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March 2008 Archives

March 8, 2008

The Ash Girl and Her Inner and Outer Demons

You know the story--the disgusting step-sisters and the mean step-mother go to the eligible prince's ball leaving an abused girl in rags by the sooty hearth except that a fairy godmother appears and turns her rags to satin, a pumpkin into a carriage, the kitchen mice into coachmen and the girl now a dazzling beauty goes to the ball, wins the prince but all he has when the evening ends is her shoe.


Except on February 5, 2008, at the Clarice Center for the Performing Arts (College Park, MD), the Dresser saw Timberlake Wertenbaker's musicalized play The Ash Girl and now has a new view of Cinderella. For starters, her stepsisters (played by Kelly McGuigan and Kate Wolfe) are annoying, but they want to study science and nature and not to be bothered about going to the ball. Their alcoholic mother (played by Sarah Shook looking like a Saturday Night Live version of Goldie Hawn), who has been abandoned by Ashie's father, has problems with money and makes lots of bad decisions, including the eventual mutilation of her daughters' feet.

Photo by: Stan Barouh
But Ashie (Liz Brown) is depressed and hides in the ashes, when she emerges (and this is scary), she tells the audience, "Ashes are warm. In the ashes, no one sees you. Ashes are safe. I will stay in these ashes, melt into them." Wow, is she ever depressed! What we find out much later is that her father has incestuous feelings for his daughter so he left home to battle his demons.

Hold on, the demons (also known as the Seven Deadly Sins plus one) have bodily forms and go by the names: Angerbird, Slothworm, Pridefly, Envysnake, Greedmonkey, Lust, Gluttontoad, and Sadness. And is Ash Girl friendless? No. She has eight friends to balance out the eight demons (Sadness is not considered by the Seven Deadlies to be one of them). Ashie's friends are Boymouse, Girlmouse, Otter, Owl, Fairy in the Mirror, and three spider friends. Finally, the prince (Andrew Blau) is a stranger in a strange land. He has been forced to flee his country (possibly India) because of a political situation that has felled his father. His mother (Maya Jackson) wants him to marry a local girl and assimilate, but he thinks his neighbors are all too white.


What the Dresser particularly loved about this production was the stylized movements of the Deadlies and Ashie's friends. As the audience got seated, Owl (played by David Olson) was on stage presiding. He squatted and rose in his owlness. The Dresser found his presence and performance as engaging as any professional street mime she has encountered in San Francisco, California, or Florence, Italy. Angerbird (played by Aaron Bliden) dressed in punk laced up boots and coifed with a Mohawk moved quirkily. His model seemed to be a teenage boy who is awkward and unable to control himself. The Dresser found it hard to take her eyes off this gangly creature until Pridefly (Zachary Fernebok) inserted himself into the action. While Angerbird was quirky, Pridefly was jerky--even in his speech.

Director Leslie Felbain has made Wertenbaker's play, which received its world premiere in 2000, a riot of movement and color. Just as she allowed in her production of The Green Bird, Felbain encouraged the actors in The Ash Girl to speak to the audience before the show started officially and during the intermission. In the program playbill, the Dresser found a handsomely printed card inviting "all the Daughters of the House to the palace of Princess Zehra" for a ball in honor of her son Prince Amir. This eye-catching invitation became one of the talking points for the cast as they made their visits to individual audience members. Did you ever want to be in play? Felbain gave the audience their chance to participate.

The costume design team headed by Ivania Stack produced enviable wearing apparel for those dressed as humans, but even the creatures wore attractive and colorful vestments. The staging was cleverly tiered and the backdrop suggested a surreal dark forest. The scene where Fairy in the Mirror (Amanda Elkins) exerts her magic was delightful because things didn't always present as expected. The Fairy allowed Ashie's animal friends to be what they want to be and so one of them was changed into a huge dragon while the other transformed to a horse wearing pink tutus.
Photo by: Stan Barouh

Original music written by Colleen Harris (she is also the music director for this production) was featured in this production. A cellist and percussionist sat on stage and played. Some of Harris' pleasing compositions sounded like Renaissance songs. In the palace ball scene, ballroom dancing mixed with a little unpolished ballet took place. Since the Dresser had not expected more than ballroom choreography, she wasn't particularly bothered by the balletic lifts that were clearly not within these dancer's abilities, but her seatmate who teaches dance cringed.

Continue reading "The Ash Girl and Her Inner and Outer Demons" »

March 20, 2008

The Virtual Librarian: A Secret Life

Although The Virtual Librarian: A Tale of Alternate Realities by Ted and Bob Rockwell is not a literary masterpiece, it is a hip pedagogical novel with an exciting array of current day lessons. tedrockwell-340-Vl-cover.jpgEver since the Dresser read John Barth's novel Giles Goat-Boy, a book that helped her make a transition from a college life studying French and American literature to a business world where she wrote energy-related computer programs punched into rectangular cards arranged in long trays for a Honeywell computer, she has loved the idea that librarians can have secret lives. Yo! Giles, tell everyone how your mama was a virginal librarian of a certain age and your papa was the mainframe of the West Campus.


Rockwell's librarian, known as Lib, is a computer providing a virtual reality library and under development by a group of computer engineers at a firm named InfoPower or IP for short. The project is the brainchild of a young Korean-born engineer named Kim Lee but who has assimilated to American culture. The story is told by an IP engineer named Keith Robertson who the Dresser suspects loosely represents Ted Rockwell. Ted Rockwell, a touted engineer and nuclear power expert, wrote this book based on passionate discussions he had with his late son Bob, a cultural anthropologist, about the rise of the Information Age, virtual realities, and 3-D.

Once a reader gets past book jacket superlatives like "magnificently illustrated by Thomas Chalkley" (are the illustrations really necessary? Maybe this is the only way to get people who don't read much to open this book), introductory scenes where dialogue does not flow naturally, and old slang like "This drove some of the theoretickers wiggy," he or she will most likely join the Dresser in appreciating how Rockwell weaves together a story that incorporates science, technology, and paranormal phenomena. For example, the Dresser loved the scene where a mysteriously dark psychic, "the seventh son of the son of a universally feared gypsy sorcerer," tries to exorcise what ails Lib (what ails Lib is the main thread of this novel) and manages to fell Keith Robertson in a hypnotic trance and to strew the room where Lib "lives" with a stinking mass of herbs and melted candle wax.


As Rockwell juggles the human stories of the engineers working on how to fix Lib (is it industrial sabotage by IP competitors?), he slips in a variety of interesting information. For example he gets the IP uber boss nicknamed Murph to expound on Denis Diderot who in 1775 wrote, "the number of books will grow continually, and one can predict that a time will come when it will be almost as difficult to learn anything from books as from direct study of the whole universe."

Did you want to know something about random number generators, the philosophy of Christian Scientists, or geomagnetic interference with ESP performance? Have a look at Scene 14: "Sprindrift and the New World Order" starting on page 75. Just reading the titles of the scenes listed in the table of contents is enough to give the reader a thumbnail sketch of where Rockwell is going with the story. Ending scenes 27, 28, and 29 deal with lobotomy, zombie, and awakenings.


Another aspect of Rockwell's tutorial approach is his offerings of Washingtoniana. For example, Rockwell sets one of his scenes at the venerable Cosmos Club where he accurately describes every detail about what surrounds the old French Renaissance mansion that houses the club and also talks about the hidden entrance to its off street parking. Then he talks about the hot popovers served daily in the club's dining room. The Dresser who occasionally is a luncheon guest at the Cosmos Club thinks that Rockwell creates a holographic experience--the reader could walk into this scene through Rockwell's description and accurately experience the Cosmos Club.

Other sign posts of the Washington, DC area include mentions of George Washington University professor and author Deborah Tanen, Beltway Bandits (the technical contractors located on interstate route 270), and (the Dresser makes a conjecture here) the Spiritualist Church mentioned by Rockwell that is headed by his fictitious psychic Anne Winfield might, in fact, be modeled after the Falls Church, Virginia, Center for Spiritual Enlightenment which was founded by the world renown psychic Anne Gehman. Oh, yes, there are a lot of surprising goodies packed into The Virtual Librarian.

Continue reading "The Virtual Librarian: A Secret Life" »

Split This Rock Poetry Festival--Opening Night

The Dresser is reporting from the front--The Split This Rock Poetry Festival.NyeTshirt.jpg

Poet Sarah Browning with the support of the DC Poets Against the War, Institute for Policy Studies, Busboys and Poets, and Sol & Soul has pulled out all the stops to bring poetry in protest against the war in Iraq to Washington, DC. This is the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq and Browning intends to make it meaningful beyond those who typically come out to protest. Browning.jpg

Where did Browning get the name of the Festival? From the poem "Big Buddy" by Langston Hughes:

Don't you hear this hammer ring?
I'm gonna split this rock
And split it wide!
When I split this rock,
Stand by my side.
- Langston Hughes

The Dresser attended the 2nd event of the first day and this was a reading featuring: Martin Espada, E. Ethelbert Miller, Naomi Shihab Nye and Alix Olson.

Highlights from the reading:

From Sarah Browning: "We come together to give hope. Ethelbert Miller said, "not with our dirges but our jubilees.'" Absent from the conference due to illness are Sam Hamill and Sharon Olds.

Adrienne Rich sent a new poem entitled "Emergency Clinic" that was read by festival organizer Melissa Tuckey.

From Martin Espada who wondered about a chair standing next to the speaker's podium: "This chair is for the person who should be here to hear the truth--Dick Cheney's chair!"Espada.jpg

From Ethelbert Miller: "The sickness of war surrounds us. Do we want to be well in 2008? Let us proclaim the wellness of peace!"Miller:Orr.jpg

From Naomi Shihab Nye: two poems that packed big wallops--Letters our Pres won't be sending and a poem about an old Muslim woman who spoke no English who got stranded in an airport and broke down in a crying fit. Nye came to her rescue and pretty soon everyone at that gate was eating the old woman's cookies. Why can't the world be like this all the time? Nye asked.

From Alix Olson, performance poet--a breaking up with my country poem.Olson.jpg

A view of the Split This Rock Audience including poet Alicia Ostriker.

March 21, 2008

Split This Rock--In the Trenches March 21, 2008

Like any conference worth the time it takes to be there and participate in, Split This Rock Poetry Festival had more activities scheduled for each time period than one could attend. The Dresser made her selections based on what she will call "otherness." Although otherness is not easily defined, the Dresser will say that her choice of otherness relates to what is not typically a standard track for a poetry conference that usually would concentrate on activities for the mind and intellect. For the three workshop periods of March 21, the Dresser chose "Yogic Path to Poetry and Conscious Action," "Crip Poetry: A Culture of Disability, Justice and Art," and "Outcry for Justice--The Lessons of Sacco and Vanzetti for the 21st Century." Each of these sessions involved the body, including exercise, so called physical fitness, and acting.


Poets belong to the fringe--American poets are outsiders looking in, both in at themselves and in on a culture that does not value their writerly talents. In "Yogic Path to Poetry and Conscious Action," Jeff Davis asked, "What are poets for in a destitute time and what does yoga have to do with this?"yDavisPrayer.jpgyAudience.jpg

Since 1972, the Dresser has been practicing either Hatha or Anusara Yoga and has discovered through this workshop that yoga has always been her frame for writing poetry. Jeff Davis made her see the intersections between yoga and poetry, something she was not consciously aware of. Here are some of the ideas and comments made by the three yogi poets.

From Jeff Davis,
--Poetry and yoga are the practice of the art of living, which involves the intention to live consciously.
--Yoga is a mode of activism. The Dresser may be extrapolating a bit large but she believes that Davis is also applying this to poetry. Certainly Poets Against the War as a collective is encouraging activist or politically charged poetry.
--Yoga is about expansion and Davis said without getting around to explaining this that yoga alters consciousness. The Dresser assumes that Davis was speaking about awareness and what yogis typically call mindfulness. If a poet works deeply in understanding the mysteries that surround us all, then poetry expands the poet's understanding of the world and probably becomes more aware.
--Change arises from intention and not coercion. Here the Dresser understands one must choose to change and this is related to how we approach living. For the Dresser, living mindfully involves the pursuit of poetry, which constantly explores change and adjustments.

From Kazim Ali
--We are disconnected from our bodies.
--We need to find peace in the body.


From Susan Brennan
--Having a body is difficult and heartbreaking.
--Life is constantly putting us in one difficult position after another.
--Are we willing to fight for imagination?
--In the life of a poet, I liked to be alone but in a yoga community I learned to share the experience of searching for higher truths with others. This experience is called satsang. Split This Rock is a satsang. If you create satsang, you create a living organism.
--Poetry is the honey of divinity.



After the Dresser became a bonafide mother (as opposed to the third parent in her natal family because she was the oldest of six children), she developed the belief that things must have a place in one's household such that she could walk around her house with her eyes closed and find anything she needs. Perhaps deep down, the Dresser believes one day she will not be able to see.

Disability culture is coming into its own. Kathi Wolfe
said people who have disabilities need to "claim our space where our voices have not been heard. We need to stare back at those who stare at us." Wolfe also said it was time to neutralize epithets against those with disabilities, such that lesbians and gays now use the word queer and Wolfe uses the word crip. However, Wolfe also said that it was time to raise awareness about insensitive use of metaphors bandied about by writers who have no disabilities. For example, she, as a person with low vision, was tired of hearing about her "world of darkness."

Stephen Kuusisto, who learned braille at the age of 39 because his mother refused to acknowledge his blindness, said he does not believe in disability poetry. CStephen.jpg
He tells his students, "dare to be angry and put that anger on the page." What Kuusisto is angry about involves politicians appropriating stories of disability for their own political ends. For example, recently president Bush spoke about the soldier William Gibson who despite having his leg blown off in Iraq, asked to go back to the front and continue his career. Simplistically Bush stated that with people like that, the enemy can never win. In a post to Planet of the Blind (It's Not as Dark as You Think), Kuusisto said "If disability can be used as a heroic metaphor for overcoming or fighting the odds, does it follow that "not talking" about the majority of disability experiences faced by our soldiers means their stories are insufficiently symbolic?"

Continue reading "Split This Rock--In the Trenches March 21, 2008" »

March 23, 2008

Split This Rock--Emerging from the Trenches March 22, 2008

The Split This Rock Poetry Festival has been an experience of the body.
For the Dresser, what made this conference coalesce to a degree that no other activity, however vibrant, sensitive and mind-expanding, was hearing South African poet Dennis Brutus speak.

Brutus, who won the Langston Hughes Award in 1987 and was the first non-African American to receive that award, brought home what the Split This Rock Festival title means in its most brutal human experience.
Rdg8Brutus.jpgBrutus did this by describing his years on Robben Island where he was imprisoned along with Nelson Mandela. In this maximum-security prison, he was forced to split rocks until the rocks became gravel. His hands became a mass of blisters on top of blisters but he said he was spared the harder work of digging out rocks from the limestone quarry (Mandela was not) because Brutus who had been shot by South African secret police had suffered a "through and through wound" and was not strong enough for the quarry work.

From the podium, Brutus suggested that what Americans need to do is rise above the certainty of the proverbial "Death and Taxes" credo that we live by. How? By not paying our taxes to fund the war in Iraq. He urged Americans to not be complicit in supporting atrocities done in the name of all Americans. The Dresser who is native of the Washington, DC area doubts that most of us are strong enough to quarry the rocks of political activism that would involve going to prison because we will not support this unjust war. However, what Brutus has said has moved the Dresser, who believes in universal truths, peace and social justice, to go down to the White House today and join Sarah Browning to express poetically a protest against the five years of American involvement in an unjust war waged against the people of Iraq.

What Sarah Browning and her army of volunteers has achieved with Split This Rock is monumental on all levels. Not only did the Festival provide a platform of learning and ways to engage in social action, but it was also the best administered program that the Dresser has ever take part in. No one lost a beat. Some people may not have been able to show up for key speaking appointments and activities might not have happened right on time, but there was always a plan b and plan c to fill in the gaps. Participants like the Dresser were much appreciative that events didn't always start on time because it allowed stragglers to get there without missing anything or prompt ones to talk to the participants waiting who themselves were as interesting as the featured speakers. Hats off to Sarah (author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden) who was awarded a bottle of whiskey and bouquet of flowers at the Saturday night reading.

[Stay tuned for a larger report on Split this Rock that will include reviews of Kim Robert's walking tour "The 'Harlem' Renaissance in Washington;" the panel discussion by Jose Gouveia, Martin Espada, Alicia Ostriker, and Colorado T. Sky on "Poetry, Politics, and the Rant;" the panel discussion by Grace Cavalieri, Brian De Shazor, and Jennifer King on preserving poetic history; and a partial glimpse at Francesco Levato's film festival selections.]

Split This Rock--Poets Against War March 23, 2008

The final activity of Split This Rock Poetry Festival was a silent march from George Washington University's Marvin Center to LaFayette Park across from the White House so that poets could contribute twelve-word-maximum lines of poetry to a collaborative collage poem called a Cento.

The youngest poet who unabashedly delivered his line into the mic from the arms of his mother was five years old. His poet mom said he created his line of poetry himself.


An unrelated poet coming many poets after the child poet delivered this line, "I dream of a child who will ask, 'Mother, what was war?'"

Dennis Brutus stood with the crowd listening intently. Later, in a filmed interview he said he hoped to see poets influencing others with emotional responses to the war.

Here are images from that closing Split This Rock ceremony.










March 26, 2008

Split This Rock--The Historical & the Moving

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.


At 9 am in the morning, about 20 people assembled at the corner of 14th and U Streets Northwest TourStudents14U.jpgTourKimBegins.jpg
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.) TourKimonS.jpgThis 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.TourFausetHouse.jpgTourFausetRdr.jpg

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.TourWhitelaw.jpg 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!


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," VGraceBook.jpg
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, VBrian.jpgwho 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.


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 LevatoLevato.jpg 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.

Continue reading "Split This Rock--The Historical & the Moving" »

March 28, 2008

Split This Rock--On Rant

Because this is the sixth post on the Split This Rock Poetry Festival, the Dresser imagines that her readership, especially those who are infrequent to the Dressing, might be thinking that the Dresser has devolved into rant and ranting, albeit poetic rant. Yes, the Dresser is now into rant. Having run the gantlet of social action teachings of This Rock, the Dresser is prepared now to discuss rant in a way she never imagined and that is because she attended the March 22, 2008, panel discussion on "Poetry, Politics, and the Rant" moderated by Jose Gouveia
with Alicia Ostriker, Martin Espada, and Colorado T. Sky.


Let's get basic before getting bombastic. In the world of poetry, what is rant?

Martin Espada said usually rant is a "put down--as in, oh, that's a rant." RantEspada.jpgThen Espada added a string of descriptors: polemic, rhetoric, didactic, and the ultimate current day insult (if you are a poet) sentimental. To add more wallop to this punch, he said the rant was about "avoidance of content." Continuing, he said the tone of the rant is angry and barely controlled; sometimes it is out of control. Espada's definition of rant (maybe his definition is a rant) includes: strong rhythm, musical qualities, direct and open expression, explicit language, urgency, sometimes lacking a message, sometimes a call to action, sometimes a poem of persuasion.

In her opening remarks, Alicia Ostriker said, "political poets are often accused of preaching to the choir, but that I try to keep in mind what Blake says: 'When I tell any Truth, it is not to convince those who do not know it but to encourage those who do.' All of us tend to fall into discouragement and need all the help we can get to stay hopeful." Ostriker emphasized that the rant is not an exchange of ideas. The rant is a way to find community and overcome loneliness.

Colorado Sky said, "Rants are pathetic. They have to be." He maintained nevertheless that a rant, a form of emotional poetry, must have an ethical foundation. From the "furnace of emotion comes the anvil of the moment."
Sky pointed to Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." Here are the first three stanzas of section 1 of Whitman's seminal poem that changed the landscape of American poetry.

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself, 
And what I assume you shall assume, 
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul, 
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air, 
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their 
parents the same, 
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin, 
Hoping to cease not till death.

Sky's challenge to the rant writer is "What kind of skid mark are you going to leave on the way out?" After all, he said, "It is not who you are but what you do that will be remembered." Sky also spoke about rants containing objection and affirmation. Here the Dresser began thinking about call and response used in an evangelistic church that goes something like this.

The Preacher: You are all sinners. The Congregation: Amen.
The Preacher: You disrespect your father. The Congregation: Amen.
The Preacher: You patronize your mother. The Congregation: Amen.
The Preacher: Now is the time to confess your sins. The Congregation: Hallelujah!

Is this an exchange of ideas? No, but it is way to find community as Ostriker suggested.


Sky also said he likes when a rant sneaks up on you, such that you don't know the poem is a rant until you are well along in reading it. He referred to William Blake and "Transverse City," a rock song by Warren Zevon. Here are the first two stanzas of Zevon's offbeat song.

Told my little Pollyanna
there's a place for you and me
we'll go down to Transverse City
life is cheap and death is free

Past the condensation silos
past the all-night trauma stand
we'll be there before tomorrow
Pollyanna, take my hand.

He said not all rants are loud and that they can be subtle. Even short. To prove his point, he offered his haiku.

History repeats
Itself. It has to
because people
don't listen.


Espada said political poets are subversives and it is their job to subvert language. He said Pablo Neruda does this in his poem "General Franco in Hell." Espada said this poem is grounded in images and all five senses. The poem is dreamlike and immediate and it avoids the pitfall of vagueness and generalities (the characteristics of a poorly written rant). Here's the first stanza of that potent and ranting poem.

Evil one, neither fire nor hot vinegar
in a nest of volcanic witches, nor devouring ice,
nor the putrid turtle that barking and weeping
with the voice of dead woman scratches your belly
seeking a wedding ring and the toy of a slaughtered child,
will be for you anything but a dark demolished door.

Read the poem in full (the English translation is by Richard Schaaf) set with images on the blog Stregoneria.

Continue reading "Split This Rock--On Rant" »

About March 2008

This page contains all entries posted to THE DRESSING in March 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2008 is the previous archive.

April 2008 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.