Reading the Berkeley Poetry Review gave me one of those “grass is always greener” moments. It made me jealous that my town doesn’t have a journal like this, dedicated to highlighting local talent and the local scene.
The editors write in BPR’s opening pages, “Since the journal’s creation a little over four decades ago, our core values are now legacies we still revolve around: the first is that BPR has and always will serve as Berkeley’s cultural and literary thermometer, the quiet hand on the pulse of Bay Area poetics; the second—but equally important—is our dedication to the highest standards of poetic praxis.”
And having published such literary heavyweights as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Robert Hass, and Ishmael Reed, it’s worth noting that BPR is produced by undergraduate students at the University of California Berkeley, giving it the distinction, the editors say, of being “one of the few internationally-released, fully undergraduate-produced poetry journals in the country.”
As one who’s never been to the Bay Area but has always wanted to, it was easy to see “Berkeley’s cultural and literary” influence on the work selected for the issue.
For instance, the social activism and cultural awareness that Berkeley is known for is prominent in the issue. A series of poems by Judith Goldman demonstrates this in fragments about the lives and struggles of immigrants in America. And Kathryn Hindenlang serves up a series of telling, arresting visuals rife with unrest in “Verse Intelligence:”
Democratic Investigation is moving
to Copenhagen. They propped up
a dead soldier disguised as a woman
coughing up seawater, death a victory
waiting list, the capital undertaken for
dollars, dinner wines . . .
One of the issue’s highlights for me was LeConté Dill’s “Bulldozed,” an ironic, spirited song of a poem. Dill’s use of rhythm and language paired with a keen awareness to the realities of injustice make for a beautifully visual commentary on race and inequality:
C’mon down to
Dance a jig
Trouble don’t last always
Shake the devil off
at St. Augustine’s
A price was paid
for you to pray
But the most compelling feature of the issue is probably the translations section. This issue features three poems in their original languages alongside the English translations: one by Rebecca Gould of a 1924 poem by Russia’s Sergei Esenin and two translations by Adriana Campoy of work by Uruguayan poet Mario Benedetti.
My favorite was Benedetti’s “Mediums of Communication,” a romantic meditation on the power of love to transcend language:
and I come from myself to tell you
that the river the sunflower the star
go round without hurry /
the future approaches to meet you
One of the issue’s greatest strengths is the variety of voices and subjects it offers. Featuring work from poets in a number of stages in their careers, this issue of BPR is not just a great reflection of the Bay Area but of poetic talent from every walk of life.