Author Archives: Sally Ashton

About Sally Ashton

Poet, writer, teacher, editor, moon-watcher. Check my bio page, "About," for the full bank account.

Five Poets Laureate: 500 Words

ReleaseReading5Local Inhabitants, (L-R) Nils Peterson, Erica Goss, Parthenia M.
Hicks, Dave Denny, Sally Ashton. Photo courtesy Gwen Mitchell.

Here we are, smirky and perky after our June 15th release reading of Local Habitations, an anthology of poems of the Poets Laureate from Santa Clara County to date.

As part of our release celebration, each poet laureate was asked to write a poem of exactly 100 words, title included, using the theme, “Local Habitations.” None of us knew what the others wrote. After our individual readings we came up front, drew numbers, and read our contributions in that order as one single poem.

What follows is the text, as read, of our collaboration. Strange how it seems to come together as an intentional whole! In case you missed our reading, we do hope to read together again in the near future, so stay tuned. If you attended, we invite your comments below.

Local Habitations

Jacaranda is the tree for us, twice-blooming
in our region, a bold and fragrant purple in spring,
a paler but somehow richer blue in autumn.

Turn any corner in our neighborhood and see them
lined along the parkway in a conspiracy of beauty.
So we, in our youth, were given to the brave pose

or the startling proclamation. And now we have,
how shall I say it, deepened, taken on a subtle
complexity we could not in spring have imagined.

How strange and lovely to find ourselves in
this changing light. We pull the car over to the curb
to gawk in silence. The tree for us is Jacaranda.            


They say we have no seasons
in California. Fall, for instance,

fails to please.
They want our trees

decked out
in garish tones

and frost to grow
on pumpkins like mold

on bread. Perhaps it seems
that summer will never end

as heat swells the Pacific
and small clouds collect

in the uncertain sky.
The land, a little shabby

from summer’s long
dormancy, will never look

like the soft green hills they
left, thinking

that they wanted this much sun.
Now it’s old news

and they long to know
that change is coming

impatient to dig out
their woolen sweaters.


Local Habitations

The old tree in Willow Glen
cracks across the sky
the sound so loud and close
everyone looks up
but no one moves

It takes a visitor
a quiet shy voice
to speak the word

Branches we love to call arms
always heavier than we think
Fall everywhere

Reach for people, dogs
bits of food, benches
corners of blankets
and finally rest
dangling like slings between cars and high wires

Why not now? She thinks.
Now, when the people are so close
And the sky is so blue
And a lovely visitor
With a soft voice
Has recognized me?


A Small Bang.

Syllables pour into a hundred word universe shocked as the first hydrogen atoms. Each has a music. They circle, join, suddenly – word-sounds – “Crew went the curlew as it flew in a curlicue.” They rhyme. “Ache did,” pairs with “naked.” They gather into galaxies, “He did not know who he was until she taught him desire, then he did not know who he was,” until here, in Cupertino, at the end of the Dictionary of the Milky Way, we dangle from a participle, aware of dark matter, what has not yet been seen, so not yet said.



My grandfather would have sized up this crowd with two words: local yokels.

When a stranger moves to town we call him immigrant.

If we move to a foreign country we call ourselves ex-pats instead.

To travel from one place to another we lock our houses first.

To dream, the mind throws the doors open wide.

Either way we leave what we know behind.

To know ourselves better we’ve unlocked the genome.

We discover we’re related to everyone everywhere.

We are also made of star stuff blown from the corners of the cosmos.

Therefore wherever we wander, we’re home.

# # #

1.  including title, Dave Denny, Current Cupertino Poet Laureate
2. Erica Goss
, Current Los Gatos Poet Laureate
3. Parthenia M. Hicks
, First Los Gatos Poet Laureate
4. Nils Peterson
, First Santa Clara County Poet Laureate
5. Sally Ashton, Second Santa Clara County Poet Laureate


Filed under Laureate's News, On Poetry

Release reading: Local Habitations

Next Saturday June 15, 3pm
Celebrating a new anthology of Poets Laureate past and present
of the Santa Clara County


Please join host David Denny, and Nils Peterson, Parthenia M. Hicks, Erica Goss, and me as we celebrate the release of Local Habitations with a reading at Cupertino Community Hall, 10350 Torre Avenue at 3pm. Festivities include all 5 laureates reading from the new collection, live music, refreshments, and (drum roll) a surprise collaboration between all five of us.

Each of us is writing a separate “Local Habitions” poem for the occasion. Each poem is to be exactly 100 words–no more, no less. None of us know what the others are writing beyond that. Come cheer us on this Saturday as we unveil it all. Well the usual amount at least.

Sponsored by

The City of Cupertino, Cupertino Library Commission,
Friends of the Cupertino Library and the Library Foundation,
and Poetry Center San Jose.

Hope to see you there~

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate Emerita


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NASA is calling: Haiku to Mars!

Dear Earthlings~

This just in from the NPR Website: SEND YOUR HAIKU TO MARS!


“Galactic poet?

Here’s how to become famous.

Send your work to Mars!

NASA is raising awareness for its upcoming launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft with its . The MAVEN spacecraft is scheduled for launch this November, to study the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere; the craft will examine why Mars lost its atmosphere, and how that catastrophe affected the history of water there.

But to liven things up, the mission managers have invited the public to submit literary messages that could be . Three lucky poets will get the chance to include their haiku, specifically written for the occasion — and everybody who submits something will have their name included on the DVD.

“The Going to Mars campaign offers people worldwide a way to make a personal connection to space, space exploration and science in general, and share in our excitement about the MAVEN mission,” said Stephanie Renfrow, lead for the MAVEN Education and Public Outreach program at University of Colorado, Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

NASA says the rules are simple: “Everybody on planet Earth is welcome to participate!” You do have to be 18 years old to create a log-in email profile, and children are encouraged to ask parents and teachers for help. All haiku must be in English.

The submission deadline is July 1, and starting July 15, the public will vote on the three winning poems to travel on the spacecraft’s DVD. The winners will be announced Aug. 8. The poems will be accompanied on the MAVEN by some student artwork, selected by popular vote in a separate contest.

Want to play? Newscast anchor Dave Mattingly has obligingly penned one to get you started:

Mars, you planet red

No life, just craters and ice

Dark, dark, dark, dark, goose ”

And it’s not even National Poetry Month. Can I hear an “amen?” Plus that newscaster’s haiku, above, is going to be pretty hard to beat. See if you can.

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate Emerita


Filed under Laureate's News, On Poetry

Poetry and Art: A reading of Ekphrastic poems


Don’t miss this annual Santa Clara County Poet Laureate event sponsored by the San Jose Museum of Art and Poetry Center San Jose. Santa Clara County’s first Laureate, Nils Peterson, began the tradition. I will be this year’s host once more.

Come early and enjoy the museum’s current exhibits, then listen to a selection of poems read that were written by area poets in response to these pieces.

There may still be space in the morning workshop at the museum so that you can try your hand at writing an ekphrastic poem, too.

I hope to see you there~

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate Emeritus



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Legacy of Poetry: Poetry on the Move!


As part of San Jose State University’s annual Legacy of Poetry Day tomorrow, Thursday, April 18, I’ve been invited to host a reading of poems from our contest anthology, Invention. Nine readers answered my invitation to read. Each reader will read their own entry and one other. Our portion of the day-long event begins at 1:30 p.m.

I will open the reading with “A Lightbulb Moment,” the poem from our youngest contributor, Zahra Attarwala of Saratoga, 11 years old at the time of her entry.

While there were five poems chosen as winners, ALL entries appear in this fabulous anthology. I will have a few on hand for purchase. Here are tomorrow’s readers and the additional poem each has chosen.

William Burns; reads Sandip Bhattacharya
Jade Bradbury; reads Marianne Bickett
Kathleen Goldbach; reads Peter Bosel
Mark Heinlein; reads Samantha Le
Dennis Noren; reads C. Seney
Rene Schell; reads Christine Richardson
Mary Lou Taylor; reads Maureen Draper
Janet Trenchard; reads Lita Kurth
Jessica Keaton (Second reader) reads Leah Browning and Muriel Karr

There is a full days’ events planned. Perhaps I will see you there. Parking available in the Fourth St. Garage across from the MLK Library. Come through the library into the plaza right out front on campus side. Full schedule at the event link above.

New_Legacy_of_Poetry-final-1Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate Emeritus


Filed under Laureate's News, Poetry on the Move

Ekphrasis: A talk and workshop at the San Jose Museum of Art


I’ll be giving a noontime talk this Wednesday, April 3rd, at the San Jose Museum of art on ekphrasis–poetry written in response to art. I’ll give some historical perspective and explore the connections between image and text examining how ekphrasis works in well-known poems as well as in my own work. We’ll also look at images from the museum’s current exhibits that use text in their compositions, another way of considering text and image and the romance between them. (free with museum admission).

If you plan on taking my subsequent Ekphrastic Poetry Workshop also held at the San Jose Museum of Art, on April 27th, 10-12:30, there’s still room, the price is right($15 non-members/$10 members), and Wednesday’s lecture would prove to be a good, though not required, introduction to the creative process. Sign up through the museum.

I’m really looking forward to the talk, the workshop, AND the capstone Fourth Annual Poetry Invitational for which ten poets are already busy writing their own ekphrastic poems in response to works on display. I will host a reading at the museum Saturday, April 27th at 2pm (free with museum admission). Readers include: Kevin Arnold; Kelly Cressio-Moeller; Darrell Dela Cruz; Kirk Glaser; Los Gatos Poet Laureate Erica Goss; Evelyn So; Santa Cruz County Poet Laureate David Swanger; Robert Sward; Sterling Warner; Leslie Zane. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy the gallery exhibits and hear new poems read.

Yes, it’s (almost) April, National Poetry Month. May your calendars be full! You will hear more from me throughout April for more Poetry Month info. Check the calendar above in “Laureate Schedule.”

And with that, the Laurels slide from my brow. . . it’s been sweet.

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County’s Second Poet Laureate (2011-2013)


Filed under Laureate's News, On Poetry

Poetry on the Move: Anthology Reading

Dear Poetry Lovers~

If you submitted a poem to the Poetry on the Move contest, then your entry appears in the just-released anthology, Invention. San Jose State University has invited me to host a reading from the book at the Legacy of Poetry Day on campus, Thursday, April 18th, 1:30pm. Our segment will last for half an hour.

If you’d be interested in participating by reading your poem, please contact me asap at the email listed below. We will have room for 10 readers and a spot for you will be reserved on a first-come basis.

There will be an opportunity to purchase a copy of this lovely keepsake anthology with your poem included on its own page. Your name and poem title also appear in the index.

I look forward to hearing from you!
Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate–for one more week!



Filed under Laureate's News, On Poetry, Poetry on the Move

Poetry Reading: Kim Addonizio


Nationally acclaimed poet Kim Addonizio, co-author of Poet’s Companion and No Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within, and current Lurie Chair Professor at San Jose State reads from several collections. She might even play the blues harp. Free Event!

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Poet Laureates in the News: Dave and Erica

Congratulations to Cupertino Poet Laureate Dave Denny who has been awarded an Artist Laureate Fellowship from Arts Council Silicon Valley.


This is a big honor, and I quote, “For over 21 years the Arts Council has annually awarded cash prizes to exceptional individual artists to enable them to continue to pursue their creative work. This year, $5,000 was awarded in each of the artistic categories. The Artist Laureate program was created to not only recognize mid-career artists, but emerging artists who have less than two years professional experience in visual, literary, or performing arts. Artists were selected by a panel of experienced judges based upon the artistic quality and originality of work, community impact within Santa Clara County, and professional development by demonstrating continued exploration of their art form.”

It’s been my great pleasure to get to know Dave and work with him during our concurrent laureateships. The Laureate Fellowship is a fitting acknowledgement of his talent, his contributions to poetry, and his service to the people of Cupertino and beyond. Bravo, Dave!

In the meantime, the new Los Gatos Poet Laureate, Erica Goss , hasn’t wasted any time celebrating poetry in the town. Tomorrow in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, she’ll be leading a Poetry Walk through Los Gatos, ending at C.B. Hannegan’s, an Irish pub that will be hosting a town-wide celebration.


Erica is calling the walk, “A Pint of Poetry, ” and hopes you’ll join the stroll with her. More info can be found here. Brava, Erica! What a terrific idea.

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate

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Making Sense: My last formal presentation as your PL

Join me if you can at the Martin Luther King Library this Wednesday, February 27, noon-1pm, as I talk about my experiences as the Second Poet Laureate, (2011-2013), and  hope to make sense of contemporary poetry for the confused, contemptuous, or simply curious. I’m looking forward to it. As noted, it is most likely my last formal presentation in this role, though I will be participating in other poetry events through the end of March. I will be attending the County Board of Supervisors on April 9th for closing formalities.smaller Sally Ashton FlierIn April, it is more or less Sally Ashton all the time at the San Jose Museum of Art (just kidding), and I will post announcements here about the noontime lecture, morning workshop, and finally the annual Poetry Invitational. However, I will have lost my laurels by then and will be operating as strictly emerita (actually I think I lost my laurels when I was a teen. Oh, maybe that was something else).

As you can see, I’m already starting to unravel.

I hope to see you there. Check out other events at the Laureate Schedule link, above.

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate


Filed under Laureate's News, On Poetry