Friday, April 27, 2007
Adrienne Rich: Poetry & Commitment
We can also define the "aesthetic" not as a priveleged and sequestered rendering of human suffering, but as news of an awareness, a resistance, that totalizing systems want to quell: art reaching into us for what's still passionate, still unintimidated, still unquenched.
The imagination's roads open before us, giving the lie to that slammed and bolted door, that razor-wired fence, that brute dictum "There is no alternative."
For now, poetry has the capacity -- in its own ways and by its own means -- to remind us of something we are forbidden to see. A forgotten future: a still-uncreated site whose moral architecture is founded not on ownership and dispossession, the subjection of women, torture and bribes, outcast and tribe, but on the continuous redefining of freedom -- that word now held under house arrest by the rhetoric of the free market. This ongoing future, written off over and over, is still within view.
Mark Doty, in his afterward, writes:
In Adrienne Rich's strong hands, the poem is an instrument for change, if we can see into the structures of power and take on the work of making a dream -- "the dream of a common language" -- an actuality. Like Whitman did, she calls us toward the country we could be, though she insists that we acknowledge the country we are.
These twin functions -- to stare the reality we live in directly in the face and not flinch AND to vigorously imagine an alternative -- seem to me the highest calling of poetry. May we strive to live there, at that contradictory and essential intersection.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Arts Award in Today's Washington Post
When Scott Reynolds Nelson set out to write "Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend," he couldn't have dreamed his book would win the National Award for Arts Writing.
For one thing, the award hadn't been invented yet.
For another, "arts writer" is not the category into which Nelson would most naturally seem to fall. He's a professor of history at Virginia's College of William & Mary whose last book was "Iron Confederacies: Southern Railways, Klan Violence, and Reconstruction."
That didn't stop him from being delighted to win the $15,000 award, which is designed to encourage writing unburdened by academic jargon.
Read the whole article by Bob Thompson from today's Washington Post here:
We Begin Here: Poems for Palestine & Lebanon
I bring you poems/prayers
& hymns" E Ethelbert Miller, from We Begin Here…
Poets & Lovers,
In collaboration with Grace Church reading series, DC Poets Against the War invites you to a reading to celebrate publication of "We Begin Here, Poems for Palestine and Lebanon" edited by Kathy Engels and Kamal Boullata, a book that features many of our favorite local poets, as well as poets from around the country and throughout the world, including work from Dennis Brutus, Naomi Shihab Nye, June Jordan, Adrienne Rich, and others.
The reading will be at Grace Church on Thursday, May 10th, at 7 pm and will feature local poets Sarah Browning, Wade Fletcher, E. Ethelbert Miller, Richard Schaaf, and others. We'll be joined by editor and poet Kathy Engels.
Following the reading, we'll have a moderated discussion with special guests and peacemakers, Hannah Schwarzschild, a labor and employment attorney in Philadelphia and an activist with Jewish Voice for Peace and Nadia Hijab, who is a Senior Fellow at the DC-based office of the
Institute for Palestine Studies, and co-director of its Washington, D.C. office. This will be an opportunity to learn more about the issues and struggles facing those who are working for peace in this region.
We Begin Here is described as "an affirmation of the human and poetic spirit, reminding us that poetry and struggle always "begin here," always lead us back to ourselves, to each other, and to community; seeking truth and beauty across all borders." We invite you to join us at this starting place ---
Grace Church is located at 1041 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20007.
For public transportation take the blue connector shuttle bus to Wisconsin Avenue and walk south. Two hours of free parking are available (with validation) at Lowe's Cinema Garage, at Wisconsin Avenue and K street.
For more information about the anthology—or to order your copy—go to www.interlinkbooks.com
Hope to see you May 10!
P.S. Here's a poem from the collection ---
ASH W.S. Merwin
The church in the forest
was built of wood
the faithful carved their names by the doors
same names as ours
soldiers burned it down
the next church where the first had stood
was built, of wood
with charcoal floors
names were written in black by the doors
same names as ours
soldiers hurried it down
we have a church where the others stood
it's made of ash
no roof no doors
nothing on earth says it's ours
DC Poets Against the War
Sunday, April 22, 2007
I hear my son stirring in his room above me. He has slept in. It is good. His beloved Nationals lost again last night. Ben will not stop listening to the games. Every day is a new chance.
Today is Earth Day. My son says on Earth Day all the trash gets picked up, everyone plants something new. I frevently wish it were so. May we all plant something new today. May we begin again.
Friday, April 20, 2007
Steel Drivin' Man Wins National Award for Arts Writing
The Arts Club of Washington is proud to announce that Scott Reynolds Nelson, author of Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, The Untold Story of an American Legend , has won the inaugural National Award for Arts Writing. The Award of $15,000, the only one of its kind the country, is given annually in recognition of excellence in writing about the arts for a broad audience.
The distinguished judges for the 2006 Award were novelist and NPR book critic Alan Cheuse, former Poet Laureate Rita Dove, and novelist Joyce Carol Oates. The judges’ decision was announced at an April 19 reception.
The winning author will give a reading, with music, at the Club on Tuesday, May 22 at 7:00 pm. The reading is free and open to the public.
The National Award in Arts Writing was established by long-time Arts Club member Jeannie S. Marfield in honor of Florence Berryman and Helen Wharton.
Describing Nelson as “a master storyteller,” the judges call the book, “engaging and utterly charming.” “Too much writing about the arts is academic or filled with jargon,” says Sarah Browning, administrator of the prize. “But we believe the arts are for everyone. We want to recognize writing that creates a strong connection with arts and artists.” The Award celebrates prose that is “lucid, luminous, clear, and inspiring.”
Committee members selected three finalists from an extensive list of books published in 2006. The other two finalists were Julie Phillips for James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography), and Ross King for Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism (winner of the 2006 Governor General’s Literary Award of Canada).
Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, The Untold Story of an American Legend, published by Oxford University Press, recounts the true story of the life behind the iconic American hero, telling the poignant tale of a young Virginia convict who died working on the first rail route through the Appalachian Mountains. The book masterfully captures the life of the ballad of John Henry, tracing the song’s evolution – and thus the evolution of American music – from work song through the blues and early country music, to its central place in the American Folksong Movement. Steel Drivin’ Man also received a 2007 Merle Curti Prize from the Organization of American Historians.
Scott Reynolds Nelson is an Associate Professor of History at The College of William & Mary. The author of Iron Confederacies: Southern Railways, Klan Violence, and Reconstruction and coauthor, with Carol Sheriff, of A People At War: Civilians and Soldiers in America’s Civil War, he served as a consultant on the forthcoming PBS documentary on John Henry.
For more information, www.artsclubofwashington.org/award.htm or contact Award Administrator Sarah Browning, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-331-7282 x 15.
Friday, April 13, 2007
MARTÍN ESPADA'S POETRY MONTH PICK - Wilfred Owen
by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!--An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
* Martín Espada Comments:
Wilfred Owen is a "Cassandra poet:" a neglected prophet. This World War I
poem is still relevant today, as we mark another anniversary of the war in
Iraq. "Dulce et Decorum Est" is a well-known work, yet its warnings
continue to be ignored. Like Cassandra, Owen has been heard, but not
heeded. Thus, the poem bears repeating here and everywhere.
Occasionally, a poem takes shape as an argument with another poet. This
poem began as an argument with two other poets. The Latin title comes from
the phrase, "Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori"--how sweet and decorous
it is to die for one's country--which, in turn, comes from an ode by the
Roman poet Horace. Owen's poem was originally addressed to Jessie Pope, or
a "certain poetess;" on the most literal level, she is the "you" in the
Pope produced several books of patriotic doggerel in England during the
Great War. Jon Stallworthy, in his definitive biography of Wilfred Owen,
cites Pope's poem, "The Call," as a possible provocation for Owen. This is
the first stanza of the poem, which Stallworthy calls a "disturbing
variation of the 'Who's for tennis' formula:"
Who's for the trench?--
Are you, my laddie?
Who'll follow the French--
Will you, my laddie?
Who's fretting to begin,
Who's going to win?
And who wants to save his skin--
Do you, my laddie?
An officer in the British Army and a veteran of the trenches, Owen
developed shell-shock and was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in
Edinburgh, Scotland. There he was famously befriended and mentored by
another soldier-poet, Siegfried Sassoon; and there, in October 1917, he
wrote the first known draft of "Dulce et Decorum Est."
Owen revised the poem relentlessly. His message was urgent, but Owen was
as committed to his craft as he was to the message. The passage dealing
with shelling and poison gas was originally longer; the poet deftly
deleted some onomatopoeic language ("fup, fop, fup") that failed to
adequately evoke the bombardment for him. He tried several "g"
words--"gargling," "gurgling," "goggling"--before he settled on the word,
"guttering." Owen subjected his battlefield trauma to the demands of his
The poet bases his appeal to reason on an appeal to the senses. The images
are terribly vivid, the diction chiseled and exact. Soldiers march,
"blood-shod;" they wrestle with their gas masks in "an ecstasy of
fumbling;" a dying man's "white eyes" are "writhing in his face." The word
"gargling," previously rejected in favor of the word "guttering," returns
in the last stanza when "the blood/ comes gargling from the
froth-corrupted lungs." Words like "ecstasy" and "cud" are startling in
this context, yet apt. Writing of unbearable brutality, witnessed
first-hand, Owen is as meticulous as a bird feathering a nest.
According to Geoff Dyer, author of The Missing of the Somme, "the anger in
(Owen's) poems always comes from this: from the fact of having witnessed
what civilians at home could never conceive of seeing." At the same time,
this is a controlled anger, channeled into art.
After the barrage of metaphors and similes, Owen distills his language to
its essence, and calls "the old Lie" by its name. The simplicity of these
three words stand in sharp contrast to the ornate Latin phrase they
condemn. Indeed, Dyer writes, "the Latin has been so Owenized as to render
further satirical twisting superfluous." (Of course, a specialized
vocabulary of warmongering still exists.)
This is a poet's wrath: He is outraged at the corruption of language
itself, by Jessie Pope but also by a ruling elite inciting the majority to
cooperate in their own destruction. Instead, as Owen said in the preface
to his collection of poems, "the true Poets must be truthful."
That collection was published posthumously in 1920. Owen was killed in
France on November 4, 1918, a week before the Armistice. The telegram
announcing his death was delivered to his family home as the Armistice
bells were ringing. He was twenty-five years old.
Last fall I visited the English Faculty Library at Oxford University in
the company of professor Jon Stallworthy. There I had the opportunity to
hold the first known draft of this poem in my hands.
For further reading, I highly recommend the biography by Stallworthy,
called Wilfred Owen (Oxford University Press/ Chatto and Windus, 1974),
and The Poems of Wilfred Owen, edited by Stallworthy (Chatto and Windus,
1990). See also The Missing of the Somme by Geoff Dyer (Phoenix Press,
MARTÍN ESPADA was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1957. He has published
numerous books as a poet, editor, and translator. His most recent
collection is The Republic of Poetry. Alabanza: New and Selected Poems
1982-2002, received the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement
and was named an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. An
earlier collection, Imagine the Angels of Bread, won an American Book
Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. The
recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship as
well as the PEN/Revson Fellowship, Espada is a professor in the English
Department at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he teaches
creative writing and the work of Pablo Neruda.
Our thanks to Martín Espada for today's special Poet's Pick: Wilfred Owen, "Dulce et Decorum Est"
Thursday, April 12, 2007
New discovery: Richard Michelson
Stumbling on Bruce Weigl While Wandering the French Quarter
Section Two is one long poem, "Incident at Eagle's Peak," about the struggle for meaning in a life. I can't find it on the web and don't have time to type the whole thing, but here's an excerpt, below. (I can't get the formatting to come out -- the second line of each stanza should be indented. Apologies to the author.) The narrator and a childhood friend are visiting a patch of woods they had played in as boys.
His sadness filled the air around us.
so I wanted to find a way
that could be alive in the place
and when he had finished
and he shook his head
that makes a sound like all of memory
And don't forget, while we're on the topic of unionized shops, to boycott Starbucks. Read about the campaign for better working conditions here. (Or at least register your disapproval at their employment practices by writing an e-mail to Chairman Howard Schultz at email@example.com and calling Starbucks at 800.235.2883 demanding he respect the right of workers to form a Union to get out of poverty.)
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
You can now order Whiskey in the Garden of Eden online
Still looking for cover art. Please send suggestions.
Just back from New Orleans where we went to my brother's wedding. It's devastating, the neglect: the Lower Ninth Ward is all but abandoned, block after block of empty, boarded-up house, weeds growing from their gutters. Stroll the French Quarter, though, and you'd never know anything had happened. Surreal in the extreme.
No one's forgotten how to party, though - my brother's shindig was wild and wonderful. And the Marigny Bunny Hop and Easter Bonnet Bar Crawl in his neighborhood, the Faubourg Marigny, was unforgettable: I stumbled on a krewe of gay men in tutus with elaborate hats decorated with swans, flowers, easter eggs -- magnificent! I'll post a picture when I get it on the computer.
Monday, April 02, 2007
For Cherry Blossom Season, Neruda
...I want to do with you what spring does to the cherry trees.
Every day you play with the light of the universe.
Subtle visitor, you arrive in the flower and the water.
You are more than this white head that I hold tightly
as a cluster of fruit, every day, between my hands.
You are like nobody since I love you.
Let me spread you out among yellow garlands.
Who writes your name in letters of smoke among the stars of the south?
Oh let me remember you as you were before you existed.
Suddenly the wind howls and bangs at my shut window.
The sky is a net crammed with shadowy fish.
Here all the winds let go sooner or later, all of them.
The rain takes off her clothes.
The birds go by, fleeing.
The wind. The wind.
I can contend only against the power of men.
The storm whirls dark leaves
and turns loose all the boats that were moored last night to the sky.
You are here. Oh, you do not run away.
You will answer me to the last cry.
Cling to me as though you were frightened.
Even so, at one time a strange shadow ran through your eyes.
Now, now too, little one, you bring me honeysuckle,
and even your breasts smell of it.
While the sad wind goes slaughtering butterflies
I love you, and my happiness bites the plum of your mouth.
How you must have suffered getting accustomed to me, my savage, solitary soul, my name that sends them all running.
So many times we have seen the morning star burn, kissing our eyes,
and over our heads the gray light unwind in turning fans.
My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
I go so far as to think that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.
--translated by W.S. Merwin
Juegas todos los días con la luz del universo.
Sutil visitadora, llegas en la flor y en el agua.
Eres más que esta blanca cabecita que aprieto
como un racimo entre mis manos cada día.
A nadie te pareces desde que yo te amo.
Déjame tenderte entre guirnaldas amarillas.
Quién escribe tu nombre con letras de humo entre las estrellas del sur?
Ah déjame recordarte cómo eras entonces, cuando aún no existías.
De pronto el viento aúlla y golpea mi ventana cerrada.
El cielo es una red cuajada de peces sombríos.
Aquí vienen a dar todos los vientos, todos.
Se desviste la lluvia.
Pasan huyendo los pájaros.
El viento. El viento.
Yo sólo puedo luchar contra la fuerza de los hombres.
El temporal arremolina hojas oscuras
y suelta todas las barcas que anoche amarraron al cielo.
Tú estás aquí. Ah tú no huyes.
Tú me responderás hasta el último grito.
Ovíllate a mi lado como si tuvieras miedo.
Sin embargo alguna vez corrió una sombra extraña por tus ojos.
Ahora, ahora también, pequeña, me traes madreselvas,
y tienes hasta los senos perfumados.
Mientras el viento triste galopa matando mariposas
yo te amo, y mi alegría muerde tu boca de ciruela.
Cuanto te habrá dolido acostumbrarte a mí,
a mi alma sola y salvaje, a mi nombre que todos ahuyentan.
Hemos visto arder tantas veces el lucero besándonos los ojos
y sobre nuestras cabezas destorcerse los crepúsculos en abanicos girantes.
Mis palabras llovieron sobre ti acariciándote.
Amé desde hace tiempo tu cuerpo de nácar soleado.
Hasta te creo dueña del universo.
Te traeré de las montañas flores alegres, copihues,
avellanas oscuras, y cestas silvestres de besos.
Quiero hacer contigo
lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos.
The Yockadot Poetics Theatre Festival
Dear D.C. Poets Against the War,
Please allow me to bring to your attention a new festival involving the crossover between poetry and performance: The Yockadot Poetics Theatre Festival, centered in Alexandria, with satellite events at Gunston Arts Center, George Mason University, and in Baltimore April 26th-30th; then, our May 5th finale takes place at the United States Patent and Trade Offices in Alexandria, for an unusual--perhaps ironic--interface between a government institution and the raw unarmed power of the written word, spoken out... between bureacracy and the disarmingly outspoken. This date represents the first use by an outside organization of the USPTO campus as an arts and cultural activities venue.
Yockadot Poetics Theatre Festival will be presenting more than 25 events and performances during its celebration of "poetry leaping off the page." For a better sense of the festival as a whole, and its flavor, please check out our website at http://www.yptfest.org/.
The Yockadot mission with this festival is to showcase and define "poetics theatre"--the application of contemporary poetry practices to performance and theatre--as well as to foster poetry and the presentation of poetry in its home base of Alexandria, Virginia, and surrounding areas. The festival has over 40 poets and performers from around the country preparing events that exemplify "poetics theatre" in progressive development from poetry readings to "text" performance art, and onward, through to staged readings of plays by contemporary poets, such as Lee Ann Brown, Thalia Field, Tina Darragh, and Brent Cunningham.
Of interest to politically-minded poets, please note that much of this work is highly socially-conscious and provocative. The debut of Tina Darragh's play Bad I.O.U. (May 5th) takes on the health care system with righteous confrontational directness as well as humor. Just the titles of poet Rodrigo Toscano's pieces (April 28th at Del Ray Artisans Gallery) indicate the activated sensibilities here: "Great Awakening," "Spine," "Pig Angels of the Americlypse"...
By the way, Toscano's development last summer of his Collapsible Poetics Theatre Company in New York represents for Yockadot a wonderful serendipity, synchronicity, and/or outright success in communicating the concept of "poetics theatre" fairly widely even before the first major showcase of it through our festival.
For more details as to our events schedule click on http://www.yptfest.org/schedule.htm.
We are funded by the Alexandria Arts Commission and the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and sponsored by the Alexandria Performing Arts Association.
As an innovative way to celebrate National Poetry Month, please come out and support the Yockadot Poetics Theatre Festival!
Thank you for your time and attention.
director, Yockadot Poetics Theatre Project
festival coordinator, Yockadot Poetics Theatre Festival
secretary, Alexandria Performing Arts Association
secretary, Alexandria Arts Forum
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Just Like a Girl
Just Like a Girl: A Manifesta!
The latest offering from GirlChild Press is intended to be a rough and tumble, sassy, wickedly clever, kick-ass anthology.
Where Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices from Marginalized Spaces was a meditation on the state of girlhood; Just Like a Girl is meant to highlight the clever girls, the funny girls, the girls who don’t ask for permission and takes up as much room as they damn well like. She is the girl who knows there is no sin in being born one; and that in spite of all evidence and current belief systems girl/woman does not equal weak.
Said girl doesn’t have to be a super hero, but she has hit a few balls out of the park, cursed out a couple trash talking construction workers, and took a few racist, homophobic, misogynistic folks to task. Ultimately, she knows how to pick herself up and brush herself off.
She’s a feminist. 2nd Wave. 3rd Wave. No Wave.
She’s high maintenance.
She has read the Patriot Act. She understands it.
She recognizes that people’s lives fall apart, but with time and some Elmer’s glue it all works itself out.
She’s an urban girl. A country girl.
She lives in a square state. A blue state. A red state.
She seriously ponders what are the SAT scores of those girls grinding in the music videos. She is the girl in the music video.
She has the perfect plan on how to break up with a boyfriend and how not to lose her cool when her 38 triple D bra snaps in the middle of a cocktail party.
She’s a 25th century girl.
She knows the words to Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly.
She secretly pinches her best friend’s bratty three year old.
She is a cashier at WALMART.
She’s the second chair flute in her 8th grade band.
She marches on Washington
She makes fun of vegans
She has 6,000 friends on myspace.com
She still hides the tattoo that she got at senior beach week from her mother – she’s 42.
She writes for herself. She writes for her sister. She writes for the girls still not born.
Think of Just Like a Girl as a travelogue for the bumpy, powerful, action packed world of girlhood.
Tell a secret.
Reveal a lie
Go tell it on the mountain.
You get the point.
So cast a net and see what the day’s catch brings
Deadline: September 30, 2007
The anthology is open to any subject matter.
Work is especially welcomed from new and emerging writers.
Contributors may submit up to three pieces.
Essays and short stories should be no longer than 3,000 words.
Poems should have the contributor’s name on each page
Sci-fi is encouraged!
Send your work to firstname.lastname@example.org
Attachments should be titled with your name and the email subject should be Just Like a Girl.
PO Box 93
Hyattsville, MD 20781
Please include a brief bio and a mailing address.
Contributors will receive a copy of the anthology and the opportunity to read at the official Spring 2008 booksigning.
For more information on Michelle Sewell and the press check out www.girlchildpress.com
A national resource for poets/writers and the folks who love us!