Sally Ashton, our Santa Clara County Poet Laureate, conceived the idea of Favorite Poem readings during the first year of her tenure. She asked for a favorite poem and what it means to the person and why. I missed the first reading in San José, but I was one of twelve front and center at the December 7, 2011 presentation of poems in Morgan Hill. And the BookSmart bookstore set up chairs for 18. Over 40 showed.
Harry Lafnear and Dennis Richardson both chose Billy Collins’ poems as their favorites. Harry’s poem “The Night House” in Picnic, Lightning, goes deep, deals with a restless heart, mind, soul. Dennis, on the other hand, does an excellent imitation of Collins reading his poem, “The Lanyard,” taken from The Trouble with Poetry. Billy Collins often holds the top spot in book sales around the country, so it’s not surprising that two of his poems were favorites.
Poems went from 17th century Anne Bradstreet’s “Contemplations,” read by Karen English in the English Department at San José State, to the owner of BookSmart, Cinda Meister, reading Jack Prelutsky’s dirge on homework. I spoke with Cinda later on, and she told me that the former U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan and I had something in common. My favorite poem, “God’s Grandeur,” was written by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Kay Ryan’s favorite author. And Jerry Dyer, who’ll be on the list at the final Favorite Poem reading, has both “God’s Grandeur” and “The Windover” memorized.
Mike Wasserman, member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, Los Gatos, brought his bat up to the podium. You can guess what this baseball artifacts collector read. Of course, “Casey at the Bat.” And the Mayor of Morgan Hill, Steve Tate, read “At the Zoo” by A.A.Milne. Short enough so he tagged on “At the Zoo” by Paul Simon.
Millicent Kellogg, a poet with an interesting lifestyle —retired RN and sheep rancher— read a favorite of mine, “Jenny Kissed Me” by James Henry Leigh Hunt. She also became our second host, supplying wine and quick cookie bites. They made the whole evening more festive. And from An Introduction to Poetry, Nancy Glaze, Executive Director of Arts Council Silicon Valley, chose “Song of the Powers,” making the game Rock, Paper, Scissors more than a game. Written by Dave Mason, the poem is one that deserved a second reading.
So many famous poets chosen tonight. Darrell Dela Cruz, an academic coach in San José read a striking poem by Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art.” I read a sonnet; Darrell gave the audience another formal poem, a villanelle about love and loss. It’s a poem worth looking up and reading more than once.
Kelly Cressio-Moeller calls herself a stay-at-home mom, but she can hold an audience spellbound as a reader and an emcee. The only one who was asked to repeat a poem, she read “The Fog” in slow time, bringing out the image of the cat. I’ve toured Carl Sandburg’s home, Connemara, in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Over 250 acres and impressive everywhere, even down to the prize goats. Going upstairs, the wall held what looked like the complete library of Poetry Magazine from its beginning.
And Stefan, Kelly’s husband, a physicist at SLAC, read Friedrich Schiller’s “Song of the Bell,” (“Das Lied von der Glocke”) in German, following with its translation in English. Fascinating to hear the beautiful German of a native speaker and then see what he’d been saying in another language. He was a star.
Here is a quick review of the evening from Kelly’s Facebook.
Wonderful evening last night at BookSmart of Morgan Hill! Santa Clara County Poet Laureate Sally Ashton hosted her 2nd Favorite Poem reading event and Stefan and I were thrilled to be in the line-up. Harry Lafnear, Mary Lou Taylor, Dennis Richardson, Karen English, Supervisor Mike Wasserman, Millicent Kellogg, Mayor Steve Tate, Nancy Glaze, Cinda Meister, and Darrell Dela Cruz were the other readers. The sharing of special poems, why they mean what they do for that person is a marvelous experience for the community and individual. Thanks so much, Sally and readers. Keep your eyes peeled for when the next (and final) one is in early 2012 and you’ll be glad you came.
Sally Ashton is a most organized and welcoming poet laureate. She gave her readers directions, support and e-mail after e-mail on schedules, times and encouragement. We needed them all and responded. All the readers read clearly and well. We’re ready to go up the Peninsula for the 3rd Favorite Poem event. Keep checking the poet laureate’s blog and join us in the audience in 2012.