Campus & community, Events at Berkeley

Berkeley Talks: Poetry and the Senses: ‘Emergency is not separate from us’

At the first event of Poetry and Senses, a two-year initiative by Berkeley's Arts Research Center, three poets — Indira Allegra, and the campus's Chiyuma Elliott and Lyn Hejinian — addressed the theme of "emergency"

Lyn Hejiniam reads poetry at a podium while poets Indira Allegra and Chiyuma Elliott listen
From left: Chiyuma Elliott, Indira Allegra and Lyn Hejiniam share their poetry at the first Poetry and the Senses event on campus.

Read the transcript.

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“During global climate crisis, we need more writing in and through water,” read poet Indira Allegra at UC Berkeley earlier this month. “This is the perspective through which we must contextualize ourselves. The downward squint into saltwater mysteries or the movement of light across the surface of freshwater above. Emergency is not separate from us. We have to partner it. We must find ways in our mythologies and in our language to partner disaster.”

Allegra, whose work has been featured in exhibitions at the Arts Incubator in Chicago and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, joined Chiyuma Elliott, an assistant professor in Berkeley’s Department of African American Studies, and Lyn Hejinian, who teaches in the Department of English, in reading their poems on Feb. 4, 2020, as part of Poetry and the Senses, a two-year initiative by Berkeley’s Arts Research Center that will explore the “relevance and urgency of lyrical making and storytelling in times of political crisis, and the value of engaging the senses as an act of care, mindfulness and resistance.”

Addressing this year’s theme of “emergency,” the three poets touched on a range of topics, including natural disasters, police brutality, the meaning of borders and gun violence.

“My uncle Jim was murdered in 2000, along with his girlfriend and her daughter and an older couple,” read Elliott from a poem called “On Skipping a Funeral.” “Jim was collateral damage in a botched extortion scheme. He died in his sleep and the others were not so lucky. It took me about 10 years before I could even start to write poems about this. Each week, almost 700 people in the U.S. die from gun violence. A lot of people, a lot of families, wrestling with the long reverb of violence and of preventable death.”

Listen above to the Berkeley Talks podcast episode, “Poetry and the Senses: ‘Emergency is not separate from us'” to hear the full readings, followed by a discussion.

Learn more about Poetry and the Senses and see upcoming events on the Arts Research Center’s website.

This talk was recorded by Berkeley’s Educational Technology Services.