Gerber interviewed on UC Berkeley’s East Bay poetry podcast

Roger Coda
Dr. Natalie Gerber, English major

Dr. Natalie Gerber

Department of English Professor Natalie Gerber revisited her graduate school years at the University of California, Berkeley – nearly three decades later – as a guest on a recent East Bay podcast “Poetic Pontification” that commemorated the founding of the campus’ very popular Lunch Poems series in 1994.

Dr. Gerber, then a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, was interviewed along with Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, who taught English at UC Berkeley for some 30 years. They, along with Zack Rogow, an accomplished translator and poet who was a senior editor in the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education, were recognized as founders of the poetry series. Memories of creating the monthly noontime poetry-reading event held at the campus’ Morrisey Library were shared.

“All three had a distinct love for poetry,” said Melina Kritikopoulos, podcast host and a UC Berkeley student. “It was initially Zack’s idea to create the program, but all three worked together to actually make it happen.” The fledgling program drew support from an administrator in the Development office, the library director and a poet. Mr. Hass described the trio of Dr. Gerber, Rogow and himself as a few “people who loved poetry, thinking that the world should be full of it.”

Gerber, who was also an assistant to Hass when he was the U.S. Poet Laureate, acknowledged to being actually shocked to see how far the series had grown since its launch. Attendance was massive from the start, Gerber said, and the series today boasts an impressive number of sponsors – in stark contrast to the early years when “we were literally running it on sweat and good will,” Gerber remembered.

Over the years, poet laureates, Nobel Prize winners and poets from around the world have come to UC Berkeley to read their work.

“There was something visceral about this series overall because a poet was reading at a lectern, but it wasn’t a lectern that was on a stage, it was a lectern that was on the same height, and in many cases, underneath the heads of people craning from above down to see,” Gerber noted. Lunch Poems got really big, really fast, so small balconies overlooking the Lunch Poems space helped to accommodate overflow audiences.

The goal was to take away the “pretension” of poetry.

“There was no sense of hierarchy; there was a sense of coming together around language,” Gerber said. To hear the 12-minute podcast, go online. See also this article online.

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