University of California at Berkeley

What's Your Favorite Poem?

Ten Berkeleyans Recite Shelley, Anonymous, Poe, Frost, a Mother and an Immigrant

 by Fernando Quintero

Reading a poem that was originally found on a wall at a former detention center for Chinese immigrants on Angel Island, Chancellor Tien was among the faculty, administrators and staff who helped kick off a series of "Lunch Poems" Sept. 5 in the Morrison Room of Doe Library.

The ornate room, with its elegant carved wood paneling and crystal chandeliers, was jammed with people from campus as well as from surrounding communities.

By the time the event started, series organizers had to turn people away at the door as the audience inside sat in rapt attention.

The series, which will feature regular readings by a well-known poet on the first Thursday of each month, began with 10 faculty and staff members reading their favorite poems.

"This is another adventure for me, like conducting the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra," said Tien, before going into a bilingual recital of his chosen poems in English and Chinese.

Professor of anthropology Alan Dundes was first on the list, reading from "the most prolific poet of all time: Anonymous."

Dundes, who specializes in American folklore, recited nursery rhymes, limericks and poems taken from bathroom walls.

Walter Alvarez, chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics, seemed out of his element -- until he surprised everyone with a dramatic rendition of "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

"Poetry and physical sciences are seen as occupying opposite poles of intellectual activity," said Alvarez, who occasionally uses poetry in his classes. "Too bad."

Brain biologist Marian Diamond read Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare and a poem written by her daughter, Katherine Diamond.

Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Affairs and English Professor Genaro Padilla read Robert Frost, and Margaret Wilkerson, professor of African American Studies and director of the Center for Theater Arts, read a poem her mother would read to her as a child "while she combed my unruly hair."

Other readers included musicologist Katherine Bergeron, poet June Jordan, professor emeritus of engineering John Whinnery, and Olympic gold medalist Karen Moe Thornton, a Cal swimming coach for 14 years who used poetry to motivate her swimmers.

The session began with a presentation of an award from the California State Assembly to Robert Hass, English professor and U.S. poet laureate, and an introduction by University Librarian Peter Lyman.

The series was organized with Hass by Zack Rogow, a staff editor for the Graduate School of Education.

Poets scheduled to appear later in the series are:

  • Mark Doty Oct. 3,
  • Alan Williamson Nov. 7,
  • Lorna Dee Cervantes Dec. 5,
  • Sekou Sundiata Feb. 6,
  • Linda McCarriston March 6,
  • and Sharon Olds April 10.


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