A Tale of Two Book Festivals (or, Social Poetics)

Thanks to the organizers of both the Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University and those at the Radical Bookfair Pavilion at the Baltimore Book Festival for their kind invitations to read/speak — and for all their work into making both festivals such successes. I’m in the process of turning my collaboration at GMU with SEIU Local 32BJ on the current situation with Sodexo workers into at least the introduction to an essay I’m writing (“This is what Poetry looks like”) for an upcoming issue of Radical History Review, so more on that soon in another forum. But I also had two other great events at Fall for the Book, events organized by the good folks at Split This Rock–a panel on “Socially Engaged Poetry” with Brenda Hillman and Sonya Renee; and an evening reading with the same co-conspirators. Kudos to everyone in Fairfax and DC for all their work.

Yesterday, I was able to spend almost the entire day at the Baltimore Book Festival, which for my money is one of the best around. Though the crowds on the hills of Charles Street were perhaps a bit thinner than last year (Gregg Wilhelm from CityLit in B’more concurred), the festival tents oddly seemed to be more jam-packed than ever. I had the opportunity to speak to a standing-room-only audience under the Radical Bookfair Pavilion tent on “The Cost of Coal” with Tricia Shapiro, whose new book from AK Press–Mountaintop Justice–arrived from the printers by overnight mail just 24 hours before the event. And after my panel and a bit of book browsing, I also got to catch Ted Rall, who was touring with his new book The Anti-American Manifesto (just out from Seven Stories Press), and a panel discussion with the fantastic Max Rameau from Take Back the Land and David Harvey, who spoke about his new book, The Enigma of Capital.

These were precisely the types of events that I imagined for “Poetry,” and for myself as “Poet,” more than a decade ago. Back then, I wanted to push beyond what felt (to me) like overly constricted, delimited spaces and audiences for the reception of Poetry (I’ll stop with the quotes, but they are still there in the shadows behind the word). So I started curating events at UAW Local 879 at the Ford plant in St. Paul, organizing “poetry dialogues” between Ford workers in Minnesota and South Africa (and with AFSCME 3800 clerical workers, Somali nurses, and other unions and workers’ groups). And my collaboration with SEIU 32BJ in Fairfax and my dialogue on “The Cost of Coal” at the Radical Bookfair Pavilion are just two more examples of that trajectory of work. For me, “This is what Poetry looks like,” indeed.

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