Meet South Bay’s Poet Laureate
Sally Ashton is Santa Clara County’s official poet laureate. Yes, it’s a mysterious-sounding job. No, she doesn’t get to wear a special hat.
By Mike Anderson
Originally published in NBC Bay Area June 5, 2011
It’s OK if you don’t care about poetry, but it’s one woman’s mission to change that.
Sally Ashton is Santa Clara County’s official poet laureate. It’s a mysterious-sounding job, but she insists she doesn’t get to wear a special hat, as some people might imagine.
“Poetry exists,” Ashton said. “And the fact that a lot of people don’t relate to poetry or read poetry often could be because they feel alienated from it.”
Ashton was appointed on April 1, 2011, by the county’s Board of Supervisors and Arts Council Silicon Valley to serve a two-year term. She likes to joke about starting off as an “April Fool,” but it’s actually a serious job.
This is her official mandate:
- Elevate poetry in the awareness of Santa Clara County residents and to help celebrate the literary arts
- Serve as an advocate for poetry, literature, and the arts
- Lead a community project that makes poetry more accessible
- Contribute to Santa Clara County’s poetry and literary legacy
With nearly 2 million residents in the county, this is no easy task, especially when you’re as busy as Ashton. She’s also a lecturer at San Jose State University and the editor of DMQ Review, an online poetry and art journal.
For the last few months, she has been working on a favorite poem project that involves collecting special poems from county residents and posting them to her blog.
The position’s origins can be traced back to England in the 1300’s, but it’s starting to catch on today. There is a U.S. poet laureate, California poet laureate and many local counties and cities are also following the trend.
Ashton, for example, is only the second poet laureate of Santa Clara County. She thinks the position became popular after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“That was when there were suddenly poems coming across the Internet and people were sharing poetry with each other in a way that had not been a real common practice before,” Ashton said. “I think people reach for poetry at times like that.”
Ultimately, Ashton wants people to think of poetry as an enjoyable experience, similar to going to a museum. Next time you’re bored, she suggests picking up a book or going out to a public reading.
“Nobody has to think about poetry all the time,” she said. “But poetry shouldn’t be a foreign language.”
Keep up with Ashton at http://poetlaureateblog.org/.