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Poets’ potluck celebrates joys of creativity in verse

By Alex I. Halperin Special to the Daily Planet
Tuesday September 04, 2001

“Is this the home of the sordid and sundry poets?” asked Julian Waller upon arriving at the Bay Area Poets Coalition’s seventh annual Labor Day potluck picnic and reading. Held in Live Oak Park, the cozy gathering was a way for an eclectic group of local poets and poetry aficionados to bond over poetry, food and conversation. 

John Rowe, BAPC president, said, “we try to support community poetry and welcome everyone to our events.” In addition to the Labor Day party, BAPC hosts monthly readings and publishes “Poetalk,” a quarterly magazine that accepts submissions, as well as an annual anthology in which every member gets a page. 

Rowe first joined BAPC in 1988 when he won third prize in the contest. “It was my first recognition,” Rowe said. “It was a big thing for me.”  

Since then “I always enjoyed getting ‘Poetalk’ in my mailbox and feeling like a part of a community of poets,” Rowe said. On Saturday, BAPC elected Rowe president for the fourth consecutive year, “our Franklin Roosevelt,” one member called him.  

The group also holds an annual poetry contest with cash prizes. “They’re not big prizes, but we’ve hung in a lot longer than a lot of other organizations,” said treasurer Maggi Meyer.  

Meyer first began taking poetry classes at age 60. Twenty-five years later, she has self-published six books of her poetry. “Once I got started, I really rolled in,” she said. 

She published her most recent book, “Come Along,” several years ago. “I write them. I type them. I print them. I collate them. I sell them,” Meyer said.  

For many of the poets the social aspect of BAPC is as important as its literary elements. Mark States is a longtime coalition member. He also works for the Berkeley Poetry Festival, an unaffiliated event. “A lot of poets here are alone,” States said. “They don’t have families around and this is a way to break bread on a holiday.” 

BAPC was the first poetry organization States joined after seven years of frequent coffeehouse and open mike appearances. He joined because meeting at a “library was more relaxed than the coffeehouse scene.” 

In shows he has produced since, “I’ve tried to duplicate that (BAPC) sense of everyone is here to share together as a community,” States said.  

States’ poem “Me and the Mayor,” which condemns Oakland’s bureaucracy, opened the reading. Following States, Walter Liggett, a former painter from New York and self-proclaimed “haiku-master of Berkeley” recited his haiku “Besides the stormy bay / Pines sway, luminous and large / Logging starts Tuesday” 

Liggett sold copies of his new book “The Legend of Brenda Sue,” which includes poems by many BAPC members as well as drawings by Oakland artist Gail Margaret. 

While many of the poets are retired, several hold jobs unrelated to poetry. Roopa Ramamoorthi holds a doctorate in chemical engineering and works in biotechnology. She read environmentally-themed poems. 

Lisa Miller, who serves as BAPC’s publicist, teaches math and yoga. She sees a connection between math and poetry. In both “you have to try things out until something fits,” Miller said.  

Miller also sees parallels in their mental rigor. “If you don’t have problems with your poetry, you’re not trying hard enough,” she said. The poets prepared themselves for the reading with a mix of tasty food and heady conversation. A woman wearing a Mumia Abu-Jamal shirt explained the prisoner’s situation to an inquirer.  

“One day someone will decide that as poets we’re no good and we oughta be shot, too.” Liggett replied. 

Tom Dunphy, who originated the “General Waste-More-Land” guerrilla theater act in Berkeley during the Vietnam War also read from his work. He estimates writing the poem “Unpresent Daffodils” in 1973. It contained allusions to news of the time like “thanks to nixon all our taxes go to ‘watergate.’”  

Before the reading he announced the donation of General Waste-More Land’s uniform to UC’s Bancroft Library. Well fed and eagerly anticipating the reading, everyone seemed to approve. 


The BAPC will hold its next reading on Saturday, Oct. 6, from 3-5 p.m. at the South Branch of the Berkeley Library. The reading is free and all are welcome. An annual membership costs $15 and includes a subscription to Poetalk, the anthology and reduced fees for submitting contest entries. An annual subscription to Poetalk costs $6. For additional information contact