April 4, 2014

Split This Rock Poetry Festival, Saturday March 29 — Panel

Poet’s Forum: How Political Engagement Affects the Writing Process

I only made it to this one panel today, held in the Beacon Hotel in a packed conference room, first thing on a Saturday morning. The panel was moderated by Split This Rock Board Member Dan Vera & each participant read their poem(s) from the March 2014 Poetry, with some basic comments then the discussion was opened for the audience with questions & comments.

Eduardo Corral, Yusef Komunyakaa

Eduardo C. Corral read “To Juan Do #234,” explaining that he was raised in southern Arizona & that the newspaper stories he read about the bodies of undocumented immigrants sneaking into the US found dead in the desert used similar language to that used to describe cooking. Later, he commented that “one word can collapse Time & Space.”

Yusef Komunyakaa read “Envoy to Palestine” with its reference to the the late, great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. The poem “relies on images, images are subversive” Koumunyakaa said. Later he also read “The African Burial Ground.” In remarks later he said “language is political,” that “the surprises in language is what spurs me on.” He talked about walking & dreaming at the same time, that it’s “a kind of beckoning.”

Claudia Rankine, Dunya Mikhail
In the March Poetry, Claudia Rankine is represented by 5 sections from a longer work, “Citizen.” At first she read just one section set in Starbucks, commenting that she is exploring “how we get a jury to say it’s OK to kill black men.” Later, Dan Vera asked her to read another section. Regarding the style of “Citizen” she said she wrote the poem thinking of ordinary speech, of dialogue, thus wrote it in prose format. She said, “the poetry is in the feeling.”

Dunya Mikhail’s “Tablets” was originally written in Arabic & in the Arabic printed version had illustrations, like the ancient Sumerian tablets. When it is printed in book form it will have the illustrations, she said. As a young person in Iraq she was warned daily by her mother not to talk politics. In Iraq, Mikhail explained “one word can cost your life.” She also pointed out that in Arabic the root of the word “feeling” & of the word “poetry” are the same.

Early in the comment period Split This Rock Director Sarah Browning praised the new editor of Poetry for printing this issue of Split This Rock poets & for honoring the diversity of style that has been an essential element of this Festival since the beginning. She urged us all to send them poetry & to keep the magazine pointed in this direction.

The modern technology of smart phones & tablets has added a new dimension to how the audience takes notes. Many of us still used pens notebooks of varying sizes & designs. I noticed a few poets with what looked like hand-made art notebooks; I used a tattered 5x7 spiral notebook my daughter had brought back from Shanghai a number of years ago. There were a number of folks with pocket-sized Moleskin notebooks, one woman using her tablet as a writing table as she wrote in her notebook. But the annoying aspect of new technology also raised its ugly little head — a woman across the aisle from me, who also sneezed & blew her nose loudly during the reading, took notes on a tablet with an audible click to the keyboard, visibly annoying the man in front of me who kept glaring at her. She was oblivious & self-absorbed in her note-taking & he did not say anything to her. It was like a high-tech version of someone loudly & incessantly clicking their ball-point pen.

At this point I was over-whelmed with notes & photos & wanted to get them at least on my computer, if not up online on my Blog & Flickr! site. So i took the next 2 sessions off, knowing full well there were 2 Featured Readings later in the afternoon & evening. Stay tuned for those reports.

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