In case this is the first Split this Rock post that you, Dear Reader, are dipping into, the Dresser will assert her excitement and wonder about the holistic menu of choices that included sessions on yoga, disability lit, social action theater, teaching poetry in prisons, peer writing workshops, archiving poetic history, poetry that works through crisis whether it be domestic, international, natural disasters, medical, war. Split This Rock Poetry Festival programs reached out to a broad-spectrum adult audience with special programs for children at various age levels.
In this post, the Dresser will look at Kim Robert's walking tour "The 'Harlem' Renaissance in Washington;" the panel discussion by Grace Cavalieri, Brian De Shazor, and Jennifer King on preserving poetic history; a partial glimpse at Francesco Levato's film festival selections, and photos from various readings.
LOOKING FOR LANGSTON
At 9 am in the morning, about 20 people assembled at the corner of 14th and U Streets Northwest
to go on a fourteen-stop tour of Kim Roberts' "'Harlem' Renaissance in Washington." Poet and poetry entrepreneur Kim Roberts has developed a series of DC walking tours and is a sought after resource guide. For example, the DC Humanities asked Roberts to develop a Zora Neale Hurston walking tour to coincide with the 2007 Big Read, a nationwide reading project promoting in 2007 Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Many of the stops along the Hurston tour coincide with the Harlem Renaissance in DC tour. The Dresser will not attempt to recreate the tour here, but rather will provide some photos with a bit of text to give you the flavor of what was seen and heard. One book to put on your reading list to help you understand the importance of the artists who lived and worked in DC, before they went to New York and became associated with the Harlem Renaissance is Alain Locke's anthology The New Negro.
The Dresser was excited to learn that The Saturday Nighters Club, a literary salon hosted by poet Georgia Douglas Johnson, happened at 1461 S Street NW. (See the blue building pictured below.) This is the street that the Dresser worked out page layout details of many Word Works books with book design artist Janice Olson who once lived at 1404 S. Poets who came to Johnson's house included Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, Sterling Brown, May Miller Sullivan, Jesse Redmon Fauset.
Fauset who rented a house at 1812 13th Street Northwest, was a teacher of French and Latin at M Street High School (later renamed Dunbar High School), and subsequently, the literary editor of The Crisis, the NAACP magazine. Fauset, known for her coming-of-age novel Plum Bun and touted as the most prolific woman writer of the Harlem Renaissance, served as a mentor to many of the other Harlem Renaissance writers.
The Whitelaw Hotel at 13th and T Streets Northwest was DC's only first-class hotel and apartment house for African American visitors and residents for many years. Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Joe Louis are among those icons who stayed or lived in this building.
Other stops on the tour that excited the Dresser were the Richard Bruce Nugent House--Nugent was the first person to publish African American gay fiction; Duke Ellington's house where he was raised and started his first two bands; the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage--the old 12th St Y, former residence of Langston Hughes, and Split This Rock venue (Crip Poetry was held inside this building); and the True Reformer's Hall (12th & U Streets NW)--site of Duke Ellington's first paid, professional gig.
Two of three pianos in the Shaw Heritage Room of Thurgood Marshall Center
The Dresser dips her hat low to Kim Roberts for another Split This Rock hurrah to the body (and mind). The Dresser who spends way too much time at her computer keyboard loved talking about poets in a stroll around the streets of DC!
INTO THE ARCHIVAL BOXES: RADIO & UNIVERSITY
Grace Cavalieri organized the panel "Vaulting History" that brought together archivists Brian De Shazor, Director of Pacifica Radio Programs, and Jennifer King of George Washington University's Special Collections.
Cavalieri, who was a founding staff of WPFW-FM in Washington, DC and who created and continues to produce "The Poet and the Poem,"
radio shows that are now hosted from the Library of Congress but for over twenty years aired on WPFW-FM, has been instrumental in encouraging poets to become part of the Washington Writer's Archive in the GWU Special Collections by donating their journals, books, and memorabilia to this expanding collection. The Dresser notes here that poet and GWU professor David McAleavey was instrumental in establishing the GWU Washington Writer's Archive in 1986.
Cavalieri deferred to poet and statesman Archibald MacLeish to understand the early relationship between radio and poetry. MacLeish said, "Poetry is an art without audience while radio is an audience without art." King at GWU has the entire series of Cavalieri's "The Poet and the Poem" which began in 1976 and they are available to the public. Cavalieri's recordings range from little known local poets who called into the radio program while it was on the air to internationally known poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Amiri Baraka.
De Shazor, who works from the founding Pacifica Radio offices in North Hollywood, California, brought segments from his show "From the Vault" that highlighted historic recordings made at KPFA-FM. Pacifica archives contain rare recordings from such people as Coretta King speaking after her husband the Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated. Audience members were invited to search the Pacifica archives online.
POETRY IN MOTION: MEETING THE UNEXPECTED
The Dresser tends not to be a night owl. She was born early in the morning and her biorhythms tend toward sun-is-up-get-up. However, she met Francesco Levato just after the walking tour with Kim Roberts and he said he was about to attend his first Split This Rock event, that he had been delayed by snow in leaving Chicago where he is Executive Director of The Poetry Center of Chicago. Therefore, the Dresser decided if he took all that trouble to get to DC to show some of his films and films by other people that she should make a reasonable effort to attend that event. And besides, after she heard Dennis Brutus talk about being in prison splitting rocks, she was all keyed up anyway so she and a bunch of poets took the subway back to the Langston Room at Busboys and Poets.
Levato's films--"The Mechanics of Plastic," "Fragments of a Name," "The Right to Remain"--took the Dresser's breath away as if she had been kicked in the stomach by a man wearing combat boots. Using public domain images from current day wars, Levato recites his poems with Middle Easter music playing in the background. Some of the films shown at Busboys (including "The Knotting of Rope" which the Dresser didn't see until she accessed Levato's website) can be viewed on his website. Levato achieves a powerful beauty out of ugliness that makes the Dresser think of what Paul Bowles achieved in his novel The Sheltering Sky.
"The Weary Blues" and "Good Morning, America" by D. J. Kadagian opened the film fest with verve. "The Weary Blues," of course, is a recitation of Langston Hughes' poem by that title but in this film you see footage of Cab Calloway performing wildly in front of his orchestra. Kadagian's second film showed images of children reciting the pledge of allegiance and then plunges into the jazz of factory assembly lines as Carl Sandburg's poems are recited.
Poet Jimmy Santiago Baca's film "Moving the River Back Home" reminded the Dresser of the full-length Hollywood film Freedom Writers starring Hilary Swank. Baca's film showed him reaching out to teens at risk in southern California also. While fans of Baca would find the footage of interest, it is not an art film like the majority of films in Levato's Split This Rock selection, but more a home video that could use some cutting.
Petra Kuppers film "Tiresias" is both daring and artful. It shows what turns out to be bodies rolling around in red satin sheets, but one man uses a wheel chair and another is blind. Whoa! After the Dresser saw this film she realized that Petra Kuppers who was supposed to have been on the Crip Poetry panel (she had a family emergency that prevented her from attending) would have been an amazing person to meet and hear. Thanks to Francesco Levato, the Dresser was fortunate to learn about Kuppers and experience her film.
From March 21
Split This Rock ran a student poetry contest named "The World & Me." Winners included: Giselle Barcio Namata (first place, Youth Division), Carie Roling (second place, Youth Division), Dillon Clary (third place, Youth Division), Alexis Chaney (first place tie, Teen Division), Shangti Petty (first place tie, Teen Division), Tiara Welch (second place, Teen Division), Mira Antwine (third place, Teen Division)
The adult poets were: Grace Cavalieri, Stephen Kuuisito, Joel Dias-Porter (DJ Renegade), Ishle Yi Park.
From March 22:
5 PM Readers: Coleman Barks, Pamela Uschuk, Belle Waring
Out for a Coffee-Tea-Cake Break and Back
Michael Glaser talks to Maria van Beuren. Grace Cavalieri greets Ethelbert Miller.
8 PM Readers: Kenny Carroll, Mark Doty, Carolyn Forche, Alicia, Ostriker
Video of Mark Doty reading at Split This Rock is by Dan Vera.