Saturday, February 6, 2016

FIRST POETRY READINGS IN DC OUTSIDE THE LOC

by William McLeod Rivera (W.M. Rivera)

The annual series of public poetry and fiction readings, lectures, symposia, and occasional dramatic performances at the Library of Congress (LOC) began in the 1940s.  When I joined the LOC staff in 1957 as assistant to the editor of the LOC Handbook of Latin American Studies, I developed a friendly relationship with then Poet Consultant in Poetry, Richard Eberhart (1959-1961).  After one of our luncheons together, I told Richard that, while I appreciated the LOC readings by well-known poets, I thought a series outside of LOC for younger, relatively unknown poets was needed.   That year, 1959, I negotiated with Reverend Dr. James J. Reeb of the Universal Unitarian Church on 16th and Colombia Road to rent a room at the Church for bi-weekly (every two weeks) poetry readings by younger poets.  He charged me $5.00 per rental; in turn I charged participants $3.00 per attendance.  The readings brought together about 8-15 participants and from the monies I received, I paid for the room-rental and also paid readers $20.00 (often made up with out-of-pocket).   After each session, the reader and participants were invited to walk over to my small apartment on 18th and Columbia Road. 

I am truly sorry that I did not keep a record of the poets who read from their works.  These were featured reading, one person per session.  Shortly after the younger-poets series began, Richard told me that he wanted to read at my series, and although I protested (mildly) that he was not a ‘younger’ poet, he insisted, and of course I was delighted to include him in the series.  Needless to say, Richard brought the largest audience (over 40 participants) and, of course, would not accept the remunerative fee for reading.  Also, needless to say, he gave the series a terrific boost.

The readings at the Universal Unitarian Church during that period (1959-1961) were the first in DC outside of those hosted by the LOC.   It was an especially exciting time in my life.
Rev. James Reeb
Unfortunately neither Rev. James Reeb nor Richard Eberhard are still with us.  Last year, the current Pastor at the Universal Unitarian Church, Reverend Dr. Hardies, accepted a poem I wrote in honor of Dr. Reeb.  Below is the commemorative poem I wrote in Rev. Reeb’s honor, following his death in Selma by thugs opposed to integration.

Today I kicked a tree

Dedicated to Reverend James Reeb (1927 – 1965), a white American Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston, MA, a pastor and civil rights activist in Washington, DC; murdered in Selma, Alabama.

I sat down on the plane and read the news,
March 1965, of how they clubbed
and cracked your skull in Selma, Reverend

James J. Reeb,
because you hoped to un-divide white/black
and carry light throughout a hostile land.

Today I kicked a tree.  Why it fell to me
to pass this way and not another, who knows. 
For you, there was no other way; you lived
to swell the ranks against the urge to hate.

Years late I turn to honor you, your life,
and yet what pains me now is not hard death,
but witnessing this winter’s dark concerns,
the odium in life no age shakes off.  






Thursday, January 28, 2016

SPLENDID WAKE 4, MARCH 18, 2016, 6:30 p.m.



A Splendid Wake 4
4th Annual Program Celebrating Poetry in the Nation’s Capital
 —1900 to the Present
Friday, March 18th, 2016 from 6:30-8:30 P.M. at George Washington University Gelman Library, Suite 702, 2130 H Street, NW, Washington, DC (near Foggy Bottom Metro stop). 
Free and Open to the Public!

Join us for our 4th incarnation of A Splendid Wake as we continue our work of documenting poets and poetry movements in the Nation’s Capital from 1900 to the present. Our focus this vernal equinox is on Grace Cavalieri’s selected radio broadcasts of The Poet and the Poem; Letras Latinas in DC with Francisco Aragón and Dan Vera; and Crossing Borders: Literary Translation in DC with moderator Barbara Goldberg, and panelists: Roman Kostovski, Nancy Naomi Carlson, and Vivian Wang.

Recipient of the Silver Medal for Broadcasting from Corporation of Public Broadcasting, prolific poet and playwright Grace Cavalieri presents excerpted recordings of Sterling Brown, first Poet Laureate of Washington DC and author of Southern Road; Lucille Clifton, National book Award winner and author of Blessing the Boats; Ann Darr, one of the first women pilots in World War II and author of Cleared for Landing; Roland Flint, Georgetown University professor and author of Easy; Essex Hemphill, jazz poet and author of Conditions: Poems; May Miller, the most widely published woman playwright of the Harlem Renaissance and author of Halfway to the Sun; Belle Waring, author of Refuge and Dark Blonde; and Reed Whittemore, former Consultant in Poetry to The Library of Congress and author of The Mother's Breast, The Father's House. Cavalieri will read poems from her memoir Life Upon the Wicked Stage.

DC area-based poets Francisco Aragón and Dan Vera discuss Letras Latinas, the literary initiative of the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies and how that initiative has been carried out in DC, which includes collaborations with the Library of Congress, various branches of the Smithsonian Institution, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and Split This Rock Poetry Festival. Aragón established Letras Latinas as part of his work at Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies. Dan Vera is author of Speaking Wiri Wiri, the inaugural winner (in poetry) of the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize.

The panel Crossing Borders: Literary Translation in DC will discuss the history and present-day state of literary translation, with examples drawn from Czech, French, Chinese, Hebrew, and Kurdish. Particular challenges unique to each language and culture will also be discussed.


Splendid Wake Wiki:  http://wikis.library.gwu/dcpoetry/index.php/Main_Page

For program information contact: Joanna Howard  asplendidwake@gmail.com
For wiki and venue information, contact Jennifer King   jenking@gwu.edu  202/994-0628   



Saturday, January 2, 2016

Some Of Us Press

Bruce Andrews and Lee Lally at Trinity College, c. 1970
Photo courtesy of Michael Lally

Beltway Poetry Quarterly has released a special issue celebrating Some Of Us Press. 

Some Of Us Press is one of the best representations of the Small Press Movement of the 1970s. The idea was radical: that the mainstream publishing industry was too conservative, and that writers whose voices would never be accepted by the big houses could bypass them entirely, and simply publish one another. The best of the small presses were experimental, flexible, and varied in their publications. SOUP, for example, published poets who were writing new work that was deeply personal, or pushed free verse to new places. Poems in the series were often political, anti-war, feminist, or openly gay. Some of the writers were immigrants or the children of immigrants, and redefining of what it meant to be American. All are filled with an exuberant sense of possibility.

Michael Lally reading at Folio Books, January 1977. In background:
Doug Lang, Terence Winch, Lynne Dreyer. Photo by Peter Barry Chouka.
Excerpts from thirteen books are included in the issue. Featured authors: Bruce Andrews, Ed Cox, Tim Dlugos, Lynne Dreyer, Gabrielle Simon Edgcomb, Robert Hershon, Beth Joselow, Lee Lally, Michael Lally, Leonard Randolph, Simon Schuchat, Terence Winch, and Ed Zahniser. 

With an introduction by Michael Lally, a preface by Kim Roberts, and a full press bibliography, the issue also features an array of visuals (book covers, photos from readings, flyers) and historical notes at the end of some of the author's pages that give a flavor of the passion and expansiveness of the 1970s literary scene. 

Read the issue: http://www.beltwaypoetry.com/some-of-us-press-issue/

Thursday, December 31, 2015

20th Anniversary of Poetry Extravaganza

by Sylvia Dianne Beverly "Ladi Di"

It's that time of year for excitement, reflection and action, so  "Collective Voices" Poetry Ensemble is taking  time out to plan Poetry Extravaganza-2016. 

"Collective Voices" consist of founding members Sylvia Dianne Beverly, (Ladi Di), J. Joy Alford, (Sistah Joy) and more recently Andre Taylor, (Brenardo).  This will be the 20th year celebrating the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown Washington, D.C., in partnership with CAAPA.

Date:  Saturday, January 16, 2016
Time:  12:30 pm - 4:30 pm
Place:  Great Hall
SAVE THE DATE!!!

This year’s theme is "Bridging the Gap", and will be the main focus throughout the celebration.  We celebrate with Music, Dance, Song Prayer and Poetry.  The celebration will be hosted by WPFW's Radio Personality Josephine Reed and will start with drumming and dancing by The Malcolm X Drummers and Dancers, Ian Sydney Match, James Curly Robinson and Lorenzo Sands, along with others.  Our national anthem will be sung by soprano Pamela Simonson.  We must recognize the importance of filling the GAP between positive life sustaining entities such as our youth and elders, our people and our nation and various medias of Art and our artist.

Reflecting on Dr. King and his dedication, especially during times of challenge and controversy, we hope to attract the attention of our audience in order to form a better nation/world in which to live.  This is a family friendly event, free of charge and open to all.  We hope everyone will bring another, especially our youth and elders.

Along with "Collective Voices", there will be three featured adult poets, (CeLillianne Green, Charles Cary and Patrick Washington) and three youth presenters, Nathaniel Matthews (soloist), Antonio Hammett, (soloist) and Nehemiah Sellers, (orator).  Another highlight will be a presentation from Poet of Distinction Grace Caviler.  In addition there will be a special recitation of Dr King's speech by poet/orator Avery Tynes. 

Oh what a gloriously planned day of enlightenment, encouragement and entertainment this will be, just the kick-start we need to help fulfill our resolutions for the New Year.  It's a Family Affair so, we hope to see our youth and elders there.  Plan to attend.

For all poets and writers, keep writing, keep sharing, keep using your God-given talents.  For all who have thought about writing, go ahead, give it a try, you might like it. at very least, you will always have something meaningful to do.  Poetry is my Passion!  


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Washington Writers’ Publishing House: Tireless Members Who’ve Passed Away


As I reflect on Washington Writers’ Publishing House (WWPH), the D.C. based cooperative press, which has published more than 100 books of poetry and fiction since 1975, it’s become clearer than ever to me that an organization is the people who breathe life into it with their time and energy. With that in mind, I would like to remember some of WWPH’s strong, working contributors who are eligible for a splendid wake, stalwart authors who contributed generously with their get-up-and-go to the inner workings of the press, and who have now passed away. 

I want to begin by mentioning Shirley Cochrane, who passed away on November 18, 2015. Shirley was living in Charlotte, North Carolina, under 24 hour care at the time of her death. She was the author of Burnsite, published in 1979. During the 80s and into the 90s, Shirley served as president, tirelessly checked the post office box, did order fulfillment, and attended press meetings until she moved away. Many thanks, Shirley; may you know our gratitude.

In 1979, WWPH published the anthology of D.C. Poets, The Poet Upstairs, edited by Octave Stevenson, longtime head of the Literature Division at the D.C. Public Library. In 1995, WWPH published another anthology titled Hungry As We Are, edited by Ann Darr, the author of Do You Take This Woman? I think it’s fair to say that anyone who volunteers to lead an effort to compile and edit an anthology, successfully seeing the project through to publication, has made a major contribution to Washington Writers’ Publishing House.


In the late 1980s into the 1990s, Barbara Lefcowitz, author of The Queen of Lost Baggage, coordinated manuscript reading for the poetry prize. Barbara, another member to recently pass away, having died on October 8, 2015, was very interested and energetic in her work for WWPH. 




Barbara was energetic in her work, as was Elaine Magarrell, author of On Hogback Mountain. During the 1990s Elaine helped with major press undertakings, as well as with WWPH minutiae, whenever needed by then president Jean Nordhaus. 




And here we ought to remember Ann Knox, author of Stonecrop, who managed production in the late 1980s on into the 1990s. Ann offered me sound advice on the subject when I came on board in 2004. 



On the subject of advice, Faith Reyher Jackson, author of the novel Meadow Fugue and Descant, published in 2002, remained active in the life of the press until the end of her life by speaking up at meetings. When she couldn’t make it to meetings anymore, Faith remained involved by offering feedback via e-mail. Other WWPH authors no longer with us include May Miller, Margaret Weaver, and Paul Estaver.

I hope I have not missed any steadfast WWPH author who has passed away. I will close by mentioning two more authors. First, I remember distinctly the book launch in 1992 for The Dark above Mad River, by Joe Thackery, who was in his late seventies at the time of publication. From the podium, Joe said of his book, “This just shows it’s never too late.” 

Lastly, I remember Robert Sargent, who early on served as president and for well over 10 years held the post of WWPH treasurer, thereby helping hold together a fledgling WWPH with his sage financial wisdom.

Remembering our friends from the past with all their contributions to our lives, I’d like to say how I take the title of Robert Sargent’s WWPH poetry book as another bit of his wisdom: Now Is Always the Miraculous Time. Many thanks to all of these folks (and those, too, still among us—working away) who helped get WWPH through all the years to this miraculous time.


Patric Pepper was President of WWPH from 2007 to 2013, and has continued volunteer service with the press. His poetry collection Temporary Apprehensions was a 2004 winner of the Washington Writers’ Publishing House Poetry Prize.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Legacy, A Crystal Ball: Poetry in the DC Area - What’s Coming?

by Hiram Larew

A Splendid Wake (ASW) promotes a broad appreciation for the greater Washington, DC area's poetry legacy.  Bravo to ASW for doing so.  By recognizing the cumulative diversity of voices, efforts and ambitions that have built the region’s poetic presence, ASW provides evidence of our poetry’s regional, national and even international roots and impacts.  As our region’s interest in poetry grows, ASW tracks how local culture, politics and way of life have been both influenced by and affected by the poetry community.  ASW is all about being proud of our community’s poetic past. 

Looking back over our shoulders comes in tandem with a curiosity about what’s to come.  Or, said slightly differently, looking back powerfully elicits and compels a look ahead. 

And so, this blog leans out from the ASW-recorded historical platform to peer forward.  How might we expect the DC poetry community to change and evolve?  Based on our community’s culture and history, and considering current trends, what might we anticipate the Greater DC poetry community to look like in, say, 25-50 years?

Predictions are, of course, fraught with biases and blurry vision, and are humbled by frivolous chance.  But predictions, however far off-base, can be powerful tools for placing our current efforts in perspective.  They also are useful in shaping aspirations.   Surely, we become to some extent what we imagine.

So in that spirit, what follows are a couple of predicted features of our Future Poetry Community.  Your thoughts on these or suggestions of others are welcome.

Underlying the following ideas are notions of the DC area’s uniqueness.  Surely, the federal government’s footprint is large, and political drivers and mindsets motivate much of the area’s interests including its cultural expressions such as poetry.  Will such overlays continue to exert an influence on the area’s poetry, and if so, will the influence change over time?
Also, the IT revolution.  Wow.  As documented by A Splendid Wake, it has made and continues to make an incredible difference in the way that poetry is presented, delivered and shared both locally and beyond. This, coupled with an overall, ever-growing interest in poetry worldwide will undoubtedly affect the DC-area poetry community. 
Given such backdrops, let’s consider how the following may change in years to come. 
1)    The Network - At the heart of our community is the amazing diversity of voices that contribute to it.  That poetic range and network will only further flourish in the coming decades.  Yes, it may continue to specialize so as to provide resonance and needed recognition to each distinct groups’ voice.  But just as surely, such a variety of voices will influence each other as networks cross - as local readings and journals aggressively include and welcome a wide range of poets.  And, IT tools will tend to e-gather that diversity; readings will increasingly include virtual presenters from not only nearby neighborhoods but also poets from geographically and culturally distant points.  We will likely encounter IT- (robot-) generated poetry at future readings as well. In other words, the network will further mature to become amazingly rich.  We already see that range of offerings in online and print journals that receive and present a sweeping gamut of work. This trend won’t, of course, be unique to the DC area.  But it will be especially noteworthy here because of the many, many types of poets that thrive within the region.


2)    The Tone - We might also expect over the coming years that the tone of the DC area’s poetic voice will increasingly reflect its location.  For example, the proximity to and special relationship with the federal government will further mature.  This means that beyond the Inauguration, we should expect poetry to appear in a wide array of government’s hallowed halls – on the Hill, the Supreme Court, the Department of Defense, the Department of Labor, the National Science Foundation, etc.  (Note that the Hirshhorn has already opened its doors to poetry readings.)  Whether such venues will shape or require certain flavors of poetry or otherwise influence the community’s style remains to be seen.  But, it seems inevitable that more overlap will occur between those in our community who carry the muse and those who push forward the important business of government. 
Ditto the work already underway that promotes poetry awareness beyond cafes and college classrooms. Poetry will deeply infiltrate the community. For example, we’re likely to see more poetry in K-12 schools, assisted living communities, businesses, hospitals, food banks, places of worship, and sports arenas. Beyond posting at bus stops, poetry will start to pop up in all kinds of public and private venues. And while this tendency won’t be unique to the DC region, it will likely fledge fully here in our area.

And lastly on the tonal front, we should expect that poets will be courted to collaborate more and more by a much wider array of partners than we’ve seen heretofore. Beyond other artists such as musicians, sculptors, painters, dancers and the like, poets will find creative ways to learn from – and teach – lawyers, architects, doctors, business people, historians and on and on. The driver/motivator for such pairings is simple – it’s the sparks and insights gained. And while again, this trend will happen without regard to location, the DC area is ripe for such innovative intersections because of ever present turn overs and comings and goings.

Coda - Knowing how the DC poetry scene has changed in the last decades (thanks to A Splendid Wake and others groups that preserve that record), what do you think the future holds?  And finally, is there a role for organizations such as A Splendid Wake in recording the changes ahead and, perhaps, in promoting them?
BIO: Hiram Larew is an active poet in the greater DC area.  Recently retired from the federal government, he has published in several journals and books, and been awarded prizes including The Louisiana Poetry ribbon and Baltimore's ArtScape poetry award.  He lives in Upper Marlboro, MD and can be reached at hlarew AT gmail.com.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Word Works Move from Regional to National

This year The Word Works Washington Prize submissions have come from 47 of the United States, a record for us, and it seemed like a good time to celebrate the steady progress of The Word Works from regional to national organization. In 1981, The Word Works led by Deirdra Baldwin, founding president, while intent on honoring our city of origin (Washington, DC), made a conscious decision to move from a regional to national literary organization.

This was done in 1981 through the establishment of an annual literary competition named The Washington Prize. Initially The Washington Prize operated for seven years as a single-poem contest with an award of $1,000 and publication of the winning poem in a full-page ad in the Poets & Writers newsletter (precursor to the Poets & Writers Magazine).

The first prize was fully funded by a grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. When Word Works began planning for this competition, no other prizes offering such a substantial monetary award existed. However, much to Karren Alenier’s surprise was a call for the first Billee Murray Denny Award, which also offered $1,000 for a single poem but no promise of publication. Suffice it to say, Alenier entered the Denny Award and won that prize.

The list of poets (including the state where these poets lived at the time of the award) winning The Washington Prize as a single poem contest is:

1981 Barbara Goldberg, Maryland
1982 Susan Gubernat, New York
1983 Judith Steinbergh, Massachusetts
1984 Lindsay Knowlton, Massachusetts
1985 Enid Shomer, Florida
1986 Renée Ashley, New Jersey
1987 Lisa Ress, Virginia

In 1986, Alenier became the second president of The Word Works during a time when Word Works publications had slowed down. Calling a meeting of the Board of Directors and key volunteers, Alenier, along with J.H. Beall, Barbara Goldberg, Betty Parry, and Robert Sargent helped move The Washington Prize into its next phase. In 1987, Word Works began its Washington Prize imprint by inviting Enid Shomer to submit a book-length manuscript featuring her winning poem “Stalking the Florida Panther.” Also in 1987, we put out a call in Poets & Writers Magazine for book-length manuscripts that would win $1,000 and book publication. The Washington Prize imprint list at this time includes (with state where the poet lived at the time of the award):

1987 Enid Shomer of Florida for Stalking the Florida Panther
1987 Christopher Bursk of Pennsylvania for The Way Water Rubs Stone
1989 John Bradley of Illinois for Love-In-Idleness
1990 Barbara Moore of New York for Farewell to the Body
1991 Elaine Magarrell of Washington, DC for Blameless Lives
1992 Nancy White of New York for Sun, Moon, Salt
1993 Fred Marchant of Massachusetts for Tipping Point
1994 Jay Rogoff for of New York The Cutoff
1995 Linda Lee Harper of Georgia for Toward Desire
1996 George Young of Colorado for Spinoza's Mouse
1997 Ann Rae Jonas of Massachusetts for A Diamond Is Hard But Not Tough
1998 Nathalie F. Anderson of Pennsylvania for Following Fred Astaire
1999 Peter Blair of Virginia for Last Heat
2000 Charlotte Gould Warren of Washington for Gandhi's Lap
2001 Michael Atkinson of New York for One Hundred Children Waiting for a Train
2002 Miles Waggener of Arizona for Phoenix Suites
2003 Ron Mohring of Pennsylvania for Survivable World
2004 Carrie Bennett of Virginia for Biography of Water
2005 Richard Lyons of Tennessee for Fleur Carnivore
2006 John Surowiecki of Connecticut for The Hat City after Men Stopped Wearing Hats
2007 Prartho Sereno of California for Call from Paris
2008 Richard Carr of Minnesota for Ace
2009 Frannie Lindsay of Massachusetts for Mayweed
2010 Brad Richard of Louisiana for Motion Studies
2011 Mike White of Utah for How to Make a Bird with Two Hands
2012 B. K. Fischer of New York for St. Rage's Vault
2013 Molly Bashaw of Vermont/Germany for The Whole Field Still Moving Inside It
2014 Jamison Crabtree of Nevada for rel[am]ent
2015  Barbara Duffey of South Dakota for Simple Machines




Statistically in 35 years, The Washington Prize has been awarded to 35 poets (20 women and 15 men), living or based at the time of the award, in 21 states or the District of Columbia. This represents 44 percent of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia. States with more than one Washington Prize winner include New York (6), Massachusetts (5), Pennsylvania (3), and Virginia (3). We attribute this preponderance of East Coast winners to our advertising in Poets & Writers Magazine, but as we have expanded our base of operation (our current president Nancy White lives in upstate New York, vice-president Rebecca Kutzer-Rice lives in Brooklyn, other Board members live in Maryland and Virginia) and purview (annually since 2009 we have exhibited at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Book fair, we have been able to attract submissions from other regional areas of the US.

The Washington Prize is open to Canadian poets writing in English. To date, we have awarded one prize to Canadian Mike White who lives and teaches in Utah. The Prize has always been open to Americans living abroad. In 2013, we awarded Molly Bashaw, who maintains her American anchor in Vermont, but lives in Germany. Still, we urge our authors to stay connected to The Word Works by giving readings in our venues, report on their successes, and volunteer for our projects, which includes reading for The Washington Prize.


While we continue to work on reaching out to North American writers writing in English, we believe we have been faithful to our goal of publishing outstanding contemporary poetry while moving from a regional publishing house sponsoring public literary programs to one that is robustly national.