Split This Rock in DC last weekend

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:

rainbow lady river flag

I’m hangin’ out right behind you. Coming in underneath.

Met the girl who was throwing up in the mens’ bathroom. Turned out she didn’t actually throw up.

So what if my boy’s making torture chambers out of blocks? Would you rather have the kindergartners playing “airport waiting lounge?

Wang Ping’s Ten Thousand Waves: Globalization 101 that Makes You Have Feelings

Ten Thousand Waves (2014) by Wang Ping

In her triumphant collection Ten Thousand Waves, Wang Ping examines the intersection of economic, political, and environmental forces at a human level, reifying through poetry global issues that might otherwise be reduced to academics. The scars of modern China’s land and people are unflinchingly reproduced on the page with a medical accuracy. The human and environmental costs of globalization are impossible to discount when presented with such elegance and artistry.

Ten Thousand Waves is poetry of the political at its best. Tackling such broad reaching issues easily lends itself to ideological cherry picking of the human experience at best and, at its worst, demagoguery. In this collection, Ping is much more ambitious than that. She shows us that even the bosses and the billionaires can be heartbroken, and those at the bottom of society can experience transcendent joy at the possibilities they hope to create for their children. Amidst the clamor of a globalized economy and geopolitical drama she gives a voice not only to the people of China, but to its soil, its rivers, and its ancestors as well. Rather than seeking to ignore the complexity of these narratives, Ping embraces the humanity that they provide.

Just as in the world beyond poetry on a page, this is not a lecture. It’s an invitation to conversation. In the final section of the collection, ‘Crossing the Line’, Ping looks at the experiences of Chinese migrants beyond their own borders. In this context, their struggles and triumphs become truly universal, hammering home what the reader has at this point already begun to suspect: We’re all in this together.

If you read poetry, you should read this book. If you don’t already read poetry, you should start, and you should start with this book. If you’re literate, you should read this book. If you’re illiterate, this book is a good reason to change that. Sitting down with Ten Thousand Waves is like having a conversation with an old friend you forgot you had; the kind of conversation that reminds you what your human parts feel like. And man, does it feel good.

Wang Ping‘s Ten Thousand Waves (2014) is published by Wings Press out of San Antonio, Texas.


Maybe I Should Have Been a Pianist Instead

I just got to the point
in writing where I realized
I mostly still do it because
I like the sound it makes
when I hit the keys

I don’t keep notebooks

Lewis Warsh/John Coletti Reading at Dia

I thought I’d do a little write-up about the Lewis Warsh/John Coletti reading I went to last night at Dia. I go to an awful lot of readings these days, and as a publisher who enjoys putting on readings, I’m interested in what a makes reading good. Many readings are pretty damn boring, and one of our goals at Cloud City Press is to try to change that.

I thought I’d start sharing with all of you my thoughts on the readings I go to, and maybe that’ll help you appreciate the events we host a little better, and you can see where I’m coming from as a Chief Editor here at Cloud City, if that’s the kind of thing you’re interested in.

Recently — especially at AWP — I’ve met plenty of other male poets who are older than me, and I’ve been noticing they all wear the same thing, generally. Poets my age seem to wear all kinds of things, but there seems to be a drop-off around age 30 where the only thing male poets wear is button-down shirts underneath sweaters. Women poets usually retain the individuality of their wardrobe.

On Monday night, John Coletti makes his poet get-up his own by rolling up the cuffs of his button-down over his sweater, which has white stripes going up it, stopping around the chest.

Folks seem to think his poems are pretty funny. Early on, he has a good line in there about pancakes that everyone laughs at. He reads his poems haltingly line after line, looking down at the paper, then bobbing back up to look at the audience, his voice following a similar cadence.

People laugh at these vaguely comical images and the occasional pop culture reference, but not many of those things seem very funny to me. Maybe I don’t get the jokes. Maybe I don’t get poetry.

In one poem, he’s making fun of memes and internet culture. It seems like pretty good satire to me, but the only thing the audience laughs at is an Angry Birds reference, which isn’t funny. Maybe they don’t get poetry.

After a while, I get a little bored, because I usually have a hard time sitting still for over 20 minutes, so I try to do the thing where you entertain yourself by trying to make yourself cum with willpower alone. It doesn’t work.

There’s free beer in the 10 minute break between poets.

Lewis is awesome. I’d never seen him read before. He wears a grey shawl-collared sweater over his button-down.

Lewis’s poems are very clever. The little anecdotes that make them up turn away right at the moment of intensity they build up to without ever stopping short or going to far, which gives them a feeling of being quick and light on their feet. You can tell he’s good.

His wavering voice makes him seem a little nervous, in a very earnest way, but the sharpness of his delivery belies this.

I didn’t buy anyone’s book, but I already own some of Lewis’.