Poets James Schevill and Luis Garcia, both Berkeley natives, will be joined by Clemens Starck from the Oregon coast range to read at Moe’s Books on Telegraph, 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 2, as part of the Monday At Moe’s series. Admission will be free.
“Luis Garcia gave a reading here recently,” said Owen Hill of Moe’s, who coordinates the series, “and did such an excellent job, we invited him back immediately. Lu approached me with the idea of all three poets reading together, and I was delighted, as Clem Starck read here a year ago or so, and James hasn’t read much at all the past few years. It’s a historic occasion.”
James Schevill was born in 1920 and grew up in Berkeley, attending University High School in Oakland. In November 1938, while on vacation with his mother in Switzerland, Schevill went to Freiburg to meet a friend from back home, Jack Kent, and witnessed Kristallnacht, the nationwide riots in Germany, orchestrated by the Nazi party, in which synagogues and Jewish businesses were vandalized and destroyed and German Jewish citizens terrorized and attacked. Schevill wrote his first poem as a response.
“It was a terrible poem!” he said at a reading at the Berkeley Art Center (organized by Luis Garcia) a few years back, “But after that, I knew what I was about.”
He worked at a camp in Colorado for the political reeducation of German prisoners of war during the 1940s. His novel, Arena of Ants, was based on that experience.
Schevill attended UC Berkeley and graduated from Harvard, later teaching at SF State, directing the Poetry Center there during the ’60s, and writing “about 20” plays of “poetic realism,” produced at Actors Workshop in San Francisco among other venues, and later at Brown University, where he went to teach in 1968.
A play he co-wrote in Rhode Island with Mary Singer Gail, renamed The Judas Tree, was produced in New York this April at Multi Stages with a musical score and lyrics by Schevill. Based on a news story of a Sacramento woman with a boarding house for the disabled who poisoned her tenants and buried them in her garden, The Judas Tree won a prize for best play of the year.
His play, The Last Romantics, was produced for the Berkeley Arts Festival in the ’90s. Directed by Hal Gelb, it ran for several weeks at Shattuck and Durant. He and his wife Margot returned to Berkeley in 1993, where they now live.
Schevill’s poetry is unique, “not indebted to any school,” as poet David Gitin has remarked. Last year he finished a longer poem in sections about painter Edvard Munch:
I was shaping my hand to my heart
And this marriage
the heart married to the hand.
You can’t escape from the real,
But you can change it
into the world of
A short poem he intends to read at Moe’s is “The Will of Writing”:
The will of writing is
to make the pen
sound a word,
the sound neither hard nor soft,
but of that balance
which gives forth
shining and stopped.
Luis Garcia is a Berkeley native who attended Berkeley High (“a dropout! but later dropped in to classes”) and Contra Costa Junior College. In 1963, Garcia spent a year in Chile, where his first book was published, becoming associated with poet Nicanor Parra and meeting the surrealist painter Matta and (on returning to the Bay Area) with Chilean poet Fernando Alegria, who taught at UC Berkeley and Stanford.
Garcia met poet Robert Creeley “serendipitously” at the Berkeley Poetry Conference in 1965, later visiting him when he taught at SF State, living in Bolinas.
“Out of that friendship came a lot of things of what I consider my better poetry,” Garcia said. “I have a history of failure at academic pursuits, but lifelong friendships with the teachers outside the classroom came out of that.”
“I listened to a lot of jazz,” Garcia continued, “the notions of improvisation, of the transformation of notes—hitting them in a different way—of inflection and intonation influenced my style, one of brevity and lyricism,” which qualities are exemplified in “Music Man”:
He plays himself
like a violin.
(With no strings
He’s a snowball in hell
but the song
in his head
Clemens Starck has worked as a merchant seaman, a reporter on Wall Street, a ranch hand in eastern Oregon, a construction foreman, and as a journeyman carpenter at Oregon State University, experiences that informs his poetry.
This saw has a life, it uses my hands
for its own purpose. Lucky,
to know your own uses!
along with the lure of literature, and the singular hope
that words will clarify my life.
His poems have a reflective, sometimes elegiac sense—“Approaching 50, a man starts/counting backwards”—with a wry humor, references to Zen and Taoism, Chinese and Russian history, and the urban, rural and seaboard landscapes where he’s lived and worked.
Don’t ask stupid questions.
Throw a quick glance over one
shoulder, throw salt
over the other. Soon,
you shall speak perfect Russian—so flawlessly,
not even your comrades
—“Studying Russian on