I struggle this year with the Thanksgiving holiday. Standing Rockis on my mind and coupling the injustices with the mythology of “The First Thanksgiving” makes me want to throw my pumpkin pie at the wall. November has been that kind of month when the divisions are crystal clear. They were always there. There was too much window dressing to notice. (That’s for another blog post.) As Rev. Dr. Rob Hardies of All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, DC asked in his sermon Sunday “What does it mean to be people of the Welcome Table in the age of the wall?”
I found something to put this “holiday” into right relation — Lincoln’s official 1863 Thanksgiving proclamation. There’s no mention of pilgrims, Indians or pumpkins. It was written and signed in the time of civil war. So I’ll look to Lincoln this Thanksgiving. Hope we’ll all give this proclamation — in whatever faith or belief we hold dear — a chance.
Lincoln’s words can be our Thanksgiving prayer.
And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
I’ve got a turkey in the frig and a pie to bake for a Thanksgiving dinner. But this blog has asked the question before about whether or not Thanksgiving is a day for “celebrating” given its historical context. One of my cousins will say, it’s a “celebration of the harvest.” In these times having food on the table is certainly something to to be thankful for.
In this post, eclectique916 will “Ask a Slave.” “Slavery” has gotten traction in becoming its own genre in narrative film, literature, etc. Why not satire. This is not new, but its definitely become the main course.
“Ask a Slave” is a [now popular] web series created by actress Azie Mira Dungey, a real-life historical interpreter who is using her credentials and experiences at Mount Vernon (just down the road from me) to create a video Q&A with the slave Lizzie Mae. The questions are scripted from and inspired by Dungey’s real-life interactions with tourists.
George Washington would issue a proclamation in 1789 making November 26 “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God” nationwide. George Washington also owned over 300 slaves on his Mount Vernon plantation estate. Letter to George: “Ask a Slave” What are you thankful for?
You sometimes wonder if it’s possible to have a civil and intelligent conversation about race. And the topic is ever so present in an election year, but much more nuanced when it comes to referring to a particular presidential candidate. It’s a challenge to come out of these discussions without some historical, social and/or political bruises. This weekend during the social screening of the interview with James Baldwin, I asked Ethelbert Miller in the chat, “Do you think we’ll overcome racism in your lifetime?” Ethelbert responded/typed.
No I don’t think it’s something you overcome. I think we all struggle with being good people on a daily basis. We try to be tolerant and understanding. This is what it means to be human.
Phillip Rodriguez, who’s produced numerous documentaries for PBS over the years is taking a shot at a civil and intelligent conversation about race as part of public media’s 2012 election specials. Phillip is from Los Angeles and a visiting fellow at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. We’re punchy friends on certain topics, but I will confidently and without hesitation say he’s a talented filmmaker.
RACE 2012: A Conversation About Race and Politics airs Tuesday, October 16 at 8 PM on PBS stations (check local listings). The conversations are introduced by persons who’ve had these chats before civil and otherwise. But these professionals in academia, communications, and politics allow the documentary to lay some groundwork for a conversation rather than detonate the argument that seems to result in some pretty steady payola for certain on-screen pundits. But either way, the pain remains. Here are a few clips. More are posted on the Race 2012 YouTube Channel.
It’s been awhile since the last Eclectique Interview. This will be the second interview with a poet. That’s Sarah Browning, director of D.C. Poets Against the War and Split This Rock Poetry Festival. Sarah is also author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden (The Word Works, 2007), and co-editor of D.C. Poets Against the War: An Anthology (Argonne House Press, 2004). She’s an active community organizer and poet (often at the same time). The Split This Rock Poetry Festival is coming up March 22-25, 2012. For 4 days the festival engages poetry as activism in community building, justice and social change. Yes, Virginia, and Maryland and all the states that surround the monumental colony we call, Washington, D.C. – the city is a poetry capital.
SPLIT THIS ROCK POETRY FESTIVAL: POEMS OF PROVOCATION & WITNESS WHAT: Four days of readings, workshops, panels, open mics, youth programs, and activism, bringing poetry into public life and exploring the role of poetry in social change.
WHEN: March 22-25, 2012
WHERE: Washington, DC – Multiple venues in the U Street Corridor and Columbia Heights. Visit the website at www.SplitThisRock.org for details.
E916: What inspired Split This Rock Poetry Festival?
SB: Split This Rock emerged from DC Poets Against the War, part of a national movement founded in response to President Bush’s drive to war with Iraq in 2003. Our local group united poets working in a variety of styles – across differences of race, ethnicity, age, gender, and sexual orientation – to speak out for alternatives to war and for a radical reorganization of our nation’s priorities.
As I discovered when I moved here, DC poets had always written with this clear-eyed. But they did not always have a platform from which to speak these truths. There were few institutions supporting and promoting this kind of poetry, poetry that bears witness to the injustices of the world and, through compelling and powerful language, provokes change.
We designed the first Split This Rock Poetry Festival to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq in March, 2008, and put out the call nationwide for poets and activists and dreamers to join us.
The response was so phenomenal. Hundreds of people from our city, our region, and throughout the country found the festival so necessary, that we went to work building a permanent home for socially engaged poets. In addition to presenting a biennial national festival (which is equal parts festival, conference, and political action), Split This Rock now also presents readings, workshops, and discussion series year-round, publishes poetry of provocation and witness in electronic forums, sponsors an extensive program for youth, including the DC Youth Slam Team, and spearheads campaigns to integrate poetry into public life.
E916: How did poetry become so popular in Washington, DC? What makes DC a poetry or a poetic city?
SB: DC has a long and rich poetic tradition, to which we are all the lucky heirs. Walt Whitman spent the Civil War years in the city and the Harlem Renaissance poetry movement was launched here by Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Jean Toomer, and others. DC was home to influential Black Arts Movement poets Larry Neal, Gaston Neal, and Amos Zu-Bolton, among many others. Essex Hemphill was the best known Black gay poet of that gorgeous generation tragically lost to AIDS, those who came of age in the 1980s.
It’s no coincidence that most of these poets are African American, of course. Our city’s Black writers and artists have always nurtured and supported one another, developing a strong cultural voice that has been critical to the survival of the District’s Black community.
Today is no different. Older poets mentor younger ones, communities of poetry form and dissolve and re-form. DC becomes a living center for oral poetry – the oldest of poetic forms – newly named “Spoken Word.”
The District of course is also home to the federal government, an institution endlessly dissected and analyzed by the press and the popular imagination. Those of us who live here, in contrast, are often forgotten. We claim our place in the world, therefore, with poetry. Here is our story, our poems declare. Pay attention.
E916: When did you become a poet?
SB: I come from a family of poets and English professors, so it took awhile for me to accept that I had no alternative but to be a poet. I was busy differentiating myself by becoming a community organizer. But I discovered that I couldn’t do one without the other. I needed a creative life, a language with which to explore the complexities of the world, my relationship to the society in which I found myself, all the ways that history shapes us and frees us. I was almost 30 before I began calling myself a poet and found a way to put poetry at the center of my life.
With first DC Poets Against the War and now Split This Rock, I have found a way to unite these two commitments, to be a poet and an activist, to be undivided.
E916: Who are you looking forward to seeing at the festival? Give us a few highlights. Who’s coming to the event?
SB: Split This Rock 2012 features a spectacular line-up of poets! DC favorites Sonia Sanchez, Alice Walker, Kim Roberts, Venus Thrash, and Naomi Shihab Nye will be joined by poets new to most of us: Homero Aridjis, a leader of Mexico’s environmental movement; Sherwin Bitsui, a Navajo poet devoted to keeping Navajo language alive among the next generation; spoken word superstars Carlos Andrés Gómez and Rachel McKibbens; Khaled Mattawa, a Libyan who lived in exile in the United States for decades and now divides his time between his home country and the country that gave him asylum for so many years; Douglas Kearney, who’s both a hip hop head and an opera librettist; and more.
We’re also paying tribute to the life and work of poet-activist-essayist-teacher June Jordan during the festival, as 2012 will mark the 10th anniversary of her death. Several sessions will reflect on Jordan’s legacy, focusing on her writings on environmental justice, sexual violence, and creative resistance.
E916: How do we appreciate poem? Does a poem make its best impression when read on the page or read aloud?
SB: When we attend a live reading, we hope that several of our senses will be excited: the language will delight our ear (even if the topic is a difficult one); the music of the poem will tickle our rhythmic sense; and the eye will receive gifts from the poet himself. We also have the pleasure of a live, communal experience, the kind whose magic we know from musical and theatrical performances. We are both alone and in a crowd as we listen and watch.
When reading poetry on the page, on the other hand, we have the pleasure of solitary communion with the poem. We can take all the time we want with it, reread it, read it aloud, yell at it. The eye is the most essential organ to this experience: The poem’s form should inform its meaning. Every mark on the page asks a question, suggests a possible reading. Which is why poets are so meticulous, can struggle for years with a single poem. The possibilities are endless; English in particular has a huge vocabulary compared to many other languages. And so the poet seeks and keeps seeking the language, the form, to carry her vision into the world.
This year’s festival’s tag line is “Poetry by and for the 99%.” When and where does poetry occupy public space?
Poetry is everywhere! Poets have been occupying and occupiers have been writing poetry. A new anthology, Liberty’s Vigil: 99 Poets Among the 99%, has just been published by Michael Czarnecki’s FootHills Publishing. Split This Rock poets have led open mics and given workshops and slept out and marched alongside and been beaten alongside as well. We carry lines of poetry through the streets during demonstrations, we hand out poems, we recite poems into mics.
Yesterday, the cashier at the grocery store was moved to tears when I told him of reading poems in front of his country’s embassy, drawing attention to its repression of poets and activists. I cannot help him go home. I cannot help his family join him here. But on a busy day at Trader Joe’s, we will shake hands, and our tears will tell of the power of words, the essential place of poetry in making a better world.
Too much, too much. June must be the final push on the event scene before people begin dispersing to the vacation scene. Again, just scratching the surface:
ITVS COMMUNITY CINEMA PRESENTS – “TWO SPIRITS” June 5 at 3 PM (Washington DC Jewish Community Center) June 12 at 5 PM (Busboys and Poets)
FREE – For reservations click on this link or call 202-939-0794. Other FREE preview screenings nationwide
Filmmaker Lydia Nibley explores the cultural context behind a tragic and senseless murder. Fred Martinez was a Navajo youth slain at the age of 16. But Fred was part of an honored Navajo tradition – the nadleeh, or ‘two-spirit,’ who possesses a balance of masculine and feminine traits. In relating Fred’s story, Nibley reminds us of the values that America’s indigenous peoples have long embraced. Visit www.communitycinema-dc.org for more information.
AN INTERVIEW WITH JOURNALIST HELEN THOMAS, FIRST LADY OF THE WHITE HOUSE PRESS CORPS Sunday, June 5 at 5 PM, Busboys and Poets, 5th & K Streets, NW Known as “the first lady of the White House Press Corps,” Thomas covered every President of the United States from the last years of the Eisenhower administration until the second year of the Obama administration. She was the first female officer of the National Press Club, the first female member and President of the White House Correspondents’ Association, and the first female member of the Gridiron Club.
Busboys and Poets’ owner, Andy Shallal will interview Thomas about her life and work — including the controversial interview with blogger and Rabbi David Nesenoff that led to her resignation/retirement as a Hearst columnist. Thomas, who is of Lebanese descent, has written six books; her latest, with co-author Craig Crawford, is Listen Up, Mr. President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do (2009).
EATONVILLE RESTAURANT CELEBRATES CARIBBEAN [CULINARY] HERITAGE June 12 – 17
Eatonville Restaurant, 2121 14th Street, NW Washington, DC 20009
June is Caribbean Heritage month. Eatonville Restaurant is devoting a week to Caribbean Heritage cuisine. Guest Culinary Artist Chef Oji Jaja of Kingston, Jamaica will add a Caribbean flare to the restaurant’s brunch, lunch, and dinner menus including June’s Food & Folklore event, “Caribbean Connections.” Special focus on Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica with steel drum music and guest DJs. Eatonville’s mixologists will be serving delectable libations featuring rums of the Caribbean and Jamaica’s signature Red Stripe beer. Reservations required for Food & Folklore prix fixe dinner. For information call 202-332-9672
June 15 – 26, Atlas Performing Arts Center
Step Afrika! teamed up with the Phillips Art Collection for a special collaboration involving their “Migration” series of paintings by the American artist Jacob Lawrence. Lawrence’s paintings, depicting the lives of African American who left the South for northern cities in the early 20th century, have been the inspiration for numerous performance works. Step Afrika! will bring their interpretation of this historic era in dance as only Step Afrika! can.
This is year 9 of the documentary festival featuring the work of U.S. independent filmmakers. THE SWELL SEASON, directed by Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis opens the festival on June 20th. THE SWELL SEASON follows musical artists Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who captivated audiences and earned an Academy Award for their musical collaboration in the film, ONCE. REVENGE OF THE ELECTRIC CAR will close the Festival. The documentary, directed by Chris Paine, explores the triumphant reemergence of the “clean car,” focusing on four dynamic entrepreneurs dedicated to creating an environmentally friendly automobile. THE INTERRUPTERS, by HOOP DREAMS director Steve James, will be part of the festival. I’ve heard good things about this film. And the honorees for this year’s Guggenheim symposium are Chris Hegedus and D A Pennebaker (DON’T LOOK BACK, THE WAR ROOM, Al FRANKEN: GOD SPOKE, MONTEREY POP, KINGS OF PASTRY). Thanks to them, I have no desire to be a french pastry chef. Festival passes are on sale now.
“Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” Through August 7 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall
This exhibit of the late British designer Lee Alexander McQueen’s fashions has been up for some time. And I hope to pay homage in NYC this month. It doesn’t get any better than Bill Cunningham’s commentary, “McQueened” for the New York Times. Well, actually the museum videos narrated by curator Andrew Bolton of the Met’s Costume Institute are pretty good. The exhibit, just on the pieces alone, cannot escape what was the beauty, complexity, and tragedy that was Lee Alexander McQueen who committed suicide in 2010 at age 40.