Nationally recognized poets to gather at UC Berkeley for Holloway Reading Series

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Michael Drummond/Staff

To some, the word “poetry” brings to mind musty books with yellowed pages and the creaky language of antiquity, but poetry is not a thing of the past.

In fact, poetry is thriving ― the Bay Area itself hosts an extremely productive and exciting contemporary poetry scene, and so does the UC Berkeley campus, as is evidenced by the Holloway Reading Series. Held regularly at the Maude Fife Room in Wheeler Hall, the Holloway Reading Series has been hosted by the English department since 1981, and this season’s readings will begin with the annual faculty reading Sept. 15.

The series invites poets of national repute to read their work aloud, free of charge and open to the public. The readings are an opportunity for anyone to watch the greats of a poetic generation. The experience, in a way, is akin to going back in time to interact with the Beat generation or the 20th century’s great expatriate poets. Though spoken word poetry can be a form of entertainment, the series’ poets are all academics, and the series itself is dedicated to poetry as an intellectual pursuit.

“The idea is to increase, educate, challenge people’s ideas, elaborate, complicate people’s ideas on the sorts of things that poetry might be in the world,” said Cecil Giscombe, the series’ fall 2015 curator and campus English professor, in an interview with The Daily Californian.

This fall’s reading schedule features poets such as Ronaldo V. Wilson, Srikanth Reddy and Rae Armantrout. Wilson is this semester’s featured reader for the Mixed Blood Project, a reading series executed in conjunction with the Holloway Reading Series.  Wilson is widely recognized for his work discussing race and sexuality in his most recent book of poems, “Farther Traveler,” as per the mission of the Mixed Blood project, which brings writers interested in “addressing both the languages of poetic innovation and the languages of race in their work,” according to Giscombe.

“He’s a brilliant poet on the page, but he’s (also) often very active at the podium,” Giscombe said. “He uses his body ― he has a talent for dance and all of the stuff that dance might mean.“

Along with Wilson, the fall program features a wide range of styles and topics. The unifying trait is that each of the writers is engaged with critically thinking about and questioning culture and language.

“You can expect a variety of writers ― a variety of concerns and modes of thinking about literature through poetry,” Giscombe said. “All of the writers that are coming have more questions than answers about writing.”

Though poetry is a written form, the experience of attending a reading can enrich the words on the page, bringing the language to life.

“There’s an aural component to (poetry), so hearing it read, and hearing it read by the person who’s composed it, can be, if the reading’s good or the reader’s good ― if the reader’s, as we say, ‘into it’ ― a breathtaking experience,” Giscombe said. “You hear the pauses, you’re able to experience stuff in the reading that you can experience only partially on the page … and that’s how poetry should be.”

Lindsay Choi covers literature. Contact her at [email protected].

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