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This town even has its own poet laureate!

By From page C7 | September 19, 2011

Longtime Davis teacher Allegra Silberstein was officially named the first poet laureate of the city of Davis in March 2010, and she was thrilled with the honor.

“It’s such a long way to come for the little farm girl from Wisconsin who never would have thought of calling herself a poet,” Silberstein said last year. “I couldn’t believe it when I got the call, because there are so many fabulous poets in Davis.”

Silberstein was nominated by friend and neighbor Heather Lauter-Clay and was chosen from a field of eight candidates to fill the brand-new position. Her plans for the two year post, not surprisingly for a former teacher, mostly involve children.

“Kids are so brilliant when it comes to computers,” she said. “But they miss out on the richness that comes because you can remember something and don’t have to look it up on the computer. The things you learn as a child you’ll remember all of your life.

“That’s why I want to encourage children to memorize poems,” Silberstein said.

“But I don’t want to add extra work for teachers,” she added. “I would like to get together the old people who remember these poems and the young people who are learning them.”

To do so, she’s coordinated children’s visits to places like Atria Covell Gardens and the University Retirement Community, where residents could pass on the treasured poems they recall.

She’s currently working on the “Davis Poetry Book Project” which accepted submissions for an anthology of poetry about the city of Davis until this past August. When it is finished, the 60-page anthology will be printed at a local printer, sold at local businesses and performed at local poetry venues.

“Poetry just adds so much to people’s lives,” Silberstein said.

Silberstein herself began writing poetry when she was a reading specialist at Birch Lane Elementary School in the early 1980s. Her first published poem can be found in “A Woman’s Place: An Anthology of Davis Women Writers,” published in 1984. Two small poetry books of her own followed, the last in 2005.

In between, there have been many poetry groups, workshops and classes that Silberstein both participated in and taught. She also continued to include poetry in her teaching at Birch Lane up until her retirement in 1994.

Her own children are now grown, but all three returned to Davis in March 2010 to celebrate their mother’s big night before the City Council, where she was officially recognized as poet laureate.

Daughter Maia Silberstein, a baroque violinist, had just flown in from Belgium, while her sisters Dawn Silberstein and Eden Clune came from San Francisco and Sacramento, respectively. All three grew up in Davis and developed an appreciation for the arts early on, thanks to their mother.

“She’s always brought creativity to whatever she’s done,” Dawn said.

And it’s a long list of creative accomplishments: yoga, dance, choir, writing — “she’s very artistic,” Maia noted.

Now Maia and her sisters are thrilled to see their mother receive the recognition she deserves.

“She’s not somebody to blow her own horn,” Dawn said. “So it’s lovely that she’s being acknowledged.”

“She’s very modest,” Maia added. “I’m so happy for her.”

Silberstein was born and raised on a small farm in Wisconsin. She attended the Teacher’s College in La Crosse and later studied drama and English at the University of Iowa. Her initial dream was of acting.

“I wanted to be the world’s greatest actress,” she said with a chuckle.

That dream took her to New York City, where the acting opportunities were few and she ended up teaching for three years at an elementary school in Manhattan instead.

She later married and moved to San Francisco, where her husband began a medical residency. They ended up in Davis in 1967. Following their divorce, Silberstein earned her reading specialist certification and took her first job as a substitute at what was then West Davis Elementary School.

It was around the time of her divorce that she began writing poetry in earnest.

“It was when I was miserable and trying to get the ideas and thoughts out,” she said.

And though she began to include poetry in her teaching, there wasn’t much time for her own writing until she retired.

“Once I retired and was able to do all these art things, it was amazing what it did for my life,” she exclaimed.

Now as poet laureate, she said, “it’s a great way for me to give back to the city of Davis.”

Among her duties are writing and reading poems for city functions and ceremonies, arranging public poetry readings and writing poetry about the city of Davis.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or (530) 747-8051. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

Anne Ternus-Bellamy

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