Category Archives: On Poetry

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

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)


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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!



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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


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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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