“It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there,” wrote the poet William Carlos Williams more than a half century ago in his poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower.”
Today, in this time of anti-Muslim bigotry, racism, transphobia and economic inequality, we need poetry more than ever. Not to escape the news or the world, but to witness injustice and be a force of hope. On Dec. 20 from 5-7 p.m., Sunday Kind of Love, a monthly reading series at Busboys and Poets in D.C., that has fostered diversity of all kinds, been a welcoming spirit to poets and poetry lovers, queer and hetero, and supported social change, will celebrate its 10th anniversary with poetry, music, cake and Champagne at Busboys and Poets at 2021 14th St., N.W. Sarah Browning, director of Split This Rock, a D.C. national poetry organization that works for social change, and Katy Richey, a D.C.-area poet and teacher will co-host the event. There will be an after party from 7-8 p.m. Admission is $5. (For more info, visit Busboysandpoets.com)
When I say I’m a poet, I often get these responses: some people are surprised: they believe poetry is only by and for white, able-bodied, straight, middle-upper class men. Others shy away; they think I’m offering them a nutritious, but tasteless all-tofu diet. For a decade, Sunday Kind of Love has debunked these misperceptions.
Split This Rock started Sunday Kind of Love when the organization was the group D.C. Poets Against the War. Busboys had just come to the District.
“We were thrilled that the new venue Busboys and Poets was offering a regular series and such a beautiful space dedicated to art and social justice,” Browning emailed me.
Initially, the series showcased D.C.-area “poets of conscience,” Browning said. “It has grown to include poets from all over the country – and even some from abroad,” she added. “It has brought national attention to D.C. poets … more importantly, it’s brought the radical diversity of D.C. and U.S. contemporary poetry to audiences that might not otherwise be exposed to it.”
Frequently, groups talk about diversity to make themselves feel or look good. That’s not the deal with Sunday Kind of Love. I’ve been privileged to be among the many poets who’ve read in the series. At Sunday Kind of Love, you’ll find straight and LGBT people; people of color; and youth and elders, reading and listening to poetry, drinking a beer, munching sweet potato fries and even talking to or laughing with people who aren’t like them.
Once I had the honor of reading in the series with Carlos Parada Ayala, author of “La luz de la tormenta/The Light of the Storm” and a recipient of D.C.’s Commission on the Arts Larry Neal Poetry Award. I read poems about being queer and growing up in New Jersey. After we read, Parada Ayala, told me, “I was born in El Salvador. But I felt as if I were at your dinner table in New Jersey in the 1960s.”
From the get-go, Sunday Kind of Love has had a substantial LGBT presence. “So much rich, vibrant poetry is being written by queer poets today that having queer voices at the center of the series is essential,” Browning said. “We couldn’t tell the true stories of life in our city and our country today without a great variety of queer poets.”
One of the earliest readings in the series was a gay Pride reading. The 10th anniversary celebration will feature many queer poets, including Barbara Jean Orton, Tim’m West, Joseph Ross and Danielle Evennou.
Don’t get me wrong. Achieving true diversity is hard, often painful work and social change won’t come in a nano-sec. But poetry can bear witness to injustice, and over time, change hearts and minds. Happy anniversary, Sunday Kind of Love!
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.