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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:


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:


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


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.


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.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 30, 2014 11:21 PM.

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