March 31, 2014

SPLIT This Rock: A Poetic Strategy for Audience

The conclusion of the 2014 Split This Rock Poetry Festival was a deluge of poetry readings which were all free and open to the public. The Dresser thinks this is brilliant strategy because toward the end of any conference audience dwindles because there are matters of life--and death--to address. Here are the lineups but the Dresser, being only human, will focus on the Saturday night event, which turned out to be a surprising show of creative energy.

#1 Saturday afternoon March 29
DC Youth Slam Team Member Lauren May
Eduardo C. Corral, Gayle Danley, Claudia Rankine, Myra Sklarew

#2 Saturday evening March 29
DC Youth Slam Team Member Thomas Hill
Franny Choi, Yusef Komunyakaa, Wang Ping

#3 Sunday morning March 30
DC Youth Slam Team Member Reina Privado
Sheila Black, Natalie Diaz, Shilja Patel


RegieBackbend.jpgSaturday night, the sui generis performance artist and poet Regie Cabico moderated--well, no, there was nothing moderate about his flamboyant style of dancing the poets on and off the stage. RegieCabicoClose.jpgThe young spoken word poet Thomas Hill opened with his performance of "Sunday Morning," a piece about his mother that includes this devastating line "I keep her company in the art of hating herself."ThomasHill.jpg

Next up so as not to be upstaged by the performances that followed came the scholar, professor, and prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa. Standing at the lectern, he began with the poem "Ode to the Oud," that "gourd shaped muse." He closed with:

YusefK.jpgISLANDS
by Yusef Komunyakaa
For Derek Walcott

An island is one great eye
... gazing out, a beckoning lighthouse,
searchlight, a wishbone compass,
... or counterweight to the stars.
When it comes to outlook & point
... of view, a figure stands on a rocky ledge
peering out toward an archipelago
... of glass on the mainland, a seagull's
wings touching the tip of a high wave,
... out to where the brain may stumble.

But when a mind climbs down
... from its high craggy lookout
we know it is truly a stubborn thing,
... & has to leaf through pages of dust
& light, through pre-memory & folklore,
... remembering fires roared down there
till they pushed up through the seafloor
... & plumes of ash covered the dead
shaken awake worlds away, & silence
... filled up with centuries of waiting.

Sea urchin, turtle, & crab
... came with earthly know-how,
& one bird arrived with a sprig in its beak,
... before everything clouded with cries,
a millennium of small deaths now topsoil
... & seasons of blossoms in a single seed.
Light edged along salt-crusted stones,
... across a cataract of blue water,
& lost sailors' parrots spoke of sirens,
... the last words of men buried at sea.

Someone could stand here
... contemplating the future, leafing
through torn pages of St. Augustine
... or the prophecies by fishermen,
translating spore & folly down to taproot.
... The dreamy-eyed boy still in the man,
the girl in the woman, a sunny forecast
... behind today, but tomorrow's beyond
words. To behold a body of water
... is to know pig iron & mother wit.

Whoever this figure is,
... he will soon return to dancing
through the aroma of dagger's log,
... ginger lily, & bougainvillea,
between chants & strings struck
... till gourds rally the healing air,
& till the church-steeple birds
... fly sweet darkness home.
Whoever this friend or lover is,
... he intones redemptive harmonies.

To lie down in remembrance
... is to know each of us is a prodigal
son or daughter, looking out beyond land
... & sky, the chemical & metaphysical
beyond falling & turning waterwheels
... in the colossal brain of damnable gods,
a Eureka held up to the sun's blinding eye,
... born to gaze into fire. After conquering
frontiers, the mind comes back to rest,
... stretching out over the white sand.

Continue reading "SPLIT This Rock: A Poetic Strategy for Audience" »

March 30, 2014

Split This Rock: New Political Poetries & Drama

Everyone the Dresser encountered at the 2014 Split This Rock Poetry Festival said this STR Festival (the fourth) was the best he or she had attended. Top on the list of compliments was those panelists were so prepared and had compelling content. Case in point was this workshop attended March 29:

Witnessing New Political Poetries: Documentation, Intertextuality & Hybridity
Michael Broek, Michelle Chan Brown, Jehanne Dubrow, Suzanne Parker

As moderator Michael Broek posed this question as the point of engagement for the panel: What obligations do we have to ourselves as writers and to our readers when it comes to our subject matter.

SP-JD.jpgSuzanne Parker, who described herself as female, queer, and liberal said she didn't think of herself as a political poet. She thought political poetry was didactic and had no sense of humor. However, she wrote Viral, a book of poetry about Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old college student who committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate webcammed Clementi kissing another man.

Addressing the purpose of the panel Parker said, "poetry that reports needs to be accurate." Then she asked, what are the obligations and boundaries? How do we build bridge between the writer and the subject? In the case of this suicide, this was a boy just discovering his sexuality. There is a big question of responsibility because this is "writing that hitches a ride on the suffering of others." She said this story haunted her and she had to figure out how the material could be handled credibly. She also said writing about such a topic requires permission.

She said she had to craft a variety of strategies to work with this story. One of the rules she made for herself was not use the word I--no first person point of view. Initially, she wrote none of the poems in the voice of story's protagonist because she felt that approach was too invasive. She asked herself, how does a writer look at tragedy of others without becoming a peeping tom? Her solution was to use many voices to cloak the victim. She said this strategy of access made for a certain level of empathy. However, Parker's critics said that Tyler has to speak otherwise she was showing her own fears. Here is a poem from Viral:

SPLASH

The body has longed for this:

to dress in slightly more fitted clothes,

take the keys, drive for many miles,

pay for gas, tolls, parking, and the $8 beer

held like an anchor against the tides. 

On a bar top, a man, stripped to underwear,

varnished with sweat, moves his hips

as if pressing them into tomorrow,

wraps an arm like a caress

around his face-- here,

where there are only men.

It's the thick callous

on the man's palm against

the back of the body's neck,

a place hidden as a fort

built in high, swaying branches. 

They are in a bar and a man is wet

from the bucket raining down,

a hundred shatters of light

splashing the crowd's desire. His hand

moves to the open stretch of the body's chest,

pulls it toward: "Kiss me here.

Kiss me here and here and here

and--. Don't stop. Don't ever."

-- Suzanne Parker


Jehanne Dubrow spoke about how she is currently writing her mother's story. Her mother came from a Jewish Latino background that includes family lost in the Holocaust and an episode of being held hostage by a criminally insane man. Like Suzanne Parker, Dubrow feels use of the first person I is not workable. Her reason is she feels this point of view manipulates the audience but she said she still takes that risk by using "my mother."Dubrow.jpg

Dubrow's strategy for this set of poems is different from how she usually writes. She usually writes in form but She felt rhyme scheme would be offensive to this subject matter. Poems as reportage--a prose poem that looks like a newspaper column--are how she decided to work. Here is an example:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 9.49.18 PM.png

-- Jehanne Dubrow

Michelle Chan Brown, as the daughter of a diplomat, has learned the strategies of such a privileged life. She says in her book Double Agent, there was no end to propaganda and evasiveness was ubiquitous. She raised such questions as how can a poem be a vehicle for the political when poetry has no market value? She concludes, perhaps ironically, therefore poetry has more room for truth. But, on the other hand, "poetry is not a marketing plan and there is no Survey Monkey to see if your achieved its goals." Here is an example of her poetry:

MEMORANDUM

The natives have absconded
with the hardware and the silk. Please send
a man who fixes things. Please send towels.
These curtains are pretty and incompetent.
They can't brush off the shouting in the streets.
Our recommendations were soft as cashmere.
We wrote it, loud and clear. Don't visit.
Didn't you hear us? Come quickly. Bring power.

-- Michelle Chan Brown

MCB-MBroek.jpg

Michael Broek, author of The Logic of Yoo, began his discussion with this question: how does a white man with empathy write with authority? Broek calls himself a middle-class male with feelings, or the WIMF. For him, the personal lyric was not enough. This led him toward intertexuality (splicing together unrelated texts) and hybridity, which blends together various genres. Research, he observes is key to this kind of poetry of witness. Perhaps, he said, this approach leads to an anti-poetic state of mind. Or maybe he is just talking about using government-generated text like the torture memos of John Yoo, the Bush era lawyer who justified waterboarding.

Immediately following this panel, Broek did a dramatic reading of The Logic of Yoo, which brought to life what the panel Witnessing New Political Poetries: Documentation, Intertextuality & Hybridity started. The reading included projections.

YOO.jpg

The Logic of Yoo: A Dramatic Reading
Abdul Ali, Michael Broek, Martha Collins, Fred Marchant, John Rosenwald, Lee Sharkey

Here is an example from The Logic of Yoo:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 11.11.10 PM.png

After hearing the reading and trying to absorb all its interplay of elements, the Dresser suggested this work was like William Kentridge's The Refusal of Time and should be an installation that one could come back re-visit.
Chart.jpgCollinsReads.jpg

March 29, 2014

Split This Rock: Readings that Breathe Fire--Anne Waldman & More

The 2014 Split This Rock Poetry Festival is conducting its major reading events in the elegant Grosvenor Auditorium of National Geographic.

Gelman.jpgThe March 28 program, which was free to the public (as the two March 28 reading programs also are), began with a tribute to Juan Gelman who died January 14. Master of Ceremonies Dan Vera recited Gelman's poem on poetry in both Spanish and English. Here is the English translation by Rami Saari and Vivian Eden:

ON POETRY
Juan Gelman

a few things must be said /
that nobody reads it much /
that those nobodies are few /
that the whole world is into the issue of the global crisis /

and the issue of eating every day / this is
an important issue / I remember
when Uncle Juan was dying of starvation /
he said he hadn't remembered to eat and there was no problem /

but the problem was afterwards /
there was no money for a casket /
when at long last the municipal van came to take him away Uncle Juan looked like a birdie /

the guys from the municipality looked at him with scorn or disdain / complaining
that they are always being harassed /
that they are men and they bury men /
and not birdies like Uncle Juan /

especially as he chirped all the way to the municipal crematorium /
and it seemed disrespectful to them and they were very offended /
and when they told him to shut up already /
the cheeping flew through the truck and they felt
he was cheeping on their heads / my
Uncle Juan was like that / he loved to sing /
and he didn't see death as a reason to stop singing /
he entered the furnace singing cheep-cheep / his ashes came out and chirped for another moment /
and the guys from the municipality looked at their shoes gray with shame / but

back to poetry /
things are grim now for poets/
nobody reads them much / those nobodies are few /
their profession has lost prestige / day by day it's harder for a poet

to win a girl's love / to run for president/
for a shopkeeper to give him credit /
for fighters to perform heroic deeds so he'll sing about them /
for a king to pay him three golden coins per line /

and no one knows if this is because girls / shopkeepers / fighters / kings are extinct
or simply because poets are extinct /
or both of the above and it's useless
to wrack our brains over this question /

what's nice is to know that it is possible to chirp
in the strangest circumstances /
Uncle Juan after his death / I, now,
so you will love me.

If this was the only thing audience heard, it would have been enough, but what followed was impressive and engaging.

Malachi Byrd, a young poet with a history of hard times, gave a spoken word presentation of who he is and where he came from in a moving performance.Byrd.jpg

karen_skolfield.jpgKaren Skolfield, winner of the 2014 Split This Rock Poetry Contest, read her winning poem "At the Mall, There's a Machine That Tells You If You Are Racist." The poem which is comically drawn weighs in on racism in every day America.

Kelson.jpgMaria Melendez Kelson, who said "breath is my first language," moved closer to the audience to deliver her series of poems, including "ICE Agents Storm My Porch."












Seibles.jpgTim Seibles, a poet influence by Amiri Baraka and June Jordan, read in a mellifluous voice from his long poem "One Turn Round the Sun."

Anne Waldman, co-founder with Allen Ginsberg of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University, gave a performance that conjured the witches of Macbeth moved to Tibet. Waldman who chants, croons, howls her words filled the auditorium with what can only be understood as disembodied poetics. Fascinating to the Dresser was her passages that moved from the evil Decider of the 5th rank to a rant on archives, the importance of preserving the word. Visit her Youtube performance Manatee/Humanity which she performed for Split This Rock.Waldman.jpg

March 28, 2014

Split This Rock: Women Suffering Violence

On Day 2 of the fourth biennial Split This Rock Poetry Festival, the Dresser got a late start, taking time out to honor retired physicist birder Philip S. Brody (May 13, 1930-March 24, 2014). His poet wife Doris Brody brought Mary Oliver's poem "White Owl Flies into and out of the Field" to the memorial service among other moments of charm and beauty. So this is how the Dresser entered the difficult subject matter of

Women and War/Women and Peace II
Samiya Bashir, Lisa Suhair Majaj, Kim Jensen

Two members of the panel--Melanie Graham and Robin Coste Lewis--came by proxy since one fell ill and the other made early delivery of her new baby. This is the second time this panel has been offered. The first time was in 2012.

KJensen.jpgKim Jensen as moderator opened the panel with an audience participation exercise. Everyone was asked to write on a slip of paper what their biggest fear was concerning their writing. Then she said ball up the paper and throw it to someone in the room. So in a large crowded room of mostly women, balls of paper were thrown around the room in uncharacteristic glee or giddy nervousness. Then volunteers were asked to read what was on the paper in their possession. The Dresser got this, "I fear not being respected and understood in the context of being a bisexual woman and poet." Many of the comments were seen as self-censorship, cultural policing, and "not know who is out there waiting for you."

This was segue into stories from Samiya Bashir and Lisa Suhair Majaj. Both are offspring of one American parent but the other parent was from a country in turmoil--Somalia (Bashir) and Palestine (Majaj). Kim Jensen is married to a Palestinian.

Here is a poem from Majaj who was exiled in Lebanon and how she left suddenly:

GOODBYE

Lisa Suhair Majaj

Always knew it would come back
to haunt me. It was war, time was short,

the truck was leaving, and with it my hope
of safe passage from that besieged city.

She was in another place, phone lines
down, no time to search her out.

I had to flee. And so I did. I knew
the spool of time would never

rewind, that there would be no
going back; that with that leaving,

I would lose my chance to find her
before the bombs exploded-

her home destroyed, her brother burned,
her eyes torn to darkness.

Where is she now? Would she
remember me if I found her?

And if I kissed her cheeks three times,
Lebanese style, and called her habibti,

hayati, would she speak to me,
smile? Or would she turn away,

her life so changed, her griefs so far from mine
that there would be no point in saying, even, goodbye?


Bashir.jpgHere is a poem excerpt on female circumcision by Samiya Bashir.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 10.48.57 PM.png

Melanie Graham's poem "Many Happy Returns! An After-War Realities and Reunifications Guide" was the most shocking. Done in two columns the poem uses the government language in one column while a running list of domestic murders by returning warriors are documented in the offsetting second column. Graham who was not present at the seminar is studying violence against women in Florida. Here is an excerpt

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 10.55.48 PM.png

In a different kind of violence done to women of other cultures, a surprising situation occasionally arises when a woman speaks out about how she is treated within her religion and/or culture and then people eager to help trample the complaining woman's culture. It's a double bind that becomes a silencing mechanism. Women in Moslem families have had this kind of confusing experience.

The Dresser asked about how do you deal with difficult poems with hard-to-process situations and perhaps the only answer was to write poems in response.

Split This Rock: The Expanding Language of Poetry

Day 1 of the fourth biennial Split This Rock Poetry Festival offered panel discussions on such topics as LGBT writing and publishing, children in wartime, bilingual cross pollination of generations, youth creativity emerging with spoken word, renewal of urban spaces and environmental concerns, caring for the physical body, human rights.

In this report, the Dresser will focus on two panels that incorporated poetry readings as the method for discussing their topics.

Beauty, Disability, Queerness & Body Politic
L. Lamar Wilson, Kathi Wolfe


Wolfe-Wilson.jpgIn this panel, poets Kathi Wolfe and Lamar Wilson offered their poems and stories about being differently abled. Wolfe and Wilson talked openly about their "hidden stories." She is legally blind but questions ironically as opposed to "illegally" blind. Wilson has a nonfunctioning arm from birth with a condition known as Erb's palsy. Coming from an athletically active family, he was not allowed to sit on the sidelines.

Wolfe who is known for comic quips said such things as, "I live on the Sapphic side of the street"--she writes about blind character named Uppity who is openly queer.

LOVE AND KUMQUATS

I.

Even blind girls get the blues, 

I tell my mother when she wonders

why I expect to go to the senior prom

when no one would ask someone

like me, and why I can't be happy

spending Saturday evenings curled

up with a large print book. In southern

New Jersey with no wheels, I'm

hermetically sealed in the Pine Barrens.

II.

At a gay bar on Christopher Street,

vamping like Tallulah on a tear, I'm

checking out the red-haired woman

who, surely, will be the next love

of my life. "I love Helen Keller!"

she says, "but what are you

doing in a place like this?"

III.

In Cleveland, full of love

and kumquats, we leave our

favorite Chinese place. "You

should watch her! She might fall!"

a prune-faced woman growls. I do

and I enjoy it, you whisper.

--Kathi Wolfe

Wilson, who is a gay Black man, is ingrained with a hyper religiousity, which is what he considers his true disability. Poetically he described this:

God said let there irony.
Thank you god for this holy bum hand.
Thank you god I'm an unnatural beauty.
I wish some pervert had touch me at six so I could share this blame.

His book of poetry is titled "Sacrilegion," a word he made up to describe the condition under which he lives. Here is what may be his signature poem since he recited this one from memory as his opening offering.

I CAN'T HELP IT

I talk too much. I cannot tell a liar
from a preacher, so I tell you
what you want: I'm saved & sick
of this world, safe in God's arms. God,
give me this world in an honest man's
arms. An ego is hard to stroke. Or easy if
you know how to quiet it, let a man feel
his burn in your throat. I talk too much.
I'm sorry I'm not sorry enough. I'll dance
all over you. O liar. Preacher. Daddy-
o, your tongue lashing is never hard
or fast enough. When you lie still,
stroking your chalice, the quiet makes me
retch. I am a lone dandelion in a field,
waiting. Come. Blow me to bits. Still.
You'll die this way, saved by the lies
that burn like the ice water & alcohol
Mama sits me in to break the fevers
our silences brought. I'll die thrashing,
telling any body all my secrets.

-- L. Lamar Wilson


Claiming History: Writing Cliophrastic Poetry
Marilyn Nelson, Kim Roberts, Dan Vera


What is cliophrastic poetry? This is a term created by Dan Vera and Kim Roberts to describe poetry written about historical events and people. According to Vera, "It's a play on the word ekphrastic (poems based on a work of art) and created out of the Greek words Clio (the muse of history) and phrasis (speaking)."

KimRoberts.jpgFor Kim Roberts, her poetic interest in research-driven poems came as a reaction to all the confessional poetry being written. Cliophrastic poems turn to the outer world as opposed to the confessional which turn inward.










BLOOD LETTING

The Physick House, Philadelphia



I turn my head away as the needle

enters that delicate fold of the inner elbow,

then look back to watch the syringe

bloom with my dark agency.

Another lab test: again my doctors

want my fluids, want to know

what stories reside in my blood.

At the Physick House, I learned

we have a total of 166 ounces

in our bodies. Physick,

the "Father of American Surgery," assumed

twice that amount. A second-floor display

shows the knives he used,

the basin with the half-moon cutaway

where a patient could rest her arm.

Now his house is a museum,

all his tools and vials and paraphernalia

lined up in glass cases, and labeled.

I want to know what the labels don't reveal:

who were the patients who laid their arms

over this basin, while Physick leaned close

to cut their inner elbows, that same

fragile furrow, and let their stories flow.

I think I see a little left, a rusty stain,

a life there, hidden.

--Kim Roberts

For Vera, this kind of poetry means the recovery and renewal of historic details that people have forgotten. For a sampling of Vera's research based work, catch him on YouTube.

Nelson-Vera.jpg

Marilyn Nelson said she began writing poetry involving research by starting with her family and by going through "that small door," she found a much larger world with subjects like George Washington Carver and the Black school teacher Prudence Crandall of the mid 1800's. For Nelson, her cliophrastic work is always personae poems. Here is a sample of her work:

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 10.49.55 AM.png

Questions and comments raised:
--How do you balance historical truth versus poetic art so the work won't become too didactic?

--How do you find your subject and then muster the care needed to do the work required to tell this story?

--How does this work make a meaningful contribution to the community from which it arises?

--What does it mean to supersede the erasures of history and to bring out these stories to the world?

The Dresser who, with Kim Roberts, helped sponsor and present a poetry workshop on research-driven poetry featuring Marilyn Nelson in 2001 is ecstatic that this form now has a name. This is what is exciting about a poetry conference--extending the boundaries of communication!

March 27, 2014

Split This Rock: Citizen Poet Queer

March 27, 2014
Citizen Poet Queer: Building a Blue print for LGBT Cultural Activism
Julie Enszer, David Groff, Reginald Harris, Donika Ross

CitizenQ1.JPGThe Dresser will give some details from this panel presented In the Split This Rock Poetry Festival March 27. The biennial literary festival focusing on themes of social justice and activism began in 2008.

Learning the language of marginalized communities and how to use it was a theme in this well presented panel with three in the room and one projected from New York on Skype!


Moderator David Groff set the tone of this discussion with this question: How can you effect change?

Julie Enzer presented thirteen reflections on the LGBT writing community. Her first run through of the thirteen were questions.

enszer.jpg
















Here are some of the highlights:
Enzer advocates buying books directly from publishers because they get as much as $6-8 per book more. Write a letter of appreciation to the author. Praise the praiseworthy and say nothing about yourself.

There are not enough reviewers of queer lit.

Writing books is a political act, good for exploring queer, feminist, political sensibilities.

Blogging brings more audience.

She advises LGBT community to participate in editing LGBT work.

She noted the struggle for balance between activism and generating new work.

Need more public curation - reading series, literary salons, blogs.

Organize - need audience. Try festivals, social occasions.

Literature challenges boundaries.

LGBT community need empathy. Writers invite us to see the world differently.

Poems not guns!

Looking for new words to describe how she & her wife live their lives. She says now it is boring.

Reginald Harris began by addressing word appropriation: Straight people have taken over the word partner, so now use Ursula Le Guin's word kemmer [This word comes from her novel The Left Hand of Darkness.]

Harris advocates involvement with a virtual writing community like Kundiman.

Be diligent in forming online community.
Being a good literary citizens is a model that goes against individualism.

How to find readers--how do readers find LGBT community?
No more LGBT bookstores in NYC.

Harris talked about the LGBT community literary antecedents: Sees connection to Whitman, Dickinson, the NY School--Frank O'Hara, Steven Watson's books including Prepare for Saints.
Harlem Renaissance was very gay.

Out gay men in positions of "power" like Stephen Motika at Poets House. [This is also where Reginald Harris works and where he was in the Skype broadcast.]

If a reading series doesn't exist to suit your needs, create it

Toi Derricote exercise: write a poem about what you could not tell your mother.
Be sure to bring everyone with you in your poem!

Donika Ross

She lives in Nashville but folks there still not used to people being out.

Her goal is to make normal what is strange.

Make a list of what is normal. (What manhood class)
Radical empathy--blackface at Halloween. Blacks consider it racist but lots of people who are not black don't see the racism. Do not coddle folks who make these mistakes, be polite but make it known such words as mulatto offend.

She suggests modeling the kind of behavior we want to see in the world just as Reggie suggested.


David Groff

People are marginalized for various communities they belong to, including poetry.

Every person needs a mission statement--a rabbi he knows said his mission is to spread light while Groff said his was to engender resonant words.

Be a public advocate for a changed world.

Draw more folks into poetry. Hard to publish LGBT work in the mainstream.

LGBT interests can't stay to themselves and must see their contributions as valid.

LGBT needs a version of VIDA.


Need models for how to communicate with each other.

Audience member: we need LGBT books in High School libraries. Young adult lit is overwhelming white and middle class.

Question:
Who holds power to say when LGBT issues are done in a community?
Harris--people say we need to stop all these coming out stories. Are we done? No.

Enzer--the dirty perverse has gone underground. Things have gotten boring. You are either mind or body. As more LGBT get married, we change marriage. Harris wants to destabilize this house. Writers and poets need to create this kind of world.

Going forward without hate but not without rage. -Julie shocked by rage still inside her about AIDS denial during Regan years.

March 13, 2014

Split This Rock Gets National Attention

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Ever since Sarah Browning, author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden--a Word Works Hilary Tham Capital Collection book, came to The Word Works 2014 AWP Bookfair table to sign copies of her handsome book and told the Dresser that Washington, DC's Split This Rock Poetry Festival was being promoted in the March edition of Poetry Magazine, the Dresser has had it on her list to let others know. What kicked the Dresser into gear is the March 13 article in The Washington Post entitled "Poetry magazine joins with D.C.'s Split This Rock festival" by Ron Charles.

Sarah, who is the founder of Split This Rock, told the Dresser she had copies of the March edition of Poetry at her AWP table and they were selling quickly. The March edition has over 60 pages dedicated to the work of poets participating in March 27 through March 30 STR poetry festival. Included in this feature are poems by Yusef Komunyakaa, Joy Harjo, Anne Waldman, Wang Ping, Myra Sklarew, and Claudia Rankine just to name a few of the more national known poets. Sheila Black, whom the Dresser had a chance to greet at AWP, leads the feature and her poem "The Red Shoes" can be read on the Poetry Foundation website. Check the online table of contents for other selections featured in the March edition of Poetry.PoetryMarchcover.jpg

Selections from the STR feature can also be heard on the Poetry Foundations's March podcast. Notable among the readings is Sarah Browning's reading of Danez Smith's "alternate names for black boys sideshow," a list poem that succeeds in exacting an emotional wallop. Here is how this poem begins:

1. smoke above the burning bush
2. archnemesis of summer night
3. first son of soil

There are 17 points to this poem. Item 15--"(I thought to leave this blank/but who am I to name us nothing?)"--changes the energy and draws the reader closer to the plight of black teenage boys in America. Sarah's goal is to "call poets to a greater role in public life and to foster a national network of socially engaged poets." Ever since she brought Dennis Brutus, a poet who actually split rocks with Nelson Mandela in the Robben Island prison, to the first Split This Rock Festival, Sarah sees her poetry festival as a positive transformative power.

If you, Dear Reader, have issues you follow--for example women's issues, disabilities, wounded warrior, political, racial--there are likely to be panels or poetry readings addressing what interests you at the 2014 Split This Rock Poetry Festival. The Dresser will be blogging the festival as she has since it began 2008.

March 4, 2014

For Those Sleepless in Seattle: Joan Miró

On February 27, 2014, the Dresser sauntered away from the excitement of the Associated Writing Programs Conference and Book Fair in downtown Seattle and discovered that the Seattle Art Museum keeps late hours (open until 9 pm on Thursdays). This allowed her to explore "Miró: The Experience of Seeing" which opened February 13 and runs through May 26, 2014.

2014HomAPicasso.jpgThe exhibition includes 61 works of paintings, drawings and sculptures created from 1963 to 1981. These works come to this exhibition entirely from the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. Carmen Fernández Aparicio, Chief Curator of Sculpture, and Belén Galán, Chief Curator of Paintings at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía curated with Catharina Manchanda and Jon and Mary Shirley, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Seattle Art Museum.

The Dresser was fully engaged by the exhibition's signature painting--"Woman, Bird and Star (Homage to Picasso)," an oil on canvas created between 1966-1973. It looks like a decorated version of set theory with two overlapping and wobbly circles in bright basic blue and red with touches of black, yellow, green. Wispy whirligigs spin on the top circle as if to suggest a boy with strange ideas. The circle below rests on what might be the head of parrot whose checkered beak is crowned with a kissing fish.

2014MiroS1.jpgWhat really attracted the Dresser's attention though were the sculptures made from found objects but transformed by a lost-wax casting process that makes them look like patinated-bronze sculptures.
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In Bill Yarrow's poem "Babble," the narrator describes a childhood landscape as alien or familiar as any artist might have lived which helped to free him from self. Thus "Babble" is an apt companion to the wonder of Miró's "little monsters" as the Spanish-Catalan artist described his work.




BABBLE

We had family copy of Isaac Babel's
stories out of which my dad would read
aloud when he was home, which owing
to this employment issues was very often.
I had no idea what I was listening to, but
that's just another way to fail to define
childhood, I guess. Anyway, the stories
were short, some just a page, and I let
my imagination sail away on some word
that jumped out at me (one always did)
and then, for those few minutes, I was
outside the battered gates of self, alone
in a city empty of rockets and God, where
I saw tower after tower of arrested escape.

by Bill Yarrow
from The Lice of Christ

Copyright © 2014 Bill Yarrow

February 25, 2014

Semaphore on the 2014 Oscar Nominations

The Dresser wants to go on the record about the 2014 Oscar nominations by saying first that this was an outstanding year for film. Kudos to the industry for such memorable great work!

Of the list nominated for Best Picture:

◦ American Hustle
◦ Captain Phillips
◦ Dallas Buyers Club
◦ Gravity
◦ Her
◦ Nebraska
◦ Philomena
◦ 12 Years a Slave
◦ The Wolf of Wall Street

the Dresser has seen 6 out the 9, choosing not to see Gravity or The Wolf of Wall Street but looking forward to seeing Nebraska. She believes the best picture was August, Osage County because of Meryl Streep's over-the-top performance of a highly dysfunctional matriarch. She believes Streep should get Best Actress but she realizes that the Academy might pass her by because Streep has gotten "enough" awards.

Of the list nominated for Best Picture, the Dresser's picks American Hustle for its ability to deliver poignant comedy in the face of serious subject matter and for Jennifer Lawrence's outstanding ability to take the dumb blond stereotype to a new level of wonder.

Pick number 2 from The List is Dallas Buyers Club for the story that transforms a man with decided hatreds into a mensch with a social justice conscience.

While the Dresser loved Her and Nebraska and liked Captain Phillips very much, she thinks none of these should beat American Hustle or Dallas Buyers Club.

About 12 Years a Slave, she is flabbergasted that the film had no redeeming qualities to offer, leaving the main character a broken man who regained his freedom and the audience with an unclear message about what happened to this unfortunate human being.

In the cacophonous world of the 21st century, Stephanie Strickland's poem "Her tidings cascades of lightning deathpools and lace," firmly rooted in the contemporary literary tradition that plays with language, conjures up the past such is seen in 12 Years a Slave where a black man might be wearing lace as was his right as a free man and then chains as a kidnapped man dragged into slavery. Strickland's poem also provides commentary on how difficult the process of human communication that is seen throughout the films nominated for this year's Oscars. For example "semaphore dysphorias continuance creation" brings to the Dresser's mind Dallas Buyers Club where a party animal thinks the doctor has his diagnosis all wrong and certainly this man, full of bravado, will beat death like a ride on a bull. And how about the line "her choices sequences many languageless intuited" pointing to Samantha, the computer operating system (spoken by Scarlett Johansonn) in the film Her?

The final line "continual ..... contingent ..... her continuo," a kind of "veni, vidi, vici," glances off August, Osage County's Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) who persists and holds her ground in spite of her cancer, her alcoholism, her large family who would put her away. She'll live to turn on that Victrola and dance yet again.

Her tidings cascades of lightning deathpools and lace
semaphore dysphorias continuance creation
although some attempt to construct by closing in on

staking names ever narrower names ever newly discrepant

her choices sequences many languageless intuited
before offered up to loquacity and simbiltons

continual ..... contingent ..... her continuo

by Stephanie Strickland
from Dragon Logic

Copyright © 2013 Stephanie Strickland

January 11, 2014

The Tempest, Old & New from The Folger Consort

On January 10, 2014, the Folger Consort presented a musical feast drawn from the inspiration of William Shakespeare's The Tempest. What was particularly unusual about this concert was a suite of songs and dances composed by a contemporary composer. In the 1990s, James Primosch composed Songs and Dances from "The Tempest" for the Folger Consort. In a pre-concert talk moderated by Robert Aubrey Davis, Primosch said he never expected to have a second performance. In fact, he felt so certain of this, he rescored the music to eliminate the old instrumentation and has subsequently had the piece played with modern instruments a couple of times.

HIRESTempestadiMare2013byAndyKahl.jpg














The scope of this concert was much larger than the usual Folger Consort program. Played in the nave of the Washington National Cathedral, the 32-member baroque orchestra Tempesta di Mare, soprano Rosa Lamoreaux, and baritone William Sharp joined the Folger Consort for a 90-minute program that began with the full cast of performers playing and singing incidental music by Matthew Locke and Robert Smith and songs from Thomas Shadwell's 1674 version of The Tempest. Other early music composers drawing inspiration from The Tempest included John Banister, Hart and Pelham Humfrey. The second half of the program saw a more intimate group of musicians (only seven and among them Folger Consort founding members Robert Eisenstein and Christopher Kendall and Tempesta di Mare director Gwyn Roberts) with the featured singers perform the ten-part Primosch piece. The finale brought back the entire cast of musicians to play Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto in F, which is also known as La Tempesta di Mare.

The Dresser saw part one of the concert with the early music Tempest compositions as a hardy introduction to the contemporary Tempest piece. Primosch's "A Tempestuous Noise," the introductory composition, was a decidedly modern day sound that Primosch characterized as "more like Bartok" than early music. It breaks from the fluidity of early music into squeaks and staccato uncharacteristic of the old period music. Robert Aubrey Davis said he was worried when he first started listening to Primosch's suite of songs and dances but then he assured the pre-concert listeners that what follows settles into a style most acceptable to the ear of early music fans. Personally the Dresser liked Primosch's beginning number because it asserted that the composer was not imitating early music and that his foothold is squarely in the 21st century. Primosch's music for "Come Unto These Yellow Sands" from Act I, scene ii was a big wow. Here is the text from Shakespeare's The Tempest as adapted by Primosch:

Come unto these yellow sands
And then take hands.
Curtsied when you have, and kissed
The wild waves whist.
Foot it featly here and there;
And, sweet sprites, the burden bear.
........Hark, hark!
........Burden dispersedly. Bowgh, wowgh!
..................The watchdogs bark.
........Burden dispersedly. Bowgh, wowgh!
........Hark, hark! I hear
........The strain of strutting chanticleer
........Cry cock-a-diddle-dow.

Lamoreaux head shot 2011.jpgThe music around the words "The wild waves whist" incorporates a catchy Middle Eastern percussive soundscape. While Rosa Lamoreaux presented both Thomas Shadwell's and Primosch's versions of "Come Unto These Yellow Sands" with comic verve, there is something about Primosch's music that both grounds and makes the composition soar. Perhaps the use of the Middle Eastern accent (nor uncommon in early music) lends a layer of mystery lacking in Shadwell's version.

Throughout the performance of Primosch's music, William Sharp's singing was enhanced by his animated gestures. In singing the part of Caliban in "Flout 'em and Scout 'em/Be Not Afear'd," Sharp managed to show himself swelling with the lines such as the remarkable close: "...when I waked,/I cried to dream again." Also notable was how he finessed a transition from song to speech in "The Master, the Swabber, the Boatswain, and I."sharp.jpg

Decidedly pleasing was the soothing but subdued closing duet "Our Revels Now Are Ended." It left the Dresser and her seatmate wanting more of Primosch, Tempesta di Mare, soprano Rosa Lamoreaux, baritone William Sharp and of course the Folger Consort.

Here's a list of the movements with instrumentation that shows the rich variety of Primosch's music:

1. A Tempestuous Noise
sopranino recorder, 2 bass viols, lute, very small suspended cymbal

2. Come Unto These Yellow Sands
soprano, treble viol, bass viol, lute, dumbek

3. Solemn Music of Ariel
tenor recorder, 2 bass viols, lute

4. The Master, the Swabber, the Boatswain, and I
baritone, alto recorder, treble viol, bass viol, lute

5. Full Fathom Five
soprano, bass recorder, 2 bass viols, lute, crotales in E and B

6.Flout 'em and Scout 'em / Be Not Afeard
baritone, alto recorder, vielle, kamenji, bass viol, citole, harp, psaltery, tambourine

7a. A Solemn and Strange Music
alto recorder, 2 bass viols

7b. Honor, Riches, Marriage Blessing
soprano, lute

7c. Earth's Increase, Foison Plenty
baritone, alto recorder, 2 bass viols, lute

7d. A Graceful Dance, a Confused Noise
soprano recorder, 2 alto recorders, lute

8. No More Dams
baritone, rebec, vielle, citole, nakara

9. Where the Bee Sucks
soprano, alto recorder, bass viol, lute

10. Our Revels Now Are Ended
soprano, baritone, alto recorder, 2 bass viols, lute, crotales in E and B


In Leslie Harrison's "Pantoum for a Walk in the Woods," we hear a musical echo to the Folger Consort's program "Brave New World: Music of The Tempest," where Consort directors deign to mix old with new. As the pantoum form repeats so does the music of inspired by Shakespeare's play The Tempest. So join the Dresser in a romp through the woods where the modern day bee sucks from a cowslip bell.

PANTOUM FOR A WALK IN THE WOODS

Everything rhymes. Take a forest of trees,
thousands (each different, but they are lost
in the crowd), and rocks uncounted, a host of bees
in a standing snag. Walking, I pass them all

by the thousands. Each different is lost:
too many, so nearly the same. They rhyme, but
stand together, snagging meaning, leaving it all
to repeat, endlessly. Differences, so small,

are nearly the same. The rhythm of walking
follows the contour of the climb, and the heart
repeats, endlessly. Diffident, its small
stutter is locked to quiet. This pattern

follow the cadence of the climb. The heart
contrives with breath: the eyes refuse all difference,
become locked, in step with the quiet stutter
of stones underfoot. And the miles go by,

contriving with the body to refuse all distances.
I remember the crowded, cluttered wealth
of stones underfoot. And the miles go by
like giants, self-referential, meaningless.

I remember the crowded, cluttered woods,
the lumbering grace of the mysterious other--
like giants, self-referential--all meaning
hidden in the difference. We move through life

in the crowd, uncounted, a thousand bees
hiding and hidden. In our different lives,
nothing rhymes. And we mistake the trees
for each other, for lumber, or for pews.

by Leslie Harrison
from Displacement Poems

Copyright © 2009 Leslie Harrison

Photo of Tempesta di Mare by Andy Kahl

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