Traveller Poet Conveys Place in Words


By Torie Hamilton, Special to the Independent

Ellen Girardeau Kempler
Ellen Girardeau Kempler

A solo writing trip to Ireland and a gold boat inspired writer and poet Ellen Girardeau Kempler to start a website as a platform of inspiration for writers.

After returning from a 2012 trip, Kempler realized the potential for creative growth that travel brings writers and thus birthed Gold Boat Journeys, with the logo name inspired by a seven-inch-long Iron Age boat unearthed by two Irish farmers in 1896 amid other artifacts made of the same precious metal. A simple realization led Kempler to organize on the site what she calls “mind trips” for writers through travelling tips, cultural adventures and writing prompts.

And Kempler heeds her own advice, recently allowing readers to time travel with her to Ohio in her most recent winning entry to the Laguna Beach Library annual poetry contest. She won first place for the third year in a row. In her winning poem, “Sense Memories: Ohio Summer,” Kempler uses all five senses and two locales in Ohio that are reflective of childhood summers to convey a strong sense of place. In addition to place, memory and transition are also themes that provide a common thread through Kempler’s body of poetic work. She is working on a book that is a collection of her poems that she envisions as an embodiment of the places she holds dear and the memories that follow.

A live-reading of her poem will be done by actor John Gardiner on Saturday, June 6, at noon as the Laguna Beach Library honors all of the winners of the recent contest. Kempler would have been the one to read her own poem as she holds a deep affinity for reading aloud, but she will be halfway across the Atlantic on her way to Ireland. “Poetry is meant to be read and listened to aloud,” she emphasizes.

Kempler moved to Laguna Beach in 1997 from Los Angeles with her husband, Roger, and their two daughters, Holly, now 24, and Alex, now 21.

Both a deep-seeded love for travel and writing have remained central to Kempler’s story. She has been writing poetry since the age of 8 and she cultivated the early-established passion for this art by attending the UC Santa Barbara’s College of Creative Studies. Here, she was the poetry editor for the campus’s literary magazine, Spectrum.

After receiving a master’s degree in mass communications from California State University Northridge, Kempler worked 25 years as a writer, editor and communications and marketing manager for several organizations, including the Laguna Art Museum and the Laguna Canyon Foundation.

Life beyond these positions for Kempler is characterized by the publication of 10 of her poems as well as several nominations and awards for a number of writing competitions. Amidst Kempler’s literary success, she also made time to travel from France to Chilean Patagonia to Jordan. Kempler’s favorite destination remains her home-town in Oregon, which holds the sensory memories that are central to her writing.

“You can appreciate everything the rain brings without getting wet: hike through forests, bike for miles along rivers and pick wild blackberries until your fingers turn blue,” Kempler reminisces.

Currently, Kempler is preparing for a two-week-long trip back to Northern Ireland to celebrate the 150th birthday of her favorite classical poet, William Butler Yeats, with the rest of the country that is holding a number of exhibitions, performances, festivals, readings, talks and screenings in honor of the Nobel Prize-winning poet. She plans two trips next year: a writing conference to Iceland and a stars tour in Santa Fe with writer Paul Bogard. And Kempler works as a travel agent, which provides advantages in planning such trips, especially when she can customize them with the help of travel professionals. Kempler welcomes any and all to join her on these future trips.

Ultimately, while Kempler will not be bodily present for the honor of her poem, she is honored and she continues to emphasize the significance and beauty poetry holds.

“It is the only art form that is never about money. It is the closest language ever comes to music or visual art,” Kempler muses.


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