Category Archives: personal

Pilgrimage: Final Words on Tuebingen (or… An Attempt to Understand)

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I step out of the student secretary office into the sun and cross the street to the library in order to sit down and write my final thoughts on Tuebingen. I am leaving soon, spending the night at a friend’s flat before flying home tomorrow morning. As I pass across the street, I nearly stumble into The Naked Man.

The Naked Man stands in the park every day and has done so for the past few months, often half-naked. People say he’s crazy. He is a homeless man who dresses either in grass-streaked tidy-whities or a full suit. His favorite hobbies include snapping the branches off trees, assuming fighting stances, drinking beer, and laughing at strangers. He often walks toward strangers in order to laugh at them. That’s so strange, so unnverving.

When I bump into The Naked Man, he gives me a queer look, a cocktail mixture of anger and curiosity. And so I ask in German, “Hey, man, I’ve been watching you for some time now. Why do you do the things you do? I mean, it doesn’t make sense. You stand there and kick the air or talk with strangers? Why do you approach random groups of people to laugh at them?”

And that’s all I want to know, the underlying absurdity of his actions. A reason. A meaningful reason.

The Naked Man stares at me, his mouth breaking into a grin.

And he laughs. And laughs. And says nothing more.

Pilgrimage: Still Lost in the Woods

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When I first arrived in Germany, I thought maybe this semester abroad would produce at its end a complete and perfect version of me. I would have gone on the best adventures, felt the deepest lows and highest highs, and discovered my life’s purpose. I expected this transcendent, life-changing experience. I would shed inhibitions, the expectations of others and myself, and finally learn to simply live. I thought at the end of this trip, there would be some form of enlightenment, an answer, a prize at least.

But now I’ll be headed in home in two weeks, and I am scrambling still to discover something new. I feel like I have forgotten the purpose of the pilgrimage in the first place. But that’s not true. I’m still wandering, still lost, still on my way to some place I’m not sure exists.

I thought I would discover what it meant to be a good person. I really wanted that. Instead, I have been miserable and moping. On days I can wander into the woods and escape the racket of the city, I experience calm. But there is no constant calm. Rather, peace is something one must engage in constant war in order to find.

There is not some magical end goal—no secret key to a locked room of experience, no scepter of power that will vanquish sadness, no glass heart brimming with the wine of self-love. Being human is not a video game. Becoming the person you’re supposed to be is not a linear process, but more like those mazes we solved as children on the kids’ place mats at fancy restaurants. Sometimes, we wander down the wrong corridors and must return to the start. Sometimes we believe that we are making progress, when we are only becoming more lost. I would like to become more comfortable when lost, to feel at ease not knowing where I might be headed or whether the place I’m going is another dead-end. I want to come to terms with the fact that I will never be finished, never complete, never perfect, never anything than a continuous construction site. A video game without levels or controllers or rules.

Maybe we just keep growing and learning until we trip into a grave. Maybe there is no plateau. Maybe there’s no peak. Maybe that’s okay.

Pilgrimage: To Taste Joy Again

Today I am practicing joy, allowed myself the grace and naivety of a child. I no longer want to feel self-conscious for child-like wonder; I seek to exorcise shame, to scrape clean my palette for awe where too long cynicism has calcified like plaque. Today I feel refreshed, the way characters in a Coca-Cola commercial appear. I am determined in the same way fictional athletes seem in inspiring sports films the morning of the big race or big fight or big race.

Recently, I have forgotten too simply the purpose of joy. Having allowed self-indulgent misery to conquer my mood, I have moped through my break, alone too often in the dingy dorm underground. For a week, I have been sequestered in my subterranean single room by torrential downpours. But today the rain stopped, and the sun peeked out its head. Emancipated from late May storms, I traveled with my mother and Oma across the state of Baden-Würtemburg to an ancient Danube-neighboring city. Ulm.

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Standing under the neo-gothic spires and buttresses of the Ulm Munster, a sense of awe dawned. There exists perhaps a limit to one’s ability to experience wonder, and lately, I’ve felt as if I reached that limit. Small joys, luscious landscapes, and even stark coffee failed to inspired in my the unnamable intensity for which I craved. Instead, I have betrayed my curious adventurous nature in service of irrational fear. I have spent too many bright afternoons working, subsisting on cream cheese and jazz. I am afraid of something, though of what, I’m unsure.

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So I must re-establish my purpose, an unknown direction, to experience each droplet of experience, to lick the dew of life from each blade of grass. Lately, I have been a man abandoned on an island housing the last block of ice, and I have watched the ice become a puddle.

But today I tasted joy. I balanced on the spine of the Ulm wall as we searched for food. The wall slithers beside the wide river, a twin artery, one red and the other a greenish-blue. The sun came out to massage our necks we stared across the Danube into Bayern. Swans soared above the water’s surface, wide wing flaps slapping the river. In that moment, I too recalled what it meant to feel wonder, to look upon something for the first time.

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Moment arrive again and again when we must re-affirm our faith in the beauty of living. This is a religion with no holy book other than the days we inhale. We must be reminded often that life is worthy of our presence—our conscious presence—our sense of being in the now, now, now.

I do not wish to imply that I must be constantly astonished to escape doldrums, but rather that I search for meaning in the quiet moments. This may mean the boring-in-between, the train ride, the wait at the bus stop, the long afternoons eating and drinking, but, if we wish, we may reclaim these moments as grandiose. We may experience even the familiar as new. In the mind-frame of now, there exists no nostalgia for any time frame other than the present.

There is always time for joy, which stares refreshing like a sliver of ice on a sultry summer day. But joy is no feeling, like happiness; it is instead a practice, a habit that must each day be reinforced. So today I am practicing joy, even if I’m writing emails inside, even if I’m doing laundry, or even if I’m experiencing the myriad dull rituals of the day; I will look back to yesterday and recall wonder, and I must think, it’s that simple. It’s really that simple, to wait and appreciate, and know I will feel this awe again.

Derek Berry Discusses Process and Inspiration on “Echo Cast”

Take some time to check out this online radio interview with Chris Pendergrast on his show “Echo Cast.” I talked with him for approximately 10 minutes about my inspiration for poetry, the process of writing poems, and the particulars of the poem “Fork,” which came from a story concerning my speech impediment.

I also discuss the “Fun Home” controversy, Roberto Jones’ haven for artists, the meaning of truth in poems, and upcoming projects.

Other artists are also featured, and you should listen to their music and interviews as well. To hear me, go to minute 40 and take a listen. I am very excited to have made connections on Soundcloud and have begun to find a wider audience for my spoken word poems. Enjoy and make sure to comment.

You can find the interview here:

https://soundcloud.com/chris-pendergraft/echocast-show-3

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Also, make sure to check out Chris’s music here: https://soundcloud.com/chris-pendergraft

And his art here: http://chrispendergraft.deviantart.com/

 

Fighting Back: LGBT Rallies and Academic Freedom

1-fun-home-alison-bechdel-coverIn late February, South Carolina Representative Garry Smith punished the College of Charleston for its choice of College Reads! book, which was Alison Bechdel’s tragi-comic Fun Home. Although the state’s funds did not actually fund the College Reads! Program, the state legislature chose to cut $52,000 in funding to the College. This caused quite the kerfluffle among CofC students, including myself, who began a series of protests against the legislature’s decisions. This coincided also with the appointment of Glenn McConnell as College president after a politically dubious search process. On Monday, we held another protest, as Fun Home the Musical came to Charleston. Having watched the show myself, I hope it great success and also hope that the play helps spread the message of how homophobia can destroy people’s lives.

 

 

 

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I read the following poems at last Friday’s protests:

Several writers across the country have also spoken up about academic freedom, information for which you can find here: https://www.facebook.com/outloudsc

Find media on the protests and controversy here:

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/college-of-charleston-stages-fun-home-gay-themed-play-protest

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/23/us/for-genteel-college-of-charleston-an-unaccustomed-turmoil.html?_r=0

http://www.postandcourier.com/apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Site=CP&Date=20140421&Category=PC16&ArtNo=421009997&Ref=PH&Profile=1005&SectionCat=c-of-c-drama-continues-crowds-pack-memminger-for-controversial-fun-home

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/20/south-carolina-colleges-lgbt-books_n_4825489.html

http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/HaireoftheDog/archives/2014/04/19/the-last-gasp-of-the-lost-cause-and-the-mcconnell-cofc-controversy

http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/charleston/were-having-to-fight-our-asses-off-to-protect-academic-freedom/Content?oid=4905809

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/20/fun-home-college-of-charleston-_n_5181530.html

M.A.D. Studios Feature

Snapshot 7 (1-3-2014 5-53 PM)Met some great poets and reunited with old friends at last night’s show. We took a few photographs recently posted on the Facebook page. I personally left very satisfied with my performance, was glad to showcase a more mature performing style that’s evolved over the past year. Unfortunately, the camera had some glitches, but here’s the bit of video we did manage to retrieve, which shows two great performances of two poems that appear on “Perfect Nights.” And then there’s almost all of “Perfect Nights” as well.

Although I would have loved videos of other poems, this could not be. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to perform these again in the near future.

Enjoy!

 

“Fork,” by Derek Berry

A performance at the King Dusko open mic about speech therapy and the importance of having a voice. Written a lot of new poems, fortunately, that will soon flow forth on the mic. Check them out as well as my forthcoming chapbook entitled Skinny Dipping with Strangers.

Leave thoughts below or on Youtube video.

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First Feature Success

1391638_239826529509783_738692741_nLast night, I performed my first feature poetry show in front of a healthy crowd of friends, middle schoolers, and talented strangers. Following the 30-minute performance came an open mic and poetry slam. Two close friends will be featuring next time.  Unfortunately, we got zero video from the performance last night, but here are some videos from the previous Wednesday at Boone’s Bar. As a bonus, I’ve included a video from back in 2012. ” More videos will be posted on the blog soon, and until then, one may find them on my Youtube channel.

Bonus video I found on Youtube of me performing poetry in the twelfth grade at a Graduation Party:

 

Hotel Diaries: Friday Afternoon

On Fridays, the small British hotel managerimages (32)

rides the elevator constantly holding a coffee

with creamer and two sugars,

and she says, “You know what tonight is?”

 

The afternoon maid shrugs,

equally aware that Friday has arrived,

but might be less excited because she

must work on Saturday.

 

“It’s date night,” said the British manager,

biting her lip and raising her eyebrow to

infer something almost certainly sexual.

“I’m going to get it on.”

This latest statement confirmed

she did indeed, mean to suggest sex.

 

The afternoon maid shrugs,

and we all enter the elevator together,

and ride in silence down to the lobby.

This One Time in Cienfuegos

800px-Street_in_Cienfuegos_(4482)Well, I remember this one time, I ate ants. They had been crawling in the bread, every day that we sat for breakfast on the back porch that overlooked a sad garden and a cracked paved street that followed the ocean. We could watch the sunset in the evening atop the house in ancient metal rocking chairs, and we could drink rum every night if we wanted.

During the first night in the new town, I did not touch the bread. I spat the bread onto my plate and wrapped the chewed bread in a napkin; ants crawled through the dry porous innards of the slices. By day four, I ate the ants—I could not be bothered by the extra protein, so small, squirmy black specks. I pressed the bread against the ceramic plates to suck up warm egg and then munch on the bread.

We could see the horizon from there, the sea crashing against the rocks, and lovers striding up and down the lines that divided the domestic from the wild.

 

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