Student poets take over Lunch Poems for last event of the season

Lunch poet
Evan Klavon, a Ph.D. candidate in English, reads his poem at the Lunch Poems series in Morrison Library on May 3, 2018. (Photos by Cade Johnson for the UC Berkeley Library)

Nearly every love seat and sofa in Morrison Library filled up Thursday afternoon as a stream of students took to the lectern for the Library’s Lunch Poems program.

Each year, the Lunch Poems series concludes with a celebration of the campus’ student poets. Eleven students read their work Thursday, and while their styles varied greatly, from multisyllabic rhymes to free verse, the poems’ themes somewhat coalesced, describing the power and serenity of the sea, the sun, love, and family.

“I move in the rhythm of your spirit, / sleep in the wake of your desire, / wake up to pick away,” read Daniel Benjamin, a Ph.D. candidate in English.

Evan Klavon, also an English doctoral student, wrote a poem about his grandfather’s decline through Parkinson’s disease and dementia, and his mother’s caregiving throughout. Klavon writes in the third person, with “he” referring alternately to Klavon’s grandfather and himself.

now the tremor’s unworrying him mouth mute but to breathe and feed

and at last free from the law to ashes cast in the grove where for her mother
he cried himself in the end he will overhear on the phone her saying only once
your parents have gone do you feel fully your own after driving him down the
mountain returning home

UC Berkeley’s creative writing faculty, Lunch Poems volunteers, and representatives from various student publications nominated students to read at the event. Several of the readers hailed from a poetry workshop taught by English Professor Geoffrey O’Brien, who is also the director of the Lunch Poems series.

“It’s nice to see them turning out and away from the classroom setting and being able to stand behind their work, and to be able to witness their arc from wherever they started to where their finished poems now are,” O’Brien said. “It’s also nice for me to go from the intimate setting of the workshop to feeling sort of out of the equation and just in the role of appreciator.”

Poet Taylor Osman
Taylor Lynn Osman, a fourth-year cognitive science and English double-major, reads her poem.

Taylor Osman, a senior, thanked O’Brien for the workshop before reading her poem, “Monday.”

Sunlight was not
Ever really yellow today
But peach-apricot, plucked from
Two trees at once. If that’s where
They came from. A dog hurried
Past you. The bark that you saw
On the tree was mold;

Selden Cummings reads a poem
Selden Cummings, a third-year English major, reads a poem about the ocean.

Two students recited poems about the ocean — from its devastation at society’s hand to the mystical powers living within it. Selden Cummings, a junior, read his poem with raplike flourish:

Does pleasure grow when coals begin to glow?
… For the animals down there, this ain't no joke.
It’s their home and whether it’s boiling hot or freezing cold
We can never pretend to know what they know
That’s right; The ocean, so
Let us invoke a prayer for this salty liquid snow
Oh, gods of the sea, please forgive us our plastic that wraps you in misery
As I rap about this, the ultimate mystery

Shonushka Sawant, a sophomore, slowed things down a bit, reading softly of the sirens at sea:

At eve we’ll return to the silent cliff
Where the sirens were forged by the thunder,
And up from the blue come the hearts of the deep
To carry you down to your slumber.

The Lunch Poems series will resume in September.




Lunch Poems is a noontime poetry reading on the first Thursday of the month. Admission to the Morrison Library event is free. Check the Lunch Poems website for the upcoming fall schedule. Watch videos of past readings on the Lunch Poems YouTube channel. Support for this series is provided by Dr. and Mrs. Tom Colby, the Library, The Morrison Library Fund, the Dean’s office of the College of Letters and Sciences, and the Townsend Center for the Humanities. These events are also partially supported by Poets & Writers Inc., through a grant it has received from The James Irvine Foundation.