old_man_summer (old_man_summer) wrote,

Split This Rock

I found saying something I have never said before this weekend (and no, it wasn't "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously"). I attended Split This Rock Poetry Festival here in DC, and at the end of the festival, early in the morning, they had a festival wrap-up evaluation and planning session with the organizers where they solicited suggestions for "What next?"

I didn't have any ideas in this regard, but I did find myself moved to the front of the room, holding the microphone, and telling Sarah Browning, the event's main organizer, that I felt as if I had been waiting my whole life for this event. I was tearful as I spoke, in a further bit of uncharacteristic depth of feeling. In attending this conference, I felt as if I was finally meeting a number of people I had so wholly given up hope of ever encountering that I did not even know I was missing them. I felt sharply spurred to act on my values and warmly nourished in my  own efforts at crafting poetry. And I had the opportunity to simply enjoy some beautiful art and learn from some wise individuals. I've written before about how much I hate going to conferences, so I was startled at myself. But this was an extraordinary event: idealistic, brilliantly well-organized and administrated, and visionary. I've often commented to colleagues that I wish I could -- just once -- attend a psychological conference that accomplished something important, that signaled an historic change and commitment to the future in our field (like the Boulder Conference, for example). I've no idea if I ever will have such an opportunity in psychology, but I felt that this event might just possibly be such a conference for lovers of poetry and peace. So I was thrilled and grateful at the synchronicity that led me there (I'd simply stumbled over it in the course of looking up Busboys and Poets Cafe as a good place for a weekend diversion; everything important happens by accident, it seems). 

In any event, Thursday 3/20 was the first night of the festival (and perfect timing for me -- during UMD's spring break, but the day after our Minnesota houseguests went home, which is yet more synchronicity, I suppose). I put in a day at work, spring break be damned, but went to Busboys and Poets in the evening for the Festival's opening celebration with Sonia Sanchez. I got there about 5:30, and the cafe was already absolutely packed, but I picked up my festival packet and finally found an unoccupied bench in the corner. There were itty bitties to eat, so I picked anxiously at a plate of hummus, good pita, olives, fruit and cheese, but I was feeling shy, so I didn't order a drink. I've gotten better at quietly observing my own misery in these situations, and at lowering expectations. I'd come alone, there was no chance of my meeting anyone I knew, and of course all around me were happy people drinking and warmly hugging one another. In front of me a small girl sat with her mother happily coloring and drinking some sort of hibiscus-colored drink that was flashing garnet in the light. I wished I had brought the Floppy, at least. But mindfulness training pays off: I watched my mind repeatedly supply the suggestion that I go home and go to bed, immediately, and I thanked my mind for the thought, and then I ignored it. I was there to see what happened, and worst-case scenario: I would get to see poets. So I sat on my little bench in the corner, and waited. 

Sonia Sanchez came on about 6:30, I think, and gave an impassioned speech about empowering young people to be writers and activists. My favorite moment came as she was speaking about working with youth in school, and about the reedeeming qualities of rap and Hip Hop music (or lack thereof). She talked about boys excusing their consumption of misogynistic and hateful music by saying that they just get down to the groove, that they don't pay attention to the lyrics. Sanchez is a little bitty woman, a bit stooped, foul-mouthed, behatted, rich and expansive with gesture. She threw up a hand and hollered: "Oh, please. You listen to the goddamn lyrics, too!"

I am constantly but less persuasively making the same argument to my husband, so I wish he'd been there.

I'd seen Sanchez speak (and read) before, and I have some of her books; she is entertaining and provocative and a wonderful instigator, but there was little that was new to me in her talk. She only read one poem, as I recall, and I don't remember it. Also, I find that I dislike the intense focus on youth that often comes when we speak about social justice: The idea that we should focus on youth, and especially the idea that the youth are the future, and that they will solve our problems if we only listen to them. For one thing, it strikes me as ageist. I never hear impassioned speeches about how we must take care of and listen to our elders, because they will save us with their wisdom and their knowledge of our history. For another thing, it strikes me as patronizing of the youth: People of all ages are diverse, are individual, differ in their needs. Jamie Lynn Spears and Miley Cyrus are children, but I don't feel moved to focus any additional social attention on them. And, finally, it strikes me as avoidant. Expecting children as the future to pay for the mistakes of the present is not visionary social policy, W's deficit spending notwithstanding. So as much as I was amused by Sanchez's talk, I wasn't dazzled by it.

Tags: activism, peace, poetry, split this rock
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