Category Archives: Laureate’s News

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Order by this Tuesday: Poetry on the move!


Anthology cover!

Dear Friends~

One of the goals of the Santa Clara County Poet Laureate program is to craft a poetic identity for the county.  I am pleased to announce, working with the County Executive’s Office of Public Affairs, we have created a beautiful, colorful Anthology of the poems that were submitted for the Poetry on the Move contest, last spring. It will be perfect bound and sized to replicate the VTA car cards.

You will recall that Poetry on the Move put winning poems in public transportation for everyone to enjoy.  The Anthology, which takes its design cues from the shape and color of the transit and bus cards, includes all of the poems submitted for the contest, including yours.

We will print a limited supply for the public libraries.  As a contributor to the collection or supporter of poetry in the county, you may pre-order copies of the Anthology for yourself, family and friends at cost.  The cost for each Anthology is $17, including taxes, shipping and handling.

To reserve your copy(s), please place your order by responding to by Tuesday, January 29, so that we can have a sufficient number printed.  You will receive the collection in the mail in four to six weeks. Please do not try to use the Poetry on the Move or any other email associated with me so that your order may be accurately processed.

Please include the following information:

Name, Mailing Address, and desired Quantity

Make your check payable to: County of Santa Clara

Mail check to:

County of Santa Clara
Office of Public Affairs
11th Floor East
70 West Hedding Street
San Jose, CA 95110

On behalf of the County of Santa Clara, we are very pleased to make this contribution towards fulfillment of the goals of the Poet Laureate program.

Officially yours~

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate

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Out of Our Minds: Radio interview this Wednesday

This Wednesday, January 23, I will be the guest on FM 91.5 KKUP’s weekly poetry show, “Out of Our Minds,” hosted by J.P. Dancing Bear. The show will run from 8-9pm and will feature the two of us talking together about poetry and whatever else might cross our minds. I will  read poems throughout our conversation. I’m hoping to air some new pieces and a few old-timers as well. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity. I hope you can tune in.

If not, you will be able to find a podcast of the interview at the show’s link, above, sometime in the following week.

“Out of Our Minds” has been presenting poets both local and international for over 30 years. It is one of the longest running poetry radio shows in the country. The host, J.P. Dancing Bear, was the founding editor of the DMQ Review through 2003 when he turned the zine over to me. In 2004 he went on to found and edit the hard copy journal American Poetry Review. He is also owner and editor of Dream Horse Press, and as an accomplished poet himself, has published four books and numerous chapbooks. We’re going to have fun. Please join us!


Radio host J.P. Dancing Bear

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate

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Ireland and back again: A good story and a good poem


Here’s your Poet Laureate in front of the City Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on January 2nd, the night before our return to the US and just two days before political riots broke out again in this beautiful but embattled city. At this moment, all was calm and well, Irish. My husband Frank and I went from here to a bookstore, to a pub for a pint, and then to a wonderful seafood restaurant. After a memorable meal we walked to a small dinner theater to hear an Irish country singer, Maria Doyle Kennedy, accompanied by her amazing guitarist husband, Kieran. Why did she look so familiar? She looks sooo familiar, I said to Frank. When we got home, a little google research revealed why: Maria Doyle Kennedy, the most evil character(to date) on Downton Abbey!

It wasn’t all pubs and famous actresses. We went to  Northern Ireland to the city of Coleraine to join  the Irish in-laws’ celebration of our daughter’s summertime California wedding. Yes, to meet the rest of the family. At the reception, I met my new son-in-law Shane’s Uncle Pat, a scholar and a great friend of poetry. We had a bit of a visit, got on the subject of the movie “Lincoln,” and then the actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Pat mentioned that Daniel is the son of the late Poet Laureate of England, Cecil Day-Lewis. Pat then recommended a poem of Day-Lewis to me; I have a feeling this was his point all along. The poem, “Walking Away,” is about a father’s recollection of a son’s first day at school, of the bitter-sweet partings and the “worse partings.”

How fitting it was to read this after our daughter’s wedding celebration, a time of so much joy and yet such a large leave-taking. How grateful I am to read and re-read “Walking Away.” As I emailed Pat, how much subtle work this poem is doing to get the reader ready to hear what might otherwise be an abstract aphorism at the end if simply stated alone. This is the success of a memorable poem. Anyway, I think it is so fitting for the many partings we each face in our lifetimes, both the joyous and the “worse.”

Well, read the poem yourself and let me know what you think.

Walking Away

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.

I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

Cecil Day-Lewis

(thank you, Pat)

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


Filed under Favorite Poem, Laureate's News, On Poetry

Thoughts on endings, beginnings: Poet Laureate musings

Below is something I wrote for the editorial column of the latest issue of DMQ Review, just released this weekend. While the essay refers specifically to the poetry in the journal, it is also applicable to poetry in general. As always, feel free to post your response below.

On Endings

Fall has come and gone, the end of the world has come and gone, as has the shortest day of the year, and very soon, possibly before you read this, Christmas and New Year’s will take their places in time past as well. As all the wisdom of the ages suggests, this is how we get to new beginnings, a fresh start, rebirth—even a new year, 2013—through the goings, through the endings.

But not soooo fast. The new issue of DMQ Review brings a selection from the poems we received over the months of fall 2012. Each poem represents some here-and-now, each an expression of lived life caught in words and image. The poems and the poets you meet here, each in their own time and place, have things to tell you if you will give them a few considered minutes of your time. . .

Poetry works to slow time’s passage, to hold a mercurial moment and find its shape in well-chosen language. Though our living comes and is gone, a poet works toward preservation, toward giving experience some enduring presence even as time continues onward. It’s actually magic. One of my favorite examples of this magic laid bare is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, a love poem to a woman now long-dead, but as her lover promises her,

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

“This,” of course, refers to the poem itself, the material of literature that remains outside time until met with a reader. Then it springs back to life and in this way reanimates the woman’s memory in the present. The poem, even Shakespeare’s ardor, begins all over again. And then it ends again. Like I said, magic. Try the same technique with each of the poems you read. Read them aloud if you will. You become a co-creator of the poem as you reanimate time past.

In this way, endings give us a chance to begin all over again.

# # #

Happy endings, happy beginnings, and a Very Happy New Year. I’ll be in Ireland over the New Year and off the grid until my return. I’ll check back in soon.

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara Count Poet Laureate

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In the City Council Chambers: Giving the Invocation

I was invited by the San Jose Mayor’s office some weeks ago to give the invocation at the last City Council meeting of the season before their holiday break. I thought you might like to read the address I gave which I revised this weekend after last Friday’s tragedy. I had roughly five minutes and because of the subject matter, I had to round a few corners off, but I think I got the main point across. Let me know what you think in the comment section, below.


Honorable Mayor and Council Members,

Thank you for inviting me here today. Before I begin my formal remarks I would like to express my gratitude to this Council and the City of San Jose. Your support of the Poetry on the Move project has enriched the lives of the people in the entire county in a tangible way. Where art thrives, people draw closer to “the better angels of our nature.” Thank you.

Just last week I’d planned a very different Invocation for today’s Council meeting. I had planned to talk about how poets—in trying to make the world look like what it feels like — learn to rely on close observation of the sensory world. We were going to specifically consider sound and the difference between hearing and listening. I was composing a poem just for the Council around this consideration. I planned to read that poem and then wish you all a quiet season of listening in the days ahead.

Then came last Friday’s horrific shooting and the world, as it does, as it will again, changed. And I felt that instead of talking about how poets rely on the senses to choose words, which is true, that I should talk instead about how poetry makes sense with words or through words, or even by what lies under the words, which poetry also does. Poetry not only says what is often unsayable, it says it in a way that lets us recognize something of our own experience in it. Poetry offers a way in. But how can we make sense at such times?

People turn to poetry in times of crisis. We saw this at 9/11, poems posted on the internet and read on TV. Poetry is our earliest collective expression of what it means to be a people, of how life is ordered. Perhaps because poetry still endeavors to express what it means to be here—alive—now, people still turn to it and find consolation in the pattern of words.  Poetry takes the personal and the specific and searches for our universal experience that inhabits it. A poem gives shape to that experience.

In Poem # 372, Emily Dickinson begins a consideration of grief. She writes “After great pain, a formal feeling comes—”  The poem concludes:

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

Stupor. That is a brilliant and exact word for grief, for shock, for the initial leaden feeling that paralyzes us when tragedy strikes. Stupor is not an easy place from which to write poetry. Usually some degree of distance is required to gain the type of insight we hope to discover in writing a poem, that we hope to offer to a reader. So I bring today a poem written by Naomi Shihab Nye, an American poet of Palestinian descent. The poem is written for her grandmother who lives outside of Jerusalem. Through telling a particular story about an old woman in a distant land, Nye is able to uncover a larger significance that connects to you and me.

The Words Under the Words
for Sitti Khadra, north of Jerusalem

My grandmother’s hands recognize grapes,
the damp shine of a goat’s new skin.
When I was sick they followed me,
I woke from the long fever to find them
covering my head like cool prayers.

My grandmother’s days are made of bread,
a round pat-pat and the slow baking.
She waits by the oven watching a strange car
circle the streets. Maybe it holds her son,
lost to America. More often, tourists,
who kneel and weep at mysterious shrines.
She knows how often mail arrives,
how rarely there is a letter.
When one comes, she announces it, a miracle,
listening to it read again and again
in the dim evening light.

My grandmother’s voice says nothing can surprise her.
Take her the shotgun wound and the crippled baby.
She knows the spaces we travel through,
the messages we cannot send—our voices are short
and would get lost on the journey.
Farewell to the husband’s coat,
the ones she has loved and nourished,
who fly from her like seeds into a deep sky.
They will plant themselves. We will all die.

My grandmother’s eyes say Allah is everywhere, even in death.
When she talks of the orchard and the new olive press,
when she tells the stories of Joha and his foolish wisdoms,
He is her first thought, what she really thinks of is His name.
“Answer, if you hear the words under the words—
otherwise it is just a world with a lot of rough edges,
difficult to get through, and our pockets full of stones.”

Naomi Shihab Nye

It is my hope that in the quiet days ahead, through poetry or prayer or sharing bread or gathering together, we each find the grace and wisdom—the words under the words—for such times.

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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