Monday, September 30, 2013

Splendid Wake project

On Wednesday, September 25, more than one hundred poets met at the George Washington University Gelman Library's Special Collection Conference Room to show support for the Splendid Wake project -- an effort to document poetry in the Washington, DC area from 1900 forward. Initiated more than a year ago by Myra Sklarew and Elisavietta Ritchie, the project will honor poets associated with our nation's capital.  Interested persons are invited to visit the project's main page and to consider a submission -- biographies and information about poetry projects of all sorts (journals, reading series, websites, and so on).  Management of the project is being coordinated by GW Special Collections Librarian Jennifer King (jenking @
     In celebration of this project, here is "Monuments," a sestina (a poetic form involving permutations of the line-end-words) by Myra Sklarew that honors some of DC's past poets.

    by Myra Sklarew

           Today the moon sees fit to come between a parched earth
    and sun, hurrying the premature darkness. A rooster in the yard
            cuts off its crowing, fooled into momentary sleep.
               And soon the Perseid showers, broken bits
         of the ancient universe, will pass through the skin of our
            atmosphere. Time and space are alive over our city.

       Final eclipse of the sun, last of this millennium, our city’s
        brightness broken off. We have known other dark hours:
            Here, coffin that slowly passes, I give you my sprig
        of lilac—Lincoln’s death, winding procession toward sleep.
          We have known slave coffles and holding pens in yards
       not half a mile from our Capitol, wooden palings sunk in earth

       to guarantee none would escape. In this freest city. Oh if earth
              could talk. Earth does talk in the neatly framed yards
                where death thinks to lay us down to rest. Asleep,
                the marker stones. But not the voices, jagged bits
                of memory, shards of poems. Sterling Brown. Our
           human possessions and all they've left us. This whole city

                  sings their songs. Say their names. In this city
               they are our monuments: Frederick Douglass, our
             Rayford Logan, Alain Locke, Franklin Frazier, Georgia
       Douglas Johnson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, May Miller: Not sleep
        but garlands left to us. Montague Cobb, William Hastie. Yards
                 of names. And here, the place where we unearth

             an immigrant father of seven. He leans down—no earthly
           reason for his choice—to pick up his nearest child. A yard-long
             rack of brooms behind him, a bin of apples. Not the sleep
                   of cold, but autumn in Washington. 1913 or a bit
               later. He stands awkwardly on 4 1/2 Street, S. W. Our
                street photographer, who’s just come by with his city

              chatter, ducks beneath a dark cloth. Monuments of the city
         behind him, he leans over his black box camera in time to capture
                       that moment when the child will play her bit
      part, pushing away from her father like a boat from shore. In the sleep
         of winter, years later, she will become my mother. What yardstick
                 by which to measure importance? To measure earthly

     agency? Each of us has monuments in the bone case of memory. Earth-  
 bound, I take my sac of marble and carry it down lonely city streets where our
generals on horseback and a tall bearded man keep watch over all their citizens.

     Thank you, Myra, for this poem --  which appeared in Beltway online magazine in 2004  (and also is available at and is part of a celebration of Washington, D.C. and the millennium with “Citypiece: D.C. Monuments,” a commissioned work by composer Robert Kapilow, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, June 28, 2000.
     Bethesda resident Myra Sklarew was born in Baltimore; before becoming a writer, she engaged in medical research. She is professor emerita of American literature at  American University.  As I was going through my copy of Myra Sklarew's "Lithuania," title poem for one of her poetry collections, I found many instances of her use of numbers to add horrific precision to her descriptions of the slaughter of Lithuanian Jews.  Please visit that powerful poem and the entire collection.

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