poetry cornerAn experiment in transforming a face-to-face event to a virtual environment, the most recent Human Library session on April 24, 2020 featured six “human books” checked out 19 times by “readers” from our community, each in their own private Zoom breakout room.

In line with its mission, the Human Library brought together participants including students, staff, faculty and administrators for deep conversations about tough topics like discrimination and displacement. Following her experience reading a book about the Pakistani/Muslim experience with which she was unfamiliar, one reader relayed, “I was glad to get to read a “book” on that topic. And we are going to meet up… so I can continue to bridge that gap and learn more about a culture, people, a religion that I don’t know anything about personally and hopefully gain a new friend!”

Technical challenges aside, facilitators were especially appreciative of positive feedback from readers: “[Human Library] was just a great experience, one that will hopefully continue as we are planning to meet after the shelter in place is over.” For many, the session provided much-needed relief from the isolation of living through the pandemic.

On April 29, 2020 readings in celebration of National Poetry Month by faculty poet Kathleen McClung, recent winner of the Rattle Chapbook Prize, Engineering faculty Maryam Khan, student poet Hilary Cruz Mejia, and faculty poet Katharine Harer, again brought 32 members of our community together for an hour listening and interesting discussion via Zoom.

Professor McClung read from her award-winning book of poetry, A Juror Must Fold in on Herself, written during and following “the most difficult year of my life” as a forewoman on a manslaughter case, as well as some profound and nostalgic works from The Typists Play Monopoly and other works recalling her childhood days of drive-in movies and later, working as teen movie theater attendant.

With March’s women’s history events postponed and Asian American Heritage month just beginning, Professor Khan straddled both celebrations with a reading of favorite works by contemporary and historical voices in Punjabi literature. These included Pakistani poets Rupi Kaur (“I am the first woman of my lineage with freedom of choice”), Imtiaz Dharker and Amrita Pritam. Many of the poems formed a backdrop to the social blockade Khan’s own family experienced following the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 – the division of the Punjab state – followed by the diaspora that brought Pakistani families like Khan’s to the Bay Area.

The virtual audience found beauty in a joint reading by Professor Khan and Librarian Pia Walawalkar of Amrita Pritam’s “Ajj Aakhan Waris Shah Nuu,” as Khan read in Punjabi and Walawalkar read the English translation. Representing their divided state, their family’s native countries “enemies,” the two demonstrated powerfully how poetry can be a healing force.

Next, Poetry Club student leader Hilary Cruz Mejia read “La Subita,” a powerful poem she’d recently composed in English and Spanish, followed by Professor Harer’s first public reading of her new poem “Smile,” dedicated to Hilary. Enjoy these poems for yourself by visiting Skyline College Library’s online Events and Outreach guide.

Article by Jessica Silver-Sharp

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