April 20, 2016

Split This Rock, 2016 — Saturday Sessions — April 16

DC Worker Poets Occupy the Mic

The 3 sessions on Saturday started at 9:30AM (each session had 7 to 8 different events) but I slept in. But I got to one of the 11:30 sessions, “DC Worker Poets Occupy the Mic” hosted by Mark Nowak & including Worker Poets of DC.

He introduced Christine Lewis from Domestic Workers United who was in D.C. for another conference & is active with the United Association for Labor Education.  She read us a couple of marvelous poems, the pantoum “The Price of Migration Equals Slave Labor” & the brightly descriptive “Trinidad,” where she is from.

Mark talked about his experience doing writing workshops for workers not only in the USA but also in South Africa, where there is a stronger tradition of worker education programs. He directed us to WorkerWriters.org for more information. Then he gave us a brief writing assignment, as he had done earlier with the DC worker poets, after reading & passing out copies of a poem by Lourdes Galván “Landscapes that Remind Me of My Children.” He then asked us to write about something in our own lives that the poem, with its theme of hunger, reminded us of (I wrote about an incident with a street person & lunch).

(left to right) Carina, Rocky, Olu, Urika, Mazeema, Mark
Next he brought up writers who had been in the earlier workshop to read what they had written in response to the same assignment.

Urika read “Smalltown USA.” [Not sure I got the spelling correct of each person’s name] Mazeema read a poem titled “Blueberries.” Rocky wrote about a Summer job with a carnival, “High Dive.” Carina wrote about her native country, “Panama is a Very Unique Country.” Olu, from the D.C. Nurses Union wrote about the power in her pen & in her stories, the anaphoric “Washington D.C.”

Not only some very good poetry, but a start on a poem of my own.

The Golden Shovel: Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks

The next session was in the same room, the Ballroom of the Beacon Hotel. "The Golden Shovel" is a form created by poet Terrance Hayes in which he uses the words of Gwendolyn Brooks' poem “We Real Cool” as the end words for the lines of his poem. Other poets have picked up the practice, a testament to the continuing influence of Brooks. The panel coordinator was Wesley Rothman.

Ravi Shankar read from his introduction to the forthcoming Golden Shovel Anthology, of which he is the editor, shedding a bit more light on this 21st Century form.

(left to right) Rothman, Umansky, Verlee,
Shankar, Butts
I was pleased to see Leah Umansky again; I’d met here at a reading she did last year in Saratoga with Barbara Ungar & Nancy White. She talked about the power & politics of Brooks & her work, of her great example for other women, & read “The Love Orphan” from her new book.

Wesley Rothman talked about The Shawshank Redemption & about the criminal justice system, then read his Golden Shovel “Justice.”

Jeanann Verlee read Brooks’ “Song in the Front Yard,” & read her Golden Shovel based on that poem, “Careful the Blood.”

Reginald Dwayne Butts’ Golden Shovel was based on Brooks’ "Gay Chaps at the Bar."

The discussion afterwards clarified that any poet’s work can be used, & it could be an entire poem, or just a stanza, or a line that gets encoded in the Golden Shovel. I’ll give it try, perhaps on the Langston Hughes line from which Split This Rock gets its name — but don’t ask for it just yet.

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