Bill Burns

San Jose State College, Class of 1966

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Legacy of Poetry
Biography Selected Poems Additional Information


Information provided by Bill Burns to Annette Nellen (April 2010)

Bill graduated from San Jose State College in 1966 with a B.A. in English and a minor in Drama. He took verse writing from Nils Peterson in the spring of his last semester and thoroughly enjoyed the class. Bill was awarded second prize in the Phelan Poetry contest that year and his poem, Agamemnon, was published in Reed Magazine in 1966.

In May of 1967 Bill assisted in the printing and publishing of Mobled Muse, a very small poetry anthology which included the works of fourteen poets including three of Nils' poems and a few of his own. It was a very limited edition and was sold on the SJSC campus. Bill worked for a few years with Poets in the Schools, a group that introduced grammar and middle school children to the wonders of writing poetry. From 1969  to 1997  Bill worked for the San Mateo County Office of Education as an alternative education teacher, a coordinator, a director, and finally served as Administrator of Court and Community Schools until his retirement in 1997.

Bill continued working after retirement as a teacher in the county jail for 11 years. As of 2010, he works part-time for Project READ and teaches a poetry course to inmates in the same county jail. He is currently completing a poetry anthology which is the culmination of every class. It will be distributed to each student inmate, staff, and Project READ's benefactors in April 2010.

As of April 2010, Bill is working on a book of poetry.

Selected Poems

  • "Agamemnon" (1966)


Not one who tasted agony at Troy
Questioned the pride that brought me to my knees.
We suffered, all as one, without a cry;
And even when the gods ignored our pleas,
We carried on the fight alone. We warred
As men--as Greeks, ate Trojan dirt, and paid
With blood the ransom for our honor. Gored
But glorious, we staggered then to ships, made
As we could the journey back to Greece, and shared
The one brief hour we'd fought ten years to win.
No one who knew Troy wondered why I dared
To taunt the gods. Give me that day again!
Give me a hundred purple paths to try
For but one Troy and I will stride them all.
My bloody sandals thrashing to the cry
Of women, I will sneer at heaven, call
Upon the gods, and damn them in my yell.
I asked a moment's glory, nothing more,
As payment for those ten long years of hell.
Instead, I found my wife a faithless whore,
Who with her lover had prepared for me
A bloodbath--my reward for victory!

  • "Bus Home from Campbell  High 1958"

Bus Home from Campbell High 1958


On an early summer afternoon

as if propelled by screams of teens inside

the school bus bolts down Bascom Avenue

pouring out raucous kids at several stops

on two land orchard roads:

Williams, Moorpark, Freestone and Fruitdale.

Kids squirm, baking in the heat of summer sun.

They look out of the windows and see ripened fruit,

smell its sweet scent and scream: "Cherries are ripe!"

At the next stop they flutter out -

ravenous birds of prey descend on unsuspecting trees.

They attack - climbing, grabbing picking, gorging, stuffing

cherry after cherry into mouths that cannot get enough.

Sometimes clutching three and four at a time

they yank, then stuff, lips red, tongues cherry black,

stopping only to spit out pits,

and then resuming their feeding frenzy.

Suddenly, sprinklers attack.

Someone shouts "Go".

Kids drop from trees to grab mud-spattered books

from the soft soil where they were abandoned.

It's a long walk home, but no one notices

as they laugh and jab, scrambling down the dusty roads -

dreaming of summer afternoons

of no more school.


Additional Information

This page last updated April 29, 2010

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Last Modified: Feb 22, 2023