April 18, 2016

Split This Rock, 2016 — Friday Sessions — April 15

A Public Action — Take Poetry to the Streets

There is always a public action at each Split This Rock festival, & this year it was titled “Take Poetry to the Streets!” Or, as Sarah Browning called it, “dropping poetic love-bombs on the streets of the nation’s capital.” Prior to the event we were encouraged to write a poem “of love & welcome” or to find one by another poet that we would then read on the streets.

I was asked to be one of the group leaders, & led a group of 7 to the area around the Metro station at Dupont Circle to read our poems, & to hand out flyers that contained a poem or an excerpt of a poem as well as information about the festival. I re-wrote my old poem “Labels & Names” for the broader message of love & welcome & had made copies to hand out to the other readers & on the street. My fellow poets were Kelsay May, John Rosenwald, Melissa Tuckey, Martha Collins, Katie, & Sunu with her young granddaughter, Satya, who did not read poems but helped with the flyers.

As with most street actions like this, most people rushed by on their way to work or appointments with little acknowledgment of what we were doing, but one fellow in a blue Bernie Sanders tee-shirt stood with us & listened to the readings.  While some folks refused to take the flyer, others grabbed it on the fly, some did a quick glance at the flyer & the readers, & one person said, “Split This Rock? I love Split This Rock!” But we love-poem bombed the streets of D.C.

Then back to headquarters for more poetry.

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

Ocean Vuong, Arcelis Girmay, Martha Collins,
Jennifer Bartlett & Lindsay Garbutt
Down to the AFL-CIO building for a reading of by Split This Rock poets published in the April 2016 issue of Poetry magazine (each person registered for the festival got a copy). Sarah Browning introduced Lindsay Garbutt, Assistant Editor of Poetry magazine, who served as the moderator.

First to read was Jennifer Bartlett, a disability activist, poet & biographer of the late poet Larry Eigner. I recall reading a piece by Jennifer on Larry Eigner in a Poetry issue last year. She read from her poem “The Hindrances of a Householder” in the Split This Rock Poetry issue.

Martha Collins was a familiar face & voice from past Split This Rock festivals, who writes on race issues from a white, middle-class perspective. Her poem, “Leaving Behind (November 2015),” from the journal, was a segment from a multi-year project to write about each month of the year, each section of the poem about a day of the month, & with the last word in each day’s section becoming the first word in the next day’s section.

Arcelis Girmay read her poem, “to the sea,” from the journal, in an afterworld sea, with references to Pushkin’s black great grandfather. She also read the last section of her poem “The Black Maria” (she had read the 1st section at last night’s feature reading).

Ocean Vuong read both of his poems from the journal, “A Toy Boat” & “A Little Closer to the Edge” (about, as he said, “witnessing” his parents from the time before he was born).

In the discussion & questions that followed on the topic of political poems, poets & audience members referenced a wide-range of poets: Denise Levertov, Gwendolyn Brooks, Emily Dickinson, Robert Hayden, Walt Whitman, Jean Valentine, Larry Eigner, & Charles Olson.

Jennifer Bartlett said, “my whole life is a political poem,” while Ocean Vuong said that every poem he writes is like a new beginning.

A Preview Reading from Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Anthology

Martin Espada, Ross Gay, Tiffany Higgins,
Craig Santos Peres & Emmy Perez
Back again later to the AFL-CIO building for this reading by poets whose work is to be included in the forthcoming anthology of eco-justice poems, edited by Split This Rock co-founder Melissa Tuckey who served as moderator. She referenced the January 2016 issue of Poetry magazine that includes a number of poems by poets on this panel, with an introductory essay by Melissa. To start, she read Lucille Clifton’s poem “Generation,” & her own poem “Magnitude.”

Ross Gay had read last night & his poems this afternoon were just as exuberant, just as grounded in the earth, such as the poem “To the Fig Tree on 9th & Christian” or the one about putting his father’s ashes in a hole to plant a tree in.

Emmy Pérez read a ghazal, mixing Spanish & English, from a project centered on the Rio Grande, then another also on water issues, “Staying in the Flood.” After her own poems she read Linda Hogan’s “Milk;” Linda had been scheduled to read at the festival, & was included in the April Split This Rock issue of Poetry, but she had to cancel attending due to health issues.

Tiffany Higgins read from the January 2016 Poetry, first her translation from the Portuguese of Angélica Freitas’ poem “microwave,” then a electric reading of her own poem “Dance, Dance, While the Hive Collapses” complete with eery buzzing sounds. She is an environmental activist who later this year will be heading to Brazil to work against the flurry of dam-building happening there.

Craig Santos Perez had also read last night, in which he got the audience involved in the performance of the poem, & started off his reading this afternoon with a thank-you list poem “Thanksgiving in the Anthropocene” which included the audience holding hands & repeating lines from the poem. He read poems about the Cyclone Winston, another about the elephants, then “Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015” included in the April 2016 Poetry.

Martin Espada read the Spanish then an English translation of a poem titled “Los Rios” by a Latin American poet, then his own poem on “the colonization of the mind” about visiting Puerto Rico as a young boy, & a poem about a worker in the field poisoned by pesticides, “Federico’s Ghost.”

In the time left Melissa kept Linda Hogan in the room by reading Hogan’s poem “Bamboo.”

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