Undead poets society: lost souls come together at poetry reading
David Burak, a veteran English professor at SMC, wears a worn-out baseball cap and a gray-faded vest. He looks like a humble man who has experienced the beauty of life, and his soft voice gives even more humanness and gentility to his demeanor. He approaches the podium, and the crowd settles down to an energetic rumble of students and faculty who are eager to listen. Silence falls upon the audience, and for a brief moment, everyone is fully engaged. In past years at SMC, the English department took their time to celebrate the writing of the faculty and David Burak was the outlet for their artistic expression. “We used to have poetry readings all the time with the staff,” says Mario Padilla, a well-known English Professor on campus. “But all of a sudden, for 5, 6 or so many years, it stopped. So I was surprised when I saw that David was putting together a poetry reading like the old days.”
"Unacknowledged Legislators of The World," a line borrowed from the historic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, was the title of the reading hosted by Burak, the Black Collegians and the Latino Center on October 1st at SMC. The reading included several well-versed and accomplished writers from the college and even a few alumni. Faculty poets included Ernie Padilla, Mario Padilla, and Will Doucett. The lineup also included SMC student Amanda Ortiz and alumni students Isabel Spiegal and Marlene Ruiz.
Throughout the reading, the reaction to the poetry by the students was a heartfelt one. Listeners closed their eyes and felt the words fall down upon their heads before being snapped back to reality as the poem ended. “There are infinities here in Santa Monica, Martha—run, crawl, skate. When you get here, place your hand here, allow my hand here,” reads Ernie Padillia, in a soulful love poem to his wife. Soulful encompasses what the afternoon was for everyone who attended.
The art of poetry was mysterious as each writer recited their work in a deep reflection. A common theme amongst each poet was the aching pain of what it is to be human. "A bliss of emptiness follows," words read patiently by professor Will Doucett in a poem about a past relationship. What many young students began to realize is that faculty members have dealt with and are still dealing with the same longing for the same answers as they are.
This universal idea was also expressed by Marlene Ruiz, a former SMC student who rediscovered her Latino roots through the Adelante Program on campus. She read, “You’re lost, confused, and depressed. You have become blind to your true self,” a feeling understood by the applauding audience.
“Poetry will never become obsolete,” says Isabel Spiegal, “A good poem can hit you so hard emotionally, and is more immediate." That is exactly how the event felt. For that one fleeting hour, everyone there bared their souls together, and everyone there left feeling inspired.
During a Luncheon after the event, David Burak expressed how “very touched [he was] by how well it went—exceptional, great.” He plans to have another reading in the Spring, incorporating both students and faculty for a second time.
The luncheon begins to clear out and soon it's just David sitting at the table. He packs up his notepad and puts his worn hat back on his head and immediately the words of Will Doucett from his poem, "The Ghost on 90th” come to mind: "Old Horses, we thought, with old dreams." This horse still has a few good races left.