April 16, 2016

Split This Rock, 2016 — Thursday Sessions — April 14

Celebrating the Poetry of Pat Parker

A beautiful day in the nation’s capitol for the beginning of Split This Rock 2016 & signing-in is always a time for hugs, greeting old friends, & getting introduced to new ones. As always there are more sessions of interest than there are ways for me to be at more than one. At the last minute I switched over to a session titled “Celebrating the Poetry of Pat Parker” mainly because I wasn’t familiar with her life & work.

The panel was chaired by Cheryl Clarke who introduced Parker’s work by reading from her long poem “Women’s Slaughter.” Parker (1944 - 1989) was a black, lesbian feminist poet, active in Oakland CA.  While her books are currently out-of-print there is a planned edition of her collected works coming out later this year.

Kazim Ali read from his essay on Parker & her work from the Journal of Lesbian Studies, & read from her book Jonestown & Other Madness. He pointed out that Parker was involved with publishing other writers whose work would likely have been lost. He talked about how there was little or no separation between Parker’s writing about her personal life & the larger world of social activism.

Bettina Judd said she was introduced to Parker’s work by an essay by Cheryl Clarke. She read Parker’s short poem “Brother” & another section from “Women’s Slaughter,” commenting on Parker’s writing on domestic violence, & her work with women’s health issues in the Oakland community. You can find one of Judd’s poems here.

The discussion that followed centered on the issue of community & the changes due to economics & other factors over the years, & the need to continue to get the work out of marginalized/unknown writers.

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from this paradise into the next: Tributes to Poets Lost Since Split This Rock 2014

This was not the session I had intended to go to either, but I happened to read the list of names in the back of the festival program of poets who had gone since the last STR & saw that it included that of Albany’s own Paul Weinman. I asked Sarah Browning about it but she wasn’t familiar with Paul or how his name got on the list. I could not find any of Paul’s poems online (not surprising, since all of his work was published in ephemeral small-press zines in the days just before the internet), but at least my photos are there.

Sarah chaired the session, with the goal of creating a cento composed of lines from the poets honored, & beginning with the line from Francisco X. Alarcón (1954 - 2016) mountains/will speak/for you//rain/will flesh/your bones. Kim Roberts paid tribute to Belle Waring (1951 - 20115), who had read at the 1st Split This Rock, by reading Waring’s poem “The Forgery,” about an incident in the emergency room where she had worked as an RN, & Karen Alenier read “Roman du Poisson.” Kit Bonson read Eduardo Galeano’s short poem “The Body.” Kazim Ali brought C.D. Wright (1949 - 2016) into the room with her poem “Crescent.”

In lieu of a poem by Paul Weinman I talked a little about his work & told abut a few of the string of many anecdotes I could’ve told, grateful for the chance to do this. Others read poems by Justin Chin (1969 - 2015), & Maya Angelou (1928 - 2014). John Rosenwald talked about the tax-resistor work of Henry Braun (1930 - 2014) & of Galway Kinnell (1927 - 2014), Kazim read Galway’s poem “Vapor Trail Reflected in the Frog Pond” & Jeffrey Davis read “St. Francis & the Sow.”

Sarah returned to Francisco X. Alarcón to read his poem “Prayer,” then brought poet Jose “Joe” Gouveia into the room, reading the quote printed in the Split This Rock program, “Let us embrace our joys now, impatient for an end that comes as slowly as a single bare footstep against the wild fields” & recalling a memorable panel discussion with Joe on the topic of poetry rants.

A woman from South Africa talked about a little-known rural South African activist poet who has gone, Mafika Gwala. Another poet brought in was Carolyn Kizer (1925 -2014).

Sarah read the cento that had been constructed & said it would be posted (eventually) on SplitThisRock.org, but in the meantime, here is the photo of it.

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