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April 14, 2016

2016 Split This Rock Poetry Festival - Day 1

Split This Rock (SPR), a Washington, DC, poetry festival featuring poems of provocation & witness, opened April 14 and the Dresser was able to attend two memorable events.


The first was a panel entitled "The New Black Femininity" with Elizabeth Acevedo, Tafisha Edwards, Dawn Lundy Martin, Katy Richey, and Venus Thrash. The panel played off the 2014 SPR panel "The New Black Masculinity."

Richey-Edwards.jpgThe Dresser found the discussion exceeded the topic because the Q & A's presented both by moderator Katy Richey and attendees could be applied to any groups of the marginalized. For example, the disabled, the LGBT community, and all women of any color.

This is not to say the topic of being a Black woman was not addressed. Here are some of the comments:

"At first, I only saw myself as Black." Tafisha Edwards

Edwards explained that she saw how her mother "performed" as a woman and it didn't look like fun. Therefore, Edwards wanted no part of that. As a lesbian, Edwards said that when people look at her they see hetero-normative but she is out while her little brother who is queer is not.

Dawn Lundy Martin said gender and blackness was a hard negotiation and an unsettled space for her. "You can't get away from what has been projected on the Black female, that oversexualization. How much do we internalize or reject?"

Venus Thrash said, "My mom never talked about what it was to be a female or a woman. I was on my own to find my way." Thrash decided she would not carry a purse or wear dresses. She wanted to be like her brothers. However, she was not rejecting her gender or trying to be a man as some accused. "When I think of the size of my breasts, no one could mistake me for a dude."


From the Dominican Republic, Elizabeth Acevedo said she can pass and that she was brought up to be "a lady" but women in the 80% Black population of the Dominican Republic are expected to clean, cook, and hold their tongues. She said she is still looking for one strong Black Dominican woman to look up to.

Katy Richey said she thought of herself as biracial and Black agreeing with Thrash that identity fluidity is so important.

Using Audre Lorde's book of essays, The Uses of of the Erotic, Thrash said she drew strength from Lorde's thoughts about erotic power. "The terms Butch and Femme put women in a box. I thought of these terms as a joke." She explained that she was not worried about all these identities or what the world's view of me is because Lorde's position freed her (Thrash) to just be herself. Thrash told the story of a male student of hers who asked why she dressed so masculinely. She answered that she felt the sexiest, the most beautiful and the most feminine that way. "I cannot take on other people's boxes."

One thing the Dresser found interesting was how much the word perform was used. This came out particularly on the subject of what Richey pointed to in the archetype of the strong Black woman versus vulnerability. Richey questioned if it was important to perform that. She said, "It's not not strength--being vulnerable is a form a strength."

Edwards said that vulnerability was important to her and she would allow herself to cry, complain, be loving and kind.

On the other hand, Lundy Martin asserted that she "has a hard time with vulnerability. [It's easier] to be a crazy bitch." She said entering a room was "a kind of labor." The Dresser understands this problem of entering a room being her admission of vulnerability nonetheless.LundyMartin.jpg

Acevedo said she never saw her mom cry but she (Acevedo) would cry in class to get attention. "It was a performance. I wanted to be noticed." She said it was harder to be vulnerable to let loose and cry when she was along.

Thrash countered, "I worked so hard to not be angry and go into my angry Black woman mode but sometimes I need her."

The Dresser asked the panelists to talk about how they received pity.

Acevedo said, "Pity is based on assumptions." The Dresser understood that Acevedo was not buying into someone's offer of pity.

Edwards said that she has to stop and ask, "What tragic Black woman do you see today? Interrogate that person who is offering the 'gift' of pity." The Dresser hears in this answer that the pity giver is not sincere.

Lundy Martin questioned whether the pity purveyor was really trucking in something else like envy.

The next question dealt with the vocabulary of the Black female. Thrash said we have tags applied to us and as a Black woman queer, she cannot escape that gaze. "I reject that I cannot be both masculine and feminine."

Here's an excerpt from from "After Drowning" by Dawn Lundy Martin

What is mumbled after the act? I--Uh. After the craving empties.
When viscosity permeates a life before. Magenta. And, falling there,
through sound, through tape, a voice ghostly, saying blackly, I bleed.
This is what it takes. I hear it now. Know it. There was once a time
when the bridge ended and the girl leapt. There was once a singing


The next event the Dresser attended was "from this paradise into the next: Tributes to Poets Lost Since Split This Rock 2014" led by the STR founder Sarah Browning. Browning.jpgThe attendees each provided information and poems about poets who had passed in the last two years most reading from their smart phones. Browning collected lines from these poems to make a non secretive exquisite corpse poem.

Among the lost leaders of our literary community celebrated were Belle Waring, C.D. Wright, Paul Weinman, Adrian Oktenberg, Carolyn Kizer, Galway Kinnell, Jose "Joe" Gouveia (biker poet), Justin Chin, Henry Braun, Maya Angelou, Francisco Alarcón, Mafika Gwala (South African).


April 15, 2016

2016 Split This Rock Poetry Festival - Day 2

This report from Split This Rock Poetry Festival features a photo montage from "Take Poetry to the Streets! A PUBLIC ACTION."

Sarah Browning and her team organized a group of 50 people more or less into 8 flash mobs whose goal it was to connect with passersby by reading or performing preferably love poetry on street corners in the fashionable /business district of Washington, DC. This was a way to counter the bad political energy now suffusing our airwaves.

SarahBrowning-John Rosenwald.jpg


Sarah asked Ross Gay to allow his poem "A Small Needful Fact" to be sent out on the streets. Otherwise, participants could bring copies of their own poems.



Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

"A Small Needful Fact" copyright © 2016 Ross Gay

At the rally point, the Dresser spotted long time and new friends from the Women in Poetry ListServ (WOMPO: Peggy Rozga and Wendy Brown-Baez. After all STR is all about making connections for the life in poetry.


Then group number 6 went out on the streets.


This group of photos includes South African poet Mantombi Mbangata.


Here's another Poem of Love & Welcome:

From a Conversation-Hour Discussion About Intolerance with Adult English Students
Pak Kret, Nonthanburi, Thailand

Then he explained
how the Buddha

instructed us
to reflect on the body

our skin
our hands and feet

our body hair
our nails and teeth

our noses
our eyes

our minds
our hearts

so that we can see
ourselves clearly

in every person
no matter where

-Nahshon Cook

What was the reaction on the street? Many people said no thank you or quietly moved away from our hands offering poems. Some people took the poems with interest and said thank you.

Our leader said, I think we look like a band of missionaries!

April 17, 2016

2016 Split This Rock Poetry Festival - Day 3

For the last report on the 2016 Split This Rock Poetry Festival, the Dresser presents highlights from the panel discussion "Unchained Voices: Giving Incarcerated Writers a Voice." Wendy Brown-Báez and Nell Morningstar Ubbelohde are two members of the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop which offers writing workshops to inmates in and around the Twin Cities and these are some of their insights about teaching prison inmates.


"The purpose of writing is to have a reader." Wendy Brown-Báez

In Minnesota, here is what limits the incarcerated working alone:

• No Internet access.
• No permission to form a writer's group.
• No ability to clear your head by taking a walk or moving to another venue.
• No ability to orally present work in front of an audience.
• Censorship that prohibits using any detail associated with the crime committed.
• No permission to use the writer's real name in works published for outside readership.
• Limited use of the computer to type up one's work.

A big part of what the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop had to do was gain the trust of the prison officials who were leery about people coming in because they disrupt the regimented order, especially if they are erratic in showing up. This kind of work is emotionally difficult and the teachers need to be constantly in control of what they say and how they conduct themselves, even to facial expressions. After all as Brown- Báez said, "Writing poetry is an act of subversion."

When the Dresser asked why they are still doing going into the prisons, both agreed that they feel they are making a difference, that the inmates change. For example, when they call their families , they share poems; when they get angry, they check that anger by going back to their cells to write.

Since the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop started in 2012, here are their accomplishments:

• 75 classes
• 18 instructors working for the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop
• 500+ students
• 15 internal readings
• 35 male mentors critiquing work
• 4 public readings attended by 200+ people
• 7 men's prisons & 1 women's prison.

Public readings do not include inmates. It is only their work which must approved by a prison reviewing board. Public readings have been mandated by some of the grants the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop has received. To give the writer inmates feedback, they use postcards handed out to the audience to write comments. Then those comments, after going through prison review, are given to the inmates.

They have created chapbooks based on individual workshops and more recently a publication based on a year's work. Many organizations, like Red Bird Chapbooks, have donated services and resources. None of the books shown during the panel were for sale because these books were created for in-prison use only.


Check out their website to see details and a short film on the work by the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop: http://www.mnprisonwriting.org.

About April 2016

This page contains all entries posted to THE DRESSING in April 2016. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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