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Shaggy doggerel, pilfered art: It’s Lunch Poems

| 27 August 2003

“It is never too early or too late,” said the Greek philosopher Epicurus, “to care for the well-being of the soul.”

Taking this to heart in 2003 A.D. — a time of cutbacks, heat waves, electoral mayhem, drought, suicide bombings, blackouts, and computer worms — may lead one straight to the Morrison Library. There, on Thursday, Sept. 4, 10 invited campus figures will share the balm of poetry, as the Lunch Poems reading series launches its eighth season.

The annual kickoff reading has become a popular Berkeley tradition, at which every manner of campus personage shares every manner of verse — from popular Victorian doggerel to translations from Urdu and Polish — along with equally individualistic commentary.

This year’s readers include John Berry of the Ethnic Studies Library; Elizabeth Dupuis, head of Instructional Services at the Library; ethnomusicologist Jocelyne Guilbault, and architect Ray Lifchez.

As in the past, faculty members bring to the 2003 event many works in translation from around the world. Architect and planner Nezar Alsayyad, chair of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, will read in the original Arabic, then English, from “Rubai’at” by the late Salah Jeheen, Egypt’s most distinguished modern Arab poet (as well as playwright, lyricist, painter, and popular cartoonist). Computer scientist Christos Papadimitriou has in mind great English translations of Cavafy and other Greek poets who have explored the ancient Greek notion that gods like to mingle, and toy, with humankind. Pablo Spiller — a tango and windsurfing enthusiast as well as a business professor — will introduce listeners to the renowned Argentine writer Silvia Baron Supervielle, a personal friend who has lived in Paris for 35 years.

You’ll also hear classics from the American canon, among them Wallace Stevens read by Rhetoric’s Frederick Dolan, and Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” read by economist Martha Olney, who has made many choices in her life that have taken her down “the road less traveled.”

“It’s a poem we read and memorized in seventh grade,” she recalls, “and it’s stuck with me ever since.”

College Writing’s Steve Tollefson has selected two works from foreign-born poets writing in English — one of them among “the most wonderful poems I’ve ever read,” by Caribbean-born Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott, and “Girl Writing a Letter” by the Irish poet William Carpenter. In the latter, a thief arrives at a museum in a van, is told that the institution is closed, and pulls a knife on the security guard. “I haven’t got all evening,” he says, “I need some art.”

As, in fact, do we. All readings in the Lunch Poem series are free and begin at 12:10 p.m. Plan to arrive early, however, for the kickoff event — which typically packs the Morrison Library from its stately main floor to its book-lined balcony.

Lunch Poems 2003-04
Readings are held from12:10 to 12:50 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month in the Morrison Library, located near Doe Library’s north entrance. For this semester's lunch poems schedule and other information, call 642-0137 or visit lunchpoems.berkeley.edu.

UC TV airs Lunch Poems readings
This fall the University of California’s UCTV plans for the first time to air “Lunch Poems,” both on TV and on its website (www.uctv.tv). UCTV is carried by the DISH Network (channel 9412) and on local cable, including Comcast channels 25 and 78. Scheduled broadcasts from the 2002-03 Lunch Poems series are as follows:

Brenda Hillman
Monday, Sept. 8, noon (Ch 78)
Friday, Sept. 12, 5 & 8 p.m. (DISH)

Li-Young Lee
Monday, Sept. 15, noon (Ch 78)
Friday, Sept. 19, 5 & 8 p.m. (DISH)

Mary Ruefle
Monday, Sept. 22, noon (Ch 78)
Friday, Sept. 26, 5 & 8 p.m. (DISH)

Luis Rodriguez
Monday, Sept. 29, noon (Ch 78)
Friday, Oct. 3, 5 & 8 p.m. (DISH)

Cornelius Eady
Monday, Oct. 6, noon (Ch 78)
Friday, Oct. 10, 5 & 8 p.m. (DISH)