Lunch Poems – Annual Student Reading


– I’m Giovanni Singleton,
Lunch Poems coordinator, and thank you all for being here today. First I’d like to invite you to sign up for our email list, which is
over on the librarian’s desk. And also on our website,
lunchpoems.berkeley.edu, you’ll find videos of today’s reading as well all of our previous readings. So please go check out our YouTube channel and have some poetry over the summer. This is the final event
for our 2016-17 season. Please come back in the
fall on September 7, where we’ll have our annual kickoff event. So today here to introduce
our stellar student poetry award winners and
Lunch Poem volunteers is incoming director of Lunch Poems and English professor Jeffrey G. O’Brien. Please welcome him, thank you. (crowd applauding) – Hi there. Before we start hearing
from these stellar readers and writers, I want to
thank Giovanni especially for her work as coordinator. All year and every year, she
does so much behind the scenes to make this smooth. So let’s give her a round. (crowd applauding) And I’d also like to thank
other invisible people, some of whom will become visible. The student volunteers,
Taylor Osman and Anthony Tucci and Amanda Gee. Amanda will be reading today. Thank you for your work as
well, it makes this possible. Yeah, so we’re here to hear
from students on campus. We start the year hearing
from the closest readers and writers across the university, and then we have invited
guests, and then at the end we hear from people who have just recently probably contracted the permanent
infection that is poetry. We’re going to hear from both
undergrads and grads alike. Because poetry resists rules partially, we won’t go entirely alphabetically. No, it’s just because Mary
Mussman needs to run a meeting very soon so we’re going
to start with Mary Mussman. I’m going to be reading
short bios for each reader, so I’ll be hastily getting
up and getting down between readers. Of course, these bios are
an extension of their work as creative writers,
so I have nothing to do with how they’ve chosen
to define themselves. Yeah, so we’ll begin with
Mary Mussman, with M. Mary Mussman is a doctoral student in the comparative literature department, focusing on receptions of
ancient Greek poetry in Anglo and French literature since
the late 19th Century. In both her academic
work and in her poetry, she is particularly interested
in how classical texts can form conceptions of
gender and sexuality, loss and grief, and
transgression and secrecy. Please welcome Mary Mussman. (crowd applauding) – Thanks Jeffrey. This poem is an elegy
for a friend of mine, the poet Max Ritvo who died last August. It’s called Greek Poetry Composition. – [Audience Member] We
can’t hear you very well. – Is this better? Oh, great. Greek Poetry Composition, for Max Ritvo. In Greek poetry composition,
we learned to write in the lesbian Aeolic dialect, the first symptom of which is sialosis, a kind of forgetting to
breathe, or a loss of breath. Lesbian Aeolic dialect
is not a literary one, but the normal usage at the time, what we have surmised
from its residue on papyri and elsewhere, mostly
Sappho, mostly Alcaeus. It was two poets who enfolded
me into ancient Greek, my first great loves. Let us call one Sappho
and the other Alcaeus. Lesbian poets, or pseudo-lesbians. In published works, Sappho and Alcaeus discuss the space within
which reading ancient Greek takes place. There is the requisite
physical space upon one’s desk of texts, commentaries, dictionaries, a lamp since it gets dark,
and the mind is separate from anything else. Stutters, falters, halts, stumbles through the salt flats of archaic text. In brief, it is the
experience of deep space, a sensory deprivation
unlike anything else. It is now nighttime. I’m with the woman I’ve been
dating and our lesbian friend who convinces me to inhale
my first and only cigarette. She invokes Sappho and her
deep space of ancient Greek. This is unfair. As you know, it is like
nothing else, she says. I take her cigarette in my hand. I choke on my own coughs. The cigarette is a
lesbian Aeolic euphemism for the three of us
fucking a few hours later. A little breathless Island of Lesbos. Senseless mind, a kind
of deep space dwelling in the same phylum, the phylum of my desk, strewn with the lesbian Aeolic dialect. The last part is that what we learn in Greek poetry composition
is a form of astrophysics. Despite its apparent futurity,
astrophysics is not a way of thinking about the future,
but the study of the movement of old things in space, like dark matter. It is a form of grief. What astrophysicists detect is only ever ancient particle waves
that have somehow lasted across space, senseless. Thank you. (crowd applauding) – Our first alphabetized
reader is Gee, Amanda Gee. She studies English and creative writing but still fits in nonacademic reading, preferably at window
seats or cafes or both. Her writings often reflect on childhood or are for the childlike. She’s grateful for the
guidance and encouragement she has received from her
creative writing professors and peers over the past four years. Please welcome Amanda Gee. (crowd applauding) – Hi. I’ll be reading from a
pantoum I’ve written. It’s called Laundry Business. Laundry Business. Adults always talk when they
think I’m not listening. Dad’s cousin weaves us
through Manhattan’s rush hour. I pretend to be asleep in the backseat. Apparently, laundromats
are very lucrative. Dad’s cousin waves us through
Manhattan’s rush hour. As Dad talks about this guy
who started a laundromat, apparently laundromats are very lucrative for Chinese immigrants who
want to be entrepreneurs. As Dad talks about this
guy who owned laundromats, his tone shifts. This guy became filthy rich
and picked up a mistress. For this Chinese immigrant
who became an entrepreneur, got pretty fast once
he got what he wanted. Tone shift. This guy became filthier
rich and dumped his mistress. For this Chinese immigrant– Oh, sorry. For this Chinese immigrant
who became an entrepreneur– I’m sorry. Let me start over from the stanza. Tone shift. This guy became filthier
rich and dumped his mistress. Dad didn’t mention how or
why things got ugly fast. She got what she wanted. The mistress called the
FBI on that bastard. Dad didn’t mention how or why, but they are currently looking
into all of his laundromats. Ever since that ex-mistress called the FBI on that bastard, there
is more than one type of dirty laundry. I’m currently looking in
to start a laundromat. Dad’s cousin laughs,
turning left into Chinatown. There is more than one
type of dirty laundry, and their smells and sounds fill the car. Dad and his cousin laugh. Left turn into Chinatown. They talk. They think I’m not listening, but the smells and sounds fill the car, and I am only pretending
sleep in the backseat. Thank you. (crowd applauding) – Pantoums are evil. Helena Yezels is an exchange
student from Ghent University in Belgium who has come to
Berkeley for one semester to study creative writing. Back in Belgium, she was editor in chief of Ghent University’s English
student literary magazine and coordinator of the English student creative writing group. In addition to poetry,
she writes prose, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Helena Yezels. (crowd applauding) – So I had two poems that I
possibly wanted to read today and one of them was a
funny poem about laundry, so I’m going to pick the other one, which is less funny, but yeah, bear with me please. To My Depression. I don’t miss the time we were together, wasting away entire days in bed, wrapped in each other’s cold embrace. In dirty sheets inside a
stuffy room with curtains like rainclouds, heavy
with dust and numbness and perpetually drawn. You have drifted off into my periphery, now beyond grasp if not beyond sight. The pills I take are a restraining order, implemented with good reason, though I sometimes forget, and sometimes when I see
you in the corner of my eye, you’re simply there, always
ready to slouch forward with your understanding eyes. Sorry. And your comforting
hands, waiting to descend on my hunched, chastised shoulders. I’m still not sure if
you’re an enemy or a friend, therefore I don’t know
whether to keep you close or closer. For now, I like to keep an eye on you, suspicious but also
wistful for your constancy and comfort and the knowledge that you, more than anyone, will always be mine. Thank you. (crowd applauding) – Our next reader is Kyle Hill. Kyle is an undergraduate
majoring in molecular and cell biology, or the
other poetry, as I call it. He’s graduating in spring 2018. He hopes his aspirations will
lead him to be an astronaut, colonize celestial bodies,
discover extraterrestrial life, and redefine the human experience, in descending order of importance. That’s my edit. This summer, he will be
taking a break from research, studying the Japanese language
and culture abroad in Tokyo. Kyle Hill. (crowd applauding) – Hearing someone talk
about your aspirations really makes you have
to commit, doesn’t it? This poem is titled Expectance. 1952. Mom picks autumn fire tulips
in California springtime. Dad smokes, whiskey garnished, love in his crystal ash tray, lacquered yellow from practice. They call his name everywhere he crawls, stop him from going too far. Still love him for doing so. September. Falling as if he is the last copper shell, arching downward from its metal home in to the camouflage boom crater created by shell shocked soldiers
reaching for life, liberty, and missing dog tags. Knee locked, jaw dropped, he sinks into the rising pale grief perforating from the stagnant red wounds. Help me. Why? I’m dying. Wounds his mother would still kiss. Now blanketed in synthetic
jungle and mustard bite, hidden from his mother’s
and father’s pleas, limbless and thoughtless,
our minute man didn’t make it through his first minute
of red, white, and blue warranted crimes. Something called war,
now called childless. He’s not coming home. Clocks the AK-47, 1969. (crowd applauding) – Is Carter Kieling here? OK, our next reader is Evan Clavin, who’s a PhD candidate in
the English department at UC Berkeley. In addition to dissertating, he has a few poetry
book projects underway, and I owe you feedback on one of them. His poems and translations
have appeared in American Literary Review,
Diagram, Circumference, Poetry in Translation,
Line Break, and elsewhere. Evan Clavin. – Thanks Jeffrey and
Giovanni for having me. And it’s a pleasure to be reading with all the other students. This poem is called Alba Oblique. Alba is a dawn song for lovers. This is in four stanzas
and it’s helpful to think of the stanzas sort of progressing
from pre-dawn into day. Alba Oblique. Hurricane eyes still lidded, ghost gathers out of hemispheric black, before downpour breaks
to call us from dream, coded patter on a taut ear of glass. My mouth open, you say
you took in its babble of expired thought. Echoes soft, the night talked through, a throat well reflecting weather. Out from the blue, heaven is rent wide as your arms’ breadth, spreading the curtain to catch
sun cast through rain print and array, new leopard spots
of rainbow on your skin. Such arcane angles, beauty resolves the way three mirrors form a prism. In hearing now the secret
life of light falling through its own transparent clothes. Thank you. (crowd applauding) – And now we will leap
back to the letter B and go to Matthew Bowie,
who is from California and served aboard the US Bunker Hill before attending American River College and now UC Berkeley. Several of his poems have been published in the American River Review,
including his selection for today. Matthew Bowie. (crowd applauding) – Big fan of E.E. Cummings,
which I hope will come across, but it doesn’t really
matter if does or not. Someone died by looking for more. My marks down playing by the stone shore. Loving, losing, fear, time. To know her hands, she rode her feet. Old men doubted and none demurred, so out there withdrew
among whispering word, fear, loving, losing, time. Everyone read her foot for foot. Anyone, no one, neither bad nor good knew that someone knew what they had. They whispered their
should, shouted their no. Wind, ripple, stone, sand. Here so there, but day thus moon She scorned the this and love the soon. Storm, tree, wilt, and rain, everyone’s all never said to her guilt. No one fled from everyone, wandered defiles and sang their ground. Dawn falls time before
she whispered prayers and birthed the debt. Somewhere, someone was born, she knew. Everyone stood and saw the truth. Everyone sang for her tiny feet. Quietly, quietly, the rain and sleet, stone, sand, wind and ripple, likely the sea can forgive them all. Old men forgetting they once were small by marks down playing by the stone shore. No for naught and ground breaks song, so less for less as time soothes wrongs, someone for everyone, sea and river, book and word and time and crossed never. No one, anyone, great and small, nowhere, always, none, all. Birth their stone and right the same. Sand, feet, wind, and rain. Thanks. (crowd applauding) – Thank you Matthew. Our next reader is Jeslyn Wittel. Jeslyn is a senior studying
English and computer science, the other other poetry. She likes to think she needs
the weirdness of poetry to balance out the patterns of real life, but sometimes she just likes the patterns. Jeslyn Wittel. (crowd applauding) – Thank you. I’m gonna be reading a piece called The Dog Isn’t Even Dead Yet. It’s no longer true unfortunately. The Dog Isn’t Even Dead Yet. I thought this life would
be harder than it is, that I would stand on
battlements and dictate to foot soldiers, that I
would love too many people, speed dating suitors with
name tags like pleasure or salvation in permanent marker. That I would count or be held accountable for unearned crimes, that
I would redeem myself with mouth coins. That I would bravely
slit a willing throat, or teach a shot yearling mercy. That there were would be too
many choices to gun down. I didn’t think that choice
was a brand illusion, or that I would resign myself
to a contract with living, or that I would be given
permission to live by legal tender. But I have not been held accountable for its quotity and cruelty. I have only killed people who
are far away in fractions, a third, a half, half off dog
food redeemed with coupons. And it was easy to agree
when my parents told me the dog would have to be put down. Nothing should suffer
whose pain can be stopped with a long drive and a
red light up his veins, the window down. It isn’t a choice. Like grabbing the strongest
puppy in the litter wasn’t a choice, and the
definition of strongest wasn’t a choice. It was a puppy. It’s hard to think that
life should be easy and not be reconciled, but it’s easy to think reconcile
sounds like flip a coin, like it has already made up its mind. Thank you. (crowd applauding) – Our last reader today
is Malcolm Williams. Malcolm Williams is a senior English major finishing up a minor in anthropology while also perfecting his natural talent for procrastination. That’s why he’s last. He’s still not sure what
he’s doing after graduation but he will figure that out later. Malcolm Williams. (crowd applauding) – Thank you, this is
really cool to be here. It’s also very nerveracking. It’s like my most official reading that I’ve ever been a part of. I told myself I was gonna
come up with something ahead of time, I could only
come up with dumb jokes about how La La Land should
have won the best award, the Best Picture Award at the Oscars, so I’ll spare you guys. So anyways, here’s my poem
about procrastination. The title is 10 Minutes Before Class. My laptop and I rush into the library, eager to procure the essay
we spent all night crafting. He kept me awake with his constant glow and I kept him alive by feeding
him honey bunches of volts. So now we try to tell the
printer how much it would mean to us if she would kindly
transpose our arranged pixels onto a more traditional medium. However, the printer doesn’t
understand the language I beg in, and won’t speak to my laptop based on a difference of
opinion as to the need for wifi. People behind us start
getting agitated and mutter. They don’t have time to wait for us. Meanwhile, the printer taunts my laptop with error messages, and
I have to separate the two before someone gets hurt. The strangers keep glaring
and shuffling past us to take the printer’s side. Embarrassment colors my cheeks
and heats my laptop’s vents. We check the time and debate if it’s worth trying another library and being late. My laptop tells me it’s not. I think he’s just flustered,
but insists we leave. On the condition that
he explains our failure to the professor, I concede. Thank you. (crowd applauding) – Thank you. That concludes a wonderful
year of Lunch Poems. As Giovanni said, please
come back in the fall for the kickoff. I’m hoping to snag chancellor-elect Crest. I think we’ll be able
to shame her into it. We’ll see. We also are starting to
figure out the programming for next year. I know that we have
former US poet laureate Rita Dove on board, and
local poet Matthew Zapruder, and Soma Sharif possibly as
well, and several others. So please come back next year,
and let’s have one more hand for all of the student readers today. (crowd applauding)

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