In episode 137 of Berkeley Talks, two UC Berkeley alumni — poets Samiya Bashir and Solmaz Sharif — discuss Poetry for the People, a program founded by June Jordan, an award-winning poet, activist and longtime Berkeley professor. Jordan died in 2002 at the age of 65.
This Feb. 28 discussion was part of Berkeley’s Department of African American Studies’ Critical Conversation Series 2021-22: Celebrating the Life and Legacy of June Jordan. The discussion was moderated by Chiyuma Elliott, a poet and associate professor of African American studies at Berkeley.
The conversation began with Bashir, an associate professor of creative writing at Reed College, and Sharif, an assistant professor of English at Arizona State University, reading some of their favorite poems by Jordan and sharing their own work. Then, they discussed how Poetry for the People — a program that invited writers of all levels to craft and showcase their own poems — has shaped their lives and influences their teaching today.
“I think Poetry for the People has always informed my teaching,” said Bashir. “… When I moved into academia, there’s something about the need for openness, the need for more than… this is not just, you’re going to class and maybe you’re writing poem. It’s an engagement. We have to do readings, we have to make things, we have to work together, we have to rely on each other, we have to press each other, we have to congratulate each other, we have to build something, and we have to respond to each other and to the world.”
Listen to the full conversation in Berkeley Talks episode, “A Poetry for the People conversation.”
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