Last night we attended a unique book launch for New York City poet Elana Bell, featured in our May/June 2012 issue's "Winners on Winning" feature. Bell, who incorporated a dance performance and fund-raiser into the celebration of her debut collection, is the recipient of the 2011 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets for Eyes, Stones, released in April by Louisiana State University Press.
When we interviewed Bell for our May/June article about the unexpected rewards of winning a book prize, she mentioned that she was using some of the prize money to realize an artistic vision. "Many of the poems in the collection are persona poems, in the voices of contemporary and historical characters who are inexorably linked to the land of Israel/Palestine," she said. "Sometime during the process of creating this book, I knew that I wanted to create a performance version based on the text. I wasn't sure what it would look like, but I knew it would be collaborative and somehow address the question: 'How can two narratives exist in one body?' When I found out I'd won the Whitman, I decided that rather than have a traditional book release party, I would create a performance piece with dancers and musicians addressing that question."
The piece premiered at a standing-room-only event that also included a silent art auction to benefit Just Vision, a nonprofit organization that promotes social justice in Israel and Palestine. A selection from the performance is featured in the video below.
[This article has been updated. An earlier version of this article failed to mention the sponsor for the Walt Whitman Award. The prize is given annually by the Academy of American Poets.]