An Interview with Annie Christain

Dear Readers,
In the week leading up to the publication of our MIDTERM chapbook, we’ve selected a few poets to interview regarding their work both in this issue and more broadly. Please enjoy the following conversation with Annie Christain and follow the link below for details of the MIDTERM 4 release reading on December 19th.

MIDTERM 4 Release Reading

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. How are you? What have you been creating during the pandemic?

I’m a poet, professor, and proud parent of four-year-old twins. Having recently faced and made it through many intense personal challenges, I’m now more able to quiet my mind and enjoy small moments and appreciate them for what they are. My newer poems have a slower pace and more subdued tone as a result. During the pandemic I’ve been working on my third manuscript of poetry. So far I’ve written poems with forms inspired by tweets, taxonomy grids, movie trailers, and transcripts from TV signal intrusion incidents.

2. Do you have a favorite poet or poem?

Right now I keep coming back to “I Loved You Before You Were Born” by Li-Young Lee. The longing and love the speaker describes for his object of affection goes back before and beyond eternity, which is both endearing and maddening since the object of affection is elusive, making the speaker an ouroboros, a snake that is only whole through the perpetual devouring of itself. I like that the poem is romantic but also honestly describes the loneliness of the human condition. The speaker actually submits to it since “In longing, I am most myself, rapt, /my lamp mortal, my light /hidden and singing.” It’s a sincere and thought-provoking poem that I can’t let go of.

3. You are a professor of Humanities at SUNY Cobleskill. How do you think your time in teaching has impacted your writing and your thoughts on writing?

I teach at a college that has many agricultural based programs, and as a result of this, the student essays I read often draw me into that world and introduce me to many concepts I wouldn’t come across otherwise. One of my students wrote an essay about robotic milking, about how quite often the cow comes to the point where it wants to be milked by a machine and, of its own accord, enters the milking room like clockwork. This animals’ reliance on machines prompted me to think of humans and their own dependence on technology, which then led to my writing a poem where people enter a milking machine, but the device itself is never named, so what exactly is being taken from the characters and why is a key question in the poem. I have my students to thank for giving me so many interesting ideas to ponder.

4. You’ve recently published your first full-length poetry collection, “Tall as You are Tall Between Them.” What prompted the title? How was the process?

The title was taken from my poem “Inside a Hand Basket at the Burlesque Theater.” The original meaning was one of empowerment, that two monoliths maintain their height and power only when the speaker is figuratively “standing tall” between them—a speaker that is unable to physically stand. When I chose that as a book title, I believe I was subconsciously thinking of the way in which the book (when thought of as a living being) could gain strength or power each time a reader engages with the material. Julie Marie Wade viewed the title as: “I’m also thinking how everything is measured by something other than itself, the way the title ‘you’ is only tall in relation to ‘them,’ and maybe not tall at all without ‘them.’”

5. Your two pieces forthcoming in MIDTERM tackle an intersection between technological futurism and the construction/deconstruction of gender. How do you generate this discourse within a space that has seen a lot of misogynistic characters, theorists, writings?

Many times the writing space I enter into and create is done with the purpose of creating a safe space to confront and counter injustices, especially misogyny, homophobia, and racism. I generate this discourse by keeping honesty and fearlessness at the forefront of my mind and doing my best not to dilute my message despite outside pressures or expectations to either censor myself or to stay within certain confines of past social justice themed messages or poems.

6. How did your usage of form develop over time? Do you find the creation of the visual elements of poetry to be engaging, reductive?

In my early work, my poetry forms were inspired by my public readings. I placed line breaks, spaces, and stanza breaks on the page based on where I paused while reading the poem aloud. For my subsequent work I tried more experimental forms as a way to challenge myself and to keep the writing process fresh and exciting. I also tried using forms that some might consider overdone or cliché to see if I could breathe new life into those forms.

7. What would be a piece of advice you give to young writers– especially young queer writers? Why?

My advice to young writers is to be careful about the advice you take from more experienced writers. Discernment is vital because the objective mentors you’re looking for may be harder to find the more promise and talent you have. My advice to young queer writers is to not let others define you or your writing and to be mindful of how much the world needs to hear your voice and perspectives.
ANNIE CHRISTAIN is a professor of composition and ESOL at SUNY Cobleskill and a former artist resident of the Shanghai Swatch Art Peace Hotel and the Arctic Circle Art and Science Expedition. Her poems have appeared in Seneca Review, Oxford Poetry, Prelude, and The Lifted Brow, among others. She was a first-place winner of the Driftwood Press In-House Poem Contest and received the grand prize of the Hart Crane Memorial Poetry Contest, the Greg Grummer Poetry Award, the Oakland School of the Arts Enizagam Poetry Award, and the Neil Shepard Prize in Poetry. Tall As You Are Tall Between Them, her debut book of poetry, was published by C&R Press.

An Interview with Rosie Stockton

Dear Readers,

In the week leading up to the publication of our MIDTERM chapbook, we’ve selected a few poets to interview regarding their work both in this issue and more broadly. Please enjoy the following conversation with Rosie Stockton and follow the link below for details of the MIDTERM 4 release reading on December 19th.

MIDTERM 4 Release Reading

1. You have a forthcoming book in May of 2021, Permanent Volta. How has working on a cohesive collection impacted your writing process?

Permanent Volta is a book I worked on for years, and contains poems that I wrote as I entered my Saturn Return and a period during which I was tucked away in deep study with friends and comrades, shaking free of a lot of impasses and attachments that had calcified in my life. It’s my first book, and I went into writing Permanent Volta with a specific political demand in mind, wages for muses, & found the stakes of this demand in the form of a bunch of love poems. I wrote using many different forms, genres, and constraints that I sought to approximate but disobey. Instead of the demand for the wage, the poems taught me to say no to the annihilating system of the wage, to ask for more: no wages / no muses.  This lesson may have had the biggest impact on my writing process: to learn from the poems, approach them as access points to what I consciously block. I’ve been working on my second book for the past year, and I’m relying much less on formal constraints than I did in Permanent Volta. I could say I have a clear vision of the conceit of this new project, but truthfully I’m looking forward to the poems demanding whatever it is they want.

2. In BPR’s MIDTERM 4 chapbook, you’re publishing “BAD ATTACHMENT,” a piece from Permanent Volta, and two of your new poems. How are they connected and how does “BAD ATTACHMENT” function within or represent your book?

With “Bad Attachment,” I was thinking about a Lacanian approach to attachment that emerges when we as children construct seduction fantasies scenes to attempt to heal from the traumatic “primal scene,” where we first see the potential of the “Other” to obliterate us. This poem comes in a series of poems that riff off the different fantasy structures I repeat to ensure I am spared from obliteration, to believe I am loved. At the same time, this section is about work and the genre of work, wondering how to enact political demands outside the figure of the worker, a genre that continues to fail us in love and struggle. And our “bad” attachment to work itself. This is a larger theme of Permanent Volta. These new poems are from a project called Contact Potential that very much grew out of Permanent Volta, animated by an anti-work sentiment and embedded in relation that wants beyond normative captures of gender, kinship, and subject-object relations. Now that I’m reading them together, these poems are all preoccupied with imagery from California fires in the past few years, where I recently moved.

3. How do these poems, in your opinion, relate to our theme of Stasis/ Static?

I love this theme, and how you traced this concept of stasis to its Greek roots as civil war and also drawing on its etymology meaning “standing.” Permanent Volta proposes the endless turn of the sonnet, in flight of resolution found in the couplet/ couple form: refusing a static “having” of someone else, and even of “having” – as in owning – oneself and one’s body. I originally wrote “Bad Attachment” as a sonnet, and over the course of editing I shifted its form. Similarly, these poems in MIDTERM are invested in finding the loopholes within the kinetic repetition of desire both for resistance and for a lover, and taking a new stance in relation to the play of desire. They also contain the devotion to sabotage the workweek and anti-Black conceptions of justice, harm, and personhood.

4. What are you reading right now?

This fall I’ve been in Kay Gabriel’s Bernadette Mayer workshop at The Poetry Project, so I’m totally immersed in her work. SonnetsMidwinter Day…. Utopia. It’s been one of the most incredible deep dives into a poet’s work I’ve ever had the opportunity to do. And guided by the generosity and seemingly endless knowledge offered by Kay is totally otherworldly. 

5. Advice to emerging poets?

Stay in bed, write down your dreams. Reclaim deadening paperwork and write poems on your speeding tickets, server pads, unemployment forms. On a social level, I think finding poetry workshops or making your own with friends is crucial. Make poetry communal, like it wants to be.  

ROSIE STOCKTON is a poet based in Los Angeles. Their first book, Permanent Volta, is the recipient of the 2019 Sawtooth Prize, and is forthcoming from Nightboat Books in 2021. Their poems have been published by Jubilat, Apogee, Social Text Journal, Mask Magazine, and WONDER.

An Interview with Sophia Terazawa

Dear Readers,

In the week leading up to the publication of our MIDTERM chapbook, we’ve selected a few poets to interview regarding their work both in this issue and more broadly. Please enjoy the following conversation with Sophia Terazawa and follow the link below for details of the MIDTERM 4 release reading on December 19th

MIDTERM 4 Release Reading

1. This is a very taxing time. I’m sorry to ask such a blunt question, but how has the pandemic affected your writing and writing process?

Oof. My brain feels like a sealed Tupperware of days-old bone stew, all coagulated and a little jiggly at the top. In May 2020, I received my MFA from the U of Arizona and then scrambled across the country to find work (but really… to escape memories of heartache, a pin stuck into a heart against the saguaro), so my writing has taken a bit of the proverbial sidestep as mama hustles to bring in cash.

Currently, I’m balancing my time as a teacher, livestreamer, and fortune teller. In this way, my daily headspace has been split into three different modes of being. Each job requires a separate social affect and “spoken performance” in front of the camera, on-screen. I’m not sure yet how my poems will be shaped by this when I’m able to sustain a period of writing again. [Note: My writing process tends to come in intensive, durational bursts. Since the pandemic and graduation, however, I haven’t had much time to “turn off” my online/video personna to make space for these “bursts.” I suppose this is a part of the process, and the three voices will eventually learn to make an asynchronous braid.]

But… I also have some Big Writing News coming out very, very soon. A formal announcement will be made somewhere on the Internet, so please stay tuned. Yay!

What I can say for now is a gentle instruction. Imagine: Scene. Katniss from District 12 twirls onstage in The Hunger Games. She’s wearing a designer dress, which then catches on fire. The audience watches in admiration. Behind her eyes, Katniss hides her agony. Cut. String instrumentals and the image of snow. Cut. Image of a closed fist slamming into the ground. Cut. Image of the poet looking directly into the camera. She is holding two books. One book begins to combust, followed quickly by the other. The poet does not move.

2. In these four poems, I was fascinated by your mentions and depictions of the gibbon. What drew you to gibbons in particular? Have you spent a lot of time around them?

The gibbon is my second favorite animal (after the octopus). I was first drawn to her image many years ago in Texas upon seeing “Two Gibbons Reaching for the Moon” by the mid-Edo Japanese painter Itō Jakuchū at an exhibit, and I remember feeling a deep pull to the blank areas of the canvas, suggesting an illusory moon off-frame, painted on the imaginary surface of water.

I had forgotten about this painting until the middle of my summer residency last year in Ljubljana, Slovenia. A local writer and I had just met for the first time, and we’d decided to take a long night walk along the river. It was a full moon, and we were in a winding conversation about diaspora, intergenerational trauma, and nostalgia–themes that we both seemed to share and struggle against/with in our writing. There was an intense hunger to get to know each other, a kind of kinship that felt at once so rare and instantaneous; and I suddenly remembered the gibbons.

When I told my new friend about the painting, everything seemed to “click” for us. It was an image we could both relate to, and our writing processes that summer seemed to evolve from meditating on this image of a gibbon holding onto the arm of another gibbon, both reaching for the dream of a moon (and not the moon itself).

For the remainder of my stay in Ljubljana, I had visions of these tiny apes everywhere. They swung from rooftop to rooftop over the city. In the mornings, I woke up to the imagined sounds of their screeching calls through my open windows. In the castle uphill, I heard the rustling of their bodies against stone. They were following me everywhere, activated across time and space and desire, and I had to make sure there was enough space for all of us in the poem.

One day I would like to visit the gibbon sanctuary in Vietnam’s Cát Tiên Park. As my daughter’s mother, I feel a pull to her home country though it will never truly be “in reach,” no matter how many times I’ve gone back. In this way, I’m also dangling toward a space off-canvas, at the ruins of ecocide and devastation without the exact language to describe the monstrosity of it all. The gibbons, I’ve learned, are mostly endangered, and I’ve also been connecting this with the unspeakability of human-made disaster, both in public and in private.

3. Anon has a very striking visual structure and we spent a lengthy time discussing its final page and its form. How meticulous are you in the visual presentation (ex. spacing, fonts, sectioning, italics, symbols) of your poems?

Oh, thank you so much for the kind and generous reading. The last page of my poem “Anon” takes the shape of Vietnam’s coastline, which I lightly “traced” within the limits of line breaks in a word processor. After doing this, the image took the shape of a pregnant belly, and this made me think of Mother Mekong, a transnational river west of Vietnam, which eventually frays into a lush delta system in the south. Here, I’m reminded again of the gibbons in their jungle sanctuary.

The swinging motion of their tiny, playful bodies inspired the visual spacing and sectioning of my writing. Each symbol and font shape takes the shape of such movements. The little “o” of surprise at the center of the ape’s round face. The em dash “—” of a curious, long limb reaching for the blank space. I write everything by hand, so on the page, the pen darts across like a paintbrush. I have to be intentional with my movements, but I don’t want to overthink it. Jump first. Land safely. Ask questions later.

4. In our meetings, we’ve discussed that many of these pieces have strong senses of love and spiritual connection, but also of loss, injustice, and lost connection. For members of the diaspora of areas in which the West, the United States, has instituted imperialist brutality, how can writing/talking restore those severed connections? What is the emotional toll/potential of writing pieces that touch pain and loss so close to home, yet simultaneously physically and temporally distant?

This is an important series of questions. Thank you for asking and sitting with the weight of it in company. For me, the poems of Anon were, and still are, a welcome break from a larger manuscript (wink wink) which had taken most of my energy over the three MFA years in Tucson. Yes, I had to pay a toll for that larger manuscript of loss, and the toll was my heart. Writing, therefore, became an act of making the pyre. I needed to watch everything burn with language.

With Anon, on the other hand, I felt optimistic around a sense of restorative justice in the language early on. Here, I used the adverb meaning “soon” or “at once.” This allowed me to close that linguistic distance between a heartbreak, both collective and personal, and the future possibilities of healing. Perhaps, too, I was ready to be in love again.

Writing, for me, also comes directly out of intimate conversations with a beloved. I’m so thankful for Anon, both adverb and friend, for his steady and urgent conversations, even if the topics were centered on those “severed connections.” I like that we started there, in the subject of exile, as though the poems held onto my tail, and said, “It’s okay. You can go. I love you.”

5. In your interview with the Offing Mag you said that you’re Western and your mother is Vietnamese, and that you can’t be both. This really resonated with me. How do you bridge that gap within yourself, between you and others? How do you cope with this feeling of a lack of belonging anywhere?

I feel simultaneously a great overlap and separation with others. I belong to love, and home is where someone loves me. It’s so simple in my mind. Anon helped to make this bridge more clear during my time in Ljubljana.

This also reminds me of a musician who stands on that bridge. He wanders from town to town and sometimes sleeps in the public park. The musician and Anon are good friends. I’m so happy to watch their conversations, even if I don’t understand the language in which they speak, here in Slovenia. There’s something delightfully rooted about seeing two people greet each other in the margins. I feel like a witness to this, tethered and quiet.

6. What’s an underrated food you’ve been liking a lot these days?

Poppy seed muffins.

7. After looking at your website, I was wondering hehe if you could drop a Twigs or Bjork song that you and/or Panda have been listening to a lot lately. Thank you for your time.

Panda is so delighted to help answer this! Thank you for including him. 🙂

We’ve been listening to Björk’s “Jóga” on repeat and like to belt out these lines: “EeeMOTIONALLL landscapes, they puzzle me… This staaate oooooof emERRRgencyyyy, how beauuutiful 2 B.”

All of this fits the theme of Anon quite nicely in Panda’s opinion.

Outside of this, in preparing for another work to be launched into the world (wink wink), we’ve been listening and dancing and shaking to the fire that is “holy terrain” by FKA Twigs. I welcome you at the temple doors.

SOPHIA TERAZAWA is the author of two chapbooks, I AM NOT A WAR (Essay Press) and Correspondent Medley (Factory Hollow Press), winner of the 2018 Tomaž Šalamun Prize. Her work appears in The Offing, Puerto del Sol, Poor Claudia, and elsewhere. She received an MFA in Poetry at the University of Arizona, where she also served as poetry editor for Sonora Review.

An Interview with Mandy Gutmann-Gonzalez

Dear Readers,

In the week leading up to the publication of our MIDTERM chapbook, we’ve selected a few poets to interview regarding their work both in this issue and more broadly. Please enjoy the following conversation with Mandy Gutmann-Gonzalez and follow the link below for details of the MIDTERM 4 release reading on December 19th

MIDTERM 4 Release Reading

1. Why do you write poetry?

I’ve always been interested in language at it’s most compressed, in pushing at the edges of what is possible with language. Poetry tests language’s limits. It exists on the border between the intelligible and the unintelligible. That’s a very interesting space.

2. Your novel, La Pava, or The Dodo (in English) is currently being translated into English from Spanish. What are you most excited about in this translation?

I’m most excited about the collaboration with my translator, Allana Noyes. The Dodo is not La Pava—and is? That tension and the possibilities that emerge from it are exciting.

3. On your website , you have listed many of your poems. Which ones are you most proud of and why?

I find well-constructed long poems fascinating, those poems in which you can detect various movements, patters with sub-patterns, echoes, repetition with a difference, small tangents that are in tension with the whole but still held together by the elastic larger form. How do you keep the reader’s interest for that long? How do you prevent the poem from falling apart? Glamour Purse and The Bunker in Berlin-Mitte were interesting challenges in duration and accumulation. Suture I enjoy for the opposite reason. It is compact and indivisible.

I’ve been thinking about long poems in relation to something E. M. Forster writes in Aspects of the Novel, “Is there any effect in novels comparable to the effect of the Fifth Symphony as a whole, where, when the orchestra stops, we hear something that has never actually been played? The opening movement, the andante, and the trio-scherzo-trio-finale-trio-finale that composes the third block, all enter the mind at once, and extend one another into a common entity. This common entity, this new thing, is the symphony as a whole, and it has been achieved mainly (though not entirely) by the relation between the three big blocks of sound which the orchestra has been playing. I am calling this relation ‘rhythmic’” (168). Is it possible to produce this ghostly effect with the long poem?

4. In BPR’s MIDTERM 4 chapbook, you’re publishing “To the Oracle of Delphi” and “Wreckage Candy.” How do you think these pieces connect to our theme of Stasis/Static?

To the Oracle of Delphi is about the preservation of a human sound that becomes inhuman through that very preservation: canned laughter. Listening to canned laughter by itself (without visuals) is a surreal experience; the content is gone, only the response remains. In the case of canned laughter, once that relationship is severed, laughter becomes fake. But is it fake if it was recorded as a live response? I like the term “canned laughter” (over “laugh track”) because of how it suggests (to me) something you might find in a supermarket aisle next to canned beans.

Wreckage Candy is about another static human invention: plastic fruit. Plastic fruit is delightfully absurd, fruit devoid of taste and smell, a chunk of air wrapped in plastic, unable to rot. Only color and a (very!) vague semblance of shape remains to tie them to their tree cousins. I remember being astonished as a kid when I first saw plastic fruit decorating a neighbor’s table. What an aberration! (One queer recognizing another). It was fun to write a dramatic monologue from the point of view of this kitsch object. Both of these poems, like the rest of the poems in my manuscript Edge Beast, put pressure on the “human” until that category starts to dissolve.

5. When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?

Reading and exploring Mass Audubon’s Wildlife Sanctuaries.

6. In your bio, you mention that you are from Vilches, Chile. Did you grow up in Vilches? How did it impact your writing?

I grew up in the small town San Nicolas, where my plastic fruit memories come from. Later we moved to Vilches, a rural road that cuts through a valley in the Andes Mountains. It’s impossible to think about how the place influenced me without also thinking about the little stone cabin where my parents live and the hodgepodge of culture and language my Chilean mother and US father brought to it. Each thing had at least two names and these two names had no correlation to each other. Contradiction and paradox, a love of absurdity, all of this makes an appearance in my poems, and it’s indebted to that early relentless clashing of meaning.

7. What would you say is the biggest difference between writing a book and a poem?

I don’t know if this question is answerable! But it does suggest a poetic form: What would you say is the biggest difference between a pear and the seeds of the pear? What would you say is the biggest difference between a swimming pool and a sinking leaf? What would you say is the biggest difference between the sun and a baseball bat?

8. What are you reading right now?

Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, Cotton Mather’s The Wonders of the Invisible World, Don Mee Choi’s Hardly War, Valzhyna Mort’s Music for the Dead and Resurrected.

9. Any new writing for us to keep an eye out for?

“To the Oracle of Delphi” & “Wreckage Candy” appear in my book manuscript Edge Beast which explores and questions the line between the animal and the human and the rhetorics used to justify oppression. The book asks “where is our edge?” and claims “Historically, ‘beast’/consists of whoever is beaten down harder.”

My current project is a docupoetry manuscript on the Salem witch trials informed by research on 17th century Essex County Court Records at the American Antiquarian Society. In this manuscript, I consider the court examination as a poetic form and unpack the violence these official documents reveal & conceal. Reading transcripts of the trials as studies in voice, accusation, and fear, I consider how the language of law can be used to enact violence or be manipulated for survival.

MANDY GUTMANN-GONZALEZ is from Vilches, Chile. Their poetry has appeared in West Branch, The Malahat Review, Boulevard, BLOOM, Hobart, and other literary journals. Their novel in Spanish, La Pava (Ediciones Inubicalistas, 2016), follows three children who indirectly experience the trauma of the Pinochet military dictatorship in Chile. They won the 2018 Boulevard Emerging Poets Prize and have received fellowships from the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets, the Lambda Writing Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices, The Center for Book Arts, and the Frost Place Conference on Poetry (Latinx Fellow). They hold an MFA in Poetry from Cornell University and teach creative writing at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.

2015 Pushcart Prize Nominations

We are so excited to announce our nominations for the 2015 Pushcart Prize!

Claire Marie Stancek “Mouth”

Sarah-Jean Krahn from Weed Apologue

James Goodwin “Negritude: 6 Alienations”

Hugo García Manríquez “Pre-Columbian, 1965”

Kimberly Collins “Why Bessie?”

Congratulations to these beautiful poets! And a huge thanks to all our contributors for submitting wonderful work and allowing us to publish it.

To read some of this work and more, check out our journal excerpts online. You can also purchase Issue 45 (or any issue, really) from our revamped store.

We are currently in the middle of our reading period for Isue 46. This year, last year, every year, we receive poems that simply astound us and stop us in our tracks. It truly makes us feel lucky to be Berkeley Poetry Review editors.

Issue 39: Letter from the Editor

On the eve of the publication of the Berkeley Poetry Review’s 45th issue, we wanted to go back to 2008 and Issue 39 editor-in-chief Rhae Lynn Barnes’s “letter from the editor.” This passionate and incredibly knowledgable letter offers some important historical contextualization for the journal, going back to its inception in 1974, the Free Speech Movement in 1964, and Barnes’s own Berkeley campus experience in 2008. Writing in 2015, I’m not familiar with the “Tree-Dwellers” Barnes writes about, but I can offer equivalent experiences from my own undergraduate years: the Occupy Movement tents, the tuition hike protests and low-wage workers’ picket lines, the Michael Brown and Black Lives Matter protests, the police in riot gear.  I won’t be writing about these things in my own editor’s letter for the 45th issue, but I think Barnes’s letter makes it clear that political events will always inform the work included in the Berkeley Poetry Review.  

Many things have changed since 2008: Cody’s Books no longer exists, and neither do many of the inspiring coalitions Barnes archives. But BPR still strives to support the Bay Area and campus community; we still find most of the work we publish in our slushpile rather than by soliciting famous poets; we still seek to uplift, reevaluate, push.

I think this is an amazing letter — it connects past and present, and reestablishes BPR‘s commitment to its campus community and the poetic community at large. I’m very proud to say that I think BPR’s staff has continued to fulfill Barnes’s hope that the Berkeley Poetry Review would always be ” a body of work that is present, touching, difficult, and at times offensive,” that “push[es] boundaries, open[s] doors to new forms and genres, and constantly turn[s] language over and in on itself.”  Rhae Lynn certainly did that back in Issue 39, and we hope our collection of fantastic poets in Issue 45 answers the same call.

— Jules Wood, Editor-in-Chief, Issues 44 and 45

Please enjoy Rhae Lynn Barnes’s 2008 Letter from the Editor, printed below.

Editor’s Notes, Berkeley Poetry Review Issue 39

In the autumn of 1974, students under the guidance of renowned Pulitzer Prize nominee Josephine Miles — the first woman to be tenured in English and Literature at the University of California — founded Berkeley Poetry Review (BPR). In the “Statement of Purpose” of Issue 1, the first BPR Editorial Board acknowledged that the publication happened to materialize on the ten-year anniversary of the Free Speech Movement.

Created by activist UC Berkeley students, the 1964 Free Speech Movement (FSM) saturated international headlines with images of valiantly organized, clean-cut protestors engaging in sit-ins and singing with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, “We Shall Overcome,” as they sought to overturn University regulations that prohibited advocacy of political causes or candidates by student organizations. These images were juxtaposed against other aggressive media portrayals of brash radicals whose main impetus was to disturb the peace — images used by Ronald Reagan as a campaign promise to “clean up that mess at Berkeley” during his successful 1966 run for Governor of California, and later used to remove Clark Kerr as Berkeley’s Chancellor. Regardless of how students were perceived within their original historical context, it was evident that the FSM heralded a new age of campus expression.

It seems poetic, in retrospect, that on the tenth anniversary of the FSM, Berkeley students founded a body of poetry dedicated to publishing “diverse models of experience and the diverse forms that poets choose to comprehend or intensify that experience…pluralistic and inclusive, responsive to the currents of both the traditional and the new.”  The 1974 Editorial Board’s declarative statement echoed the brazen language that in 1964 Mario Savio defiantly employed on the marble steps of Sproul Hall, by unapologetically asserting BPR’s function as a protector of “the shapes and sounds of student poets,” and an instrument to voice” what students define as Berkeley poetry.”

Berkeley poets have a rich literary history of creating the language of resistance, from the Beat poets who used poetry to define a new generation in the 1950s, to June Jordan and her legacy class, Poetry for the People, who evolved spoken-word poetry in the 1990s as a form of political protest and social-awareness.

In August 2007, I met with the current Editorial Board to deliberate what we wanted to see for BPR in the 2007/2008 school year. We envisioned a safe zone for creative frustration: a place of learning; a place of movement; and a place of “now.”

I always hope BPR can be a body of work that is present, touching, difficult, and at times offensive — a medium with which to push boundaries, open doors to new forms and genres, and constantly turn language over and in on itself through content and structure. The lines should be dialectic, an intercepting point for struggle, image, voice, experience, triumph, and literary pleasure. BPR should be an access point for audible loveliness, a testing zone for rhyming triumphs, and ultimately, a place of creating where writers can take their thoughts, creatures, subconscious choirs, or even random crap overheard on Telegraph Avenue between the homeless and passing scholars (“Sorry dude, I only have a credit card…”). Make it poetic. Something tangible that we can physically hold in our hands and say, “We did this.” To me, BPR is about putting something fresh in the world through ideas, through layout, and through the spoken and written word. BPR is about finding othe rpeople who can help you break out of your mindset, btu also come back to yourself through creation.

This last year, I watched the arts community on the UC Berkeley campus make radical strides in solidifying poetry as the medium of choice through which students can advocate and protest.  Berkeley, true to itself, has continued to make national headlines this year with the same enthusiastic freedom-of-speech spirit that was historically exercised in this campus’s habitual reevaluation of conformity and leadership. During the fall of 2007, news media were abuzz with what they coined as our generation’s version of S.L.A.T.E. — the Peace Not Prejudice Coalition — that exhumed the student values of the Free Speech Movement. Comprised of several hundred students and thirty-five student groups (including two poetry groups), the coalition uniformed themselves in green shirts emblazoned with doves, which symbolized their united and peaceful protests centered on cultural and intellectual understanding of diverse modes of existence.

Also during this academic year, the Berkeley tree-sitters made headlines when they constructed environmentally friendly tree villages forty feet in the air, and then lived there to protect the Coast Lives Oaks against their intended replacement by a $125 million sports training facility. This again provided Cal with an ever-present international eye that peered through tree branches and camera lenses giving commentary to our day-to-day habits. Interacting with rowdy, complacent, and awe-inspiring tree-sitters has become a mainstay of our daily routine on the Berkeley campus, near both Memorial Stadium and Wheeler Hall (a protest against UC Berkeley’s 10-year, $500 million dollar deal with British Petroleum).

In January 2008, international media coverage resumed over the Berkeley Marine Corps Recruiting Center Controversy and protest staged by local chapters of CodePInk and Stop the War Coalition. Although student participation in these protests and movements varied, poets were always on the front lines.

What makes these occurrences crucial and worth historical documentation in BPR is that the Berkeley community lives among these voices and words that define the poetry of our moment. As much as any era in Berkeley’s past, poetry is the uniform response to our community’s experiences and frustrations. The student poetry produced and circulated at these protests and counter-protests is at once sensitive, alert, nuanced, and passionately present with deafening musicality. Whether chanted in unison to the pounding beat of drums, shouted on stage through a mic over hip-hop beats, whispered in cafés and classroom readings, or distributed on leaflets, poetry has been the one constant, uncontrollably popular reoccurrence throughout our campus and local community. By embracing poetry as the medium through which we express the pressures exerted on and around campus, the words used to define us as a collective were met with peaceful reciprocity and response through the art of crafted language. Senator Jim DeMint’s words of condemnation delivered in his Semper Fi Act against our school and our city, and the prophetic warnings shouted by tree-dwellers, received the same non-violent reaction through which students navigated intense difference, while encouraging listening, intellectual exchange, diverse understanding, appreciation, and beauty.

For this reason, and for the first time in Berkeley Poetry Review history, Issue 39 chronicles a select listing of student- and campus-run poetry readings to document the fervent poetry scene that has taken  over the hearts, ears, hands and lips of the University of California, Berkeley. The 2008 Berkeleyan struggle of identity and experience ranges from circumnavigating the fault lines of dual cultures and sexuality to grappling with the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War, and it gives testimony and voice to the experience and confrontation with the poetics of varying intensities. This index gives witness to the fact that our generation’s poets are not marginalized, but are symbolic of our collective voice and the source of philosophical, socially conscious, and politically aware discourse.

Also, for the first time in over a decade, BPR is pleased to showcase numerous poetry translations and interviews with both poets and Cal professors. The curriculum of UC Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science fosters the encouragement of arts education in all classrooms. These interviews highlight just how incredible it is that poetry emerges in many departments at Cal and in subjects and diverse as Anthropology, Biology, English, and History. This facet adds to the publication’s diverse complexity and acucrate portrayal of on-site creation and continued learnign at all ages. Additionally, as the country’s leading research institution, we felt it necessary to highlight scholarly work by undergraduates produced in the field of poetry, as represented by Katrina Kaplan’s original research paper on Paul r. Harding, derived from material found at Cal’s Bancroft Library.

The BPR editorial staff has worked diligently to provide a complete and encompassing representation of the diverse terrain of poetry that Berkeley offers. Throughout Issue 39 you will find the work of a broad range of student poets from our English, Rhetoric, Linguistics, and Creative Writing departments, to June Jordan’s Poetry for the People, to Cal Slam and local spoken word collectives.

In these pages you will find the novice and master voices of UC Berkeley undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends, all of whom come to us from different backgrounds and professions. You will find a strong sampling of the international and translation community that is present in the Berkeley community, under the tutelage of such eminent translators as Robert Hass and the prolific scholars of the Comparative Literature and Language departments.

We are proud to present poetry from our local Bay Area poet heroes who have been at the forefront of political poetry expression and activism, including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane di Prima, Brenda Hillman, and Al Young.

Poets from across the United States, who many of our students read and admire, including Yusef Komunyakaa, Paul Muldoon, and Richard Siken, are also found in these pages.

Finally, a a way to highlight highly influential artisans for new and diverse audiences, we are pleased to feature interviews with two internationally recognized artists: best selling author and sonnet writer, TIm Powers, and spoken word artist and musician, Saul Williams. Both are authors who serve to situate our community’s literary interests in an expanding dialogue about the function and importance of poetry.

The poems in Issue 39 reflect the issues that matter to the Berkeley community right now — war and violence, the environment; racism and social injustice; sorrow and loss; music and beauty; our insecurities; our passions; and of course, our love.

As you read this collection of voices in the back shelves of Cody’s Books, in a Bancroft café, on the BART, or at home while lying on your bed, know you are reading Berkeley at its most vocal and prolific. As our university and our city continue to spark international headlines with defining movements, Berkeley’s poets will be there on the front lines, and Berkeley Poetry Review will continue to support them and distribute their work.

— Rhae Lynn Barnes, 2008

2014 Pushcart Prize Nominations!

We are pleased to announce our nominations for the 2014 Pushcart Prize.  To read these poems, pick up a copy of our 44th issue from the store.

Steven Alvarez, “1522”

Kay Cosgrove, “A Western”

Dan Encarnacion, “Denomination.”

Naoko Fujimoto, “Sixty Seven Years Later”

Ryan Harper, “Hubble Creek”

Amy Newman, “After Robert Lowell Starves himself for Lent, a Seaplane Deposits Gertrude Buckman on Loon Islet and She Swims Across the lake”

Congratulations to these fantastic poets, and thank you to all of our contributors for sharing your talent with us.  We’re so thankful for the opportunity to be floored by your poetry every reading period — and 2014 provided some particularly hard-hitting work.