SJSU Legacy of Poetry Day 2020: Staying Home—The Way to San Jose

Media Contacts:
Alan Soldofsky,
Gaia Collar-Schilling,

San Jose State’s Poets and Writers Coalition will host the annual Legacy of Poetry Day Reading and Celebration in honor of National Poetry Month as an online event this year, which will premiere on YouTube April 23. This year’s event will focus on the theme “Staying Home: The Way to San Jose.” The theme is designed to include poems inspired by the poets’ personal and family stories of how they settled in and made their home in San Jose and Silicon Valley, or how they’re coping with sheltering in place in San Jose or nearby Silicon Valley communities. Interested community members can participate via Zoom starting at 4 p.m. on April 23.

This year’s keynote poet is Ellen Bass, poet, educator, bestselling nonfiction author and winner of the Lambda Literary Award. Bass is a former Santa Cruz poet laureate and is SJSU’s 2021 Connie and Robert Lurie Distinguished Author-in-Residence. Her newest collection of poems, Indigo, was published in April 2020 by Copper Canyon Press. Her poems frequently appear in The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, The New York Times Magazine and other publications. She is also a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Joining her as featured readers are Janice Logo Sapigao, newly appointed Santa Clara County poet laureate; Mighty Mike McGee, former Santa Clara County poet laureate; Arlene Biala, ’90 Psychology, former Santa Clara County poet laureate; Sally Ashton, ’01 English, former Santa Clara County poet laureate; Gary Singh, ’94 BA, ’98 MA, Music, poet and Metro columnist; and Tskaka Campbell, award-winning poet and spoken word artist.

Alan Soldofsky

Alan Soldofsky, director of SJSU’s Creative Writing program, at the 2015 Legacy of Poetry event. He is organizing virtual events for National Poetry Month this year. Photo by Christina Olivas.

These featured poets will be followed by SJSU faculty poets, including Alan Soldofsky, director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing, Michael Tod Edgerton and Joseph Navarro, as well as Darrell Dela Cruz, ’07 English, ’11 MFA Creative Writing, Linda Lappin, ’97 English, ’07 MFA Creative Writing and Mark Heinlein, ’09 MFA Creative Writing. They will be followed by San Jose community poets and award-winning undergraduate and graduate student poets.

Poetry Contest: #Best20secondPoemsSJSU

As part of this festival, SJSU students and members of the SJSU community are invited to submit a 20-second poem for a special contest—the amount of time the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends we spend washing our hands. Poems can be submitted on social media using the hashtag #Best20secondPoemsSJSU. If chosen, poets will be asked to send an audio or video file to be posted on the Legacy of Poetry website. Submissions are open until May 1.

The Legacy of Poetry Reading and Celebration is made possible by the following SJSU campus sponsors in conjunction with the SJSU Poets and Writers Coalition: the Department of English and Comparative Literature; the College of Humanities and Arts; the Center for Literary Arts and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library. Community co-sponsors include Poetry Center San Jose and Copper Canyon Press.

SJSU in the News: Lecturer Serves as County’s Poet Laureate

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

SJSU in the News: Engineering Dean Shares a Favorite Poem

Pizarro: Rolling with the Obamas for Easter

Originally posted in San Jose Mercury News April 20, 2011

By Sal Pizarro

Easter weekend should be unforgettable for Coakley Heagerty CEO Tom Zazueta and his family. They’ll be among the thousands of people attending the White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday.

Of course, Zazueta and his wife, Katie, a vice president at the San Jose marketing firm, are a little old to enjoy the White House tradition, which dates to the 19th century. But it’s perfect for their 9-year-old son, Christopher, and 7-year-old daughter, Carolyn.

While tickets for the roll have been distributed through an online lottery in recent years, the Zazuetas got theirs through a family connection. Tom Zazueta’s brother, Daniel, a Santa Clara University Law School grad working in D.C., was able to secure tickets from a good friend who works at the White House.

In addition to the egg rolling, the all-day event hosted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on the South Lawn includes live music, food and storytelling. “We’re not exactly sure what to expect, but plan to make the most of it,” Tom Zazueta said. “It should be a great experience for us and our kids.”

POETIC LICENSE: T.S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruellest month,” but Santa Clara County Poet Laureate Sally Ashton is making it seem a little less so. Through May 15, she’s posting well-loved poems submitted by county residents of note — including San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, Olympic ice skater Peggy Fleming and San Jose State Dean of Engineering Belle Wei.

You can read them at, where you also will find guidelines for submitting your own contribution to Santa Clara County’s Favorite Poem Project. “Whether it’s a poem you first read in school or one you came across at a particular moment in your life, let’s take note of how poetry has had an impact on us, large or small,” Ashton said.

GARDEN PARTY: There’s a lot planned for Saturday’s annual “Spring in Guadalupe Gardens,” taking place in San Jose’s Guadalupe River Park between Taylor and Coleman streets.

San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo is leading a 5k fun run through the river park at 9 a.m. The run costs $25; you can register online at

And a pair of Easter egg hunts are planned at the park’s fruit orchard. A “Bunny Hunt” for kids ages 4 to 7 will take place at noon, followed by a “Hare Hunt” for those 8 and up. Get more information and register at