Humanities, Research, People, Profiles

Lunch Poems series starts with rugby coach, French professor, among others

By Andrea Hicklin

This year’s Lunch Poems Series kicked off Thursday, Sept. 2 at the Morrison Library with a poem by Cal men’s varsity rugby coach Jack Clark, who admitted before the event that “needless to say, reading poetry to intellectual poetry aficionados is a ways out of my power zone.”

The series of noontime poetry readings by featured visiting poets and UC Berkeley faculty and staff from a wide range of disciplines is currently in its fifteenth season and has been a popular program among the campus community. Hosted by Professor Robert Haas and the University Librarian, it invites participants to recite a favorite poem of their choosing.

“In an attempt to keep the professional ridicule to a minimum,” said Clark, “I have selected a poem very meaningful to me and one that I know you will appreciate for a surprise reason.”

Clark’s poem delivered. He chose to read an anonymous poem entitled “Don’t Quit.” The same poem was read in February 1977 by Clark’s teammate and star Cal quarterback Joe Roth during a rhetoric course, only 24 days before he passed away from cancer.

Roth was “the uncommon man,” Clark said, and provided Clark with continual personal inspiration, even after his death.

Other poetry readers at this first Lunch Poems session included representatives from the departments of psychology, linguistics, astronomy, molecular and cell biology, and statistics, and from housing facilities.

French Professor Suzanne Guerlac said the series is one of the best and “coolest” that takes place at UC Berkeley. The invitation to read a poem, she said, “sent her back on a path of reading that she had recently lost track of.” Guerlac wanted a poem that suited the kick-off event, so she chose E.E. Cummings’ “anyone lived in a pretty how town.”

Other participants chose poems based on their familial and geographical history. Sheehan Grant, head of the privileges desk at Doe Library, chose a poem by Robert Service called “Pullman Porter.” It was in homage to his grandfather, he said, who worked as a porter on the railroad for most of his life.

Housing Facilities Manager Willis St. Hill recited a poem that spoke to his West Indian heritage. The poem, “Calypso,” was meant to take you back to Barbados, Hill said. He read the prose in a traditional calypso rhythm.

The inspiration for each poem differed, but the readers shared the same passion for their selections. From lines taken from Shakespeare’s Macbeth to poems about famous mathematic equations, each piece represented the diversity of the art of poetry.

Other readers at today’s event included Alex Filippenko, Nicholas Jewell, Shayee Khankaka, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, Line Mikkelsen, and David Presti.

The readings take place on the first Thursday of every month through May 2011 at the Morrison Library from 12:10 to 12:50 p.m. The next event is Oct. 7 and features Juliana Saphr, who is an associate professor of English at Mills College.

For more information on the series, visit the Lunch Poems home page.