Arts Listings

Poetry Events Honor Pat Parker, Feature Adnan and Fraser

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday January 28, 2009 - 07:27:00 PM

Two unusual events, a musical and poetic tribute to the memory of one influential local poet, and the joint reading of two others, take place in Berkeley this week. 

The Pat Parker All-Star Memorial Tribute will be at La Peña Cultural Center, at 7 p.m. Sunday, with poets, musicians and singers honoring the memory of the activist poet and benefiting her daughter. Parker, who was involved with black, women’s and lesbian issues, died of breast cancer 20 years ago. 

The second event, Lebanese-American poet, essayist, visual artist—and UC Berkeley alumna—Etel Adnan, and poet and teacher Kathleen Fraser, will be at Moe’s Books at 7:30 p.m. Monday. 

Performing in the annual Pat Parker Tribute will be singer Linda Tillery, pianist Mary Watkins and poet Judy Grahn—all Parker collaborators—joined by poets Ginny Lim and Leslie Simon, singer-guitarist Blackberri, singer-songwriters Melanie DeMore and Kayiah Marin (also a poet), pianist-vocalist Anna Maria Flechro, Diosa Mamacoatl and members of Avotcja and Modupue, Avotcja (poet, percus- 

sionist), Sandi Poindexter (violinist), Dee Spencer (pianist) and Matu Feliciano (percussionist). Proceeds of the tribute will benefit Anastasia Dunham-Parker. 

“If I could take all my parts with me when I go somewhere,” Pat Parker wrote in Movement in Black, “and not have to say to one of them, ‘No, you stay home tonight, you won’t be welcome,’ because I’m going to an all-white party where I can be gay, but not Black. Or I’m going to a Black poetry reading, and half the poets are anti-homosexual, or thousands of situations where something of what I am cannot come with me. The day all the different parts of me can come along, we would have what I would call a revolution.” 

Born in Houston in 1944, Pat Parker came to Oakland in the 1970s. From 1978-87, she was medical coordinator of the Oakland Feminist Women’s Health Center, which went from a single clinic to six locations while she held that post. Parker was involved early on with the Black Panther Party and the Black Women’s Revolutionary Council and participated in the formation of the Women’s Press Collective. She was an activist locally and nationally on Civil Rights, as an Anti-Vietnam protester, on gay and lesbian issues, as well as for women’s health issues, especially those around domestic and sexual violence. 

Parker’s poetry has been described as narrative, often employing call-and-response from “working class and black [oral] traditions,” often using simple (and frank) language, and saturated with humor. Her celebrated readings began in 1963, during her marriage to playwright Ed Bullins. In 1968, she joined forces with poet Judy Grahn, reading at women’s bookstores and bars, coffeehouses and festivals, as well as in recordings.  

Parker produced five published collections of poetry, including Womanslaughter (written after the poet’s elder sister was killed by her husband) and Jonestown and Other Madness, published before Parker’s death from breast cancer in 1989, ending with poems like “Maybe I Should’ve Been a Teacher”: “maybe/the next person/who asks/’Have you/written anything new?’/just might get hit.”  

Etel Adnan, of Syrian Muslim and Christian Greek parents, came to UC Berkeley from Beirut in 1955, later attending Harvard as a graduate student, then taught philosophy at Dominican College in San Rafael from 1958 to 1972. Her much-translated, widely taught novel, Sitt Marie-Rose, takes place during the Lebanese Civil War.  

Poems of hers have been set to music by Henry Threadgill, Annea Lockwood, Gavin Bryars, Tania Leon and Zad Multaka. Currently, she lives in Sausalito and in Paris.  

At her Moe’s reading, Adnan will read from her latest book, Seasons (Post-Apollo, 2008). “It’s a series of small paragraphs, between prose and poetry, focused not only on seasons, but how they affect our minds. I’m eager to find how the mind is in contact with the outside world, through phenomena, events ... As water affects fish, the seasons affect us—we swim in them. Seasons is a mixture of description and philosophy, a blend of both.” 

Kathleen Fraser has 16 books of poetry, including Witness, with mixed media drawings by Nancy Tokar Miller (Chax Press, 2007). She’s also collaborated on books with artists Sam Francis, Mary Ann Hayden and David Marshall. Her collected essays, Translating the Unspeakable: Poetry and the Innovative Necessity was published by the University of Alabama in 2000. 

Etel Adnan said of Fraser, “She is a poet who has done a lot for poetry, both through her work when she was director of the Poetry Center at San Francisco State, and as a teacher. Among her students are many well-known poets today, who always refer to her as their teacher. Her poetry’s very personal, going off in tangents of her own. It’s very refreshing writing.” 


La Peña 

3105 Shattuck Ave. 849-2568. $10-20 sliding scale, tickets available online at, at the La Peña box office Wednesday through Saturday from 1-6 p.m., or half an hour before showtime. 


Moe’s Books 

2476 Telegraph Ave. 849-2087. Admission free.