Friday, November 13, 2009


You know, I'm not just a climbing novice.

But I've got big news: The Split This Rock Poetry Festival has invited yours truly to present a panel with colleagues. The festival is in Washington, D.C. and it looks like it's going to be a smashing good time. Split This Rock is, at its heart, an anti-war event aimed at reclaiming language and our collective potential. Poets from all over the country come to this festival that is a mixture between an academic conference (with workshops and presenters) and a public protest (such as the march to Lafayette Park across from the White House).

The organization is supported by grants, and this year it will be filming a documentary about the festival itself. For now, you can see videos on YouTube, such as this one:

For the 2010 Split This Rock Festival, I will be presenting with Madeline Wiseman and Aimee Adellard titled, "Fatty Girls, Imaginary Cocks, and Vaginas Built Like Bookstores: A Workshop on Writing the Activist Body." We're thinking the title alone got us into the festival, but we're planning on helping other poets who want to take their interior poetic lives into the public in hopes of affecting social change.

In this sense, I'm taking on work people like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg sponsored during Vietnam, and did in the later years of their careers, long after the Beats were considered history. I've been thinking about this more and more as I consider the curricula goals for my section of the workshop, as well as how this speaking out and up work will fortify me as a writer, poet, and climber.

I've also been thinking about how sacred Lafayette Park is as a site for democratic activity. It is the ground in Washington where activists of all sorts demonstrate, and where, I'm sure, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI gather photographs and documentation of those who show up to exercise their First Amendment rights.

But I've been thinking about Ferlinghetti's book, Poetry As Insurgent Art, and these lines in particular:

"The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it."

"Words can save you where guns can't."

It's not that I've always been a peace activist, or even a poet. It's not that I've always picked up my democratic responsibilities as a citizen of the United States. It's not even that I've always believed in the power and reach of my own words. I've never been to the East Coast. I've never been to Washington. It has always been a mythical place, something I've seen on television and wondered if it existed at all. I'm just a woman learning to live, write, and climb and seeing where that takes her.

The airline ticket alone is going to be around $350. The hotel rates are staggering, even if William Shatner asks on, "Who's ready to take a ride on the deal stallion?" Democracy, it seems, will come at a cost - as it always must, I suppose.

So for the next few months I'm going to enter every poetry contest offering a kitty I can. I'm going to have to step-up my efforts at fundraising, and I'm thinking about a bake sale (however quirky it may seem). This may become an "E.F.R. Goes to Washington" sort of thing, and I'll admit this: I've thought of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington more than once since receiving my invitation to the festival.

I'm pretty sure Jimmy Stewart didn't go there to yell, "Vagina!" at people, but still ...

As a poet, this is a pretty big deal. I'm taking my work far from Nebraska, way out into the public sphere, and doing that work in a very respected poetry festival among celebrated poets. And I'm thinking of women and men who have gone before me, of those people I respect who have taken the risk to say out loud what their soul needed to say. I'm humbled and excited, intimidated and encouraged.

Performance poetry, embodying the activist poet, teaching others to let the words seep into their bones and perform instead of recite a poem ... all of this is spinning in my head as I write today. Or as Peter Gabriel sings: "Ill be a big noise with all the big boys ..." (Seriously, watch this old video ... it so fits my story!)

As exciting as this new challenge is, you have to know that I'm already trying to figure out how to find climbing opportunities in the D.C. metro area. I'm looking at Earth Trek's facility in Rockville, MD (a quick train ride from D.C.), and SportRock in Alexandria, VA. The latter is in the middle of a remodeling project to make it more competitive with Earth Trek's gyms, so I'm thinking I should check both of them out in order to write a fair and balanced review.

I love this justification, of course, because that gives me license to monkey about in the name of P'UP.

I'm thinking too about the ways in which climbing is shaping my approach to writing and public performance of that writing. I don't know if I'll get the chance to climb in D.C. or not, but I do know that when I take the stage or give my workshop, all I've learned through climbing about patience, personal achievement, and moxie will be with me. I'm thinking, too, that I might shoot a documentary myself ... more on that later.


  1. You won't be selling any of your apple spice cake at the bake sale, I hope.

    Congratulations on your selection and invitation. You belong in Washington D.C. "shouting poetic truths."

  2. Ha! That's a negative on the apple spice cake. If it were a "door stop" sale, though, I'd be all over it. I figured my infamous chocolate chip cookies and my apple pies could get me to Washington, but then wondered if I should save for bail money just in case.


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