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Berkeley Times on January 14, 2016

Newspaper Column

The Berkeley Times

As appeared in the Berkeley Times on January 14, 2016:

“CONSCIOUS HIP-HOP” AT 924 GILMAN

Just as expected: a concrete floor in a warehouse at 924 Gilman, and on a black wall “Hectic” and “Gloom” in block letters. But overhead? “Welcome to Woodstock” in stark white on a girder, alongside “Sweet Children.”

Two performers on mics paced back and forth, interweaving, waving in rhythm. One guy at a sound console. “Another Chapter” introduced themselves, “Drove out from Las Vegas, ready … to get this shit off my chest.”

Come from streets so foul, leave ya’ all on ya’ back.
I have to sleep in the cab.
I have to be who I am.

We’re pushed around by our own culture, the gangsta style an apt metaphor. “Between you and me, I hate people … I love life but I hate people.”

Three folding chairs and a stack of ladders against the wall. Opposite the stage, the sound room enclosed in netting with small red lights.

The audience fluctuated from forty to a hundred, preteens to twenty-somethings, a third African-American. A scattering over thirty, another scattering in goth dress.

B. True lived by his motto, “Be True.”

We don’t know where we’re going, we know we got to get better.
You don’t have to imitate everything you see.

On one black wall a white tree growing a monster with horns, holding an ax and a salt canister, roots growing into rocks and pigs and skulls.

“I’m shooting for the moon. I’m aiming at the sky.”
“I’m going to try something I’ve never tried before … this is how we grow.”

The wall pulsed with the dinosaur bass, solid notes paced for dancing, overlain with church chords.

“You were second to none, you were number one.
Love has the ability to be the most beautiful worst thing you do in life.”

He exhorted the audience to wave their hands, call and response, up! Down! “When I say ‘Love’, you say ‘Maze’” and that meant to shout!

“Spread your wings, let the whole world see. Spread your wings and fly.”
“Take off, take off. From the cockpit of a 747. Catapult myself closer to my dreams.”

Onewerd rapped extremely fast, how could words be mouthed so quickly? And Feliciano countered with insistent, cogent lyrics.

The unacknowledged problems spoken out loud. :Conscious hip-hop challenged the dominant consensus.

“Fail, everybody, fail! Come on, everybody, fail!” Then the tape messed up and the sound went screwy. Felaciano hit the refrain harder, laughing. “Come on, everybody, fuck shit up!”

White letters on the black wall, “entitled” stronger by half in pig-German: “Fuckin’ a, you are entitlen.” To do what you need to, especially if it s counter to what’s expected.
Will the next performance be as exciting? Take a guess at www.924gilman.org.

Berkeley Times on December 3, 2015

Newspaper Column

The Berkeley Times

As appeared in the Berkeley Times on December 3, 2015:

GARY TURCHIN AT EXPRESSIONS GALLERY

The host pointed to paintings on the Gallery walls, “Water, water, water” the theme. Mud patterns in a drying lake, ocean waves breaking, the Napa River vigorous and full, the same river this year: a trickle.

The feature looked like a Dr. Frankenstein experiment! Two rows of stitches angled across his shaved cranium, each four inches long.

Nothing like a monster, though, when he read. Kid stuff, energetic and cheerful.

Lucy hit a homer,
I saw it, I was there!
And by the way her bat cracked,
I knew she hit it square.

Showing the forty-some, mostly white elders a little joy of life?

She took off running like the wind,
Toward first base, and more,
Her team was losing by a run,
Her hit could tie the score.

Gary Turchin made his living reading to school children and it shows. He touched the stitches and quipped, “You can’t fault me for narcissism. Who else would love me?”

Did you know the Moon is gregarious?
That cumulus clouds are full of themselves?
That the Sun has a shy side, but we don’t see it?
That lightning and thunder are at odds, and have been for centuries…?

Tongue in cheek provocation, “because there’s no substitute for the truth.” What if everything was wrong, and there is no truth?

What if the Universe was a chalkboard,
all chalked in,
and God: the Eraser
creating space between?

Turchin has an aggressive Parkinson’s disease. Those stitches show where surgeons probed his brain. “Before they routered … with their elegant science,”

A young security guard chased me into the crosswalk…
Demanding to see my receipt.
I yelled at him, “You don’t know anything,
you fool!”
He was young and stupid,
and hadn’t yet learned to distinguish ‘handicapped’ from ‘thief’…

The surgeons probed around and Turchin talked, to show what functions they touched. “Don’t mess with the poetry nodes!” Louder, “Let me keep my ability to speak!”

Turchin extended the theme in “The Geometry of Water,” asking water for its measurements. “It will laugh, scoff even, ‘You dividers and geometers….’” Water took on a voice with signature directness, listing how water transforms itself, magically. The poem concluded

“If I am not your God,
I am the mother of your God.” …

Surgeons will insert a battery in Turchin’s chest, hoping to override the earthquakes running through his nerves. Do we need special effects?

Someone yelled, “When will they turn on the battery?”

“That’s for me to know and you to guess.”

The Gallery’s next theme is “Color Matters.” You can bet they’ll bring a telling palette to racism. Find out how at 1805 Ashby Avenue, or downtown in their walkway between Center and Addison Streets, or at www.expressionsgallery.org
.

Berkeley Times August 13, 2015

Newspaper Column

The Berkeley Times

As appeared in the Berkeley Times on August 13, 2015:

LANGUAGE POETS AT ART HOUSE GALLERY

First time in a decade? Language poet founder Ron Silliman and Laura Moriarty read alongside devotee Brian Ang, who projected lines in a pure monotone. With great conviction!

Taken own postmodernist discriminating unless insisted extreme
Claimed lead perfect statistics relinquishing both climatic framework festivals tell

Seven women among thirty men, half elders, all but one white, listened in respectful silence. No fidgeting! This was serious stuff.

Pigeonholing nature’s concocted alphabet assassin moderns arrested body
Envied found parental [real] energies throne average probe sole released

You understand this? You’re kidding! Words like a strong wind peel off layers of the psyche and expose the core. The mind dances, searching for a pattern — where there is none. The dance is intriguing. Watching one’s own instinctual process is revelatory.

Ang ended with “Thank you” in that same monotone. No eye contact.

Moriarity had stylish appeal, in an elegant blouse and chic bob, and considerable limbic content. She made eye contact during her introductions, but while reading? None.

The revolution came and went
While you were dead…
As I dreamt
Your voice rough
(My) head empty (my)
Heart out of its mind
We rioted then
Taking things apart
Breaking down
Individually and as a group…
Like someone not dead
Memory disguised as threat

Brilliant lines alongside precise observations that zoom halfway to the void. Love poems and compact narratives in a deliberate, narrow range of expression. And, tacked on the end, Moriarty intoned a flat “Thank you.” She calls her poems “Tonalist” – look it up.

Silliman, in comfortable, folksy style, plaid shirt and cowboy hat, read from Against Conceptual Poetry. Well, Language poetry has no concepts! But the book presents insightful, humorous, and angry conversations with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.

Silliman has returned to his original interest. A political organizer in the 1970s, he saw that language subverts our hearts and emotions – our limbic system – without our awareness. Highlight the sabotage that people were referred to as “he,” extend that concern to all words, and you have Language poetry strategy.

Assange on U.S. journalism. “…but, come on, actually…it’s always been very bad…especially when you are involved in something yourself and you know every facet of it and you look to see what is reported…in the mainstream press, and you can see naked lies after naked lies…so appalling I don’t think it can be reformed.”

Suddenly the reading fit the decor! Dreams of a previous generation thrive at Art House, 2905 Shattuck Avenue, with Hendrix, Joplin, and Ginsberg in colorful, swirling paintings on the walls.

And a fundamental value of the Beats? Tell the truth.

Will the next reading at Art House be as provocative? Sign up at arthouse2905@gmail.com and find out.

Berkeley Times on November 5, 2015

Newspaper Column

The Berkeley Times

As appeared in the Berkeley Times on November 5, 2015:

MARC HOFSTADTER AT MOE’S

“Sensuous, a touch of sadness,” said host Richard Silberg of the reader on Hiroshima’s 70th anniversary. “We forgot, for the occasion, to set off a small nuclear device.”

History was highlighted.

Marc Hofstadter read personal poems so calmly, did he think life’s of little account? His new title, Memories I’ve Forgotten, echoed that possibility:

Mary and I, naked, three years old,
in the 96th Street penthouse garden,
a hose sluicing chilled water in,
droplets beading on our brows,
limbs cold, laughter filling our mouths
with a fullness I seek now,
sixty-odd years later,
in a coffeehouse in San Francisco,
where a small courtyard fountain
gurgles, gurgles.

The audience was all white, eleven men and four women, like Hofstadter bracketing 70, with two twenty-somethings eavesdropping. The poet: tall, dignified, paunchy, with semi-Einstein hair.

When the young poet learned to switch the lamp:

On, it lit the room
with a suffused glow.
Off, it made the world disappear:
me, the walls,
everything.

A crush, before he understood he was gay:

I noticed his straw hair and red skin,
for three months aware of nothing else.
Trees, walls, people disappeared.
When the world surged back,
I had no memory of what had happened.
He seemed an ordinary boy enough.

Seventy-plus years ago Robert Duncan’s academic essay, for a few, brought legitimacy to homosexuals. In the 1950s Ginsberg proclaimed gayness loudly as did John Wieners, as misunderstood tragedy: “Fairy friends who do not fail us Mary in our hour of despair.” Over the years acceptance increased. Ron Schreiber’s volume Dear John comes to mind, among others.

Is Hofstadter’s tranquility an anomaly? It’s a strength, tinged with some existential humor. He’s able to go to the core without avoidance. Taking no exits. That, plus a kiloton of courage, allows such brief, complete, and casual-seeming poems.

Try “Tent-mates”:

Even at eleven,
I was the bottom,
you the top.
We ignored our “disgusted”
tent-mate as well as
the camp’s teaching
of country,
team, and manhood.
Summer passed in a whirl.
I never saw you again.
I had been thin and frail,
you strong, sinewy.
Thank you.

How many hysterias did Hofstadter avoid? You list them, they’re obvious. Speaking so comprehensively on this topic is historic. The change took one life-time.

The twenty-something. who’d come from the Slam, agreed: “Thoughtful. Mature.”

“Dear Reader,” about the end of life:

It’s only the start
of a long night
I fear I won’t
be able to bear,
but I tell myself,
true courage
is facing the worst
without anyone else
knowing you’re toughing it out,
so somehow
I make it,
no one aware
except you.

Will the next reading be an historic marker, too? A quiet bomb? Go to www.poetryflash.com and guess.

Berkeley Times on May 21, 2015

Newspaper Column

The Berkeley Times

As appeared in the Berkeley Times on May 21, 2015:

JANE HIRSHFIELD AT MRS DALLOWAY’S

“We wander the roof of hell, choosing blossoms.” — Issa

No way does this bookstore resemble hell! Mrs. Dalloway’s, 2950 College Avenue. is clean, attractive, with elegant script along the wall: “Mrs. Dalloway decided to pick her own flowers.”

These one-liners from Jane Hirshfield, like the quote from Issa, suggest how poetry awakens our lives.

“Beauty unbuckles pain’s armoring.”
“Poetry startles its reader out of the general trance.”
“Waking with the awareness that the future cannot be predicted.”

Hirshfield means we can’t predict the next second, and that means your life. This homily is a profundity, rarely noticed because it’s omnipresent.

Hirshfield revealed that Plato thought poetry “escapist.” Her audience though, a hundred-and-thirty-plus people, was in rapt attention. Most were well-to-do, half were gray, balding, or elderly, with a number of twenty- and thirty-somethings, no Latins that I could discern, and no African-Americans.

“There were times my life and I made jokes together…
I was hungry, then, and my life,
my life, too, was hungry, we could not keep
our hands off our clothes on
our tongues from”

Hirshfield was intent on charming her audience. But remember, the most enlightened person may appear the most ordinary. Hirshfield did appear ordinary: matronly, with hair carefully done up, a red and brown scarf.

She read a poem-conversation between herself and her skeleton.

“When I danced,
you danced.
When you broke,
I.
…What did I know of your days,
your nights?…
You who held me all your life
in your hands
as a new mother holds
her own unblanketed child,
not thinking at all.”

Hirshfield is a dedicated Buddhist and this went unmentioned, not in her patter, not in her book promotion. Has she abandoned her practice? I think not. She might wish her poems be appreciated without our knowing where they come from. Without a label. Hirshfield forewent questions and answers so we couldn’t ask.

I did ask people what they appreciate. “Simplicity.” “Beautiful still lifes.” “Olives and oranges.” “Mindful playfulness.”
All true. But mainly Hirshfield presents two things: an awakened consciousness and uber-accurate, unfleshed bits of life.

“I wake early,
make two cups of coffee,
drink one,
think, go back to sleep,
wake again, think,
drink the other.”

How many years meditating before, avoiding the day’s concerns, one can write so exactly what is? Twenty years, I’d guess.

“This poem is haunted from the edges by the fact that we are still at war.”

We live on the roof of hell, and Hirshfield shows us blossoms.

Upper-middle class white America needs these bits of ordinary life, bits that are somehow enough, and comforting. Will the next reading be as reassuring? Find out at www.mrsdalloways.com.

Berkeley Times on June 25, 2015

Newspaper Column

The Berkeley Times

As appeared in the Berkeley Times on June 25, 2015:

“POETRY SLAM” AT THE STARRY PLOUGH

“The more energy you give the poets, the more they give back to you!”

The Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck Avenue, looked decorated by the Irish Republican Army: flags, posters of griffins, Che Guevara, Guiness ale, and in faux Celtic script, “No revolutionary movement is complete without its poets.”

A workshop led by Jaz Sufi started the evening. “If you write, you have already won.” One participant wrote his poem on the spot!

“Sign-up closes when I stop counting 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – sprint!”

White guy in the spotlight: “Chattering in my head gets pretty loud, but the radio gets louder.”

“This loud turns the highway into a black scream.”

Black with rasta braids: “Three blocks down from the crack house. We’d punch back at everything without running home.”

“When the crying’s done there’s no weeping in my tree house.”

The raucous nightclub filled with 110-plus students and twenty-somethings, a few older, almost half male, one third people of color. “Berzerkley SLAM” in crazy gold letters across dark green curtains.

White blonde: “To the men and women with whom I have slept, I call my mental health a work-in-progress.”

“I’ve gotten so good at the word ‘yes.’ By twenty my ‘yes’ was as slobbery and wet as my favorite dog’s tongue.”

Open-and-shut demonstrations of the truism, “Poetry is a vehicle for consciousness.” Youth working out issues with family, relationships, politics, race, history, identity, gender. Each poet got three minutes or points were subtracted.

Another white woman, from a smart phone: “He’s my adrenaline, my steroids, my methamphetamine. I’m like a cat on steroids.”

“He says he can read me, but he’s reading his OCD!”

White woman, from memory: “A chest overflowing with feelings we never cleaned out.”

“Darker than the corners of my N.Y. City apartment.”

Jaz Sufi read the cards held up around the room, “I have a 6, a 6.2, 7.0, 7.0, 8.7.” She pushed up her pink sunglasses and explained, “Judges take art and put a number on it.” With what qualifications? “Who would like to be a judge? Let me rephrase. Who would like a free drink?”

The point is not the points, the point is the poetry.

AmerIndian woman: “Burn the retinas of the reservations of my mind.”

“When I first opened your book, a tomahawk hit my hand.”

Young black man: “When my father says ‘bitch’ he means everything that’s tried to destroy him.”

“Either heal or die. If he windmilled his arms hard enough….”

The highest-scoring poets go to the second round and, close to midnight, the winner pockets some cash.

“If you don’t cheer for good poetry, I will read you some bad poetry!” Jaz Sufi screamed. “Give it up for the poets! These poets pour out their hearts for you!”

Will the same happen next week? Go to berkeleypoetryslam.wordpress.com and make a guess.

Berkeley Times on April 23, 2015

Newspaper Column

The Berkeley Times

As appeared in the Berkeley Times on April 23, 2015:

ON WORDS: “POETRY FLASH” AT MOE’S

O little corporation alone in the
Manger, who will keep the nipping wolves at bay?
You can hear, at night, the unions howl, the taxmen
Circling in the woods…

Pure sarcasm! The atmosphere downstairs at Moe’s Books is hushed, almost reverential, but these lines are biting. Poet David Shaddock speaks in an understated but crisp, clear style.

His teacher, the late Denise Levertov, “was both an activist and a mystic…I try, in her honor, to keep politics as one of my themes.”

Then Shaddock ventures into lyrics related to a cancer scare.

There were orange poppies and forget-me-nots
Vernal pools with a chorus of croaking frogs…
…how we listened
For hours to the bullfrogs and spring peepers
Convinced that we’d found the ur source of music.

The second reader, John Oliver Simon, gained notice during the 1964 Free Speech movement, with brilliant, direct poetry, in the manner of Gary Snyder. Biting eco-consciousness comes from Simon, too.

A nicotinoid is poisoning the bees
plumed from the mammary glands of cropdusters…

Then Simon considers passion.

Hot sexuality is the epoxy
that hooks our life stories as we do-si-do
with sweet smiling strangers out of Genesis
no marriage stays voluptuous forever
we usually react to this news badly…

At Moe’s Books, a landmark four stories at 2476 Telegraph Avenue, the staircase displays photos of the original 1959 building. That was a quaint time. Cody’s Books was the center for poetry but, since its demise in 2006, that role migrated to Moe’s. The setting seems to suit both poets: you can feel generations of tradition.

What’s magical about the eleven-syllable line? I wonder, which the poets reveal they’re using. Simon skirts the issue. “David Shaddock will probably excommunicate me from the eleven-syllable church.”

Ah-hah! A game within the game.

These poets may have a rivalry, a call-and-response. And they’re both writing sonnets. Are such poems arcane or dry? Not the slightest! The poets give intimate slices of their lives and we’re rewarded with the sense of how our lives are all similar. The audience, 25 or so white elders, sighs, and applauds.

The richness of the evening shows why sonnets persist for centuries. Sonnets fit the Western mind, demanding exact thinking in fourteen lines: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

That’s High School Logic 101. I have my own syllogism, since paying such close attention is tiring. Thesis: I’m hungry. Antithesis: no more fast food. Then I recall a possible gluten-free snack on the Avenue. Synthesis: good pizza.

Formal poetry is not, I suspect, a trend in Poetry Flash readings. I could be wrong! View the next week’s readers at poetryflash.org and find out.

Berkeley Times on March 19, 2015

Newspaper Column

The Berkeley Times

As appeared in the Berkeley Times on March 19, 2015:

ON WORDS: “SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL” AT NICK’S LOUNGE

Your first time at Nick’s, 3218 Adeline Street near Alcatraz? Surely the wrong place, noisy, thirty-something, high-energy party atmosphere. Two shelves of bottles behind a thirty-foot bar, a long saw blade on the wall, guys in denim jostling about the OK Corral.

“Not a bar,” says the woman on an adjacent stool. “It’s a lounge.”

The fifty-plus people, including a few Blacks, are utterly quiet when the reading starts. Three minutes for each poet, on the theme of “Bad Romance.”

“There was a mess inside her, a mess I hadn’t made and couldn’t clean up.”

“Gouge guilt’s baby blues right out of his skull.”

“She was gone and all I could smell was burning.”

“Oh, man!” yells a poet after three minutes. Red and blue disco lights rotate around the walls, getting brighter, a gentle reminder that time is up.

“I live to think of failure, heartbreak, disenchantment as a group effort, a team sport.”

“You could break a thousand eggs and never find a chicken.”

“My life falls like a pale warm pair of panties to the floor.”

The tone ranges from earnest to sarcastic, from slapstick to disgusted. One guy walks into the audience, bends over and bellows his angst. Another poet has the audience shout, “Love!” every time she uses the word. For another we intone, “Nothing I want. Nothing I want” like a chorus.

“There’s beauty in imagining your absence.”

“Feign interest beyond indiscriminate hunger.”

“Held her against him with such ferociousness she thought he would never let go.”

It gets raunchier. Sex “a sticky fraud perpetuated by the prophylactic industry.” If language makes you uneasy, better step outside.

“Bad Romance” in such quantity creates a verbal Rorschach. A template calling up flaws and strengths of my relationships, the current one especially. Will I meditate, in this one evening, on every relationship in my life? But it’s not all negative.

“That love is mine! I take it back.”

“‘Going back to her place,’ which are my favorite five words.”

“No intention of riding off meekly into my sunset years.”

The free, accepting ambiance reflects the generosity of hosts Hollie Hardy and Tomas Moniz. Twenty-somethings hanging at the rear come to the mic, too, amid shrieks of approval. One poet comments, “Intelligibility doesn’t matter so much as good feeling. You get good feeling back.”

Two hours ago a solid-looking fellow with a full beard greeted a newcomer, “Dude, you’re a top-tier poet. And you show up at the open mics?”

“I get appreciated here.”

Next month at Nick’s – always 7 to 9:30pm the last Saturday – what topic will consume us? Go to http://www.holliehardy.com/readings—events.html or “Saturday Night Special” on Facebook and find out.

Berkeley Times, February 19, 2015

Berkeley Times

As appeared in the Berkeley Times on February 19, 2015:

ON WORDS: “POETRY EXPRESS” ON MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., DAY

“Someone tries to do good in America, they will only get so far, before they are stopped.” The poet, Brett Peter, quotes a dockworker who expressed his point by moving a callused finger halfway around a rusted barrelhead. And then stopping.

We’ve stepped into Poetry Express, a weekly Monday evening poetry series, at Giant Hamburgers, 1800 University Avenue. Shoulder-high gray fabric wainscoting, bland abstracts on the walls, and plate glass windows overlooking a parking lot. It’s corporate America, an elder version, with twenty or so gray-haired poets in steel chairs with red plastic seats. The youngest might be fifty-five years old.

“What’s on your mind, America?” Poetry has a way of answering this question. We needn’t worry about age for, as my father said, “You get older and older and wiser and wiser and then you die.” Along with the wisdom, since it’s MLK, Jr., Day, we expect some politics.

“My dad was a member of the John Birch Society,” says poet Jeanne Lupton. But to the young woman, “Liberals were more handsome and had more fun.”

This venue offers a featured reader, who reads for fifteen or twenty minutes, and an open, where everyone else reads. But tonight the feature couldn’t attend.

So the coordinator, Jim Barnard, spoofs old Sisyphus, who, in Greek mythology, pushes a boulder up a hill and the boulder tumbles down, over and over, throughout all eternity. He replaces Sisyphus with a dung beetle and the boulder with a dung ball. Bill’s the beetle, holding his arms up like little legs, pushing a humongous ball, then it rolls down and he spins around at the front of the room and crashes into the wall.

“Thank goodness for large boulders,” he says, as if the wall is a boulder that halted the beetle’s descent. Then he’s upright, again pushing the boulder – or the dung ball.

You get the flavor: there’s entertainment and insights in a direct, unpretentious style. Plenty of good sharing. But don’t suppose it’s all lightweight. Avotcja is present, and she won the City of Berkeley Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry for 2014. She speaks from her wheelchair at the back of the room.

“Marin Luther King, Jr., was killed because he was too much of a man.” She proposes that he chose Selma because the town was so reactionary, and his point was best made in the gut of the beast. That’s courageous. She closes with a surprising lyric, that she “Fell asleep listening to the trees breathe.”

Ah yes, Berkeley’s Poetry Express, like the old west Pony Express, delivers its own unique and surprising version of the news. Join the larger poetry express community at poetryexpress.com

Newspaper Column

Newspaper Column

ON WORDS:

MARC HOFSTADTER AT MOE’S
As appeared in the Berkeley Times on November 5, 2015:

“Sensuous, a touch of sadness,” said host Richard Silberg of the reader on Hiroshima’s 70th anniversary. “We forgot, for the occasion, to set off a small nuclear device.”

History was highlighted.

Marc Hofstadter read personal poems so calmly, did he think life’s of little account? His new title, Memories I’ve Forgotten, echoed that possibility:

Mary and I, naked, three years old,
in the 96th Street penthouse garden,
a hose sluicing chilled water in,
droplets beading on our brows,
limbs cold, laughter filling our mouths
with a fullness I seek now,
sixty-odd years later,
in a coffeehouse in San Francisco,
where a small courtyard fountain
gurgles, gurgles.

Full Story

LANGUAGE POETS AT ART HOUSE GALLERY
As appeared in the Berkeley Times on August 13, 2015:

First time in a decade? Language poet founder Ron Silliman and Laura Moriarty read alongside devotee Brian Ang, who projected lines in a pure monotone. With great conviction!

Taken own postmodernist discriminating unless insisted extreme
Claimed lead perfect statistics relinquishing both climatic framework festivals tell

Seven women among thirty men, half elders, all but one white, listened in respectful silence. No fidgeting! This was serious stuff.

Pigeonholing nature’s concocted alphabet assassin moderns arrested body
Envied found parental [real] energies throne average probe sole released

You understand this? You’re kidding! Words like a strong wind peel off layers of the psyche and expose the core. The mind dances, searching for a pattern — where there is none. The dance is intriguing. Watching one’s own instinctual process is revelatory.
 
Full Story

“POETRY SLAM” AT THE STARRY PLOUGH
As appeared in the Berkeley Times on June 25, 2015:

“The more energy you give the poets, the more they give back to you!”

The Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck Avenue, looked decorated by the Irish Republican Army: flags, posters of griffins, Che Guevara, Guiness ale, and in faux Celtic script, “No revolutionary movement is complete without its poets.”

A workshop led by Jaz Sufi started the evening. “If you write, you have already won.” One participant wrote his poem on the spot!

Full Story

JANE HIRSHFIELD AT MRS. DALLOWAY’S
As appeared in the Berkeley Times on May 21, 2015:

“We wander the roof of hell, choosing blossoms.” — Issa

No way does this bookstore resemble hell! Mrs. Dalloway’s, 2950 College Avenue. is clean, attractive, with elegant script along the wall: “Mrs. Dalloway decided to pick her own flowers.”

These one-liners from Jane Hirshfield, like the quote from Issa, suggest how poetry awakens our lives.

“Beauty unbuckles pain’s armoring.”

Full Story

“POETRY FLASH” AT MOE’S
As appeared in the Berkeley Times on April 23, 2015:

O little corporation alone in the
Manger, who will keep the nipping wolves at bay?
You can hear, at night, the unions howl, the taxmen
Circling in the woods…

Pure sarcasm! The atmosphere downstairs at Moe’s Books is hushed, almost reverential, but these lines are biting. Poet David Shaddock speaks in an understated but crisp, clear style.

Full Story

“SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL” AT NICK’S LOUNGE
As appeared in the Berkeley Times on March 19, 2015:

Your first time at Nick’s, 3218 Adeline Street near Alcatraz? Surely the wrong place, noisy, thirty-something, high-energy party atmosphere. Two shelves of bottles behind a thirty-foot bar, a long saw blade on the wall, guys in denim jostling about the OK Corral.

“Not a bar,” says the woman on an adjacent stool. “It’s a lounge.”

The fifty-plus people, including a few Blacks, are utterly quiet when the reading starts. Three minutes for each poet, on the theme of “Bad Romance.”

Full Story

“POETRY EXPRESS” ON MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., DAY
As appeared in the Berkeley Times on February 19, 2015:

“Someone tries to do good in America, they will only get so far, before they are stopped.” The poet, Brett Peter, quotes a dockworker who expressed his point by moving a callused finger halfway around a rusted barrelhead. And then stopping.

We’ve stepped into Poetry Express, a weekly Monday evening poetry series, at Giant Hamburgers, 1800 University Avenue. Shoulder-high gray fabric wainscoting, bland abstracts on the walls, and plate glass windows overlooking a parking lot. It’s corporate America, an elder version, with twenty or so gray-haired poets in steel chairs with red plastic seats. The youngest might be fifty-five years old.

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