Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My SPLIT THIS ROCK, Michelle's Angels and other thoughts

If you google "Split This Rock," you're sure to find a plethora of testimonies on blogs, as well as photos, video and audio clips about this "poetry festival" and all it meant for its various participants. I had planned on attending a number of the evening readings, but (I confess), March Madness had and has me by the throat at the moment. Therefore, my contribution to this reportage is quite modest. Having said that, I think I lucked out in what I was able to take in.

On Saturday afternoon, I attended a tribute to Grace Paley, Sekou Sundiata, and Sandy Taylor. Among the panelists were Martín Espada and Naomi Ayala, who both spoke about Sandy. But first two women, Julie Enszer and Gwyn Kirk, spoke about Grace Paley, and one of them said something that struck me. She was remarking how, throughout Grace Paley's life, it was often said that her literary reputation might have been enhanced if she had spent less time being an activist and more time being a writer. Paley's response to this view was always swift and unwavering (I'm paraphrasing here). In effect, she said that she saw no contradiction whatsoever in dedicating equal if not more time and energy to her activist pursuits as well as her literary ones; that she couldn't imagine doing one without the other. She was reported to have said something like, "I like the way I have lived my life." As I was listening to those words, sitting in the first row, my gaze honed in on Sarah Browning, who was sitting up there with the panelists (Sarah did all the introductions of the few things I attended). It seemed to me, based on the expression on her face as she too heard that quote of Paley's, that this idea (This is a good way to live one's life) was striking a deep deep chord with her. For it's impossible to separate "Split This Rock" from Sarah Browning. And yet, no one was more insistent than Sarah Browning that Split This Rock was a collective effort: she never tired of naming the names of all the people and organizations that made these singular few days come to pass. I think it's a tribute, really, to her leadership and the deep respect she commands. People, I think, just don't say No to her because she is so good at conveying her passion and passing on her enthusiasm and conviction to others. It's funny: I attended this panel to hear more about Sandy Taylor and Sekou Sundiata, both of whom I had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with a bit when they were alive, and yet it was the presentation on Grace Paley, whose work I don't know, that impacted me the most.

For it raised a question I sometimes think about. Why do we do it? And why do we do it the way we do it? In other words, why do some writers focus, primarily, on the activitiy of writing and publishing and building a literary career in a certain way, and why do some (Grace Paley, lSarah Browning), feel naturally inclined to marry the pursuit of art with, for lack of a better term, the pursuit of social justice and/or helping others?

Another day I might post about what it was like reciting twelve words of poetry in front of the White House...


Speaking of generosity of spirit, this is long overdue: Momotombo Press has officially gone into a second printing of one of its titles: Malinche's Daughter by Michelle Otero. But this would not have been possible without the "philanthropic intent" of a crew of gentle souls. Momotombo Press hereby acknowledges and thanks profusely the following people, who underwrote the second printing of Momotombo Press' best selling title:


Valerie Borrego

Hilary Heyl and Juan Abeyta

Shujaat Islam

Stephanie McBride

Jesse Szeto and Nikki Toyama Szeto

Sarang Shidore


And finally, thank you to Daniel A Olivas over at La Bloga, for interviewing our newest Momotombo Press author, Aaron Michael Morales.

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