Coleman Barks read his Letter to President Bush. I sat there listening to him, crying over what might have been. Like him, I don't really consider this proposal foolish. I wonder how many world conflicts could have been solved just as usefully with a fully waged and committed peace. Even WWII, the great war, the justified war: What would have happened if wealthy tourists had poured into 1920s Germany, spending money freely and easing the economic woes of war reparations? What if Wilson had achieved his 14 points? It is painful that the history of war is one of hundreds of missed opportunities for peace. It is painful that imagination is not always enough. But I do believe that we do good by creating alternative visions, by speaking joy to power, because once in a while it does work, and once in a while is better than nothing.
Pamela Uschuk is an interesting person. At the poetry and policy discussion, I enjoyed her description of the word "matriot," which she apparently coined, and her description of her father's experiences refusing to sign a loyalty oath in the McCarthy era. But I was not moved by her reading; I suspect I would like her poetry better if I met it on the page.
Belle Waring -- a former local neonatal nurse, lots of frontline experience with DC trauma -- was the least-renowned of the bunch, and I think she felt shy coming up on stage in her jeans and fleece vest, sheaf of paper in her hands (Uschuk is a glamorous tall blonde, and was wearing striking red cowboy boots, a gift from her famous poet husband). She made several self-deprecating remarks, and then opened fire, in an intense, painful, whisper, with some of the finest poetry I heard all weekend. Among others, she read The Forgery, about engaging in guerrilla medicine to save a baby's life. domystic, Rob, you would adore this lady. I bought her book, Dark Blonde (linked above), and also a Rumi collection of Barks.' (Barks is most famous not for his own poetry, but for translating Rumi. If you as an American and English-speaker know Rumi's poetry, it is because of him.)
A magnificent reading. I had wondered about where to go for dinner in between the 5 and 8 p.m. readings -- I found myself alone again -- but Sarah Browning solved my problem. Here is a great example of what kind of a conference this was, and what kind of a conference organizer she was: She got up at the five o'clock reading and announced that they had ordered hors d'oeuvres for the volunteers and the poets, but that the previous night they had way too many leftovers. So, she announced, when the treats arrived this evening, perhaps everyone in the audience would like to join the poets and volunteers in the cafeteria for an impromptu reception, so nothing would go to waste. Sarah Browning, a toast to you: not many people mix administrative skills with a truly warm and giving heart.
So I went to the reception and feasted on falafel and chicken shish kabobs and fruit and cheese, and ended up connecting with Karen Johnston again, some other poets from Massachusetts whom she knew, and a wonderful pair of sisters, Skeeter and Sue Scheid, who lived here. We made instant friends, eating dinner together, talking about all matters local, national, and personal, and exchanging chapbooks and encouragement. (I tried to talk Karen into going to the open mic and reading. She was ambivalent, but I see from her poem about the conference that she took my advice!) I also chatted briefly with Karren Alenier again -- when I picture the conference, I picture her, because we kept landing together -- and exchanged emails and blog addresses. It was all so easy, and fabulously fun. A wonderful validation of the adventures and connections that are possible when you travel solo and fearless into the world.