April 8, 2014

Split This Rock Poetry Festival, Sunday March 30 — Featured Reading

The final reading of this year’s Split This Rock Poetry Festival, back one more time in the National Geographic Auditorium, on a rainy Sunday morning, tired & exhilarated, inspired & spurred on. Melissa Tuckey, member of the Split This Rock Board of Directors & Planning Committee was our tender host, began with a reading of Langston Hughes’s poem “Big Buddy” from which the name “Split This Rock” came —
Don’t you hear this hammer ring?
I’m gonna split this rock
and split it wide!
When I split this rock,
stand by my side.
Today we remembered poet Wanda Coleman (1946 - 2013) with a recording of her reading her poem “Angel Baby Blues.”

The first poet was a member of the DC Youth Slam Team Reina Privado reciting a moving, tender & bitter-sweet poem “How To Wear Your Mother’s Lipstick” — & her mother was there in the audience to greet Reina after her reading. It was difficult to take my eyes off them just 2 rows in front of me. Still another young poet “at the beginning of a great career” as Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote to Walt Whitman.

Natalie Diaz greeted us in her Mojave language, then said she was going to read just love poems today. The poems she read were lush with images of fruits (apples & figs) & tasting & bodies, beginning with “Towards the Amaranth of Love or War,” then a sexy poem of watching her lover eat an apple, then “The Bells of Prague,” “These Hands If Not God’s” & “Ode to the Beloved’s Hips” like bells, like songs, anatomy & fruit — after that we all needed a cigarette (even those of us who no longer smoke)!

Sheila Black began with an explanation of her disability, which I won’t even begin to write about except that it forms a backdrop to her poetry, sometimes distant, sometimes right up there. Her first poem, “Migrant,” was a portrait of a woman set in southern New Mexico. Frida Kahlo, she said, was her first “disability pin-up" & she read “Los Dos Fridas, or Script for the Erased” about “being welcomed into the club of people” after corrective surgery. “My Mission Is To Surprise & Delight” was a poem about her daughter working at the Apple store (the title from her daughter’s tee-shirt). “Borrowed Light Here in the 20th Century” was an anti-war piece, while “How to Influence Dreams” was a poem written to her “Capitalist alternative side.” She ended with a poem of little images of driving through Texas with her youngest daughter, “Travels with Eliza.”

Shailja Patel was introduced as a Kenyan poet & activist. Her first piece was a collage of quotes from news accounts of Obama joking about drones, & her reading the names of children killed by US drones in Pakistan, the names written on a styrofoam cup in the same manner that prisoners at Guantanamo prison passed around poems. Her 2nd poem had an equally ironic twist, based on Twitter posts on gay rights/human rights. She also read briefly from her poetry book Migritude, “First States in Utopia” then recited a piece mixing Kenyan politics & a love song to a beloved, “Offering.” She ended with a piece from her Slam period “For the Verbal Masturbators” mixing dick jargon & politics.

And suddenly (or not) that was it for Split This Rock 2014. Melissa ended with thanks to, well, everyone & words from our Elder Adrienne Rich while we all held hands & there were even tears, like the rain outside.

I’m already looking forward to the 2016 Split This Rock — come join us.

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