When you read a poem and look at the words that make it up, how often do you take the time to think about the history of that poem?
For Richard Berengarten, also known as Richard Burns, that poem and its history have had an influential impact on his life.
Berengarten, born and raised in London to a family of musicians, recently visited Delta College for a poetry reading on the second floor of the Goleman Library.
The reading was both in Spanish and English. After, there was an open panel of questions as well as a chance to get an autograph from the poet.
The room was at full capacity, all eyes forward as Berengarten began to read an excerpt from his first poem, “Tree.”
The poem was inspired by Anne Waldman’s “Fast Speaking Woman,” which Berengarten described as a “magical chant about what it means to be a woman.” His own poem, “Tree” is 365 lines long, one line for every day of the year he said.
“I added another line to the poem this year because it’s a leap year,” Berengarten stated.
His poem has been translated into half a dozen languages, and his poem “Volta: A Multilingual Anthology” was translated into 92 languages with the 93 language being an English version that he translated himself. Berengarten spoke heavily about his love for all languages.
“One of the things I am really interested in is translation,” said Berengarten.
He said poetry gives things that would normally not mean anything to someone life and makes the reader care. “Poetry can be interactive,” said Berengarten. He encouraged anyone who is a writer or aspiring to be to “follow your inner voices” and use their hands. “Our hands make, our hands break, our hands are the agents of our design,” said Berengarten.
Berengarten’s readings were both insightful and deep.
When asked how he first became interested in poetry Berengarten replied: “I was sent to boarding school at 13 where I wrote a diary and eventually submitted it to the school paper where it was published and from then on I got over my fear of writing and discovered I was quite good at it.”
Berengarten said he is inspired by many different things and people in his life, but his main inspirations are Sappho and Rembrandt.
As of now his main focus is his current project of writing sonnets.
Sometimes he can get a bad case of writer’s block.
“This whole idea of writer’s block is rubbish; I look at my old poems and get bored so then I try something new,” said Berengarten.
That’s how writing sonnets came into play.
“You just have to walk away from it for a while, cook a meal and maybe go for a walk; eventually inspiration will hit you like a breath of fresh air.”
Berengarten is a Preceptor-Fellow at Downing College at Corpus Christi College. He also teaches at Emmanuel College, Jesus College, Pembroke College and Peterhouse, Cambridge.