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Fall semester full of poetry offerings at UC Berkeley
29 August 2002

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations

Berkeley - Poetry is in the air this fall at the University of California, Berkeley.

"Lunch Poems," the popular series of free poetry readings, kicks off its seventh year on Thursday, Sept. 5. Author Maxine Hong Kingston, a lecturer in the English Department, along with several other members of the UC Berkeley community, will read their favorite poems in the Doe Library's Morrison Reading Room.

Meanwhile, poet Carol Snow of San Francisco is taking up residency as the English Department's Roberta Holloway Poet.

"UC Berkeley is at the heart of such a diverse cultural world - in all the arts, and in poetry in particular," said Snow, who will be teaching an undergraduate poetry class.

Undergraduates also have two new poetry courses to choose from this fall - one on the works of Martin Heidegger and Wallace Stevens, the other on how to read and recite poetry.

Lunch Poems

Readers at the series' Sept. 5 kickoff also will include Nobel Laureate Charles Townes, a professor in the Graduate School and in the Department of Physics; Orville Schell, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism; and Jill Stoner, an associate professor of architecture and editor of a recent book, "Poetry for Architects."

At other Lunch Poems readings, scheduled through the fall and spring, participants will include:

* Pushcart Prize and Guggenheim winner Brenda Hillman, author of six books including "Loose Sugar" and "Cascadia." Hillman teaches at St. Mary's College in Moraga. She will read on Oct. 3.

* Chinese-Indonesian born poet Li-Young Lee, whose poetry collections include "The City in Which I Love You" and "Book of My Nights." The American Poetry Review called Lee "one of the finest young poets alive." He will read on Nov. 7.

* Mary Ruefle, author of seven books of poetry, including "Among the Musk Ox People", will read on Dec. 5.

* Adrienne Rich, known for her feminist poetry and criticism. Her most recent works include "Fox" and "Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations." She will read on Feb. 6.

* Luis Rodriguez, winner of a PEN Josephine Miles Literary Award, who has published eight books of poetry and is known for a memoir on gang life, "Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A." He reads on March 6.

* Cornelius Eady, winner of the Academy of American Poets' Lamont Prize and author of seven books of poetry, including "The Autobiography of a Jukebox" and "Brutal Imagination." Eady will read April 3.

Lunch Poems is hosted by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, who is a UC Berkeley professor of English, and by program coordinator and poet Zack Rogow.

Holloway Poet

Carol Snow

Carol Snow is on campus this fall as a visiting assistant professor. The author of four volumes of poetry ("For" in 2000, "Bowl" in 1998, "News Of: Short Poems" in 1994 and "Artist and Model" in 1990), her poems have appeared in 16 journals ranging from The American Poetry Review and Antaeus to New America Writing. She won a Pushcart Prize in 1994 and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.

The poetry lectureship she holds was established in 1980 with a bequest from the estate of Roberta Holloway (1902-1978), who received her B.A. in English with honors from UC Berkeley in 1923 and her PhD in English here in 1945.

Terms of the bequest called for English professor Josephine Miles to chair the committee supervising the lectureship as long as Miles was an active faculty member. Miles, an award-winning poet and the first woman to be tenured in the English Department, was also crippled by rheumatoid arthritis. Due to a lack of elevators and wheelchair-accessible ramps during many of her teaching days, male assistants had to carry her across campus and up stairs. As her poetry teaching career neared an end, she was so frail that students carried her to class. Miles died in 1985.

Snow said that she can see UC Berkeley's fondness for poetry in the range of approaches and even goals of writing poetry, and how well so many are represented regionally in performance, readings, publication and instruction.

"The guest position of Roberta Holloway Poet at UC Berkeley - quite a lovely legacy - embodies this diversity," she added. "It's very much an honor to join the list of distinguished writers who've been Holloway Poets and a privilege to contribute to the collage."

The Holloway program includes fall semester poetry readings at 6 p.m. in Wheeler Hall's Maude Fife Room on Sept. 10, Oct. 3, Oct. 24, Nov. 7 and Dec. 3.

Participating poets will include prominent practitioner and scholar of African American experimental writing Nathaniel Mackey of UC Santa Cruz; Joanne Kyger, a leader in poetry innovation during the last 40 years; experimental poet Robert Grenier; and psychologist and UC Berkeley lecturer Forrest Hamer.

Snow said she's too new on campus to gauge whether poetry is becoming more popular at UC Berkeley this fall. But she said that it's more valued "when we are thoughtful, very thankful or very troubled - just after the tragedies of Sept. 11, many more poems appeared in the media."

Heidegger and Wallace Stevens

Rhetoric associate professor Frederick Dolan said there's strong interest in his new undergraduate course, "Poetry, Thought, Truth - Heidegger and Stevens," which focuses on the works of Martin Heidegger and Wallace Stevens. The course - a look at the German philosopher and at an American insurance executive who became a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet - quickly filled its 40 slots, with still more students on a waiting list.

While Heidegger's thinking is a kind of poetry, Steven's poetry is a kind of thought, said Dolan. Both men believed that poetry plays a critical role in expressing truths about the world, he said, and neither was politically correct.

Students Out Loud

In another course, a Freshman Seminar in Comparative Literature, students can learn how to read and recite poetry.

Steve Tollefson, who is teaching the course Tuesday afternoons, said he thinks everyone should be able to recite one or two favorite poems. His own personal list of more than a hundred favorites even includes a few poems of none other than Wallace Stevens.

"In addition to its purely personal benefits, knowing some poetry by heart has practical applications," Tollefson said.

"In a tough job interview, you can impress the prospective boss by reciting just the right line, say, from Dylan Thomas: 'do not gentle into that good night / rage rage against the dying of the light,'" he said. "Or at a party some time, you'll be able to show off with a bit of T.S. Eliot: 'in the room the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo. '"