A handful of Episcopal poets and fans gathered for a poetry reading July 12 in the Exhibit Hall at the booth of the Consultation, a coalition of church advocacy and justice groups.
Seated around a microphone backed by a blue curtain, audience members cheered each other on as they read their poems, some quietly, some dramatically. Some selections were filled with humor; others touched on themes of justice, love and the longing for peace.
"I thought it was a blast," said musician Sarah Dylan Breuer of Boston. "There was some really, really excellent poetry, and it ranged from the deeply moving to the fabulously hilarious."
Founder of the U2charist, a service that uses the songs of rock group U2, Breuer sang two songs accompanied by electric guitar for the gathering. One, using the tune of I will survive, was a "last-minute inspiration" about the perils and joys of attending conventions. The chorus proclaimed: "We will survive/Focus on mission and know that we are gonna thrive./Mission was five rocking marks, so I know through the flying sparks/We will survive."
The idea for the afternoon "poetry slam" (a term usually used for a poetry competition) grew after her poem Whisper a Prayer was posted to the House of Deputies and Bishops e-mail list, said Lelanda Lee.
"Why do the pundits write and write of theological dispute … The best minds, pedigrees/and intentions/assembled in a phalanx/firm and true/formed by orthodox/code for the boys/that got the power/kept the power/don't want You/to get the power," it asked. "What those dudes need/is a poetry slam."
Lee started the July 12 slam by reading several semi-autobiographical poems, including one tracing her parents' pursuit of the American dream and Fish Story, "inspired by my first, ill-fated marriage," which ended: "I decide to let you be the one that got away."
The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton of Chatham, New Jersey, president of the Episcopal Women's Caucus, read A Woman's Psalm, published in Lifting Women's Voices: Prayers to Change the World (Church Publishing), which prayed: "O God, I am a woman in a violent world/let me know peace." She wrote it while attending the 2008 Lambeth Conference of bishops on the day the topic was domestic violence.
Sally Sedgwick of Cincinnati wrote a poem inspired by the previous Lambeth Conference in 1998 called Invocation to the Holy Spirit. It ended, "We can only hope when the babble dies, we'll remember the words in your heart."
Louie Crew (Newark) gave an animated reading of two poems from his collection Quean Lutibelle's Pew (the "Quean" is his alter ego, he explained), adopting an auctioneer's stance for Lutibell Goes to an Auction and crossing himself solemnly and invoking the Trinity as he began reading Lutibelle Imitates a Strait Male Prayer.
"God, I can't pray just now," laments the praying man. "Some people/have been saying/ that you/ might not even be a real man,/ might be instead an androgynous mutation. … It was difficult enough/when those black children/started coloring you black./Before long/even sissies will be saying/that you lisp/or go about in drag."
Elsewhere at convention, Cat Healey and Michelle Harvey of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship young adult presence have been composing daily haikus and posting them at http://epfyoungadults.wordpress.com. A sampling from Day 2:
Tells us we must wait 'til nine.
We stand, smoldering.
Archbishop sighting -
Look Mom, I'm famous!
Fastest growth in the whole Church.
Why don't we fund it?
Puts us all in a bad mood.