Category Archives: Favorite Poem

This just in: Laureate News

One of these days the post will say “new poet laureate” instead of “poet laureate’s news,” (hint: tomorrow’s County Board of Supervisors’ meeting: 9am!!), but for now, there’s this gem.

Those of you who contributed to Nils’ Peterson’s “Family Album” poem during his term as the first Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County will be interested to note that the poem has been put in video form. Here, I’ll let you read the rest, below.

And, don’t forget next Tuesday’s event at Montalvo. Details can be found here.

OFF-THE-PAGE_2-6-14See you “there.” 😉

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate



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The Better Part: Poet Laureates read on Public Access TV

Cupertino Poet Laureate Dave Denny, former Los Gatos Poet Laureate Parthenia Hicks, and I were recently hosted on The Better Part, a Cupertino Senior TV Production. It will be Cablecast during the week of January 20, but here it is now as posted on YouTube.

Many thanks to Cupertino Senior TV Productions, and especially to our congenial host, Phil Lenihan, whose interest in poetry made the program possible. Phil added in a recent note that the New Yorker now has the poets reading their poems in the online edition. Good work, Phil!

I hope you enjoy. I’m not sure what my necklace was thinking, something creative apparently, but there you have it.

Cheers in the New Year!

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate


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Don’t forget: Bookfair runs through tomorrow, December 11!

You can still find a way for your Barnes&Noble online purchases to benefit The Hub!, a community service center supporting current and former foster youth. Here’s a picture of 17 year old Carmen Martinez, guest reader from The Hub, reading us a poem in Spanish and English.Carmen Martinez

Full details at the former post.

I’m in the midst of end of the semester madness at SJSU, but hope to post a recap from our wonderful reading December 6. It was a moving and memorable event, and yes, a good time was had by all.


Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate

(photo courtesy Kevin Arnold)

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December 6 Reading: Don’t miss it!

I hope you’re planning on attending this event, more fully blurbbed in the previous post. What I’d like to add here is the complete list of readers and to give you the Barnes&Noble Bookfair code that you can use for ALL instore purchases including in the Cafe, but also ALL online purchases at from December 6 through December 11! That way, if you can’t join us on Thursday, you can still find a way for your purchases to benefit The Hub!, a community service center supporting current and former foster youth. See details below. I hope to see you Thursday.

Voices from Around the World~
A December Favorite Poems Reading
Thursday, December 6 at 7pm
Stevens Creek Barnes&Noble
3600 Stevens Creek Boulevard, San Jose
C0-sponsored by Poetry Center San Jose

Readers to Include: (alphabetical)
Deolinda Adao: Portuguese and English
Balance Chow: Chinese and English
Pushpa MacFarlane: Hindi and English
Carmen Martinez, Youth Reader from The Hub!: Spanish and English
Ann Muto: Japanese and English
Shirindokht Nourmanesh: Farsi and English
Nils Peterson: Swedish and English
Christine Richardson: an American poem in English
Renee Schell: German and English
Dalia Sirkin: Italian and English
Binh Vo: Vietnamese and English
Roohi Vora: Urdu and English

In partnership with Barnes&Noble, a portion of book purchases made that evening will benefit The Hub! There will also be recommended books for purchase to sign and donate to The Hub! ALL in-store purchases will be included; let the cashier know you’re part of the Bookfair. ALL online purchases made December 6-11 will also benefit the Hub! if you use this Bookfair code at time of purchase: 10960433

Thanks for your support! Poetry is powerful stuff.

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate

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Voices from Around the World: A December favorite poems reading!

We live in a remarkable county made more remarkable by the wonderful diversity of the people who live here. In celebration of the many peoples who make up the people of Santa Clara County, I’m  bringing together a group of readers who will share a favorite poem in their native language as well as in English. We’ll get to enjoy both music and meaning. What fun! I hope you can be a part of this memorable evening.

Poems will be read in Urdu, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, English, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Swedish, Farsi, Italian, and Vietnamese. I’m so excited and very proud to present

Voices from Around the World~
A December Favorite Poems Reading:
Thursday, December 6 at 7pm
Stevens Creek Barnes&Noble,
3600 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose

In partnership with Barnes&Noble, a portion of book purchases made that evening and online using our Book Faire code will benefit The Hub!, a drop-in center offering guidance, support, and social services to current & former foster youth, ages 15-24. There will also be recommended books for purchase to sign and donate to The Hub. What a wonderful way to celebrate the season of giving.

A project of the Santa Clara County Poet Laureate
Co-sponsored by Poetry Center San Jose

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate

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A favorite poem: Thanksgiving

I love double entendre, those opportunities of language when double meaning takes a word or phrase a second mile. I’m thinking of this post’s title like that, in two ways. The first is to give you an opportunity to write a Thanksgiving poem courtesy of one of Poets&Writers online writing prompts from The Time Is Now that you can sign up at their website to receive yourself. The prompt I’ll share is

Poem of Gratitude

“To mark the holiday this week, make a list of things you’re grateful for. Beneath each item, free-associate a list of objects. Pick ten from your lists of objects and use them to write a poem.”

Give it a try, and as I tell my students, play! Perhaps you’ll end up with a cherished holiday poem or perhaps you’ll simply have a good time remembering how thankful you really are, even if your gratitude doesn’t include writing a poem of gratitude.

Every November I wish I had a Thanksgiving poem that I’d written to read across the table. So far the muse’s lips are zipped. But if I’m asked to read something, my go-to poem for the holiday is former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins’ “Osso Buco.” Notice how the poem begins and ends with bone, and moves from the plate to table to kitchen and finally to bed, where all happy Thanksgivings finally take us.

May you find yourself in a place of gratitude tomorrow and in the days to come. This, then, is my second meaning of the post’s title, my own favorite poem for the feast.

Osso Buco

I love the sound of the bone against the plate
and the fortress-like look of it
lying before me in a moat of risotto,
the meat soft as the leg of an angel
who has lived a purely airborne existence.
And best of all, the secret marrow,
the invaded privacy of the animal
prized out with a knife and swallowed down
with cold, exhilarating wine.

I am swaying now in the hour after dinner,
a citizen tilted back on his chair,
a creature with a full stomach–
something you don’t hear much about in poetry,
that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation.
you know: the driving rain, the boots by the door,
small birds searching for berries in winter.

But tonight, the lion of contentment
has placed a warm heavy paw on my chest,
and I can only close my eyes and listen
to the drums of woe throbbing in the distance
and the sound of my wife’s laughter
on the telephone in the next room,
the woman who cooked the savory osso buco,
who pointed to show the butcher the ones she wanted.
She who talks to her faraway friend
while I linger here at the table
with a hot, companionable cup of tea,
feeling like one of the friendly natives,
a reliable guide, maybe even the chief’s favorite son.

Somewhere, a man is crawling up a rocky hillside
on bleeding knees and palms, an Irish penitent
carrying the stone of the world in his stomach;
and elsewhere people of all nations stare
at one another across a long, empty table.

But here, the candles give off their warm glow,
the same light that Shakespeare and Izaac Walton wrote by,
the light that lit and shadowed the faces of history.
Only now it plays on the blue plates,
the crumpled napkins, the crossed knife and fork.

In a while, one of us will go up to bed
and the other will follow.
Then we will slip below the surface of the night
into miles of water, drifting down and down
to the dark, soundless bottom
until the weight of dreams pulls us lower still,
below the shale and layered rock,
beneath the strata of hunger and pleasure,
into the broken bones of the earth itself,
into the marrow of the only place we know.

Billy Collins,
The Art of Drowning

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate


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News this week: 2 events and Save the Date!

A busy week ahead for the Poet Laureate. First, I’ll be attending the Montalvo Arts Center event, “Feast of the Idea,” and reading one of the poems I wrote while in residency there. The event will be a conversation among special guests led by Montalvo Culinary Fellow Niki Ford. Anyone interested in sustainability and “how our internal and external environments relate to our sense of wellness” feel free to attend. Wednesday, November 14, 7pm, in the Carriage House Theater.

The following evening, this Thursday, November 15, I’ll be the Featured Reader at Poetry Center San Jose’s “Reading at Willow Glen” series (scroll down at the link), hosted by the inimitable Dennis and Christine Richardson and followed by an open mic! If you’re interested in hearing some of my recent as well as older work, please join me there, and bring along a poem of your own to read, one you’ve written or one you admire. I’m looking forward to reading with the home crowd.

LASTLY, but not leastly, please SAVE THE DATE, Thursday evening, December 6 for a special December Favorite Poems Reading featuring voices from around the world. Selected readers will share a poem in an original language and in its English translation. Full publicity to follow, but the reading will be held at Stevens Creek Barnes&Noble at 7pm.

I have the delightful privilege of posting this to you from my daughter and new son-in-law’s guest room in Brooklyn, New York where all is well and where we enjoyed an equally delightful 60 degree sunny Sunday. The world is a wild and whacky place, frequently wonderful, and I don’t mind if you quote me as saying so.

We do not forget those in nearby communities who are still without power, shelter, or home.

See you soon~

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate


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Kara Arguello: A last favorite poem entry

When You Are Old
William Butler Yeats

A family friend gave me a book of Irish poetry when I was in my teens.  Yeats quickly became a favorite poet of mine.  I love this poem for its immediate effect of placing the reader in her own future, drowsy by the fire’s warmth, and then looking back; and for its personification of Love and the beautiful images about where he fled.  Although the poem is often interpreted as a rejected lover’s bitter warning, for me it has always reiterated the importance of aspiring to be truly loved –not for one’s beauty, but for one’s “pilgrim Soul.”

Kara Arguello, 34
San Jose

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

William Butler Yeats

(Note from Poet Laureate: This really is the LAST of the formal submissions to the Santa Clara County’s Favorite Poems Project. Janice Dabney’s submission of “The Blessing” was one good way to end; so too this moving poem by Yeats)


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Janice Dabney: A favorite poem entry

A Blessing
James Wright

This was one of the first poems I appreciated when I started reading poetry seriously in college. I gasped at the last two lines – in recognition because I had felt that emotion when experiencing special moments, especially in nature; in fact the scene always brings to mind the covered bridge area in Felton (Santa Cruz mountains) where I spent many fun hours on childhood vacations.  Since then, the poem continues to give me peace, reminding me to stop and appreciate even the smallest “blossom moments” in life.

Janice Dabney
Documentation Specialist,  Stanford Linear Accelerator Center
Mountain View

A Blessing

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

James Wright


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Paul McNamara: A favorite poem

Grandfather’s Poem
from the film, “Night of the Iguana”
Tennessee Williams

I love this poem for its context, which illustrates the Reverend Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon’s (Richard Burton) struggle between spirit and flesh.  It’s also the culmination of the grandfather’s life, which speaks to our shared humanity in coming to terms with spirit living in a human body, and the underlying emotion of continuous reconciliation.

Paul McNamara
Fundraiser, SJSU
San Jose

Poem from “Night of the Iguana”

How calmly does the olive branch
Observe the sky begin to blanch
Without a cry, without a prayer
With no betrayal of despair

Some time while light obscures the tree
The zenith of its life will be
Gone past forever
And from thence
A second history will commence

A chronicle no longer gold
A bargaining with mist and mold
And finally the broken stem
The plummeting to earth, and then

And intercourse not well designed
For beings of a golden kind
Whose native green must arch above
The earth’s obscene corrupting love

And still the ripe fruit and the branch
Observe the sky begin to blanch
Without a cry, without a prayer
With no betrayal of despair

Oh courage! Could you not as well
Select a second place to dwell
Not only in that golden tree
But in the frightened heart of me

Tennessee Williams

(Note from Poet Laureate: Sounds like a good summer flick!)

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