Saturday, October 8, 2016

DC Poetry Community Mourns the Loss of Nan Fry

written by Jean Nordhaus

Nan Fry, a much-loved Washington area poet and teacher, died suddenly on Friday evening, September 23rd. A longtime member of the academic faculty at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC, Nan also taught poetry workshops for many years at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. In addition to short stories appearing in various venues, Nan, who grew up in Connecticut and earned a PhD in Medieval Studies at Yale, published a collection of poetry, Relearning the Dark with Washington Writers Publishing House in 1981 and, in 1988 with Sibyl-Child Press, a delightful chapbook of riddle poems, Say What I Am Called: Selected Riddles from the Exeter Book,  translated from Anglo-Saxon. Her poem “Riddle” (see below) appeared as a transit system poster in Baltimore, Washington, and Ft. Collins as part of the Poetry Society of America’s “Poetry in Motion” program. A memorial for her will be planned for later in the year.

To read more about Nan’s career, publications, and teaching philosophy, please click on the links below:

by Nan Fry


you hang from your tree
like a teardrop grown solid,
like snow with a freckled skin.
When the handless maiden
came to you in moonlight, hungry,
she stretched up and took you
into her mouth.

Her father had sold her
to the devil and lopped off her hands,
but you bent to her, Pear,
and offered yourself, breast
and milk both, the earth
grown pendulous and sweet.

by Nan Fry

After being so long without windows,
you find that everything opens.

The leaf opens to water,
making itself a room.

When a bird comes,
it carries the sun in its beak.

Over and over, sun is flowing
into the leaf, into the hills

of water. Below, roots tear
water from rock, hurl it upward.

Without wondering if it is right
the worm makes a path

through the leaf, the watery lace.
Under his silent teeth you hear the sea

tolling, and you know
it is not a bell but a doorway. 

by Nan Fry

We are animal cries,
groans the body makes,
the shrill keening of grief,
pain and rage howled out,
grunts of satisfaction,
someone crooning to her young.
We're animal cries becoming
human, five daughters
of your mother tongue.

[Answer: Vowels]

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Celebrating the Washington Writer's Archives

In celebration of George Washington University's Washington Writers Archive Collection, 10 poets who have donated their papers to the Collection took over GWU Gelman Library Thursday night, April 28, 2016 to read wondrously to an avid audience.

The event was designed to showcase the magic diversity of poetic talent in the greater DC area and, in so doing, to klieg-light the Archive Collection holdings as a rich resource for research. 

The DC area is a special treasure trove of poetic talent. In recognition of that gold wealth of voices, the Gelman Library decided a few years ago to create a Washington Writers’ Archive Collection that would hold for posterity the papers of area poets.  The Collection’s intent is to showcase and focus on the interaction between and within the community of DC area poets – how we have influenced and impacted one another.   How we have boosted our voices collectively. 

Currently, the collection contains the papers of about 30 individual poets or poetry organizations.  Jennifer King, Special Collections Librarian at the GW Gelman Library, can provide more information about the collection – its current inventory and its future plans. 

The Collection is designed and intended to be used.  To be used by researchers, by the public, by poets, by anyone interested in the roots of our collective poetry efforts.  It’s a collection that doesn’t want to collect dust – it’s eager to be studied and enjoyed by any and all so that the public better understands how area poets have touched each others’ lives, and how as a group, we’ve influenced life in the greater DC area.  

The photo above was taken just after the reading.  From left to right are poets Beth Baruch Joselow, E. Ethelbert Miller, Cliff Bernier, Patrick Washington, Holly Bass, Karren Alenier, Grace Cavalieri, Sylvia Dianne "Ladi Di" Beverly, Judy McCombs, and at the far right, Sarah Browning.  Jennifer King (second from right) with the Library's Special Collection helped organize and host the event.  Hidden behind her is Sydney March who played his magical flute during the evening.  Ladi Di and the tall bald guy (Hiram Larew) on the back row emceed the event. 

Holdings from the Archive Collection are on display at the Library through mid-May.  And the program was video recorded by poet Jesse Alexander. 

Lots of younger folks attended the April 28th reading along with fine DC-area poets like Miles David Moore, Sistah Joy Alford, Jacqueline Jules, Laureen Summers, Quasar, Andre Brenardo Taylor and many others. 

All in all, it was a might fine evening.  Maybe, even historic. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Splendid Wake #4—A Debrief

I think this was our most community-oriented Wake that kept people talking outside the library! Hiram Larew in an email to the Wake Steering Committee called this event historic and I agree.

Joanna Howard
We had some very big obstacles this year relative to leadership and then in the 11th hour, our program was reduced by 30 minutes because the program occurred during GWU’s spring break when the library reduces hours. We were very lucky that Joanna Howard was able to return to her leadership role. She had stepped back last fall from her Splendid Wake activities given some medical problems within her family.

To keep things manageable, the steering committee decided to limit the program to three topics instead of five, which we had last year. Here, the stars aligned because when we were told we had less time for the public program, three programs made it much more possible to present a meaningful program within a 90-minute period.


—Among the three presentations was variety that included recorded “The Poet and the Poem” readings of poems by lost leaders of our DC lit community, projected photographs from the Letras Latino experience in DC, and an interactive panel on translation that had a teaching element.
—Participants were good about keeping their allotted timeframes and this allowed for audience to ask questions and make comments.
—Having an earnest moderator like Patrick Washington helped glue the parts together and keep the action moving forward.
—The warm introduction by Gelman Librarian Chief Geneva Henry set the tone for success. She said, “I know it’s spring when Splendid Wake comes to Gelman.”
—The paper program booklet similar to last year’s was exactly what we needed to follow along with the event schedule and understand why we do these Wakes.


The Poet and the Poem: Voices from the Past

Grace Cavalieri
Grace Cavalieri, the founder of The Poet and the Poem—a long running radio program that began 40 years ago on WPFW-FM and now comes through National Public Radio uploads from the Library of Congress, presented selected readings from our honored dead—Belle Waring, Essex Hemphill accompanied by Garth Tate, Lucille Clifton, Sterling Brown, May Miller, Ann Darr, Reid Whittemore, and Rolland Flint. The recording of Sterling Brown reading “After Winter” is the only record of Brown reading his poetry. While I was profoundly moved by the selections Grace picked for this presentation because I had actually heard each of these poets read live from his or her work, others in the Splendid Wake #4 audience were hearing some of these voices for the first time. Starting with our honored dead was the perfect place to begin this Wake.

Letras Latinas: Latino/a Poetry in DC

Dan Vera
Francisco Aragón and Dan Vera introduced the literary community in the room—about 60 strong—to the Letras Latinas project and award. While Letras Latinas was established in 1999, the emphasis of this discussion was on gathering community around Latino writing being written in the Washington, DC area and the Nation. One of their points that hit home with me is that the Hispanic population in the United States is increasing and we as a literary community need to welcome Hispanic writers as one of us. Dan Vera’s reading of his poem “The Cuban Friendship Urn” was timely not only for President Obama upcoming visit to Cuba but also sobering commentary on how a gift from Cuba “now stands majestically/ beneath an overpass/ beside a parking lot/ behind Jefferson’s enormous shoulder.” Vera won the first Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize for his book Speaking Wiri Wiri in which “The Cuban Friendship Urn” is published.

Francisco Aragon and Dan Vera

Crossing Borders: Literary Translation in DC

Barbara Goldberg created this panel inviting Nancy Naomi Carlson, Roman Kostovski, and Ting Wang to participate. All are members of DC-ALT, a translation group that sponsors writing workshops for people who would like to translate or who already are working in the field. What I particularly liked about this panel is that Barbara and Nancy talked about their process for translating. Roman spoke about his new publishing house for Eastern European languages and how the DC area is such a rich resource given the embassies here and the active literary circles and meet-up groups. Barbara also made an important point about how Myra Sklarew (one of the founders of Splendid Wake) had included a translation course in the requirements for the MFA degree she developed at American University.

Barbara Goldberg, Roman Kostovski, Nancy Naomi Carlson, Ting  Wang

Special shout outs to Jennifer King for making the logistics of all this work so well and let’s keep
Jennifer King
fingers crossed that Steve Castro shot a viable video.

To Joanne Howard for the Herculean job of creating the printed program brochure and making sure everyone was in place for the live program.

To Sunil Freeman for sitting as the hard-working timekeeper.

To Ginger Ingalls for running the mike around the room during the question and answer period.

To Jacqueline Jules and Jim Hayes for taking photographs.


Less is more. I like the idea of only presenting three panels or subject areas for our next Splendid Wake. This creates excitement among attending audience and panelists alike by not overwhelming.

Moderator needs advanced briefing. It’s best to give our program moderator time to understand what the program entails and if possible have that person attend one of our steering committee meetings.

Honored Dead & Here and Now. It’s important to have the lead presentation bring voices of honored dead into the room. While both the Letras Latinas and Translation panel had some element of addressing history, I think the greater portion of our program must address the here and now. This is how we are going to build community.

Karren L. Alenier

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Washington Writers' Archive

by Jennifer King
The Special Collections Research Center maintains the Washington Writers' Archive. This collection focuses on Washington, D.C. writers and possesses a particular strength in the D.C. poetry community. The Washington Writers’ Archive began in 1984 as a partnership between the GW English Department, several local authors and academic institutions, and the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at The Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library. The goal of this important academic resource is to collect the literary papers of the writing community in D.C., especially those of artists who focus their work on issues of concern to residents of Washington.
The SCRC is actively seeking to collect and make available for research the personal papers of Washington Metropolitan Area writers, as well as the organizational records of publishing houses and other organizations associated with writers. The goal of these efforts is to uncover and explore the ways personal papers of writers and records of local organizations converge to tell a complete story of the community. The SCRC accepts donations of published works of local writers (especially those works published by local small presses) as well as material that communicates the connections between writers in this community. Documents often included in donations include correspondence (especially with other writers and publishers), minutes and other records of writing groups, fliers from public performances, and audio and video of performances.
These donated collections will become a part of the community’s collective memory and enrich the available resources used for new discoveries. Special Collections stores archival collections in an environmentally controlled secure storage facility and oversees proper handling and use by researchers. We provide research access to the contents of the records in our reading room and submit collection descriptions to national databases including WorldCat and ArchiveGrid. All these tools inform researchers that GW is the repository holding specific collections or groups of collections that match their research needs. If you have a collection you are considering donating to the SCRC please contact Jennifer King, manuscripts librarian., 202-994-0628.
In 2011 members of the DC poetry community, concerned by the loss of history that was occurring with the passing of local poets, worked with staff in the SCRC to create DC Poetry: A Splendid Wake, a wiki that contains biographical articles for more than 500 poets, as well as information on reading series, conferences, and publishing houses in D.C. This living document allows the community to direct the collection of its history by inviting members to share their memories. Through this active partnership with the D.C. poetry community, the GW Libraries celebrate this vibrant and enduring community through an ongoing series of events like “A Splendid Wake.” This annual symposium honors poets of the past and helps to preserve the remarkable literary history of Washington poets from 1900 through the present.

Saturday, February 6, 2016


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 6:30-8:00 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
For wiki and venue information, contact Jennifer King  202/994-0628