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UC Berkeley's Lunch Poems series kicks off Sept. 7 with readings by faculty, staff members
30 Aug 2000

By Media Relations

Berkeley - Only books of poetry grace the nightstand of John Ogbu, professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Ogbu, who's written his own poems about growing up in Nigeria, says his family knows his passion for poetry and gives him books of it for his birthday.

So Ogbu, an authority on psychological and urban anthropology, was a natural choice for the Thursday, Sept. 7 kick-off of "Lunch Poems," a free series of poetry readings held each year at UC Berkeley. At the first reading, select faculty and staff members read their favorite poems.

Since it was launched in 1996, Lunch Poems has become California's most popular poetry reading series.

Created by Robert Hass, UC Berkeley professor of English and former U.S. Poet Laureate, and Zack Rogow, a senior editor at the Graduate School of Education, the series brings distinguished poets to campus each year to read from their works.

This year's guests poets include Goh Poh Seng, called one of Asia's finest living poets; Galway Kinnell, a former MacArthur Fellow who has been state poet of Vermont and won both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award; and John Ashbery, a Pulitzer Prize winner who is considered the father of contemporary experimental poetry.

The kick-off reading traditionally features a diverse sampling of poetry-lovers in the campus community, and each reader shares poems of personal or professional significance.

In addition to Ogbu, this year's kick-off will feature:

* Bharati Mukherjee, professor of English and an award-winning novelist.

* Astronomer Dan Werthimer of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project.

* Stephen Gladstone, director and head coach of UC Berkeley's national champion men's rowing team.

* Lily Wong Fillmore, professor of education and a nationally known expert on bilingualism and second language learners.

* Leon Litwack, professor of history and winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for "Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery."

* Ralph Hexter, dean of humanities, scholar of classical and medieval literature, and author of "A Guide to the Odyssey."

* Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor of anthropology and author of "Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland," which won the Margaret Mead Award, and "Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil," which won several book awards.

* Katharine Milton, a tropical ecologist, primatologist and professor with the insect biology division of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management.

* Isabel Sterling, a campus librarian.

* Carla Trujillo, the graduate academic diversity director in the College of Engineering and an award-winning editor.

Their poems will range from personal favorites to those that pose questions central to the readers' professional research.

"I'm an astronomer, and my research is about this question: 'Are we alone?'" Werthimer said. He chose poetry that addresses questions about an individual's place in the universe, whether there is life elsewhere, and if scientists are taking the wonder out of life. His selections include a limerick-like poem about how a man succeeded in science and two poems each titled "Earth."

Milton, who originally was trained as a literary critic with 20th century literature as her area of expertise, will read "Desperados," a recent poem by Daniel Halpern. She described it as "a sort of love poem, or escape poem - a wishful thinking poem."

Gladstone is leaning toward favorites such as e.e. cummings or James Joyce, selections that would help dispel the myth of the stereotypical coach draped in a "sweatshirt and a whistle."

Ogbu opted for two of his own poems. "The Wrestler" tells of an Ibo custom where children resolve differences through noontime wrestling matches. "The Village Ruins" was written in memory of a settlement destroyed during the Nigerian civil war, which began in 1968, and the ballad singers, such as his own mother, who recorded village experience in song.

Scheper-Hughes chose two poems - Seamus Heaney's "Casualties," about political violence, and a Brazilian poem, "The Life and Death of Severina" - that helped her reflect and write about her anthropological field experiences.

She also will read "Tonight I'm Eating Stars." The piece, written by a Baltimore street poet about rebelliousness in the face of death, helped Scheper-Hughes deal with her father's death.

On a light note, she will read a Heaney poem called "The Skunk," about Berkeley and love in the spring.

Wong Fillmore will read "Adventure in Chinatown, 1958," recounting the misadventures of a Yup´ik Eskimo family relocated by the federal government from St. Lawrence Island to Chicago's Chinatown. She said she plans to share her thoughts about government policies toward native populations.

One poem Trujillo has chosen to read is "Yarn Wig," from a book by Lois-Ann Yamanaka, a poet known for her ability to write in the dialect of native Hawaiians.

"It's very funny and poignant at the same time," Trujillo said. "Yamanaka is a vibrant new voice, and her talent, particularly for describing life of working class Hawaiians, is extraordinary. I'm not Hawaiian, but I relish books written by people who write well and represent those not necessarily recognized in traditional literary canons."

Mukherjee chose Yeats' "Among Schoolchildren." She plans to read it in the context of a very British school in Calcutta, the city where she was born, and then will read it from the standpoint of the naturalized citizen and literature professor that she is today.

Litwack said he may read blues and hip hop, which he described as "poetry in its own way," and poetry by Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown. "I'm very indebted to poems," he said. "As a student of the African American experience, they've always been valuable to me as literary documents."

Lunch Poems continues after the Sept. 7 reading with the following schedule:

* Elizabeth Alexander, a rising star in poetry who teaches African American Studies at Yale University, will read on Oct. 5.

* Goh Poh Seng, called "one of Asia's finest living poets" by Asia Magazine and a medical doctor who writes poetry, fiction and drama, will read on Nov. 2.

* Fanny Howe, Mark Levine and Carol Snow, all in the New California Poetry series from UC Press, will read on Dec. 7.

* Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian who wrote the screenplay for "Smoke Signals," the first feature film produced, written and directed by American Indians, will read on Feb. 1, 2001.

* Aleida Rodriguez, a Cuba native now in Los Angeles who won the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry for her first book of poetry, will read on March 1.

* Galway Kinnell will read on April 5.

* John Ashbery will read on Sunday, April 8, in a special reading presented by the UC Berkeley Art Museum and co-sponsored by Lunch Poems, the UC Berkeley Consortium for the Arts and Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities.

* Student poets will conclude the series on May 3.

All readings will begin at 12:10 p.m. in the Doe Library's Morrison Room, except the April 8th reading, which begins at 3 p.m.



Lunch Poems web site


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