UC Berkeley’s Morrison Library was piled high with readers hopeful to gain a spot at Lunch Poems’ noontime poetry reading Thursday, featuring Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning poet Louise Glück.
Berkeley students and community members peered down from the second level at the crowd of listeners that filled every couch, chair and floor space possible. Some eager viewers perched outside, peering through the windows facing Memorial Glade to look in on the room. Even more viewers stood outside, still lined up and unable to get in as the event hit capacity.
“You hear a reading like this and you’re intensely aware that there’s hundreds of people clamoring at the windows to be here,” said Noah Warren, interim director of Lunch Poems. “You can’t experience the poems aside from and independent from the context, so of course everyone was hanging on her word.”
Warren, a poet and longtime friend of Glück’s, said he first met Glück 15 years ago as an undergraduate student at Yale University taking a creative writing workshop. Glück is still a mentor to him now, he said, and has always been a master of her craft.
Glück’s mastery of poetry is marked not only by the large crowd she draws but, as Warren said, by her status as the recipient of “every prize known to man.” Glück has received a Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Bollingen Prize and Nobel Prize in Literature, according to Warren. During Lunch Poems, Glück read an excerpt from her most recent collection “Winter Recipes from the Collective.”
“I just enjoyed being able to focus on what she was saying,” said event attendee Alisha Dietzman. “She’s a very striking reader.”
Dietzman has been a fan of Glück’s since encountering her as an undergraduate student, she said. She took a day off of work and drove to campus from Sacramento to attend the event.
Glück read recent works, including “Poem” and a two-part poem “A Travel Diary” and “The Story of the Passport.” Glück possesses a dry wit, heard by the occasional chuckle from the audience. She continued with more poems from her recent collection including “Winter Journey,” “A Sentence,” “A Children’s Story” and “Song” — the final poem of the event, which Glück said was inspired by a dream.
The last three poems, Glück said, she wrote during the “agonizing” start to the pandemic. Henry HeartSong, an audience member, said he enjoyed the final poem of the event, “Song,” the most.
“She’s got severity, a kind of seriousness and an obvious mastery of the art,” Warren said.
Warren said Lunch Poems is a way for poetry to be welcoming, and it needs the warm, domestic environment that Morrison Library provides.
Warren noted the importance of accessibility to poetry for the field to grow. He explained poetry can seem intimidating, like a secret art “puzzle.” Warren said poets like Glück, who aim to communicate, make poetry real.
“We want it to feel intimate,” Warren said, describing Lunch Poems at Morrison Library. “We want people to feel like poetry is alive and in a salon-like setting — they have access to it.”