FDU’s creative writing program has once again rounded up a colorful combination of artists and performers for the annual Words and Music Festival, otherwise known as WAMFEST. The first of six events kicked off on April 3.
The first week of events, which consisted of conversations, performances and readings, all took place in the Hartman Lounge and were hosted by FDU’s Artist in Residence, Wesley Stace.
On April 3, WAMFEST presented “A Conversation with World-Renowned Dancer, Choreographer and Director Mark Morris.” The event attracted an overflowing room of students, faculty and community guests who gathered to hear the conversation between Morris and Stace.
David Daniel, director of the Creative Writing B.A., shared with the audience his excitement of having Morris at FDU. “Once in 1993, I chased Mark down the street just to say hi,” he admitted.
Morris, described by Stace as “the most celebrated dancer and choreographer in the world,” shared his life experiences.
Morris’s success was a combination of incredible talent and the ability to stand out from the rest of the dancers.
“It was needed. I was needed,” Morris explained, in reference to his work, as he recalled a pivotal point in his career when he read an article about himself in The New Yorker. The article was titled, “Mark Morris Comes to Town,” by Arlene Croce.
He continued, “I was needed partly because I used to be more sort of political and more sort of outspoken and more irritating than I am now, which is hard to imagine.
“I was super, sort-of a ‘queer activist’ at the time. And, it was important at that time. People as gay and as choreographic as Paul Taylor and Merce Cunningham weren’t somehow,” said Morris.
According to Morris, the work of other openly gay dancers and choreographers has what he refers to as “heteronormativity,” or the assumption of heterosexual norms. Morris was never afraid to have choreography that challenged heteronormativity.
Morris concluded his event by having a question-and-answer session with the audience. The questions ranged from his favorite films to his own life experiences.
On April 4, WAMFEST held its second event, “Crooked Walks in Space: A Conversation and Performance with Celebrated Rock Star and Author Kristin Hersh and the Greatest Poet of His Generation, Tom Sleigh,” which also took place in Hartman Lounge and was hosted by Stace.
Sleigh, a poet who has published seven books of original poetry, including “Space Walk,” “Far Side of the Earth” and “The Chain,” shared some of his work. His readings included “January Night,” “The Negative,” “Fable” and “Space Station” from “Space Walk.”
Hersh, a singer and songwriter who is a member of the alternative rock bands Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave, shared a reading called “Reading from Rat Girl” and performed two of her songs, “Your Dirty Answer” and “Your Ghost.”
Hersh’s other works include a memoir titled “Rat Girl,” which was published in 2012 by Penguin Books.
The publication covers the 12-month period when Throwing Muses began to get famous and the events in her life surrounding that.
After both performances, Stace read one of his pieces, “Let’s Evaporate,” which led to a discussion that compared music and poetry.
“Lyric has a musical chord, poetry doesn’t,” said Hersh, when asked what the difference between both art forms were.
Sleigh, however, compared poetry to good writing. “You can’t will it if you sit at a desk, but if you don’t sit at a desk it will never happen,” said Sleigh. “Good writing is not poetry to me.”
Essentially, all forms of art may share in factors of creativity and artistic endeavor, but they all forms of art are not the same.
On April 5, the final event of the week, “A Reading and Conversation with Serving House Books Award Winners P.K. Harmon and Barbara Froman,” took place.
Walter Cummins hosted the event because Stace was unable to attend.
Cummins is editor emeritus of The Literary Review, prose editor of Tiferet, editorial borad member of Web del Sol and professor in the low-residency MFA program at FDU.
Cummins explained to the audience how Harmon and Froman became distinguished Serving House Books Awards Winners.
“It’s hard to get published,” said Cummins. “Serving House exists to publish books that are really worth it.”
Serving House Books teamed up with the MFA program at FDU and hosted a contest called “First Books,” which enabled the winners to publish their works.
The event attracted approximately 300 submissions, all of which were relatively good.
As Cummins explained, the judges were “dealing with quality work.”
Both award-winning authors read excerpts from their published works at the event.
Harmon’s work was published as a collection of poems, titled “What Island.” The poems aim to give the reader an understanding of the Marshall Islands, where Harmon lived for several months.
The islands were a war field during World War II. At the time, the Japanese had control of the islands because their location served as a perfect defense ring for the Japanese.
The United States, seeing the Japanese as a threat, invaded the islands and caused damage.
The islands also became a testing ground for nuclear weapons.
“I feel compelled. It would be a mistake not to find out as much about the heritage, about that culture,” Harmon said, when asked if he had done any research prior to writing his poems. He called his form of research “accidental-primary research.”
The cover of the book is of a girl who appears to be strumming on a string instrument with clouds in the background. Though the clouds may appear inviting, they’re really clouds from a nuclear bomb.
Like the artwork on the cover of the novel, Harmon’s work has profound references to the lifestyle of the Marshall Islands, whether it’s of his own experiences or of a historical context, even if the reader barely notices at first.
Froman’s work, unlike Harmon’s, is a work of fiction, titled “Shadows and Ghosts.”
The excerpt read by Froman was written very traditionally. Her language is descriptive and she successfully inserts her own feminine wit and humor into her work.
Froman’s love for cinema is one of the contributing factors for her descriptive and narrative flow.
“I wrote ‘Shadows and Ghosts’ because I love movies and wanted to give my readers a cinematic experience,” said Froman. Her work read smoothly – like scenes in a movie.
The excerpt Froman shared was a scene where her novel’s main character, Ida Mae, suffers a heart attack at the grocery store.
Froman creates a magical scene where Ida Mae dies for a second and, within that second, she floats through the store’s ceiling and sees the chaos beneath her. She watches the ambulance rush to her and sees the spectators crowding around her temporarily lifeless corpse. Once high above the store, she encounters her deceased mother, who tells her to go back. Froman briefly explains the nature of the scene and how Ida Mae was suffering of starvation.
According to Amazon.com, the novel is “Ida Mae’s tale of artistic passion, fierce sibling rivalry, failed love affairs, substance abuse, and the magical redemptive power of cinema.”
Both authors stuck around after the event to speak with students. Since their books were on display and for sale at the event, both authors were willing to sign copies if asked.
WAMFEST was scheduled to continue the last of its events this week with “A Conversation with Heralded Author Michael Gray on ‘Bob Dylan and the Poetry of the Blues’” on Tuesday in the Hartman Lounge and “A Reading with the Poet Laureate of South Africa Keorapetse ‘Willie’ Kgositsile, Incredibly Influential Poet and Author David Henderson and Celebrated Author Jeffery Rengard Allen” on Wednesday in the Bottle Hill Room.
The final WAMFEST event of 2012 is being held today. The event, “A Conversation and Performance with Hip-Hop Superstar Talib Kweli, Poet Quincy Troupe and Jeffery Renard Allen” will take place in Lenfell Hall at 2 p.m.