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Split This Rock: Looking for Peace

Perhaps some of the Dresser's readers are wondering what distinguishes the Split This Rock Poetry Festival from other poetry programs. The Dresser thinks it would be fair to say these two words: social change.

On March 11, 2010, the Dresser attended three events: a panel entitled "The Peace Shelves: Essential Books and Poems for the 21st Century, " a panel entitled "Gay and Lesbian Poetry in the 40th Year Since Stonewall: History, Craft, Equality," and part of film program.


SMCIMG0374Marchant.jpgThe big questions raised by panelists on "The Peace Shelves" panel is what is peace and how do we appreciate it even among the relics of war. Among the poems offered by panelists Fred Marchant, Sarah Gridley, Jeff Gundy, and Philip Metres, the Dresser was most touched by Denise Levertov's "Making Peace," Lucille Clifton's "Slave Cabin," Li-Young Lee's "Immigration Blues," as well as short selections from Mahmoud Darwish's The Butterfly's Burden.


Jeff Grundy's discussion of Grace Jantzen's Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion added an interesting optimistic but existential layer in how to achieve peace. Jantzen's philosophy advocated working on "flourishing" as opposed to the trying to attain immortality. The Dresser found this panel refreshingly upbeat.


GLBTPanel.jpgLed by Joseph Ross, the "Gay and Lesbian Poetry in the 40th Year Since Stonewall" panel addressed three questions:
• Who are the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) poets who have inspired panelists Francisco Aragon, Janet Aalfs, Jericho Brown, Reginald Harris, and Dan Vera.
• How does being Gay or Lesbian affect your (these panelists) writing?
• How does your writing give witness to the GLBT civil rights movement?

The Dresser found the panel informative and generally applicable to all people who are marginalized, including poets. This was the first time the Dresser understood where and when gender rights in American began. She has often been in New York City when Gay Pride marches have taken place but she didn't realize that the Stonewall Inn was a bar in Greenwich Village where the homosexual community stood up against government sanctioned persecutions of sexual minorities.

Janet Aalfs emphasized the role of the body in identifying who a person is. She demonstrated this with a tai chi inspired movement piece that made allusion to Saffo and other feminist writers.

Reginald Harris and Francisco Aragon talked about competing identities and how that competition works when a person sits down to write. This conversation certainly transcended the GLBT community. While there still continues to be a certain level of discomfort and conservative approaches to daily life by the GLBT people, the Dresser sensed that this minority community is more willing to present a more open discussion about their needs and preferences than say 10 to 15 years ago. Recent social change in Washington, DC and Maryland are shaping this new sense of ease despite backward behavior from government officials in Virginia.


The Dresser saw the following short films "Chinese Cucumbers," "Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment," "Purple Lipstick," "Passage," and "I Am Not a Juvenile Delinquent." Subjects included A.I.D.S., Guantanamo Bay Prison, domestic violence, urban life in the 'hood,' and juvenile rehabilitation. The Dresser wasn't overly excited about any of these films, but maybe she is jaded and overly inclined to set high standards. Her tastes run to recent big screen films like Precious, The Hurt Locker, and A Single Man.

Here's an excerpt from Denise Levertov's poem "Making Peace." Levertov's poem seems to speak to the entire set of Split This Rock activities experienced by the Dresser today.

....................................... But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can't be imagined before it is made,
can't be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.

Denise Levertov
from Making Peace

Copyright © 2006 Peggy Rosenthal


Comments (1)

Hi Karren -

Thanks very much for this thoughtful and clear write-up. I'm glad you found the GLBT panel useful and interesting. I did too.

Best, Joseph Ross

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