin said she intends to retain lessons about the craft and the community-centered approach to poetry she learned from the LA literary world. Above all, McGavin said she always caters her writing to her personal reading desires in order to preserve joy and excitement for the work she produces.

“There are so many cliches about tortured writers and suffering artists, (but) when I’m writing, I’m at my happiest,” McGavin said.

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