Cupertino's First Poet Laureate Shows Daily Life is an Art Form

David Denny aims to raise awareness and enthusiasm for his craft during his two-year term as poet laureate.

On a late weekday afternoon, David Denny was sitting at a Peet’s Coffee on Stevens Creek Boulevard, sipping his usual cappuccino and peering out the window.

He took notes on what he saw: “The foothills/above town are ready for Cézanne to come along/and capture the geometry on dusk,” he wrote in the poem “5 pm Cupertino.”

As Cupertino’s first poet laureate, Denny captures the poetry of everyday life in town. On Tuesday evening, he at a Cupertino City Council meeting for the two-year term. Now he hopes to raise awareness about the art he practices and has taught at De Anza College since 1986.

Denny applied for the position, because “it seemed like a good fit,” he said. He encompasses the two traits usually found in poet laureates: both an avid writer and a public figure.

“I’m a fan of the area and town,” said Denny, who has taught a variety of creative writing, literature and composition classes in the English department at De Anza. “The committee wanted someone who gives voice to the area.”

Many of Denny’s poems, which he tries to make accessible to everyday audiences, center on suburban wildlife. “I’ve been noticing a lot of deer and raccoons,” he said. “A lot of the poems are about changing light and seasons.”

Denny stood out from the 12 applicants for the program, which began accepting applications in July, said Ron Miller, chairman of the Cupertino Poet Laureate Committee, and former chairman of the Cupertino Library Commission.

“David Denny combined several competencies other than his ability to write very good poetry, but also to demonstrate his great love for Cupertino, its landscape and landmarks, as evidenced in some of his poems,” Miller wrote in an email.

Denny is also skilled at “engendering enthusiasm for writing in people of diverse ethnic backgrounds,” wrote Miller, adding that his De Anza students consistently praise his ability to help them think creatively.

Cupertino decided to introduce the poet laureate program after a member of the Cupertino Library Commission proposed the idea at a meeting a year ago. The committee agreed, after noticing there was a growing trend in poet laureates in California: There are 34 in California, including one in Los Gatos. Santa Clara County's second poet laureate, Sally Ashton, has presented her poems around the area since she was inaugurated in April.

Denny has published his poems in several anthologies, but his first book, Plebian on the Front Porch (Finishing Line Press), is slated to be published in January 2012. He is taking pre-orders for the book on the publisher’s website.

Denny’s mission as poet laureate is to “get people involved and encourage them to express themselves,” he said. On Oct. 15, he will host his first event on the patio in front of the Cupertino Public Library—a poetry reading open to the public to watch and participate in.

“In a town known for its technological and business acumen, having a poet laureate might encourage the visibility for poetry, in particular, and support for the arts, in general," said Denny.

The following is “5 pm Cupertino,” reprinted with permission from Denny. It first appeared in California Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 1.

I’m sitting in Peet’s with my usual Cappuccino, reading.  
I stop for a sip, trace the rim of the cup with my finger,
look out the window at Stevens Creek Boulevard.  
Across the street cars are pulling in and out
of the Whole Foods parking lot. The construction workers
who were tearing up the road when I arrived
have collected their orange cones and gone home,
leaving their gashes in the asphalt covered with large
metal rectangles.  The sun is making its final effort
to illuminate the world for another day. The foothills
above town are ready for Cézanne to come along
and capture the geometry of dusk.  Suddenly, light
catches the trees along the sidewalk for a moment.  
Though the top branches are bare, a few amber leaves,
still clinging to lower branches, shimmer.  
I take another sip, grateful for the way the milk
and the espresso both calm and excite the nervous system.  
With my glasses off, the cars resemble logs
being carried by a river current and the leaves
look like fuzzy yellow stars and the foothills—
I’ll leave the foothills to my friend Cézanne


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