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DC Poets Write Love Poems for Inanimate Objects

It can be hard to find love, but most of us still try. One group of DC poets is going another route entirely, focusing on inanimate objects as love interests.

It’s an unusual approach, but not without precedent in the poetry world. John Keats lovingly contemplated a Grecian Urn. William Carlos Williams considered a red wheelbarrow. Emily Dickinson praised the aesthetics of a balloon. These object become metaphors for individuals, relationships, and parts of the self. The newly published Unrequited: An Anthology of Love Poems about Inanimate Objects dives head first into the legacy of object poems. It’s both a clever play on and light rebuffing of standard poetic conventions.

Unrequited is the result of an open submission contest organized by editor Kelly Ann Jacobson, a local author, poet, and educator. Self-published by Jacobson last month, the anthology will be celebrated at a launch party featuring several of the book’s authors at Upshur Street Books this Friday, June 17th..

All of the poems selected for the book were additionally evaluated by celebrated local poet Sandra Beasley who selected a ‘winner’ and ‘runner up’. “That Last Summer” by Lucia Cherciu was selected the winner and “Lesser Vegetables” by Sass Brown was selected the runner up. Those poems —highlighted in that way as the best of the bunch—leave something to be desired, in part because of their solemn tone and similarity in form. Both poems consist of a series of unrhymed couplets. They are thematically distinct: Cherciu’s poem is a tightly crafted reflection on personal loss while Brown takes a more omniscient perspective on a county fair. Cherciu’s “That Last Summer” has a sophisticated depth to its storytelling but is neither the most memorable or compelling of the anthology.

Several poems taking a confessional lens stood out, not unlike Cherciu’s winning piece. These poems are not so much odes as exhibits exploring how objects intersect with our most intimate moments. The cover of the recently published "Unrequited: An Anthology of Love Poems about Inanimate Objects"Sharon Lask Munson’s poem “Wash, Dry, Put Away” elegantly captures the fractured memory sparked by an object forgotten: “shred of shadows/ a wink, a flicker/ laughter.”

The anthology is organized using categories of objects. Some object categories –  like Nature – seem like obvious choices, but others – like Backyard Furniture – are more mysterious.

The most unexpected objects in the more mysterious categories are among the most memorable poems. Amy McLennan’s rhythmic, casual language in “A Large Jar of Kosher Dill Pickles Left on My Front Porch” is endearing and funny: “And by large I mean more,/ I’m talking hippopotamic/ whopping, mammoth/ freakin’ flat out huge.”

The anthology’s flexibility with the central prompt (Love poems for inanimate objects) is worth scrutinizing. Certainly “Nature” and “Cities” are inanimate, but can we rightly call them objects? There is something to be said for the freshness that comes with a loose interpretation of limitations but too much slack with a prompt makes one wonder what a tighter net would have fished.

The poetic diversity in Unrequited makes it a lively departure from similar books by a single author. Ed Perlman’s poem “Coin Silver” is a rewarding study for readers willing to engage with its woven rhyme scheme and typography. The dense minimalism of A.J. Huffman’s cheeky “Ode to McDonald’s French Fries” contrasts with the haiku-like simplicity of Jacquelyn Bengfort’s “Fire Triangle:” “Because the lightning loved the tree./ Because the tree loved the house.”

And then there are the singularly peculiar pieces which outright refuse to align with the rest, like the fun, groovy rock lyrics of Charles Leggett’s “Poly-Esther Blues:” “Well she’s kinda ol’ fashioned/  But she’s great for party-crashin’  Polly-Esther/ (Watch her dance now!)”

Once a reader journeys through the anthology’s first twelve categories, she comes to a final poem in a category of its own. “The Earthbound Hymn” by Bethanie Humphreys is a smart and loving ending to the anthology. “Earthbound Hymn” devotes one stanza to each of the letters of the alphabet, simultaneously giving tribute to the objects described and the elements – the letters — which comprise the proceeding works and all poetry ever written. “Earthbound Hymn” provides a forthright sense of thematic closure for this engaging, speckled collection.

Though the sophistication and success of the poems vary, Unrequited is a charming entry-point for the casual poetry reader and would make a suggestive gift for the unrequited love interest in your own life.

The book launch party this Friday June 18 at Upshur Street Books, details here, is an opportunity to hear several DC residents read and to have your own copy of Unrequited signed by the anthology’s editor.

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Ninth Annual Source Festival Offers Plays, Perspective

Press image for 2015 Source Festival

It’s summertime again in the District and that means the return of two seasonal pastimes: complaining about the weather and theatre festivals. If you ask two people walking down 14th street about the weather, the first might celebrate it as sweaty perfection while the second might roll their eyes, muttering about swamps and global warming. Elsewhere on 14th street, inside the Source Theatre, a similar study in contrasting perspective is taking place this summer as part of the ninth annual Source Festival.

The Source Festival, presented by CulturalDC and opened June 8th, is a month-long theatre festival focused on developing and producing new works. “Our story, as humans, as Americans, as citizens of the world–it evolves every day and our playwrights are on the front line–taking in our world, adapting it through their own unique lenses and reflecting it back to us” says Source Festival Artistic Director Jenny McConnell Frederick, “Source Festival puts a high priority on seeking out, developing and producing a fresh collection of these stories each year.”

Fully staged productions of three new plays, selected through a national search, is one core of the festival.

SF_Postcard_Front smallGeorgette Kelly’s Ballast, one of the new plays selected, centers on two relationships between cisgender and transgender partners. Over the course of the play, both couples grapple with the process of gender transition (which is not frequently enough portrayed on stage.) The play presented a few challenges for Ballast director Margot Manburg, including casting transgender performers and “maintaining the equal footing” between all of the characters.

Investigating the essential intersections of gender identity and romance inBallast has presented, Manburg observes, opportunities for audience and artists alike. “This play could literally be the experience of someone on the production team or in the audience, or could provide the catalyst or language for a conversation that an audience member hasn’t been able to articulate.”

The festival takes inspiration from the selected plays to identify three overarching festival themes. Based on those themes the festival commissions eighteen ten-minute plays and three cross-disciplinary collaborator commissions (“Artistic Blind Dates”.) In other words: the festival provides twenty-four perspectives on three themes.

If “Heroes & Homes” are not your thing, you need not turn away. The festival is also offering “Secrets & Sounds” and “Dreams & Discord.”

The “Artistic Blind Dates” are one of the most unique aspects of the festival. Once the full-length plays are selected, nine local artists read the plays and then collaborate in teams of three over four months to develop brand new performance pieces.

Entanglement, one of the “Artistic Blind Dates”, was developed by artists Claire Alrich, Maryam Foye, and Britney Mongold based on their reading of Jennifer Fawcett’s full-length play Buried Cities and the theme “Heroes & Homes.”

“Claire, Maryam and I explore our own heroes on a very personal level,” Mongold says. “We selected matriarchs from our own ancestry and are comparing our life paths with theirs.”

Mongold and her collaborators want to keep the exact nature of audience participation a surprise, but shared that by the end of the performance the audience is invited, “to share in moments of reflection and meditation, honoring memories in an immersive, cozy setting.”

Taking stock of both the past and the future is also surely on the minds of the festival’s producers in the rapidly developing 14th street corridor. But for now, they’re excited to support another year of new theater.

“[N]ot everything we do will be to your tastes, but it’s all smart, original work being made by some of the most promising theatre artists in the country”, promises Frederick, “Come sample what’s out there and you’re sure to discover something new and wonderful.”

Amy Austin, executive director of TheatreWashington, added, “By working with playwrights of our time we capture the fragility, the stories, and the wonder of the age we live in. The Source Theatre Festival has long offered to be the place to nurture and honor new work.”

Whether you find the weather unbearable or ideal, the plays brilliant or busted, this summer’s Source Festival offers an engaging escape from the heat. And, not just because the theatre is air conditioned.

The Source Festival runs June 8 through July 3 at the Source Theatre (1835 14th Street, NW). Tickets and showtimes available here.

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