San Jose State's Legacy of Poetry began in the 19th century as students studied works of great poets and began to publish their own creative works in The Acorn (1867), the Normal Index (1885), The Quill (1925), and others. Literary societies have existed from at least the 1870s. Around the start of the 20th century, the Browning Society with about 60 members meeting weekly studied the works of Robert Browning and built community on campus. Students also interacted with famous poets including Joaquin Miller, Charles Keeler, Herbert Bashford, George Sterling, Ina Coolbrith and alum Edwin Markham through trips by literary clubs, honorary memberships in student clubs, campus visits, and contributions of poems to student literary journals. Since the 1920s, students have participated in campus poetry contests.
In 1899, Dr. Henry Meade Bland joined the English Department to teach creative writing. He remained until his death in 1931. He helped students develop a love of poetry and encouraged them to write. He helped students form literary societies including Browning and the Short Story Club. He helped the students create a professional quality literary journal launched in 1925 as The Quill (which continues to this day as Reed). He introduced students to famous poets, worked with Senator James D. Phelan to enable students to participate in public readings at Phelan's Villa Montalvo Estate and to obtain funding for literary awards for students.
Dr. Bland was born in California on April 21, 1863. He loved California and many of his hundreds of poems are about its beauty. Dr. Bland was appointed California's Poet Laureate in 1929. He was the second poet to hold this title (Ina Coolbrith was the first). There is a plaque on the west side of Tower Hall (near one for Markham) with Dr. Bland's poem about the Tower.
Edwin Markham, born on April 23, 1852, graduated from the California State Normal School in 1872 (former name of SJSU). After he gained literary fame in 1899 with his poem "The Man With the Hoe" and moved to New York, he remained connected to the campus, most likely due to his friendship with Dr. Bland and his love of California where he lived and taught school for many years. His involvement included delivering lectures on campus in 1915 and 1933, judging the student poetry contest in 1928, and submitting some of his poems for inclusion in student literary journals. When Mr. Markham delivered a lecture on campus in 1915, President Dailey introduced him to an audience of more than 400 as "the most distinguished graduate" of the school. The campus held assemblies to honor Mr. Markham on his 70th and 80th birthdays.
Markham was often referred to as the Dean of American Poets. In 1910, he founded the Poetry Society of America.
Dr. Bland worked to have Mr. Markham's home on 8th Street near campus preserved. For some time, starting in Dr. Bland's tenure, the home was used by the campus. Markham's home is currently at San Jose History Park, serving as headquarters of Poetry Center San Jose and a plaque remains at the original site (near the AS Child Development Center).
In addition to Mr. Markham, other famous alumni poets include Sandra McPherson and Lorna Dee Cervantes. In addition to Dr. Bland, faculty past and present include several published poets. In addition, in recent times, famous poets have frequented the campus through both the Center for Literary Arts and the Lurie Professorship including Carolyn Kizer, Al Young, Ishmael Reed, Adrienne Rich, Gary Soto, Mary Oliver and Billy Collins. Mr. Young, current California Poet Laureate, penned a poem in 2007 commemorating SJSU's Legacy of Poetry and 150th anniversary (Ways and Ways to San Jose).
In 2007, students formed the Poets and Writers Coalition, as a student organization to promote wider interest and participation in creative writing of students.
- State College Times article on faculty and student poets of note - October 6, 1926
At least 4 poets connected with SJSU have written poems about poppies: