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Berkeley Talks: Poets laureate share works about creation, sacrifice and home

By Public Affairs

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three photos of people performing and reading poetry on a dark stage
From left: Lee Herrick, Kealoha and Nadia Elbgal.
Screenshots from the event video

In Berkeley Talks episode 173, three poets laureate Lee Herrick, the first Asian American poet laureate of California; Kealoha, Hawaiis first poet laureate; and Nadia Elbgal, the Oakland youth poet laureate perform and read their works in celebration of National Poetry Month in April.

Kealoha, a slam champion who has a degree in nuclear physics from MIT, began by performing a scene from his film, The Story of Everything, a creation story inspired by his son that tells 13.8 billion years worth of time, from the Big Bang to human life on Earth. Next, Elbgal, a Yemeni American activist and recent Berkeley High graduate, read three works of hers, including Product of a Blended Culture and Spark. The event concluded with a reading by Herrick, who shared several pieces from his latest book of poetry, Scar and Flower.

Herrick opened with his poem, My California:

Here, an olive votive keeps the sunset lit,
the Korean twenty-somethings talk about hyphens,

graduate school and good pot. A group of four at a window
table in Carpinteria discuss the quality of wines in Napa Valley versus Lodi.

Here, in my California, the streets remember the Chicano
poet whose songs still bank off Fresnos beer soaked gutters

and almond trees in partial blossom. Here, in my California
we fish out long noodles from the pho with such accuracy

youd know wed done this before. In Fresno, the bullets
tire of themselves and begin to pray five times a day.

In Fresno, we hope for less of the police state and more of a state of grace.
In my California, you can watch the sun go down

like in your California, on the ledge of the pregnant
twenty-second century, the one with a bounty of peaches and grapes,

red onions and the good salsa, wine and chapchae.
Here, in my California, paperbacks are free,

farmers markets are twenty four hours a day and
always packed, the trees and water have no nails in them,

the priests eat well, the homeless eat well.
Here, in my California, everywhere is Chinatown,

everywhere is K-Town, everywhere is Armeniatown,
everywhere a Little Italy. Less confederacy.

No internment in the Valley.
Better history texts for the juniors.

In my California, free sounds and free touch.
Free questions, free answers.
Free songs from parents and poets, those hopeful bodies of light.

This April 20 event was presented by the Arts Research Center in partnership with Engaging the Senses Foundation, and co-sponsored by the Center for Race and Gender and the English and ethnic studies departments.

Watch a video of the poets readings below.

In April, three poets laureate Lee Herrick, the first Asian American poet laureate of California; Kealoha, Hawaiis first poet laureate; and Nadia Elbgal, an Oakland youth poet laureate read their work at a UC Berkeley event in celebration of National Poetry Month.

Listen to other episodes of Berkeley Talks: