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2018 Split This Rock Report #2

IMG_3890.JPGAt the Split this Rock Poetry Festival on April 19, 2018, the Dresser attended the Arabic/English Poetry Game Workshop. The Poetry Game was invented by Zahara Heckscher. Zahara died in February this year so the workshop began with a memorial to her. The Dresser walked away with this quote from her: "The lying poems tell the most truth."

Three of Zahara's friends--Johnna Schmidt, Yael Flusberg, and Zein El-Amine led the group of 19 in a two-part writing workshop.
As an introduction to poetry gaming, Zein told a story about how his Muslim family based in Lebanon played an oral poetry game from the Zajal poetic tradition. Zein recounted that this game predated television in his home. The idea was to memorize poems or to be quick-witted enough to compose a poem on the fly. The next person up had to use the last word of the previous poem. Eventually his family got t.v. and then they heard about such a poetry game being played on t.v. but the difference was that these contestants were consuming alcoholic drinks. One of his uncles was a cleric and Zein thought that at any moment the t.v. would be turned off. But no, his uncle the cleric remained glued to the t.v. and then he said, "the more they drank the better they got."

Zahara's game involves two sets of playing cards--one set containing words in Arabic or another language and the other set providing instructions. The audience was divided into small groups of 4-6 people. In the first game, everyone in the group was allowed to choose one card from only one of the sets. Then everyone in the group used the same words and same instructions for his or her poem. Here is what the Dresser wrote. The underlined words show both the words selected and the instructions (phrases that were open ended).

At Mihrajan--I say Carnevale--
My happy friends they all witnessed
Fajir the prayer to open the day
Salam alaikum we bow
our sleepy heads this was
a song about peace
after a night of reveling

What everyone enjoyed about this exercise was how everyone approached the use of these words and phrases in his or her own way.
The second exercise was a more private affair. Everyone selected three words and two instructions. The Dresser's words were two in Yiddish--mentsh (an exemplary man) and mishegas (craziness) and one in Arabic--Kowkab (planet or world). Her instructions were (1) use one word to start a line five times and (2) use a word in a question. Here is what the Dresser wrote:


Kowkab number 1: Where is the mentsh when you need him? Has he gone to another planet? This one has too much mishegas.

Kowkab number 2: The end of the world sees a desert without a single mentsh. Oh, bring back the do-gooders please.

Kowkab number 3: In the Amazon we find a clan of balabustas--the women equal to the mentsh. Here we find his perfect children. Thank you, Mom.

Kowkab number 4: Did I mention mentshes tell the truth? What a great planet we live on.

Kowkab number 5: In a land with no reality t.v., we find mentshes and balabustas. A world with no mishegas.

What the Dresser liked about these exercises is that she was picked up and moved to another place, another writing space, and therefore wrote two compositions very different from what she usually does. She felt guidance from activist Zahara Heckscher urging her to think of marrying party-going and prayer and worlds where Arabic and Yiddish co-exist peacefully.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 19, 2018 9:10 PM.

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