Tag Archives: Berkeley

Politics and Poetry: The Occupy Wall Street Movement

In the last year, I’ve been giving a series of lectures titled Politics and Poetry for The Socialist Party USA. This is an excerpt from the Slam Poetry section of that lecture.


Image of Robert Hass
Image from PoetryFoundation.Org

A lot of what I’ve been covering for the modern era more focuses on the works themselves and not the poets direct ties to politics. For the Occupy poetry, we’re going to look at Robert Hass, who was the Poet Laureate (believe it or not – that means like the nation’s poet) for Bill Clinton from 1995 to 1997. The position itself is fairly a-political in nature. The poet gets an amount awarded and writes poems for milestones in the administration (swearing in, etc.).

That’s not really what I want to focus on – but know that Robert Hass has strong political ties to Democrats and Occupy happened under a Democrat (Obama). While he’s been part of “the system,” he’s also written poetry to critique wars and political decisions (made more by the Bush admin than Clinton’s or Obama’s however):

Between the Wars

When I ran, it rained. Late in the afternoon—
midsummer, upstate New York, mornings I wrote,
read Polish history, and there was a woman
whom I thought about; outside the moody, humid
American sublime—late in the afternoon,
toward sundown, just as the sky was darkening,
the light came up and redwings settled in the cattails.
They were death’s idea of twilight, the whole notes
of a requiem the massed clouds croaked
above the somber fields. Lady of eyelashes,
do you hear me? Whiteness, otter’s body,
coolness of the morning, rubbed amber
and the skin’s salt, do you hear me? This is Poland speaking,
“era of the dawn of freedom,” nineteen twenty-two.
When I ran, it rained. The blackbirds settled
their clannish squabbles in the reeds, and light came up.
First darkening, then light. And then pure fire.
Where does it come from? out of the impure
shining that rises from the soaked odor of the grass,
the levitating, Congregational, meadow-light-at-twilight
light that darkens the heavy-headed blossoms
of wild carrot, out of that, out of nothing
it boils up, pools on the horizon, fissures up,
igniting the undersides of clouds: pink flame,
red flame, vermilion, purple, deeper purple, dark.
You could wring the sourness of the sumac from the air,
the fescue sweetness from the grass, the slightly
maniacal cicadas tuning up to tear the fabric
of the silence into tatters, so that night,
if it wants to, comes as a beggar to the door
at which, if you do not offer milk and barley
to the maimed figure of the god, your well will foul,
your crops will wither in the fields. In the eastern marches
children know the story that the aspen quivers
because it failed to hide the Virgin and the Child
when Herod’s hunters were abroad. Think: night is the god
dressed as the beggar drinking the sweet milk.
Gray beard, thin shanks, the look in the eyes
idiot, unbearable, the wizened mouth agape,
like an infant’s that has cried and sucked and cried
and paused to catch its breath. The pink nubbin
of the nipple glistens. I’ll suckle at that breast,
the one in the song of the muttering illumination
of the fields before the sun goes down, before
the black train crosses the frontier from Prussia
into Poland in the age of the dawn of freedom.
Fifty freight cars from America, full of medicine
and the latest miracle, canned food.
The war is over. There are unburied bones
in the fields at sun-up, skylarks singing,
starved children begging chocolate on the tracks.


Robert Hass was also a teacher at Berkeley during the time of the protests taking place on campus.

Where I Write

It’s different in the summer. During the school year, I write in three very specific places: the research lab which is filled with computers, a mini fridge, and a microwave; my work, where I sit next to the students I tutor and put on headphones to keep them from interrupting me during my time off; or my stuffy, not weatherproofed room. When it’s hot, my room is hot. When it’s cold, my room is very cold. It’s nice enough in the fall and the spring, but come summer and winter, my room really sucks.

In the summer, though, I’m not at school, for the most part. This summer I’m not abroad either. I stayed in California to finish my research and present at Berkeley. I’m glad I stayed, but that means one very big thing for me: I didn’t get to escape from my hot, stuffy room. I had to find other places to go this summer to cool off and write.

I found myself on campus a lot when the summer started. I was required to research there four days a week and I had a campus parking pass. Cal Poly Pomona has a lot of nice, air conditioned spots for me to camp out with my laptop or a notebook and write. On a couple of the cooler days I even ventured outside and sat in the shade of a tree to do some of my writing.

This summer I was writing more than I usually did. Sure, I am often scribbling ideas for stories or poems on pieces of paper, on the notepad feature on my computer, or heck, even on my hand if nothing else is around, but I wasn’t really focusing on any of that this summer.

This summer I was doing academic writing and finishing what would be a forty-seven page research report on the integration of technology into a California Common Core performance classroom focusing on Shakespeare. It was a fairly specific project.

I was also writing blogs. I didn’t miss a beat on this blog—check it out. I posted at least twice a week, usually more. Even while I was up in Berkeley presenting my research I had blogs scheduled to pop up and keep my voice going here while I was away.

I didn’t write in Berkeley. I had decided that it was too much of a hassle to pack my laptop and bring it on the flight to and from. But that didn’t mean I stopped writing. I had notebooks with me as well as my Kindle, which kept me occupied outside of all the networking, preparing, and presenting I was doing and watching at the conference.

I was also busy making awkward faces with my fellow McNair scholars and the McNair program advisers. I was also busy being the only one in a photograph wearing sunglasses. I think I was caught between a sneeze and a smile when this one was shot.

When I got back form Berkeley my writing habits changed. I was solely focused on editing and proofing my research report, which is much different from researching and writing. I had to put on the hat of an editor and scrutinize my own goods. Editing and proofing are part of the writing process, though—one of the most important parts, in my opinion. It’s great if you can write, but it’s better if you can make something you’ve written clear, concise, engaging, and plain old great. That’s what I was trying to do when I returned.

The Bookstores of Berkeley: Moe’s

Berkeley has more bookstores than a lot of other places I’ve traveled to. While Taiwan had a pretty big bookstore in the densest part of Taipei, it seemed that every other corner of Berkeley had a hidden treasure trove of books waiting to be discovered. When we were heading to different conference activities like our tour of Stanford or our tour of the San Francisco Bay at night, I saw at least another half-dozen bookstores that I didn’t have time to visit.

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I would have been more heartbroken about these lost book-shopping activities, but the tour of the San Francisco Bay at night was gorgeous. I was able to make one more stop at a bookstore, called Moe’s, during a Sunday street fair right down the street from the Berkeley campus.

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While wandering past the street performers and admiring the chalk art random people were asked to leave on one section of road, I found a pile of poetry books that instantly attracted me to the front of Moe’s store.

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I walked past the smooth jazz sounds that had enchanted the two giant pink stilted ladies and the heavens opened up to reveal a four story bookstore for me to play in. My Sunday was going to be a fun-day.

The Bookstores of Berkeley: Shakespeare & Co.

As stated in an earlier post, I spent some time up in Berkeley, California, at a conference. I took a short flight up the coast of California and lugged my stuff into the dorm I’d be sharing for my stay and then I was free until the conference started the next day.

On our cab ride in from the airport, I saw something magical. I saw a book store. I wanted to go there, so after grabbing some pizza, I did. It was called Shakespeare & Co.

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Of course it was the name that first drew me to this bookstore, but once inside, it was the books that drew me to this book store.

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This store had a great collection of used books to choose from, including a section of rare books that I just wanted to touch. So I did.

The Libraries of UC Berkeley

This past week, I was in the bay area at a conference hosted by UC Berkeley. I was lucky enough to get a little free time and wander around the campus, and one thing I found that I fell instantly in love with was the first library I stumbled upon, the Doe Library.

 

Yes, those tiny dots are people and that white thing on the right side is a huge tent. This library is ginormous.
Yes, those tiny dots are people and that white thing on the right side is a huge tent. This library is ginormous.

 

UC Berkeley is known for its libraries. The campus is home of the fourth largest university library in the United States, just falling short of other schools like Yale, Harvard, and the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. I didn’t know this at the time I was wandering the halls of the Doe Library (thanks Wikipedia), but what I did know was that this was the biggest library I had ever set foot in, so I decided to have some fun.

The first thing I saw upon entering the library was a statue of Mark Twain, so of course I had my friend, Andrea, act as my model and pose with him.

 

Andrea found the conversation stimulating.
Andrea found the conversation stimulating.

 

After our deep and thought-provoking conversation with bronze Mark Twain, we continued to explore all of what the library housed—and it was a lot.