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Berkeley Talks: Poet Shane McCrae reads ‘The Mind of Hell,’ other new works

By Public Affairs

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close-up portrait of shane mccrae

Shane McCrae read from a new collection of poems on April 1 as part of the UC Berkeley Library’s monthly poetry reading series, Lunch Poems. (Photo courtesy of Shane McCrae)

In episode 119 of Berkeley Talks, Shane McCrae, a poet born in Portland, Oregon, who was kidnapped by his maternal grandparents at age 3, reads new works about his experience as a child growing up with his captors. The April 1 reading was part of the UC Berkeley Library’s monthly event, Lunch Poems.

Here’s McCrae’s poem, “In the Ditch Where the Camera Finds My Body”:

I’m splashing in the driveway in a ditch in which a corpse of rain has gathered, here a corpse, corpses gathered. Wearing nothing, a full diaper, I’m 3. A clear sky leans as if upon a bar upon the house. And everyone in the picture, my grandmother, me, I am the rain come down. My mother’s parents have just kidnapped me. I am the corpse in which I play. I’m dancing in the court. The clear sky sickens watching but with no clouds in the sky, the sky can’t move away. Behind me picking flowers, my mother’s mother sees the green has fled the leaf. Oh, reader listener stay. You are now evidence.

McCrae’s most recent books are Sometimes I Never Suffered (2020) and The Gilded Auction Block (2019). He has received a Whiting Writers’ Award, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Lannan Literary Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He lives in New York City and teaches creative writing at Columbia University.

Lunch Poems is an ongoing poetry reading series at Berkeley that began in 2014. All readings happen from 12:10 p.m. to 12:50 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month. Find upcoming talks on the Lunch Poems website and watch videos of past readings on the Lunch Poems YouTube channel .