Moe’s Books’ ground-floor den has been cleared, with a stage set up in the center. Rows and rows of folding chairs are fully occupied, and people have squeezed along the walls and settled the steps of the staircase. Here, on a clear Friday night — surrounded by friends, fans and contributing poets — Berkeley Poetry Review celebrated the release of its 45th annual issue with a reading from some of its contributors at Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue.
Gathering both rising stars and established names in poetry, Berkeley Poetry Review featured several contributors at its issue release party, from UC Berkeley students to local Bay Area poets.
Berkeley Poetry Review’s 45th issue published poems that investigate history and form, and the ways that language works within these systems. Though the featured poets work with very different styles and topics of choice, they demonstrate a unified interest in Berkeley Poetry Review’s exploratory mission.
Opening the reading, UC Berkeley senior David Alejandro Hernandez read a selection of poems that circled in logical loops, both using and abusing language’s affiliation with logic. His poem “Presences” especially manipulates meaning and form by playing with free association and sound within the musical feet of the line.
Hernandez was followed by local poet Leora Fridman, whose poem “Deer in the Shower” puts voices of the past and present in dialogue through the classic pastoral image of the deer interacting with modern colloquialisms. Together, these voices rise in order to address history and, peripherally, the ways in which language evokes history.
Next in the reading were UC Berkeley graduate students Aura Maru and Hugo Garcia Manriquez. As poets, both Maru and Manriquez experiment with poetic form. Maru, in her poem “pop-up safety cone,” presents first a poem in its most recognizable form, then a “note” section which modifies the poem, causing the reader to question the recognizable boundaries of poetry and the boundaries of authorship itself.
While Manriquez’s poetry also executes formal experimentation, he experiments mainly with diction, using philosophical jargon in purposefully colorless poems, such as a series dedicated “for Martin Ramirez, painter.” Here, the technical imagery calls attention to the tension between language and visual art.
As the evening came to a close, the final readers — UC Berkeley graduate student Claire Marie Stancek and prize-winning poet and publisher Rusty Morrison — approached the stage. Stancek, in particular, was instrumental in guiding the process of compiling works for the issue, said UC Berkeley alumna and Berkeley Poetry Review Editor in Chief Jules Wood.
“Her work is about language and about history, and about language’s relationship to history,” Wood said. “It’s also just written in a very evocative and beautiful way. So, after we got Claire’s work, we then were able to select other poems. It gave us kind of a direction to go in.”
In addition to her poems’ interest in history, Stancek’s poems work with the idea of language — especially English — as an agent that can simultaneously destroy and create. Similarly interested in history and apocalypse is Rusty Morrison’s series of poems “Everyone is Noah,” which she read as the final reader of the night.
“In these poems, I am working to question how I carry responsibility, yet how impossible it often seems, as I face our ecological crisis, to avoid falling into denial, into the rhetoric of apocalypse,” Morrison said in an email.
So, as the reading came to an end and the crowd slowly began to disperse among the rows of books, the Berkeley Poetry Review staff reflected on the year of work that went into this issue.
“I couldn’t be happier to have ended my tenure as managing editor of (Berkeley Poetry Review) with that event, because all of the beautiful, hard-working staff were there, the poets whose amazing work we published were there,” said managing editor and UC Berkeley alumna Rachel Feldman. “And Moe’s is such a really intimate, beautiful setting — you’re surrounded by books. Moe’s has such an amazing presence in Berkeley itself, and with Berkeley Poetry Review. It’s a beautiful, beautiful marriage.”
Staff writer Joshua Bote contributed to this report.
Contact Lindsay Choi at [email protected].a>.