A couple weeks ago, I got back from AWP, and all I could think was, “God, I hate writers.” That’s okay — I became a writer because I didn’t like writers very much, and I didn’t like the books they wrote, and it seemed like there were no books out there that did all the things I wanted them to do. So I decided that I would write the books that I would want to read. Well, fuck you, AWP and all your bullshit, I’ll see you again next year.
But what I’m really waiting for is Split This Rock to come around again. Split This Rock was awesome. Split This Rock is a big national poetry festival in my hometown of Washington, D.C. that happens every two years and is full of the friendliest feelings that I’m still riding on five days later.
Wang Ping invited me down to help folks make prayer flags for the Kinship of Rivers project. Do you about Ping’s Kinship of Rivers project? It’s really something fantastic. It’s got a very ambitious and very Wang Ping goal, which is to bring the cultures and the people of the Mississippi and Yangtze Rivers together. We’ve been doing trips up and down the two rivers teaching folks along the Mississippi about Chinese poetry, food, culture and traditions and teaching folks along the Yangtze about Delta blues music, American poetry, and Mississippi river art, culture and food. The thing that brings everyone together in one place long enough for us to teach them about these things is we have folks make these flags that are inspired by the Tibetan prayer flags. Folks write their prayers, dreams, poems, drawings, and wishes on the flags, and we set them up as art installations along the rivers. At the end of the project, we’re going to hang them all up on Mt Everest, the source of the Yangtze river, and the roof of the world! Do you know how Tibetan prayer flags work? The idea is you’re supposed to hang them from the tallest mountains, closest to heaven, and as the wind blows through them, the prayers get carried up to heaven and come true. That’s what we’re going to do with our river flags. Here’s some of the ones we hung at the source of the Yellow River in China:
Ping had brought a bunch of fabric down for folks to make river flags. We must have nearly 3,000 of these by now. We ran out of fabric about 15 minutes into Ping’s first panel though, so many people wanted to make flags. Ping’s first panel was about Environmentalism in poetry. Anne Waldman was on it too, and she had a great thing to say about Manatees. Manatee, humanitee. Ross Gay was also there, he runs a community orchard in addition to being a famous poet, and Melissa Tuckey had some real interesting things to say as well. The highlight for me was during the discussion some fellow stood up and said that we all had this great diversity of ideas about environmentalism, and that’s where we were strong, but where we were weak was we were all striking out in different directions, and what we need is some unifying goal that encompasses all of our goals and knocks them out like so many stones with one bird, and can you guess what that goal is? It’s Marxism. That what that guy thought, and while everybody would have preferred to just change the subject entirely at that point, the man had sort of struck a nerve here about the fact that we weren’t actually doing anything for the environment. The whole situation was thankfully brought to a closure, however, when some real bohemian-looking type with a beard and a beret suggested that the real solution was to just write more poems, and everybody liked that an awful lot, and then we made flags.
I got to hang out with so many awesome people at Split This Rock, like Anne Waldman, John Rosenwald and Ann Arbor, Sarah Browning, Leeya Mehta, and tons more whose names I’m bad at remembering. There were so many famous poets, and nobody cared. Nobody cared that I wasn’t a famous poet and all and just a deadbeat hanger-on of Wang Ping. We all just hung out and it was awesome. I met a couple poets from DC. They were the first people I’ve ever met in my life who disliked DC as much as I did and the scum-of-the-earth transient social climbers that seem to make up most of the city. It was reassuring.
I got dragged to a rainy protest against the NSA down in front of the White House. No one was there, because nobody comes to protests when it’s raining. We all made a collective poem together, and Anne Waldman bullied me into going up and doing a line. The one I came up with was, “I’m just glad somebody finally cares about what I’m jerking off to,” and that seemed to be a big hit. Here’s a link a video I found of it on youtube!
The real highlight of the festival, though was the reading on Saturday night. I invited my mom, my dad, my friend Martin, and my Aunt Tracey, and that’s the last time I’m ever bringing any of those guys to a poetry reading, except maybe for Aunt Tracey. Franny Choi and Yusef Komunyakaa did just fine but Wang Ping really knocked it out of the park. Ping likes to read to live music, and I’d introduced her to my dad’s friend Sven who accompanied her on flute, drum, and guitar. He’s the guy who looks out of place in the Hawaiian shirt and beanie in this video I shot of her reading her awesome poem Dust Angels from her new book, Ten Thousand Waves.
It was awesome. I saw mostly female poets, and none of them wore button down shirts and sweaters. I took the Chinatown bus back to DC at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, and that was an adventure entirely on its own. To send you all off, here’s a pictures of board member Susan Scheid with the flag she made: