Six poets will read from their work and that of their deceased colleague, C.D. Wright, on Friday June 12.
Six poets will read from their work and that of their deceased colleague, C.D. Wright, on Friday, June 17.

Six acclaimed poets will gather in Berkeley on Friday to commemorate a colleague and to raise scholarship funds for the Poetry Workshop of The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.

The poets who are reading have all been highly lauded for their work. Among them are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and recipients of Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts grants, among other prizes. The poets are Robert Hass, Sharon Olds, Brenda Hillman, Kazim Ali, Cathy Park Hong, and Patricia Spears Jones. All six will be teaching at the Poetry Workshop near Lake Tahoe this summer.

The event will be from 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on June 17 at the First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way. Tickets are $25 in advance/$30 at the door. The poet Kevin Simmonds will serve as emcee.

For the past 45 years, poets and writers have been gathering in Squaw Valley every summer for week-long workshops that focus on craft. Novelist Oakley Hall and writer Blair Fuller founded the program in 1969 and the Hall family now runs it.

In the Poetry Workshop, every participant, both published and unpublished, writes a new poem each night and then shares it in the morning. The workshop publishes an anthology of participants’ poems each year.

“The Poetry Program is founded on the belief that when poets gather in a community to write new poems, each poet may well break through old habits and write something stronger and truer than before,” says the program’s website. “To help this happen we work together to create an atmosphere in which everyone might feel free to try anything.”

Some of the notable alumni from the Poetry Workshop include Kazim Ali, Anthony S. Abbot, Dan Bellm, Molly Fisk, CB Follett, Elizabeth Rosner, Gary Young, and many more.

C.D. Wright in 2014 by Brett Hall Jones
C.D. Wright in 2014 by Brett Hall Jones

The fundraiser will also honor C.D. Wright, a poet, professor, publisher, and staff teacher for the Poetry Workshop who died unexpectedly Jan. 12, aged 67. Wright’s poetry is noted for its sense of place, specifically, the Ozarks in Arkansas where she was born. The New York Times said Wright’s work was “characterized by linguistic experimentation, stylistic innovation, and an ever-shifting thematic canvas.”

Wright was the Israel J. Kapstein professor of English and professor of literary arts at Brown University when she died. She was also a MacArthur “genius” award recipient, a Guggenheim Fellow, a Poet Laureate of Rhode Island, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner in 2010, winner of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, a Whiting Award winner and the author of more than a dozen poetry books.

“She had been a member of the Community of Writers for almost 20 years,” Robert Hass, the director of the Poetry Workshop, wrote after Wright’s death. “Many of you will have worked with her and will remember her stunning craft lectures, some of which were gathered in ‘Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil,’ and her readings from the astonishing set of books she produced in those years… She was an original, a description I notice that has showed up in the many tributes written about her in the past week, which I take to be an acknowledgement of the fact that she made herself up on her own terms out of the possibilities that existed for poetry in the English language in the last decades of the twentieth century as completely as anybody who has been writing in those years. Her death was a shock and an awful loss. She is—in the present tense–a gift to everyone who knew her and who has read and will read her.”

Wright’s publisher, Copper Canyon Press, will also bring out her last collection, Shall Cross, this year.

The six poets will read some of Wright’s poems, as well as their own.

Berkeleyside is a media sponsor of the event.

To find out what is going on in Berkeley and nearby, be sure to check out Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. And submit your own events: it’s self-serve and free. 

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...