Civic Center Park Hosts Weekend Poetry Festival

By Richard Brenneman
Friday June 04, 2004

Simple syllables 

woven together 

bring great joy to Berkeleyans 


Or so an aspiring haiku artist might describe this Saturday’s Berkeley Poetry Festival and Community Fair, returning after a one-year hiatus. 

Created by Berkeley poet Louis Cuneo—a transplanted New Yorker—this year’s free festival features the poetry of Berkeley High School students, open mic readings, a two-hour poetry slam, music, and a presentation to and reading by Julia Vinograd, the city’s unofficial poet laureate. 

Festivities begin at 11:15 a.m. at Civic Center Park, with 45-minute set by The Wild Buds, a Berkeley band. 

Starting 15 minutes later, anyone’s welcome to sign up for a slot in the open mic poetry readings—three minutes max per poet—which commence at noon and finish at 1:45. 

City Councilmember Kriss Worthington will next present the city’s first Lifetime Achievement Award to Vinograd. 

After Vinograd reads one of her creations, Charles Ellick of the Berzerkeley Poetry Slam will host a two-hour festival poetry slam, featuring two rounds and a collection of prizes. 

Students from Berkeley High School’s Youth Speaks will close the festival hour, with readings from 4 to 5 p.m. 

While the poets hold center stage, a variety of other activities will also be on hand, including children’s activities, a community fair featuring publishers, poets, craftsfolk, artists, organic food vendors, a blood drive organized by the Alameda County Red Cross, student and teacher workshops presented by Youth Speaks and a Poet’s Scroll—a group poem to which all comers are welcome to add their lines. 

“This isn’t an ‘I’ event,” said Cuneo. “It’s a ‘we’ event.” 

But Cuneo’s personal history is a ballad-poem in itself. 

While still living in New York, Cuneo attended a performance by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. His raucous laugh attracted Zappa, who used both his laugh and his stream of consciousness ramblings in several albums. 

Cuneo moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1970 while still in his early twenties. “I decided that if I had to live with cockroaches, I might as well do it in a nice, warm environment.” 

Mother’s Hen, the organization Cuneo created to help poets bring their work to the community, began a year later, the outgrowth of a poetry reading in his home. 

He moved to Berkeley a decade later. 

A specialist in haiku, a Japanese meditative poetry that must cast its spell in a mere 17 syllables, he has branched out into photography—using film to capture the essence of haiga, a visual form of haiku that seeks to capture an image in 17 brushstrokes. 

Cuneo’s written and photographic creations are available in ten books and included in several anthologies. 

Berkeley Poetry Festival & Community Fair, 11:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Civic Center Park. For more information go to http://mothershen.com/.