May 29, 2018
It was a grand gathering of mostly local poets, with notable exceptions, Martin Willitts Jr. who drove over from Syracuse to read his First Place poem “Open Wounds,” about the trauma of war & its aftermath, & Hannah Bleier, a Finalist, who came up from Brooklyn to read her poem “The Word” & said she hoping to find the kind of experience that she did indeed find here.
I’ve included graphics of both the list of Contest Awards and Finalists, & the program of the reading itself, but will mention some of the highlights. Howard Kogan read “The Selective Lad” by Okere Godsent of Lagos, Nigeria which won the “Kogan/Wilcox International Award;” when Bob was telling us about the entries he was receiving from around the world, sometime after President Trump talked about “shit-hole countries,” both Howard & I, separately, suggested that Bob have a separate award for a poet from one of Trump’s disparaged countries/continents, thus the award for Okere Godsent.
Maroula Blades from Berlin, Germany was so thrilled by her High Honorable Mention for her poem “Thembi’s Initiation” that she sent a recording of her reading the poem which Bob played, a grim pantoum on female genital mutilation. Bob Sharkey read Olivia McKee’s “Antimony” & Mary Panza read Rebecca Schumejda’s 3rd place poem “Then He Begged Me to Go Back with Him and Rescue the Others,” both poets were at paid readings elsewhere. Mary also read her own Honorable Mention “I want you to know/ I was raped.” Nancy Klepsch read a couple of Honorable Mention poems, Chidinma Opaigbeogu’s “Afternoon” about the war in Biafra, & Lani O’Hanlon’s (from Waterford, Ireland) “Until the Young are Reared.”
I had the honor of reading with Bob Sharkey the 2nd Place poem by Richard Foerster, “The Hours,” a description of a usual work day using the monk’s canonical hours as a structure (originally published in Poetry).
Some poets who made rare appearances reading in Albany were Ken Holland reading “Boom Times at the Shake Shanty,” Jodi Ackerman Frank who read “I Survived,” & Mary Kathryn Jablonski with a revised version of a moving, whimsical poem I’d heard her read at Caffè Lena “On Hearing that Crayola is Retiring Dandelion.”
Speaking of poems I’ve heard previously at open mics, there was Paul Amidon with “The Three Kings” about schoolmates going off to war, Kathleen Smith reading “Rhapsody in Blue, Playing at the Egg in Albany,” & Sylvia Barnard read an archeological poem “Cat Print.” Mimi Moriarty read her poem about a poet struggling with immortality “A Poet Who Cannot Support Himself Takes a Job Pouring Cement.”
Bob introduced each poet & poem by reading the bios the poets submitted & their statement about their influences, poetic & otherwise. He also shared with us his memory of knowing Stephen A. DiBiase, & ended the reading with excerpts from the longest entry to the contest, a poem by Sylvia Anne Telfer from Scotland “Warp Wolves.”
All us, winners & other entrants, are most grateful to Bob Sharkey & his coterie of judges who made such a reading possible -- & we are looking forward to once again entering out "best" poem to this now annual event.
May 22, 2018
There is a new regime at the NYS Writers’ Institute & while they continue to bring world-class writers to UAlbany they are reaching deeper into our own writing community to bring the talents there to the audiences that attend these free events. Tonight’s reading by prize-winning poet David Tomas Martinez was the next-to-last in the semester’s (& season’s) impressive lineup.
I for one am looking forward to the new season of the NYS Writers Institute, particularly if they continue under the Directorship of Paul Grondahl to bring in local writers to share the stage with the A-list writers that the Writers Institute is renowned for bringing in to our community. Check out their website & support the good work they do.
[Note: I recognize that I may not have gotten the spelling correct for all the names of the student readers; corrections are welcome & may be noted in the comments section of this Blog, from which I will make corrections to the text.]
Fresh from the poetic intensity of Split This Rock I was glad to be back at the poetry venues I am used to, among the poets I enjoy, hearing their poems, & back at McGeary’s on the last Monday with Mary Panza keeping it real, or thereabouts.
I was first up for the open mic & read my homage “Golden Shovel for Split This Rock,” then, still on the poetry theme, “Dot Dot Dot” (the ellipsis poem). Joe Krausman’s poems were inspired by what he read in the morning papers, “Sunny Side Up” & “Lawrence Pope” about a former bank president who became a bank robber. Bob Sharkey read about the fairies on “Surrey Hill,” then a poem, “Siege,” influenced by one submitted to the DiBiase Contest reading.
on her website. Robb Smith read one of his salacious grannie-porn stories, this about retirees partying at a casino.
Back to the open mic, stalwart Sylvia Barnard read John Keat’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” to introduce her own poem based on a text from ancient Greek that she teaches, “The Owl on the Water Jug.” Shannon Shoemaker tried out a poem-in-progress (isn’t that what open mic are for?) “Straight Girl Blues.”
As so often happens when Poets Speak Loud! at McGeary’s on the last Monday of the month, a wonderful mixed bag of poets & poetry.
May 21, 2018
you want to join this poetic intervention in the public space? where you
sweat in morning yoga with Kazim, with Susan, with Yael the curly yogini, hear
poets you’ve only read, see poets you’ve never seen before, hear this
conscience of poetry Sister Sonia chant, I say Peace is my Hammer
poetry is a verb, Money’s not speech, Centos bounce off the pillars of power, ring
the bells of Congress, the White House, then love bombs I’m
dropping on Dupont Circle with Kelsey, John, Melissa, Martha, Katie & Sunu, gonna
be in 3 places at once to hear biker poets, professors, street poets, split
myself to hear Carolyn, Alice as if she were President, & share Naomi’s cookies, this
is how we leap from insight to the poem, how we buzzz with Tiffany’s bees, rock
with Regie wrapped in his boa, snap with the DC slam poets, and
worker poets, the poetic army of staff & volunteers, even poets who have split
to the beyond: June Jordan, Paul Weinman, Mahmoud Darwish, Jayne Cortez it
is always that there are more dead each year, gathered in words & photos wide
angle, close up from Jill in torn jeans & Kristen, & new tee-shirts when
we arrive from Susan, Jaime, I look for Greg, Sonja, mark my program & I
find old poets I never knew, new voices in print on stage, make River Flags, split
time for listening, find Nathaniel’s wall numbers, hear Martin say this
is a rant, because the title is long, these words meant not to rock
us to sleep but to shake us loose, disrupt Joe says, the old story, shout, stand
& applaud, hear Anne urge find projects to inspire, don’t be paralyzed by
the problem, Ocean: every poem a new beginning, Jennifer: my
whole life is a political poem — hammering with Langston by our side.
(The idea for this poem came at the 2016 Split This Rock from a workshop on the new poetic form invented by Terrance Hayes "golden shovel" & it was completed late in 2017. The line of poetry which the end words form is from the Langston Hughes poem, "Big Buddy," from which the Split This Rock festival gets its name.)
May 20, 2018
The DC Youth Poet was Aniyah Smith who did a moving tribute to her Cuban grandmother, with some lines sung in Spanish, yet another stunning poem by a young poet in the DC Youth poetry program.
Keno Evol was the 2017 winner of the Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest, & he read his winning poem “on meeting a brother for the first time” on police violence & shootings in Chicago.
"A modern Orpheus: sent to hell, he never returned, while his widow searched across one sixth of the earth’s surface, clutching the saucepan with his songs rolled up inside, memorizing them by night in case they were found by Furies with a search warrant."It is a long poem, the equivalent of 8 printed book pages, rich in images from history, Russian poets & politics, read in a singing/chant adding even more magic to the words.
|D. Vera, R. Cabico, S. Scheid, S. Browning, J Green|
you brought us
all together —
like words forever linked
in the silken weave
After all this, all these days, there was a late-night 10th Anniversary Party, with DJ Mane Squeeze, & a cash bar, & I was still meeting new people I haven’t met before. But this old poet was so full of these 3 days I needed to get back to the streets of DC, let the memory of the words & spirit & images soak in.
It will be a long 2 years until the next Split This Rock!
May 17, 2018
While sufficient unto itself this reading also served as a prelude to the finale of the festival, the reading later in the evening. So I wandered off to find The Pig, a pork-themed restaurant, for a quiet dinner.
May 15, 2018
When I arrived back at the National Housing Center Atrium this morning the Split This Rock Social Change Book Fair was in progress, 20 plus small presses were tabling. The last thing I need is more (unread) books on my coffee table, night stand, the table next to my reading chair, my dresser, you get the point. But as Oscar Wilde famously said, “The only way to get rid of temptation is to give in to it” — I picked up a couple of free-bees, bought an edgy zine from Melanationzine.com, & books by Dan Vera & Sister Sonia from the Busboys & Poets store. Saw Albany poet Dawn Marar struggling with the same book-addiction demons.
Sherwin Bitsui read the selections from Dissolve that were printed in Poetry, rich images glistening from the natural world with “Scalp blood” & “pierced cloud” “crackling in the past tense.”
Sharon Olds read the very NYC “Poem Which Talks Back to Itself” (for Etan Paltz), & “How It Felt” looking back to being 12 years old, both from Poetry.
Paul Tran was certainly the most colorfully dressed, in a bright red dress with black lace trim; they read from Poetry the poem “Scientific Method,” written in the voice of a laboratory monkey.
I remember Sister Sonia Sanchez in a red beret starting off the 1st Split This Rock reading from a table top at Busboys & Poets, & 10 years later her energy was just as inspiring, reading her “Haiku & Tanka for Harriet Tubman” from the April Poetry, using the printed text like chord changes for a jazz tune, repeating lines, titles, singing, clicking & popping — when I grow up I want to read like her.
Sarah remarked that History is very recent. Sister Sonia said people do change, as time goes on, we do move forward.
Sharon talked about learning about rhythm & dance from inside the mother.
I was most comforted by Sister Sonia’s reply to a question from the audience about struggling to write, that we’re always writing, it’s just not always on paper (I often talk about my writing process being one of composting, or percolating, until the words burst forth on the page).
I was struck by the serious tone of the conversation, but a tone different from the discussion of academics & the vaunting of the role of the “Poet,” here the seriousness was about the issues & the work before us, so very Split This Rock.
May 12, 2018
NYS Writers Institute back in February 2016, where I was first introduced to his work. He writes long poems, steeped in his native culture (he is Diné of the Tódi’chii’nii clan & is born for the Tlizillani’ clan). He began with an introduction in his native language, then a long, descriptive section from Flood Song (Copper Canyon). Then he read from a new work, Dissolve, coming out in October, another long piece, richly descriptive, with vivid, sometimes surreal images, including the marvelous phrase “to window the past … to door the future.” The poems were deeply connected to his family, his ancestors & the land upon which they live(d).
While these readings are part of the Festival, they are also free & open to the public -- what a great gift of poetry to the DC community from Split This Rock.
May 7, 2018
Back to the National Housing Center Auditorium for a panel titled Don’t You Hear This Hammer Ring? Stories from Split This Rock’s Founding, with Sarah Browning, Melissa Tuckey, Regie Cabico & moderated by Tope Folarin. Fortunately, this session was videotaped, because you can’t rely on me for a full report, I was so enthralled to hear these folks talk. Also there is a brief, informative summary of the history of Split This Rock in the program. Regarding the origins of STR in 2006, it says,
DC-area poet-activists — led by Sarah Browning, Melissa Tuckey, and Regie Cabico from DC Poets Against the War & Sol y Soul — began to imagine a national gathering, based in part on the overwhelming response from poets to calls for participation in national anti-war marches. They formed a festival coordinating committee, chose the date for the event — to coincide with the 5th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq in March 2008 — & found the name “Split This Rock” in the poem “Big Buddy” by Langston Hughes.Organizing continued into 2007, including publicizing the upcoming festival at the AWP conference that year. Sarah noted that every poet they invited to feature at the inaugural 2008 festival said yes, 26 poets were featured, at a point where they had no money yet, & even a month before the start there were no venues. Over 250 poets & activists attended the festival in March 2008. The response was so positive that planning was started for a 2nd festival, as well as broadening the organization to one dedicated to the promotion of social justice poetry, not just the festivals. Sarah noted that Adrienne Rich was one of the poets invited to feature at the 2008 festival, but she was unable to attend. However, she made a generous donation to STR & threw her support behind it.
Each of the panelists also made a short list of poets who have inspired them in this project, & read a poem, admitting, as to be expected, that there was a lot of cross-over of their inspirations. Sarah mentioned Martin Espada, Lucille Clifton, & Sam Hamill, & read Naomi Shihab Nye’s “A Dictionary in the Dark.” Melissa’s poets were June Jordan, Adrienne Rich, & Lucille Clifton, & read Clifton’s “Blessing the Boats.” Regie talked about Essex Hemphill, his poem “American Wedding,” Sandra Cisneros, & read Joy Harjo’s “Don’t Bother the Earth Spirit.”
As a result of the Split This Rock festival I eventually brought both Sarah Browning & Melissa Tuckey to Albany for Poets in the Park, & met other wonderful poets, such as Karen Skolfield who read twice in Albany, Susan Brennan who also read, & more that I will try to get here in the future. & the festival has constantly reinforced my commitment to both the art of poetry & the necessity of activism.
Poetry of Praise: Reclaiming Religion and Spirituality for the Resistance was a panel held at the Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Memorial Hall on 17th St. I chose this over others mainly because I like to think of myself as a spiritual, yet anti-religious, person (as a “Buddhist Anarchist Church-burner” as I’ve been wont to say).
|Sunu P. Chandy|
Kazim Ali read his poem “Golden Boy” & talked about growing up in a remote Canadian town, being smart, & different.
|Letta Neely, Marie Varghese, Kazim Ali|
While I anticipated enjoying this panel discussion I was pleased with the unexpected directions to which the poems & conversation took me, & the cultural/spiritual diversity in which this took place. I guess this is why I keep coming back to this festival.
May 2, 2018
At each Split This Rock festival there is a political action at one of the branches of government. Over the years we have been at them all, but most often at the White House -- after all it is the most stinky seat of power. This Friday morning we were back in Lafayette Park across from the White House on the day of a student walkout to commemorate the shootings in Columbine, CO 19 years ago today. We take our inspiration from the students & Split This Rock organized Louder Than a Gun: a Poem for Our Lives.
We took our turns on the stage, then joined students who were gathering nearby in the park. After brief speeches, the students laid down on the grass under the trees, or sat & held each other for 19 minutes of silence for the years since Columbine & all the dead students since then.
There are no famous poets here, just the students, rising up, creating change. Which is what Split This Rock fosters.
May 1, 2018
The evening readings at Split This Rock are open free to the public & are the only events where all the conference attendees gather together. Danez Smith (member of the STR Board of Directors) & Dan Vera (one of the planners of this year’s festival) had fun hosting the night’s reading.
Another tradition is to play a recording of one of the gone poets & tonight it was of the Central American poet Claribel Algería, a great activist as well.
I could have left & come back to Albany at the end of the 1st day of Split This Rock, I felt so filled with the spirit of the festival, but there were 2 more days to come, I had to stick around.