Category Archives: Favorites of Local Leaders

Poems solicited from Santa Clara County’s public figures.

Favorite Poems: Final project reading at Palo Alto Books Inc.

Don’t worry. I’ll still be posting your favorite poems here until we run through the alphabet of submissions, but yes Wednesday evening March 7 at 7pm is the final public reading of your Favorite Poems. Join me as I host this last group of county residents at Books Inc. of Palo Alto, 855 El Camino Real #74 in Town and Country Village, Palo Alto.

A full list of readers appears in the header above. I’m expecting a SRO crowd, so come early, grab a seat, then browse the books for something to take home. I’ve requested they carry “Bright Wings,” an illustrated  anthology of bird poems edited by Billy Collins that looks pretty cool, but there are other discoveries to make, too.

In the meantime, I’d like to offer a shout out to Sal Pizarro, San Jose Mercury News’ fantastic “Around Town” columnist. He not only included an announcement for the March 7th reading in today’s column and promoted there both of the earlier Favorite Poems readings, but was himself an original “Local Leaders”  contributor to the blog, as well as a reader in the first Favorite Poems reading in San Jose last fall. He’s a superstar and a generous advocate for the arts in our valley. Give him a shout out yourself here for all he does for our community and especially in support of poetry.

And don’t forget to come tomorrow night!

See you there~

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate


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Al Young: A favorite poem

In your body all bodies lie
by Kenneth Patchen

Kenneth Patchen’s poem has quivered in my heart, almost word for word, for all of my lyric life. I was 15 when I first plucked it from the poetry shelf of the Detroit Public Library. It still gives me goose-bumps. In June 2011 my lovely, ornery aunt died. I can’t forget that reincarnation was slashed from Christian doctrine centuries ago by the Emperor Justinian and the Empress Theodora. When I pitched this history to Aunt Mae — a stubborn, Bible-bent Christian — she couldn’t buy it. Surely Patchen, an ornery, renegade poet, knew instinctively that “we” are far more than this interim cocoon of flesh.

Al Young
Former California State Poet Laureate

In your body all bodies lie

In your body all bodies lie, numbers in a caravan bound nowhere. They do not belong to you, nor you to them. All men have fed you with their want, and to them you shall return nothing; for it is not certain by whose will, nor from what womb you come. Do not grieve, therefore, for those who are lost to you; they were ever so to themselves—emerging from the unknown into what is known by none save the dead, they leave no track that time’s vast foot will not cover. They who know nothing of punishment have been known to perish for terrible sins. Life’s end is life. What is universal cannot be lost. The opinion of grammar has become the opinion of your world: through use of their own action, words rule the heads of men. Your native zone is silence; everything you want is within you. Do not seek the ungranting fire; man himself is the flame.

Kenneth Patchen
from The Collected Poems of Kenneth Patchen

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Christopher R. Moylan: A favorite poem

(note from Poet Laureate: This poem was selected simultaneously by two different community leaders, appearing earlier as Sal Pizzaro’s favorite. However, each choice is both personally and uniquely different, and I decided to bookend these “notable” contributions rather than list them together. Here, our final installation from a local elected official, Christopher R. Moylan, with much appreciation to all who contributed their thoughts during the project kickoff. More news on the beginning of community postings to follow).

The Second Coming
William Butler Yeats

It sure is hard to pick one favorite poem.  It is very tempting to pick one of the great poems that seem to be about poetry itself, such as “The Red Wheelbarrow” by Williams, or “Anecdote of the Jar” by Stevens (particularly since Stevens had two careers, insurance executive and poet, just like many of us city councilmembers who have a day job and then a half-time government job).  I have always loved Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” and it is a cautionary tale for those of us who are serving in government.

But given the times we live in, the one that most resonates with me as a local elected official, particularly one of Irish descent, is “The Second Coming” by Yeats.  Over and over these days, I find, like Yeats, that “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”  Unless those of us who have been selected for this duty can keep our heads, things will indeed fall apart and the center will not hold.

Christopher R. Moylan
Council Member, City of Sunnyvale

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)

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Susan Krane: A favorite poem

Alice Fulton

This is my second favorite poem at the moment. It would be my first favorite if I did not have such a strong lingering memory of the pack-punching final line in the other, temporarily-lost-on-my-desk favorite poem: “the operative word in all alone is all.”  Fulton’s poem is a wonderful collage of images and emotional cycles. It, too, is about the need for more than just one’s self. Her humor is perfect: romance dressed in leg irons, ground to a velvet. She captures a female mindset of deep yet glib self-observation.

Susan Krane
Oshman Executive Director
San Jose Museum of Art


It’s just me throwing myself at you,
romance as usual, us times us,

not lust but moxibustion,
a substance burning close

to the body as possible
without risk of immolation.

Nearness without contact
causes numbness. Analgesia.

Pins and needles. As the snugness
of the surgeon’s glove causes hand fatigue.

At least this procedure
requires no swag or goody bags,

stuff bestowed upon the stars
at their luxe functions.

There’s no dress code,
though leg irons

are always appropriate.
And if anyone says what the hell

are you wearing in Esperanto—
Kion diable vi portas?

tell them anguish
is the universal language.

Stars turn to train wrecks
and my heart goes out,

admirers gush. Ground to a velvet!
But never mind the downside,

mon semblable, mon crush.
Love is just the retaliation of light.

It is so profligate, you know,
so rich with rush.

Alice Fulton
 The New Yorker,
August 2, 2010

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Nils Peterson: A favorite poem

Among School Children
William Butler Yeats

I love the richness of Yeats’s fine mind listening to itself, the interiority, the intertwining of memory and learning reaching towards understanding. Between first and second verse, my favorite stanza break. As he stands smiling before the children, a longing for his lost love breaks over him. Heart feels the gulf between public image and private self. At last, magnificent stanza eight – answer that is riddle.

I taught this poem for many years. One day I looked around the classroom and realized I was a “sixty year old smiling man.” Now, I’ve outlived Yeats, that great poet of old age.

Nils Peterson
Professor Emeritus, San José State University
Poet Laureate Emeritus, Santa Clara County

Among School Children


I walk through the long schoolroom questioning;
A kind old nun in a white hood replies;
The children learn to cipher and to sing,
To study reading-books and histories,
To cut and sew, be neat in everything
In the best modern way – the children’s eyes
In momentary wonder stare upon
A sixty-year-old smiling public man.


I dream of a Ledaean body, bent
Above a sinking fire. a tale that she
Told of a harsh reproof, or trivial event
That changed some childish day to tragedy –
Told, and it seemed that our two natures blent
Into a sphere from youthful sympathy,
Or else, to alter Plato’s parable,
Into the yolk and white of the one shell.


And thinking of that fit of grief or rage
I look upon one child or t’other there
And wonder if she stood so at that age –
For even daughters of the swan can share
Something of every paddler’s heritage –
And had that colour upon cheek or hair,
And thereupon my heart is driven wild:
She stands before me as a living child.


Her present image floats into the mind –
Did Quattrocento finger fashion it
Hollow of cheek as though it drank the wind
And took a mess of shadows for its meat?
And I though never of Ledaean kind
Had pretty plumage once – enough of that,
Better to smile on all that smile, and show
There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow. Continue reading

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Mohammad H. Qayoumi: A favorite poem

Saadi, 13th century Persian poet

I believe this poem very eloquently states the common roots and linkages that all of us have as part of the human race. The analogy of the human body to the human race sagaciously demonstrates that if one person is suffering, it is the suffering of all humankind. By this assertion our insouciance to other humans’ pain anywhere questions our worthiness to be considered as part of the human community. Thus, our common elements as part of the human race clearly eclipse any differences that we may perceive by any set of measures or metrics.

The English translation of the poem is posted in the halls of the United Nations.

Mohammad H. Qayoumi, President
California State University, East Bay
Incoming President, San José State University

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul,

If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.

If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.


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Parthenia Hicks: A favorite poem

What We Want
Linda Pastan

I love this poem because it captures the mystery and the ache of the yearning for that which has no name and cannot be found in the outer world, not even in the face of a loved one. Though we search the outer world, the thing we long for responds to us in our innermost world, our dreams, as we “fall past” it, but awaken with aching arms.  It is hidden yet right before our eyes “as the stars are there even in full sun.” I especially love that the poet does not try to “teach” us or  name what it is that we seek, but instead leaves the mystery there before us.

Parthenia M. Hicks
Los Gatos Poet Laureate

What We Want

What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names—
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.
We fall past,
holding our arms
and in the morning
our arms ache.
We don’t remember the dream,
but the dream remembers us.
It is there all day
as an animal is there
under the table,
as the stars are there
even in full sun.

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Joshua Russell: A favorite poem

My Hobby
Shel Silverstein

Life is all about enjoying the little things. This poem to me is all about finding joy and creating your own. It also speaks to the child in me, which I tap into as frequently as I possibly can.

Joshua Russell
Director of Communications & Emerging Initiatives
1stACT Silicon Valley

My Hobby

When you spit from the twenty-sixth floor
And if floats on the breeze to the ground
Does it fall upon hats
Or on white persian cats
Or on heads, with a pitty-pat sound?

Oh, I used to think life was a bore
But I don’t feel that way any more
As count up the hits,
As I smile as I sit,
As I spit from the twenty-sixth floor.

Shel Silverstein
Where the Sidewalk Ends

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Ruth Kifer: A favorite poem

Robert Penn Warren

This poem by Robert Penn Warren speaks volumes to me with the opening lines. “The vision will come—the Truth be revealed—but not even in its vaguest nature you know—ah truth.” The poet speaks of eternal concepts of life—vision, truth, grace, virtue, and even death. Yet, he describes human understanding through existential images such as beds too wide, illicit meetings, crummy cafés, hospital rooms, surgical cuts, and blurred windows.

Ruth E. Kifer
University Library Dean
San Jose State University 


The vision will come—the Truth be revealed—but
Not even its vaguest nature you know—ah, truth

About what? But deep in the sibilant dark
That conviction irregularly

Gleams like fox-fire in sump-wood where,
In distance, lynx-scream or direful owl-stammer

Freezes the blood in a metaphysical shudder—which
Might be the first, feather-fine brush of Grace. Such

An event may come with night rain on roof, season changing
And bed too wide; or say, when the past is de-fogged

And old foot tracks of folly show fleetingly clear before
Rationalization again descends, as from seaward.

Or when the shadow of pastness teasingly
Lifts and you recollect having caught—when, when?—

A glint of the nature of virtue like
The electrically exposed white of a flicker’s

Rump feathers at the moment it flashes for the black thicket.
Or when, even, in a section of the city

Where no acquaintance would ever pass,
You watch snowflakes slash automobile lights

As you move toward the first
Illicit meeting, naturally at a crummy

Café. Your pace slows. You see her
Slip from the cab, dash for the door, dark fur coat

Collar up, head down. Inside,
As you order two highballs,

Continue reading

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Steve Tate: A favorite poem

At the Zoo
A.A. Milne

One of my favorites is “At the Zoo” by A.A. Milne. Everything in it brings out memories of childhood and innocence, times when life was just plain fun and you were learning new things. And it avoids the silliness of Dr. Seuss while still being silly!

Steve Tate
Mayor, City of Morgan Hill

At the Zoo

There are lions and roaring tigers,
and enormous camels and things,
There are biffalo-buffalo-bisons,
and a great big bear with wings.
There’s a sort of a tiny potamus,
and a tiny nosserus too—
But I gave buns to the elephant
when I went down to the Zoo!

There are badgers and bidgers and bodgers,
and a Super-in-tendent’s House,
There are masses of goats, and a Polar,
and different kinds of mouse,
And I think there’s a sort of a something
which is called a wallaboo—
But I gave buns to the elephant
when I went down to the Zoo!

If you try to talk to the bison,
he never quite understands;
You can’t shake hands with a mingo—
he doesn’t like shaking hands.
And lions and roaring tigers
hate saying, “How do you do?” —
But I give buns to the elephant
when I go down to the Zoo!

A.A. Milne (1882-1956)

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