Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Saturday October 2, 8:10PM - Geraldine R. DodgePoetry Festival

So now i find myself at the Dodge Poetry Festival in the Main Stage tent listening to Joyce Carol Oates, whose reading has been a little difficult to listen to. It is the third day of the festival. I've done my seminars and reading already on Thursday (the first day) and the rain fell all day, so now i'm fighting the flu but giddy from the star-struck excitement of being around the superstar poets of my time: Komunyakaa, Clifton, Mark Doty (who remembered me from the panel we shared in Connecticut three summers ago), Sharon Olds, Cecilia Vicuna, Galway Kinell, Donald Hall, Philip Levine and on and on and on...

The experience has been of course very educational. To hear Lucille Clifton open her mouth at all feels like blessing. In her panel (about Poetry and Class), she said "i come to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable". After you think about that kinda Confucius-like shit even coming out of an individual's mouth in the course of conversation and how absolutely Jedi-master that is; it encapsulates everything i think poems should do . I wish that ability on my poems and the poems of anyone attempting to write them. But perhaps one of the most interesting things about these poets, all of them great and heavily-accoladed, is their humility in the face of the task of the word. There is no mastering of this beast for any of them, and i find in that a lesson of its own worth learning; not that i've ever felt that mastering this art was a possibility, but it is helpful to recognize that writers with Pulitzer prizes and Fellowships and all sorts of awards, still all talk about wrestling with the poem, with the craft, with the meaning.

But of them all, Cecilia Vicuna (tilde on the 'n') is so far, my most transformative experience. Yesterday on the shuttle back to the hotel, i had a chance to speak with her (probably the only featured poet here with a sense of 'performance' about her work). She was delightfully solicitous of my star-stricken conversation, and i felt comfortable enough (and geek enough) to offer her one of my CDs. But now i've had a chance to see her entire set and from her opening piece (which began in the multi-thousand seated audience), to her "receive the host of the wounded word" to her declaration that text be "danced and abandoned", Vicuna's work was so absolutely scintillating, and aware of its world; a melange of always dynamic sound and meaning that it felt most of the time that it was more than just her observations and recollections and lines pushed deep into my stomach, but that every whisper, every word sung into note, every grito was in service of the poem. And that poem might not be line, it might be silence or laugh or her hand raising from the podium as she talks about "the mist rising back up from the waterfall to heal". I could go home now, but Philip Levine is on and he's doing it up right. i'll be back...

Sunday October 3. 2:00PM

...and while the geraldine R. Didge Poetry Festival has been great, there's no denying the dearth of diversity here. While the feature poets and many of us from the 'Poets Among Us' are excellent writers, i can think of any number of writers who are comparable or better who would have diversified both the cast of poets and the audience attending (which tended to be largely white, middle class and older). If the festival is dedicated to the prolifeartion of poetry throughout (which i'm assuming it is) then its got to appeal to the massive youth and people of color movement in contemporary poetry if it is ti have any lasting legitimacy. A poetry festival of this magnitude and potential impact should not (if it's keeping anything real) go without a panel discussing the relevance of hip-hop culture in modern poetics, since they're all affected by it whether or not they think so. I do understand that without us (youth, peoples of color) the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival will still retain its prestige, but it runs the risk of becoming as irrelevant as many youth think poetry is, if it doesn't activele and aggresively seek out work from a wider sphere of writers.

Still, i managed to hear - after Cecilia Vicuna yesterday - some brilliant brilliant work from Philip Levine, and this morning heard an excellent panel featuring GK Williams, Sharon Olds, Mark Doty and Franz Wright on the Sacred and Profane in Poetry. The evening closed with hearing sets of work from GK Williams, an Israeli poet whose name i can't remember now but will let you know of later when i find the program cuz he's dope as hell, Lucille Clifton (may God be praised) and Sharon Olds, whose ability to craft a poem out of thin air is unfathomable to me. I've just got done reading Franz Wright's "The Beforelife". Get this book. Read it. It is really bugged and beautiful. I'll post and interview of his later...

2 Comments:

Blogger Rich said...

More Jedi shit:

Martin Espada is fond of quoting Whitman: "The duty of the poet is to cheer slaves and horrify despots."

werd

5:14 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Yo, Roger...loving these Dodge posts. Great reading...I mean that sincerely.

Now hurry up and update!!!!!

love always,
TBrown

9:44 PM  

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