Poetry Center continues 63 years of live reading tradition

Oki Sogumi and Wendy Trevino host Q&A after presenting their poetry at the SF State Poetry Center on Feb. 16, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. (Alina Castillo/Xpress)
Alina Castillo / Xpress

Oki Sogumi presents her poetry at the SF State poetry center on Feb. 16, 2017 in San Francisco Calif.

Continuing a 63-year weekly tradition, a group of 25 gathered at the Poetry Center in the Humanities building Thursday evening, to hear poets Wendy Trevino and Oki Sogumi share their latest work.

The event, run by SF State’s Poetry Center, invites two new published writers each week to read their poems and short stories to students and members of the community.

Ailyn Pambid, an assistant at the Poetry Center, said the events are normally pretty popular. She believes people just enjoy a space where they can hear poetry.

“I think it’s good for students here to be exposed to that kind of work because they do write about different kinds of experiences and they can relate,” Pambid said. “It’s just a cool way to kind of learn more about the community and the world in general.”

Wendy Trevino read sonnets from her chapbook, “Brazilian is Not a Race,” as well as a piece on popular culture. Oki Sogumi is originally from Korea, but now resides in Philadelphia. She delighted the audience with a new unfinished piece and some of her older stories.

After both poets read samples of their work, the floor opened to the audience to talk, ask questions, share feedback and discuss their own reflections with the poets.

The Poetry Center had its first public reading in February 1954, right after the new campus at 19th and Holloway opened. These weekly events have been offered for the past 63 years and are recorded for the public to view at any time at Poetry Center Archives.

Poetry Center Director Steve Dickison takes pride in the fact that their reading series was one of the first in the country and has continued to invite poets to the SF State campus.

“Everybody in the room gets a chance to engage and what happens gets shaped around what the writers bring to us, rather than some idea that’s imposed before we get inside the room,” Dickison said.

Lilly Blakeslee takes a poetry class at SF State and sees these weekly events as a chance to hear from published writers in a personal way.

“I think it’s a really valuable experience to listen and talk to them and be able to exchange art,” the 19-year-old said. “I like to write but a lot of the time I won’t go out and share my own sort of writing, so here I like to hear other people’s (writing) and get different perspectives.”

Dickison believes there is an enormous difference between the live presence of human beings reading and discussing art, and the virtual life people experience on their phones.

“We alienate ourselves from what’s around us. People have a hunger for something real, and then bury themselves in their screens,” Dickison said. “We need to listen to each other. If we’re here to study poetry, writing, cinema, music, art, we have to push ourselves to meet the people who have different lives from our own.”

To find out more about upcoming events, like “The Poetry Center, San Francisco State University” on Facebook.