Should White Poets Write About Race? by Holly Karapetkova

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Reginald Dwayne Bettswrote in a recent issue of Poetry magazine,  “Don’t write about being white,” a quote the editors thought important enough to reprint on the back cover of the magazine. Certainly Betts and the editors wanted to raise a few eyebrows, and certainly a careful reader will relate the statement to a quote elsewhere in the essay: “I am not sure it is possible for a Negro to write well without making us aware he is a Negro; on the other hand, if being a Negro is the only subject, the writing is not important.” The comment, which Betts attributes to an unnamed “reviewer,” happens to belong to Louis Simpson discussing Gwendolyn Brooks’s Selected Poems in 1963, and it highlights the dilemma at the core of the American experience where whiteness is taken as the given and anything questioning (or even calling attention to) the centrality of…

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Reading at Cafe Muse

I’ll be reading at Cafe Muse as part of the Word Works Literary Series with Michael Boylan on January 5. Please come out and hear us if you’re in town!

Here are the details: Café Muse opens at 7 pm with refreshments and classical guitar by Michael Davis; readings begin at 7:30. Cafe Muse is located in the Village of Friendship Heights, 4433 S Park Ave, Chevy Chase, Maryland 20815. Friendship Heights Village Center is a 7 minute walk from Friendship Heights Western Avenue Redline subway stop. Come out and hear some good poetry, and read some of your own!

Split This Rock 2014

I just spent the past three days at one of the most inspiring and productive events 21st century American poetry: Split This Rock Poetry Festival. Centered around activism and the ability of poetry to impact change in the world, the festival brings together poets from an array of backgrounds and perspectives and merges the traditionally separate realms of spoken word and page poetry.

Split This Rock is much wilder and cooler than more conventional writing conferences, and because everyone has gathered for a common cause—to celebrate poetry at work in the world and to find places where poetry can make a real difference in people’s lives—much of the politics and egotism that infects other conferences is absent. Last night, for example, after a phenomenal reading by Yusef Komunyakaa, Franny Choi, Wang Ping, and DC Youth Slam Team member Thomas Hill, the evening’s host, Regie Cabico, brought the readers up on stage to dance to disco music beneath disco lights. Not something you get to see every day!

The feature readings gave me the opportunity to hear many poets I love read, some for the first time: Joy Harjo, Yusef Komunyakaa, Ann Waldman, Wang Ping, Tim Seibles, Claudia Rankine, Myra Sklarew, Edwardo C. Corral, and others. But I was also excited to be introduced to new voices: Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail, Latina poet Maria Melendez Kelson, and some fantastic performance poets—Danez Smith, Franny Choi, Gayle Danley, and of course the members of the DC Youth Slam Team.

While I wasn’t able to attend as many of the panels as I wanted (the snow days have me scrambling to make up for as much lost time as possible at work), every panel I attended was thought-provoking and motivating—I have pages and pages of notes on subjects that interest me deeply: how to write politically engaged poetry that works as art and pushes past the expected, how white poets can tackle the difficult subject of race, how poetry can enter the realm of performance in ways beyond the traditional slam or one-person-performance piece. Some of my favorite quotes from the event include: “Language must be equal to or greater than its subject matter” (Mary Ruefle via Jehanne Dubrow); “In calling whiteness to account, I want to tell the story of whiteness to myself so I can figure it out in order to change it” (Joy Katz); “Whiteness is the world’s most boring story and also the world’s most lethal” (Alish Hopper).

I am incredibly grateful to Sarah Browning, the founder and director, and to all of the organizers and volunteers who make the festival come together and remind us of what we know but often forget: that poetry does make things happen.

Shades of Blue

_BOB4689Thanks to everyone who came out for Marymount’s annual student-faculty poetry reading, one   of the best I’ve had the honor of hosting in my time at Marymount. The student readers, all finalists in the Marymount Poetry Contest, delivered a particularly inspiring rendition of their poems. Courtney Ball, Courtney Dorsey, and Kerry O’Donnell awed the audience with their poems about DC, bar tending,

Natalie Gand egotistical male poets. The faculty readers, who included Michael Boylan, Natalie Girratano (author of Leaving Clean), Susan Mockler ( author of Noisy Souls), and Kirsten Porter, were equally moving.  I am extremely grateful to be a part of this poetic community!

Misery Loves Company

The holidays are not my favorite time of year; I hate to go bah-humbug, but having the kids home from school for two weeks (hyped up on Santa-energy and cooped up inside because it’s too cold to ravage the neighborhood) can be overwhelming. And I love my family dearly, but we’re all borderline-insane and have high expectations for the holidays—a real recipe for disaster. The holiday season demands a very particular sort of reading material, something that will engross what’s left of my mental energy and allow me to escape for an hour here and there. It helps if the characters are more miserable and messed up than I am, and so when I scanned my bookshelf for appropriate material, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, by Ed Aymar, leapt out at me as an obvious choice. The main character, deeply troubled by the murder of his late wife and by his inability to parent his pre-teen daughter on his own, goes on a bizarre and miserably unsuccessful quest to seek revenge upon the man he wrongly suspects is the killer. And wait—it gets even better—he’s a professor at Baltimore Community College who faces constant doubt and derision from those around him because he teaches at a community college and not a “real” university. As Tom Starks’s pursuit of revenge takes one dark turn after another, he struggles to maintain control over his life and sense of self, something I can definitely relate to around this time of year. (And his self-deprecating humor and wit don’t hurt, either.) Not only did the novel make me forget my own misery for a few glorious hours, but it also made me wonder why there aren’t more novels about community college professors out there. I can only hope the sequel is available soon… preferably by Christmas 2014?

Read more (and watch the book trailer) here:

Reading on Saturday, Dec. 14


Come out for poetry this Saturday! Poetry Reading featuring Fernando Quijano III, Tony Hayes and Holly Karapetkova – Music by Robert Herschbach – ISON/out of the box Open Mic.

4-6 at Arts in the Glen, 2465 State Route 97, Suite 11, Glenwood, Maryland 21738.

Split This Rock: Freedom Plow Award

I attended an incredible event last night: the awarding of Split This Rock’s Freedom Plow Award to Eliza Griswold for her work with landays, the folk poems traded orally among Afghani women. The poems are incredibly subversive, displaying a wit, humor, and intelligence far beyond the veiled and submissive image many Americans have when it comes to Afghani women. After powerful performances by the D.C. Youth Poetry Slam Team and an inspiring introduction from Ethelbert Miller, Eliza Griswold spoke about the process of collecting these poems, her “investigative poetry,” and the risks many women she met took to help her. If you don’t know about landays, I strongly recommend you check them out here at the Poetry Foundation website. Griswold’s project is one of the most awe-inspiring collections of poetry I’ve read in a long time. For anyone who doubts the power of words, the power of poetry to impact lives, here is a response. The story of the young woman who set herself on fire when her family stopped her from speaking landays is enough evidence of just how essential these poems are in the lives of many Afghani women. And, as Griswold said in her talk, while the young poet herself died to protest the silencing of her voice, her most famous landay lives on in the voices of other Afghani women, and in Griswold’s translations. I cannot possibly express how grateful I am for access to this work.

Frostburg Indie Lit Festival

The Indie Lit Festival was definitely the place to be this weekend! I met some fabulous writers from Pittsburgh, including Margaret Bashaar, editor of Hyacinth Girl Press, Deena November, author of Dick Wad, and Christine Stroud, assistant editor of Autumn House Press. I also met Emily Rich, Laura Shovan, and others from the Little Patuxent Review. I heard some incredible bluegrass at Dante’s Bar in Frostburg from Mama Korn and other bands. The weather kept many folks at home, but it was an excellent event with a wide variety of indie presses, some fascinating panel discussions, and good networking opportunities. Thanks much to Michelle Yost and Gerry LaFemina for organizing.


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