2010 Split This Rock Poetry Festival in Washington, D.C., is a biennial event and is in its second year. I was able to attend this year, and travel to a part of D.C. that is in transition and that I haven't been to in a long while -- the home of Ben's Chili Bowl on U St.
March 10 was mainly an exercise in registration for me, but March 11 -- the second day of the festival -- was a whirlwind. If you want to check out the crazy schedule, it is here. This year, I didn't make it to any of the evening readings, but I think at the next one, I will make a concerted effort to do so.
My first event was The Peace Shelves: Essential Books and Poems for the 21st Century, which was moderated by Fred Marchant, my former professor, fellow poet, and friend. I'm going to age myself, but it has been about a decade since I last saw Fred. The panel was fantastic, covering a wide range of topics dealing with the term "peace" -- a term that is "static" in nature, which is why activists have to use terms like "peace-making" etc. I took a little bit of video of Fred's portion of the program, check it out: (Sorry, for the horizontal nature of this vertical video)
The second panel I attended, The War is Not Over: Writing About Iraq and the Case of the Mutanabbi Street Coalition talked about a bombing event in Iraq that has blurred with many others for me and ended with a surprise for everyone -- a survivor of the Mutanabbi Street bombing was in the audience and came forward during the discussion period to talk about the time before, the time during, and the time following the bombing.
Despite his rough English, the significance of Mutanabbi Street for the Iraqi people as a place of commerce and intellectual discourse shined through. It is mostly known for its book stalls and its booksellers. He talked about how even though street names were changed in many areas under Saddam Hussein's reign, the streets named for poets and other writers remained the same. The bombing created a "crisis of culture" according to the panelists. The audience member -- forgive me, I didn't get his name down -- said that the process of rebuilding Mutanabbi St. continues and is amazing to witness.
While eating lunch at Busboys & Poets with Fred and a few of his colleagues, Karen of WordWorks and Marty -- who volunteered to shuttle participants of the festival from various events -- a film festival began, combining poetry and video. Some of the videos were abstract, while others were vivid in their use of images, music, and words.
The highlight of the first full day of the festival was how the poets came together to create a cento poem -- a poem composed from lines of poems from other poets. Rather than talk about it, I took a short video of some of the contributing poets, so you could hear them:
If you want to read the poem and see what line (from one of Fred Marchant's poems) I contributed, go to the Website (mine begins. . . "Today we shall. . . ")
Lovella Calica, another friend of Fred's and founder of Warrior Writers, would be a panelist. Wow! That's the first word that comes to mind after learning how well crafted these creative writing workshops are for veterans and how they are held in a variety of settings with a variety of facilitators. From Lovella who had ties to the veteran community before beginning her workshop project and a New York University graduate Lauren McClung, who started workshops as part of a fellowship to George Kovach, an editor and publisher of Consequences and Vietnam Vet, the panel touched upon the need to create safety in the workshop space for veterans exorcising their "demons."
Martha Collins (another colleague of Fred's), Mark Nowak, and Philip Metres. From using newspapers and other documentary evidence to provide substance and anchors to a poem to using photographs and video, each poet discussed why they choose to use their source material and how it creates an alternative history for readers. Nowak, unfortunately, had a technical malfunction with his presentation and we were unable to see the images he planned to present.
The four days of the festival were full of energy and enthusiasm, but as one who has been outside the poetry circle for some time, I felt on the fringe of the discussions during downtime. I'm not a very social person in many instances, especially in crowds of strangers. I liked the energy these poets have when it comes to their convictions and opinions, but I often find that many of these events are for people who already know one another to reconnect and chat within their own groups. I did step out of my box a bit and chat with a few other poets that seemed on the fringe like I was. One attendee traveled all the way from Tennessee for the event! The power of poetry continues to reach out into the community, which is a positive sign that poetry is reviving.
Finally, here's a photo of me with Fred Marchant.
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