Split This Rock

Split This Rock, Afternoon Reading, March 24

This reading at the Carlos Rosario International School, up 11th Street from U Street, included 4 poets from the Beloit Poetry Journal special edition for Split This Rock, José Padua, Khaled Mattawa, Minnie Bruce Pratt & Marilyn Nelson. The MC was Split This Rock Acting Assistant Director Bob LaValllee. The June Jordan clip they played tonight was her reading her bitterly ironic poem about chopping down the cherry tree, turning American mythology inside out.

This afternoon’s Youth Poet from the DC Youth Slam Team was Alexis “Wordplay” Franklin with an in-your-face, hit-you-over-the-head slam piece “For Fatherless Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide…”

José Padua‘s poems were unsettling narratives relieved with humor enough to take the edge off (or put it on in another way). He began with “P. Funk Reshapes the Redneck Landscape of the Town I Live In,” then on to a poem about talking to his wife’s doctor as Nick Cave. The recent poem “An End of the World Cult of My Own” was followed by “7 & 7” about George Allen, both the politician & a boyhood schoolmate of the same name who beat his brother, an intricate meditation on anger & powerlessness. He ended with “Pizzacto Five” on learning English & his mother learning Japanese, cultural clashes & surviving in America’s racism.

I had seen Khaled Mattawa earlier in the week at a panel here, now had a good chance to hear a bigger chunk of his poetry. He began with a poem of remembrances, “Summertime Cavatinas.” Then on to poems from his latest book, Tocqueville (New Issues), “On the Difficulty of Documentation” (not as dry as the title sounds, images of woman carrying water), “Ecclesiastes” with the contrasting repetition of “the trick…” & “the rule…” & concluding with a reading of the complete “After 42 Years.”

Minnie Bruce Pratt read a variety of poems from both her new book Inside the Money Machine & from the Beloit Poetry Journal 2012 Split This Rock Chapbook, including talking about drones (“The New Commuter War”), police brutality (“Breakfast Again”), fracking (“Burning Water”), as well as the more intimate parts of life in “Waking to Work” & “The Difference between Inside and Outside.” And work, again, in “Making Another Phone Call,” “A Temporary Job,” & “Turning the Switch Off.”

Marilyn Nelson ended the afternoon reading with one piece in the form “rondeau redoublé” (she likes working in forms), “Millie Christine” about conjoined slave twins —  a metaphor for the one/divided states, & on the freak-show of exploitation & racism. A good use of a form to carry the story along.

Afterwards I wandered off in the rain with poets Carolee Sherwood & Lori Desrosier (lucky me) to a cute little neighborhood cafe we found at 11th & Lamont, 11 Room, for dinner & the inevitable, ongoing, poet-conversation, combining high intellectual analysis, literary criticism & gossip.  It was exquisite.