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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).



Comments (1)

Kelly Cherry:

This article was very meaningful to me.

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