Adventures at the Silicon Valley STEAM Festival

In one of my other poetry guises, as a California Poets in the Schools poet/teacher, I hosted a poetry play booth at the Silicon Valley STEAM Festival yesterday.


We had hundreds of kids and parents making poetry about planes in our booth. It was a lot of work, but fun and rewarding. Here I am with my pals Erica Goss and Amanda Williamson at the end of the day — looking as stunned, sunburned and windblown as we were!

all three 3 best

Here are a couple of photos of some of the great poems kids wrote (click through the “poetry play booth” link above to read all about the way we built the booth and to see more photos).

I want to fly to Israel orange boys poem

reading is a dream tablecloth poem 1 tablecloth poem later

KKUP Interview and Poems

Did you know Cupertino has it’s own public radio station? KKUP (FM 91.5) is a sweet little station filled with volunteers and subscribers who broadcast out of a funky studio in East San Jose.

KKUP from web

Last month I was invited to read poetry and talk about the current search for the next Cupertino Poet Laureate. Pushpa MacFarlane, a member of the search committee and a friend and awesome local poet, arranged the time with KKUP music mixer extraordinaire, David Stafford.

David Stafford, KKUP

David Stafford, KKUP at his sound board (Photo by Pushpa MacFarlane)

Pushpa reading

Pushpa MacFarlane, reading her poems

Jennifer at KKUP

Jennifer Swanton Brown, reading her poems at KKUP (Photo by Pushpa MacFarlane)

I read my “Softball Sestina” (published in The Sand Hill Review 2006) which I wrote for my daughter and her team, The Purple Power. I read “In A Dry Time” which I wrote for the 2014 Silicon Valley Fall Festival, and “Dog Park Rules” which I wrote for Cupertino’s Mary Avenue Dog Park.

I also read “My Elements: Earth” by a student I taught last year while working as a poet/teacher with California Poets in the Schools. This poem was published in If the Sky Was My Heart (the California Poets in the Schools 2014 Statewide Anthology). I teach a lesson based on one by Maureen Hurley, CPITS Area Coordinator from Alameda County.

My Elements: Earth

I shake like an earthquake,
I erupt like a volcano.
My outside is as hard as a rock.
My inside is soft,
a dark brown soil.
Inside, I have peace,
hills, fields, and valleys.
Don’t judge on what you see outside,
look past that boulder, look past that mountain!
Behind them grows peace.
Mounds of green, birds are free!
My soft, underground soil
is better on the inside.
Outside, I am hard,
boulder, grime, and rocks.
When I’m mad, I’m a volcano,
when I’m mad, I’m an earthquake.
Outside, there’s mud, muck, and dirt.
Two completely different sides.
Please don’t judge on what you see.
Both sides of me bring all my harmony.

Alicia Chen
Grade Four, Gomes Elementary School
Alameda County

The rest of these photos show the inside of the KKUP station — I admired the signs and the pictures. All around, a great place!

KKUP sign KKUP poetry KKUP tapes KKUP photos

Reading at Sunday Assembly

One of the joys of being the city’s Poet Laureate is that your name gets circulated among poetry lovers all over the county. I had the honor last month of being invited to read some of my poetry as part of the Sunday Assembly Silicon Valley meeting, June 14, 2015. (Photo above by Vickie Thompson, (c) Sunday Assembly.)

The featured reader for the morning was Lester Deanes, assistant dean at Santa Clara University’s Office of Student Life. He gave a great talk called “Man in Progress – A Conversation on Redefining Manhood and Family.” For me the highlight was a video he showed at the end of the talk of kids at a camp singing songs about gender issues.

Sunday Assembly is a group that meets, sings, listens to lectures and poems, shares adversity and adventure. They meet in the absolutely gorgeous old San Jose Women’s Club building, which has a lovely auditorium. I took several photos of the light fixtures while I was warming up my poetry mojo.

Sunday Assembly sconce Sunday Assembly light fixture

I especially love Sunday Assembly’s motto: Live Better. Help Often. Wonder More. I took these photos of the palms they use to define a more intimate space for meeting. Look closely for their little signs of joy.

Sunday Assembly Wonder More

Wonder More!

Sunday Assembly Live Better Sunday Assembly Help Often

I read two of my newer poems, “Liver & Onions,” and “Hold What He Made” about my own father. I read “The New Season: A Baseball Sestina,” which celebrates my son and husband, and Little League Teams everywhere (published in What the World Hears, California Poets in the Schools 2009 Statewide Anthology). I also read a CPITS student poem, “My Father’s Hands” (published in If The Sky Was My Heart, California Poets in the Schools 2014 Statewide Anthology), and which I reproduce here:

My Father’s Hands

Scarred are my father’s
hands and wrists
from cuts,
never self-inflicted,
but the scars
of a working man.
Unfortunately, also those
of a junkie,
the poison needle
long gone,
but its marks
ever present,
the veins standing out.
He wears fantastic
silver bracelets,
drawing attention away
from the marks.
I think he’s ashamed,
or both.
The hands of my father,
loving and caring,
despite the permanent marks
and the roughness.

(c) Cassidy Bailey
Grade Nine, Six Rivers Charter School
Humboldt County

Poetry at the Cherry Blossom Festival

Tomorrow is the Cupertino Cherry Blossom Festival, at Memorial Park. The festival is both days, Saturday April 25 and Sunday April 26, but I’ll only be there on Saturday, with my poetry booth and my poet friends. Erica Goss, Los Gatos Poet Laureate, and David Perez, Santa Clara County Poet Laureate, will both be with me (in booth 15) after about 11 am. I’ll be there the whole day.

(Read about Japanese poetry before you come, if you’re new to the subject).


Come by for a chat, for a free poem (written on the spot just for you by a real poet!), to play with my magnetic poetry or my Haikubes (highly in-authentic, but fun).


I’ll have books of haiku and senryu, both by Japanese poets and by Americans. I’ll also have anthologies and lesson books from California Poets in the Schools.

I hope to see you there!

My Adventures with Poetry Out Loud

I had the honor to serve at the judges table for the State Championships for POL again this year. Click through here to read about my adventures.


There were some great old huge photos on the wall of the chamber where we had the finals.

POL 8 jen and karen

Karen Lewis, poet-teacher and past board member from California Poets in the Schools, and me taking a moment away from judging.

Photos from Silicon Valley Reads Art & Immigration Event

Earlier in March, I had the honor and pleasure of reading with my friends, past and present Poets Laureate in Santa Clara County, and wonderful wonderful teen poets. The students read their poems on the theme of immigration — some of them related their own experiences of home, experiences of their families, or imagined experiences.

I read a poem I wrote years ago, “Samarth’s Mom” — an observation of a young Indian mother with her children at our local elementary school. You can read it at this link, in the online journal Convergence.

Here are some photos from that evening.

Immigrant Reading 6

The event took place at the lovely Mexican Heritage Plaza in San Jose.

Immigrant Reading 5

Waiting outside the MHP auditorium. If you look closely, you can see Erica Goss waving from inside the window!

Immigrant Reading 3

Past Poets Laureate of Santa Clara County, Nils Peterson and Sally Ashton, at their book signing table.

Immigrant Reading 4

Not having my own poetry books (yet!) I sold anthologies and lesson plan books for California Poets in the Schools.

Immigrant Reading 1

The student poets were each paired with one adult. Here I am with my delightful Saratoga High School senior. (Name pending permissions.)

Sticks and Stones: Memoirs About the Writing Life

Are you wishing you could write poetry but think it’s too hard? That you have to be “real poet” or “sophisticated”?? Read Erica Goss’s post about why reading poetry by kids is a great way to inspire your own efforts. It doesn’t have to be hard or complicated or obtuse or opaque or all twisted up strange to be poetry.

Erica Goss


Write Like a Kid

I have the two latest California Poets in the Schools anthologies on my desk: If the Sky Was My Heart (2014) and Sing to the Heart of the Forest (2013). The more I read them, the more I understand why I read them, and why I, and everyone who reads and writes poetry, need these poems. In his excellent introduction to Sing to the Heart of the Forest, Steve Kowit explains:

“Unlike many journals and anthologies of contemporary American poetry that relish ambiguity and opacity, this anthology of young people’s poetry is deliciously readable, the poets managing to be surprising and creative in their language without diluting their humanity and ability to communicate what they wish to tell us.”

The insights in children’s poetry often startle us. A third-grader writes, “Green is the mighty bite of a snake” and a first-grader, “The world is blooming…

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Prompt #35 (Only a teeny bit late) : Kenneth Koch on Beauty

Inspired by a great article (by Heather Altfeld at the North American Review) on the challenges of teaching poetry and teaching beauty, I came here to re-post said article and realized I’d forgotten to post poetry prompt #35 this past Sunday (July 20). Sigh.

To atone for the errors of my ways, I’m giving you a chance to read a really great (and quite long) poem by Kenneth Koch, a giant of American poetry during the 1950s, and a devoted and important teacher who taught teachers of poetry how to teach poetry. I was introduced to Koch’s best-known book on the subject, Rose, Where Did You Get That Red, during my training to be a poet/teacher with California Poets in the Schools. It’s a great little book. You can read mine anytime you want. (Altfeld’s article talks about Koch and his methods.)


The method Koch taught is about imitation: pick a great poem and get kids to imitate its essential qualities. “Rose, Where Did You Get That Red” is the name of a poem written by a child who was imitating William Blake’s “The Tyger” — a poem which essentially asks a creature of God how and where it acquired its power and beauty. (The image featured with this blog is Blake’s poem and illustration.) You can read an excerpt of Koch’s book here.

Your task today is to read Kenneth Koch’s poem “On Beauty by Kenneth Koch” and then imitate it. Just write for a while about what beauty means to you. Be as free-wheeling and long-winded as you like. Be colorful and descriptive and don’t hold back. Call it a poem and call it a day. Or, if you’re inspired, share your efforts with us!

Here’s the last stanza of Koch’s poem, and I think the sentiment is fine.


California Poets in the Schools

I’m going to end National Poetry Month with voices of children. California Poets in the Schools is just one of many organizations nationally that work hard to put working poets into classrooms to encourage the awareness of poetry as an art form and to give voices to children who are otherwise not offered poetry as a creative art. And, though there are others, in my book, CPitS is the only and the best. Full disclosure: I’ve been a poet/teacher with CPitS since 2001, and now serve as both the Area Coordinator for Santa Clara County and as a board member. I love this organization.

Annually CPitS produces an anthology of poetry from all across the state. These poems, from their Facebook page, is indicative of the delicate observation and emotional complexity that children are capable of.


In my mind, there is a sea full of words.
In patches of light green seaweed
words are like seahorses
swaying with the current.

I dive for words like
tuna, octopus, seabass
because they shimmer with color
in the blazing summer sun.

I clean these words and salt them
to preserve them so that later
I can add them to recipes and sentences.

Ethan A., 4th Grade, San Diego
Celia Sigmon, Poet Teacher
Chris Vasquez, Classroom Teacher


I never felt like
pouring my flesh
my soul
to hell.
At night
I hear gunshots
get up and run
out to the window
see the smoke. I think
they poured their flesh
to hell. I never hear
silence. Silence is like
an hour glass only
it’s stuck. My heart has
a wish bone in it and
it’s wishing for silence.
One night i got silence
and felt like a butterfly
in spring. The next night
I didn’t hear silence.
I was left in gun smoke, and
in confusion.

by Misty Brown-T, Grade 7, 1993, Oakland
Cassandra Sagan Bell, Poet-Teacher
from the collection *Unborn Dreams* published in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots (after the Rodney King verdict.)

2014 is the 50th anniversary of our organization. Check out our website and join us: as a teacher, a student, a parent, a donor.
As this is also the closing post on the Cupertino Poetry Exchange for April 2014, I thank you for your attention. Keep writing and reading, keep wondering and asking, keep poetry alive in your life. And drop me a line once in a while!

California’s Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera

Again today I am lucky in my search for a great poem and poet to share on the Cupertino Poetry Exchange. Juan Felipe Herrara is the current California Poet Laureate — and if ever there was a cheerleader for poetry, this is the guy.

Earlier this week, Central Coast Public Radio, KUSP, hosted an interview with Juan Felipe on their Poetry Show. (Can we all just pause in wonder and admiration right now for a radio show with a “poetry show”???!!!)

It’s a delightful interview and Sr. Herrera also reads a couple of his poems. So, please, take a break, listen to the interview and poetry, and if you want more information about what this amazing energizer bunny for poetry is doing, visit his website and explore his projects. Here’s what he says about his life:

I grew up on the farm worker migrant trail. Marshall Elementary in SF, San Diego High. Attended UCLA, Stanford and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Write in many genres. Twenty-nine books. Have received a number of awards, most recent the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Guggenheim Fellowship. Abundant gratitude to my parents, families, teachers and students on many roads. Trees, animals, rivers and clouds. Gracias.

Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings

By Juan Felipe Herrera

for Charles Fishman

Before you go further,
let me tell you what a poem brings,
first, you must know the secret, there is no poem
to speak of, it is a way to attain a life without boundaries,
yes, it is that easy, a poem, imagine me telling you this,
instead of going day by day against the razors, well,
the judgments, all the tick-tock bronze, a leather jacket
sizing you up, the fashion mall, for example, from
the outside you think you are being entertained,
when you enter, things change, you get caught by surprise,
your mouth goes sour, you get thirsty, your legs grow cold
standing still in the middle of a storm, a poem, of course,
is always open for business too, except, as you can see,
it isn’t exactly business that pulls your spirit into
the alarming waters, there you can bathe, you can play,
you can even join in on the gossip—the mist, that is,
the mist becomes central to your existence.


I was very very fortunate to meet Sr. Herrera first at a California Poets in the Schools symposium last summer, and then to work with him again in March at the California State Poetry Out Loud Championship events in Sacramento. Here’s a photo of me (in the middle) with Brandon Cesmat (to the left, former CPitS board member) and Juan Felipe (shocked and amazed by the amazing students poetry performers and our exhaustion).


You can learn more about Juan Felipe at and