For the last eight years, poets from around the East Bay have been gathering each year at the Berkeley Poetry Festival. Sometimes they meet and read together on a street. Other times they gather in a television studio and broadcast two days worth of poems. On other occasions, they have recited poetry in a museum.
This year, the Berkeley Poetry Festival, which takes place Saturday at Berkeley City College, will fuse words and art. Poets will read from their work and local artists will display their digital images around the festival.
“It’s going to be a rainbow cornucopia of images and words,” said Louis Cuneo, a haiku poet and a co-founder (with city councilmember Kriss Worthington) of the festival “This isn’t just a poetry festival. It’s a festival of the muses – the creative muse, the poetry muse.”
On Saturday, the festival will present the Lifetime Achievement Award to Adam David Miller, the 88-year old Berkeley poet who has published five books of poetry and an acclaimed memoir, Ticket to Exile.
Born in South Carolina during the time of Jim Crow, Miller came to Berkeley in the 1950s to get a master’s degree in English. He taught at Laney College in Oakland for 23 years and served six years on the Berkeley Arts Commission, among other achievements.
Two other winners of the Lifetime Achievement Award will also be reading at the festival: Jack Hirschman and Julia Vinograd. Other poets who will read include Jack and Adele Foley, Judy Wells, Sharon Coleman, Jannie Dresser, Shaun Freeland, Dave Holt, Linda King, Dale Jensen, Marc Kockinos, Richard Loranger, and Tomas Moniz.
While there will be many established poets at the festival, there also will be an open mike to encourage emerging poets to read their work. Cuneo sees the festival as a place to mix young and old, fresh and established. He wants the festival to reflect what is happening now, at the street level.
“We always give a showcase to local poets, the ones who read at community coffee houses and bookstores,” said Cuneo. “They are not the university elite. They are like the bohemian poets.”
That original vision is what keeps poetry so relevant, he said. “We need some new voices. Let’s get the pulse of the poets.”
The Digital Arts Club of the college will be exhibiting student and faculty work in the school’s atrium during the festival. Work will be for sale, including pieces from well-known artists such as Guy Poole, Marcia Poole, Matthew Valencia, Jan Dove and many more.
The festival, which will be held in the auditorium of Berkeley City College at 2050 Center Street from 12:30 to 4:30 pm on Saturday May 21, is free. The city of Berkeley is one of the main supporters of the festival, and contributed $3,200 to it this year, said Cuneo, who expects about 150 participants.
Worthington, himself a poet, called poetry the “underfunded part of writing.”
“People who write novels and mysteries get a lot more money,” said Worthington.