NEWS RELEASE, 08/27/98

Sept. 3 kick-off of Lunch Poems series features Ishmael Reed, Robert Hass and others reading their favorite poems

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs

BERKELEY -- Writer and 1998 MacArthur "genius award" winner Ishmael Reed will join former Poet Laureate Robert Hass to kick off the third annual Lunch Poems series at the University of California, Berkeley, on Thursday, Sept. 3.

The kick-off, free and open to the public, is scheduled from 12:10 to 12:50 p.m. in the Lipman Room on the 8th floor of Barrows Hall.

The poetry series was instituted in 1996 by Hass, a professor of English, to celebrate "the extraordinary richness of Berkeley's poetic tradition" and "provide a forum for the campus where faculty, students, staff and the general public will be able to experience the intellectual and artistic electricity of UC Berkeley."

Each year the series brings to campus some half dozen of today's best poets to read from their works.

The annual kick-off, however, features a mixture of campus staff, faculty and students reading their favorite poems. Among the poetry lovers reading Sept. 3 are an architect, a mathematician, a physicist, an Olympic swimmer and a librarian.

Physicist Young-Kee Kim, for example, designs experiments to detect elusive elementary particles such as the top quark. But she has had a long-standing interest in Korean poetry, and plans to read a translation of poems from a Korean poet who influenced her greatly - Ji-Ha Kim, an activist hero who wrote during Korea's 25-year series of military dictatorships.

Native American studies professor Gerald Vizenor is a poet and novelist himself. Impressed by the thoughtful readings at last year's event, he jumped at the chance to participate this year. He plans to read a short poem, "Origin," from a recent book, "On Native Ground," by Native American poet Jim Barnes.

Leo Harrington, a professor of mathematics, also composes poetry - all with an underlying theme of mathematics - which he posts on his office door. "Writing poetry is close to what mathematicians do when they produce a proof," he argues. In addition to reading one of his own poems, he has chosen one from Yeats, Emily Dickinson and Laurie Duggan, whose poem he discovered posted inside a bus.

The only professional poet on the program is Ishmael Reed, a novelist, essayist and playwright who has lectured in the English department since 1968. Recognized for leading the movement in African American writing away from social realism toward a more complex, non-linear style, this past June he was awarded a five-year MacArthur Foundation "genius" fellowship.

Others reading on Sept. 3 include the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol Christ, a professor of English; Donlyn Lyndon, professor and chair of the architecture department; two-time Olympic competitor Elli Overton, an Australian member of Cal's swim team and an undergraduate business major; Anita Madrid, director of UC Berkeley's outreach program, the Berkeley Pledge; and James Spohrer, associate university librarian.

"The series brings terrific poets to campus, but the kick-off program really allows us to show the life poetry has on the campus," said Natalie Gerber, a graduate student in English who with Zack Rogow has organized the program for the past three years.

The regular Lunch Poems format begins Oct. 1 with Jimmy Santiago Baca, a New Mexico poet who won the American Book Award for his semi-autobiographical Martín and Meditations on the South Valley.

Other poets slated for the series are D. A. Powell, a San Francisco poet who has written about friends who died of AIDS (Nov. 5); Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali (Dec. 3); Jamaican poet Claudia Rankine (Feb. 4); Heather McHugh, the Milliman Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington (Mar. 4); and Marie Howe, a past winner of the National Poetry Series (Apr. 1). The final reading on May 7 is by students.

All readings are free and take place from 12:10 to 12:50 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month in the Lipman Room, 8th floor, Barrows Hall, on the UC Berkeley campus.

Support for the series is provided by the Library, the Morrison Library Fund and the College of Letters & Science. The series is part of the Poets & Writers' California Literary Presenters Program. Additional sponsors for individual events include the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, the Department of English and the Bear Student Store.

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