Saturday, January 31, 2009

On the Use of Videocameras to Document Oppression

This was sent to me by a student, which is about the use of videocameras as portable modes of documenting occupation and violence in Israel/Palestine. The phenomenon has been around for quite a while, as the video of the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers (1991) was done with a camera precisely to record police violence.

Review of Mary Weems' An Umistakable Shade of Red and The Obama Chronicles (Bottom Dog Press, 2008)

Review of Mary Weems' An Umistakable Shade of Red and The Obama Chronicles (Bottom Dog Press, 2008)
by Philip Metres

Poet, educator, and playwright, Mary Weems has been a fixture in the Cleveland poetry scene for many years, a standout performer whose words always resonate on the page. I can still recall the first time seeing Weems read her work. It was part of a Get Lit! event at John Carroll University, in which faculty writers shared their work. In contrast to the other poets and writers reading that day, Weems stepped from behind the podium, and walking between the rows of students and faculty, began to recite, intently looking at individuals in the audience.

Her sheer physical presence, the embodiment of her words, and her active eyes stunned and mesmerized. She made me feel then as if the poetry--poetry itself--consisted of both body and words, and of the breath between them. I’ve often tried to describe the look in the eyes of poets who recite their work; it seems both far-off and incredibly intimate, in the way that an actor is both herself and the text being recited. It’s as if Weems were the well and the woman at the well, drawing water (words) out of herself to sate herself and us.

In the book Cleveland Poetry Scenes, co-edited by Weems, she recalls writing her first poem “titled ‘Death,’ at the age of thirteen after seeing a young African American male carried off in a stretcher following a fatal one-car accident on E. 116th and Corlett, right outside of John Adams High School” (237). She has been writing ever since, responding to the inner and outer occasions of grief and wonder. Though she made her chapbook debut in 1996, with a collection called white (Wick Poetry Series, 1996), and sold out the first run of Tampon Class (Pavement Saw, 2005), An Unmistakable Shade of Red and The Obama Chronicles (2008) is her full-length poetry collection, distilling some of her best work from previous chapbooks and adding a timely sequence of poems in dialogue with the meteoric rise of Barack Obama in 2007 and 2008.

Melding a page-based poet’s desire for compression and enjambment, with a performance poet’s longing to ride the expansive cadences of breath, Weems’ poetry feels equally at home on and off the page, as in the elegiac poem “Father”:

His line on my birth certificate
is blank

but he’s in all the words
I don’t say

my prayers each night

It’s that sudden trickiness of syntax, the rupture of enjambment in the final three lines—should we read these lines as “he’s in all the words I don’t say” or “I don’t say my prayers each night”?—that makes her poetry worth multiple reads.

An Unmistakable Shade of Red and The Obama Chronicles (2008) demonstrates a wide range of poetic forms and subjects—-from haiku to kwansabas, from ekphrastic poems to musical pieces-—but what draws them together is the poet’s vision of poetry as a dialogue between herself, art, and the world. (Her haiku, in particular, made me feel haiku were possible again: “When you lose your mom/to transition, the hole in/your navel closes.”)

We always sense, in Weems’ work, that the poet is not satisfied with having her say to herself and for herself alone; in the call-and-response tradition, Weems is—-avidly, enthusiastically—-the responder to the calls of world and art. Whether writing kwansabas to June Jordan or James Brown, or creating ekphrastic poems in dialogue with works of art; whether witnessing a scene at a local bus stop or responding to inner-city billboards, Weems is constantly in conversation with what surrounds her, talking back and taking back a sense of what it means to be alive to one’s environs, to resist dehumanization and despair, to attune the inner and outer weathers.

USR catalogues the inner and outer life of an African-American woman, living in a troubled city, but, like a gritty Whitman, finds shards of hope. As she puts it, in “Aging,” “it’s me forgiving an illicit love affair with life,/for wanting more time in this place/that God is willing to give.”

Friday, January 30, 2009

More P.W. Singer, Wired for War

Gaza Debate in Davos

Thursday, January 29, 2009

David-Baptiste Chirot's "Light Remains"

A Letter from Shelley Ettinger

Sometimes blogging becomes more than just an exercise in solitary chest-thumping; it can bring people together. I got this last week.

Dear Mr. Metres,

I just came across your lit blog and plan to spend some time reading through it soon since it looks very interesting. In the meantime I wanted to say hi and introduce myself and invite you to take a look at mine. It's called Read Red. Over the last couple weeks I've done several posts about Gaza that perhaps you'll find of interest. In one of them I reprinted a poem of mine that was published a few years ago in the lit mag Minza. If you'd find it of any use in your work please let me know.

Here's the link to my blog, and below it are the links to the specific posts having to do with Gaza from the last couple weeks. Thanks, and all the best,
Shelley Ettinger

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Dutiful Actors" vs. "Rational Actors"/Re-thinking Subjectivity in Conflict Resolution

Respect for Sacred Values is Key to Conflict Resolution

Ethical and religious beliefs can trump material gains in motivating human behavior

January 7, 2009

A team of researchers funded by the National Science Foundation is investigating the role of ethical and religious beliefs, or "sacred values," in motivating human behavior. The team's most significant finding is that individuals who hold sacred values are rarely willing to barter them for economic gain.

"It's easy to assume that all players approach the world with similar sets of rational choices but ignoring or disregarding the sacred value frameworks across cultures may exacerbate conflict, with grievous loss of national treasure and lives," said Scott Atran, visiting professor of psychology and public policy at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor.

Atran is also a presidential scholar at John Jay University and holds a tenured position as director of research in anthropology for the National Center of Scientific Research in Paris. The Michigan-led research team included members from Northwestern University, the New School, Harvard University and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The team's research results suggest the "rational actor" theory that has dominated strategic thinking since the end of World War II is often of limited value in today's increasingly global world. The theory assumes adversaries model the world on the basis of rational choices that are similar across cultures. Most transnational organizations, such as the World Bank, NGOs and U.S. military and diplomatic services, still set policy based on the assumption of rational actors.

The Michigan research on sacred values demonstrates some limitations of the "rational actor" framework and could transform the way the U.S.

handles some geopolitical issues because it provides scientific evidence for the role sacred values often play in decision making and in resolving conflict," said NSF Program Officer Robert O'Connor.

The researchers combined experiments, surveys and interviews of students, refugees, settlers and leaders involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They asked participants to respond to a series of proposed solutions involving compromises while measuring their emotional response and their propensity for violence. They found that most of the participants responded negatively if the proposed solution was an economic trade-off of some sort, responded extremely negatively if offered a trade-off along with some substantial material incentive, and responded more positively to a trade-off that also involved a symbolic concession.

"Our research tells us when there is a confrontation involving sacred values, then offers to give up or exchange sacred values for material incentives is taken as a deep insult, which only increases disgust and the moral outrage that inspires violence," Atran said.

The researchers' findings appear to hold true for groups outside of the Middle East. Scientists at Northwestern University and the New School recently replicated the study's findings for a conflict involving Hindus and Muslims in India and also Madrassah students in Indonesia.

The research results also appear relevant for sacred values not necessarily tied to an organized religion. In the U.S., many European-American hunters have sacred values concerning gun control while at least one group of Native American hunters did not. The Native Americans, in turn, had sacred values on issues of eminent domain and sovereignty. In another study, the researchers found that Amish and Evangelicals hold similar sacred values but only Evangelicals translate them into political action, and only for a subset of issues. A key finding of all the studies is that sacred values do not correspond to a generalized tendency towards extremism or some set of personality traits, Atran noted.

Their work today suggests government leaders should discard the rational actors' theory in favor of the "devoted actors" when negotiating with groups such as suicide terrorists that live within a rigid framework of sacred values because they are willing to make extreme sacrifices with little or no guarantee their actions will result in success, material or otherwise.

"The utilitarian position of the U.S. may play into the hands of terrorists who turn it around to show that America and its allies try to reduce people to material matter rather than moral beings," Atran said.

"A more productive strategy may be to allow moral alternatives that provide non-violent pathways of expression, even if they do not match our own moral values."


Diane Banegas, National Science Foundation (703) 966-0316

CBS 60 Minutes on Israel/Palestine

Watch CBS Videos Online

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sarah Zale's "The Folly of Half"/from the Come Together: Imagine Peace anthology

"The Folly of Half"

Aman understands the walnut,
how the line of its equator,

like pressed lips, waits.
She understands the avocado,

sliced from point to round,
how one half falls away

from the pit. She misses it.
She is Muslim-Arab, she is

Israeli. She is two mismatched
socks, alone, after all the clothes

are folded. Solomon understands
the folly of splitting the baby.

So it says in Kings 3, in the Qur'an.
Aman is waiting for her mother

to cry out. My ear drops
to the belly of the land. I am

listening. Something stirs.
I feel it kick.

Comment on “The Folly of Half” by Sarah Zale:

Hagit Ra'anan, an Israeli peacemaker, her husband killed in Beirut by Palestinians, believes that if we can heal ourselves and heal individuals around us, there is a chance for healing between nations. In the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition, she says, “I don't think of myself as a ‘peacemaker.' I don't think you can ‘make' peace. It's already here. I just need to be that peace.”

Hagit is responsible for eighty-plus peace poles around Israel and occupied Palestine. She served as a guide for a compassionate listening delegation ( to the “Good Fence” on the Lebanon border, and the Jewish settlement Rosh Pina, the home of Anael Harpez, where women, both Jewish and Palestinian, come together in spiritual support. One of Hagit’s peace poles is in Anael’s yard. We met Aman, who is both a Muslim and an Israeli citizen, caught in the middle of the Jewish-Israeli and Arab-Palestinian conflict.

The anthology is a required text for my research course War as Myth, Identity, and Wound. Seattle poets (Derek Sheffield, Holly Hughes, Martha Silano, Susan Rich, and myself) gave a reading on Sunday, January 25, 2009 at Elliott Bay Books. Another reading is scheduled at Eagle Harbor Books (Bainbridge Island, WA) on Thursday, January 29. As well, the anthology will be discussed in a blog on the Voices Education Project website (, host to Voices in Wartime. I serve on the Education Committee for this organization.
Sarah Zale

You can also read her essay from the Poets Against War newsletter (Fall 2006).

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gitmo's World

Ron (Silliman) and Me

I couldn't help but notice that Ron Silliman and I had nearly identical responses to the inaugural poem and Alexander's style of reading it.
Among the overlaps of taste and syntax, the notion of the "three poems of the inauguration.

Even certain sentences: From my blog posting: "Alexander's poem was not and is not a miserable failure, but I hoped for more; her reading style, however, the "MFA style" of felt stilted and worlds away from the way in which we speak and speech." Ron's sentence from his (subsequent) post:"One of my sons, tho, who has heard quite a bit more poetry than most of my suburban friends, was more interested in Alexander’s stilted delivery which paused. After. Every. Word."


1) Ron Silliman is an outright plagiarist, the likes of which haven't been seen since T.S. Eliot and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
2) Ron Silliman and I think alike.
3) Ron Silliman and I are the same person.
4) Ron Silliman and I are heteronyms of Kent Johnson.
5) There is one poetry mind, and we plugged into the same cortical area.

The one that pleases and vexes me most is #2: Ron and I think alike. I can deal with the others.

COME TOGETHER: IMAGINE PEACE reading in Kent, Ohio, March 7, 2009

Come Together
Imagine Peace
An Open Poetry Reading
Saturday, March 7, 2009
7:00 PM
At Woodsy’s Annex
124 East Main Street, Kent, Ohio
(Next to Last Exit Books)

Bringing together poets from the new anthology, Come Together Imagine Peace, Bottom Dog Press, along with other voices from the community, centering on peace, how we might work toward it. All welcome to read, to listen, to imagine.

Poems of Peace

Come Together
Imagine Peace

Edited by Philip Metres, Ann Smith & Larry Smith
Introduction by Philip Metres
A book for all times.
Poems of Witness & Elegy, Exhortation & Action,
Reconciliation, Shared Humanity,
Wildness & Home, Ritual & Vigil, Meditation & Prayer

Precedents: Sappho, Whitman, Dickinson, Cavafy, Millay, Patchen, Rexroth, Shapiro, Lowell, Creeley, Rukeyser, Ginsberg, Levertov, Lorde, Stafford, Jordan, Amichai, Darwish
Contemporaries: Abinader, Ali, Bass, Berry, Bauer, Berrigan, Bly, Bodhrán, Bradley, Brazaitis, Bright, Bryner, Budbill, Cervine, Charara, Cording, Cone, Crooker, Daniels, di Prima, Davis, Dougherty, Ellis, Espada, Estes, Ferlinghetti, Forché, Frost, Gibson, Gundy, Gilberg, Habra, Hague, Hamill, Harter, Hassler, Haven, Heyen, Hirshfield, Hughes, Joudah, Jensen, Karmin, Kendig, Komunyakaa, Kovacik, Kryss, Krysl, LaFemina, Landis, Leslie, Lifshin, Loden, Lovin, Lucas, McCallum, McGuane, Machan, McQuaid, Meek, Metres, Miltner, Montgomery, Norman, Nye, Pankey, Pendarvis, Pinsky, Porterfield, Prevost, Ragain, Rashid, Rich, Roffman, Rosen, Ross, Rusk, Salinger, Sanders, Seltzer, Schneider, Shabtai, Shannon, Sheffield, Shipley, Shomer, Silano, Sklar, Smith, Snyder, Spahr, Sydlik, Szymborska, Trommer, Twichell, Volkmer, Waters, Weems, Wilson, Zale
Harmony Anthology Series

Reading sponsored by Bottom Dog Press and Standing Rock Cultural Arts. For more information call Maj Ragain 330-678-7473 or Jeff Ingram 330-673-4970

Sunday, January 25, 2009

P.W. Singer (Wired for War) on Fresh Air

Listen to P.W. Singer on Fresh Air discuss the increasing role of robots and robotics in the U.S. military. Among many fascinating findings, Singer relates that the drone pilots "fighting" "in" Iraq--and yet located in such places at Las Vegas Nevada--have higher rates of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) than other soldiers "in country." Singer confronts us with the increasingly complex ethical issues of employing predator drones and robotic technology to conduct war for us, and imagines a time when robotic technology may not only change the military, but change war itself. Listen in particular to Mark Garlasco's testimony to what changed him from a warrior to a Human Rights Watch activist, around minute seven.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hope for Peace in the Middle East

Reading with Tyrone Williams

I had the chance to read with poet Tyrone Williams a couple nights ago, when we moved our reading from Visible Voice books to Joseph Makkos' Language Foundry, in Tremont. You can hear a reading by Williams at A Voice Box here. Hearing Williams read is something like hearing a radio searching and switching, searching and switching--if that imaginary radio were playing recordings of hip-hop samples, shreds of found plays, noir films, gospel claps, and modern philosophy--and you have to be tuned in to what you can and cannot quite hear. In that way, it's poetry that moves closer to music than to story, and you have to ride its radiating waves. Here's one poem, whose subject is more or less clear, with its Middle Passage imagery. from On Spec:


kwansaba for Katherine Durham

[Carried over] was not what we carried
Out, what came up from the hold,
What held, however tenuous, ashes to smoke,
Smoke to motion, the rhythm of evading
Low-down mast, new-hold plank, whip-
Taut, strung across the bow, the stern,
Under, away from, which b(l)acks arched toward.

A Letter to My Senator

Dear Mr. Sherrod Brown,

thank you for your reply about my request for a congressional call for a ceasefire from all sides in the Israeli incursion into Gaza, and for a re-opening of the borders to help bring civilian aid to Palestinians suffering from economic blockade.

I found your answer, however, to be unsatisfying. While I understand your point of view--that you wish to support Israel, and that you hope for a lasting peace--the language of the letter itself suggests that such hope is not based on an fair-minded policy:

"I support Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorism and to protect its people. The recent ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops in Gaza are overdue but important steps forward in providing stability and peace in the region.

I remain deeply concerned for the safety and welfare of civilians in desperate need of relief. As we begin to address the damage caused by the recent war, we must make humanitarian aid a clear and immediate priority. I will work with the new Administration to push for the immediate removal of all obstacles for the delivery of humanitarian aid as well as a permanent ceasefire.

We must invest in the future of all people in the region, so everyone intent on peace will have a stake in the peace process. I will continue to encourage the U.S. government to broker a lasting peace in the region."

To wit: nowhere in your letter does it even mention that the civilians you mention might be "Palestinian." I don't need to tell you that this is a stateless people dispossessed and made refugees in 1948 by the Arab-Israeli war, and by Israel itself. The U.S. and the international community have long supported the national aspirations of the Palestinian people, though there is an increasing debate about whether a two-state solution is even viable at this point, given the land confiscations in the West Bank and the geographic and political distance between the West Bank and Gaza.

I understand that you have received considerable contributions from AIPAC (American Israel Political Affairs Committee)--to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars in recent years--and understand that this does not imply that you are beholden to special interests. But I ask you to rethink Middle East positions that are not in the longterm interest of either Israel or Palestine or any other people in the world; the reckless and disproportionate bombing of a civilian population has done damage to Israel's reputation in the world, further isolated it in the eyes of the international community, and ensured another generation of Palestinian trauma and anger. The U.S., as Israel's strongest ally, could have forestalled that. We did not.


Philip Metres

On Poetry and Generosity: an Interview with Kathy Engel

Found this interview with poet and editor Kathy Engel, who co-edited the powerful We Begin Here: Poems for Palestine and Lebanon.
Interview with Kathy Engel
E. Ethelbert Miller | January 16, 2009

Editor: John Feffer

Foreign Policy In Focus

Kathy Engel is the founder of MADRE, the international women's human rights organization. She is also a poet, cultural worker, producer, and consultant for peace, human rights, and social justice groups. She is author of the books Banish The Tentative and Ruth's Skirts. Here she talks to FPIF's E. Ethelbert Miller about her poem "Inaugural" on the eve of the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

E. ETHELBERT MILLER: Your poem "Inaugural" reminded me of the work of Whitman, Neruda, and Cardenal. It begins with the lines, This is the time/to be generous. What is the political significance of this word "generous," considering the economic conditions that we now live in?

KATHY ENGEL: I am deeply honored to be associated with my poetic heroes Whitman, Neruda and Cardenal. Their poems are stones and rivers I return to daily. I often feel Neruda literally keeps me alive, reminding me of how and where smallness and largeness meet. Whitman's work introduced me poetically to the body as universe, the body as natural world. I experienced an expanse of breath in his work; possibility.

Cardenal and Nicaragua are one and the same to me. I spent years working with the people of Nicaragua beginning in 1983, just four years after the Sandinista victory. I found a newly birthed country, embattled and brimming with poetry, danger, and the possible. Cardenal's poem "The Parrots" expresses the violence of imperialism and colonialism, imposed culture, and the beauty and necessity of speaking one's own language; the true liberation of one's own voice and telling.

I have two photos of Cardenal: one with my late dad, who made a documentary about Nicaragua in the 1980s, and one with my daughter Ella when she was 12. Meeting the people of Nicaragua at that time in history, after creating the dramatization and video Talking Nicaragua, with June Jordan, Sara Miles, and Nina Streich, and then starting the organization MADRE, became one of the most important living poems in my life.

Now to your question! Generosity means letting go. Risk, community, wholeness. Consumerism, greed, narcissism, and narrow-mindedness have exploded in our faces in the form of "economic crisis." It's a kind of economic autism. We know that most of the world, and so many in this country, have been living in economic crisis all along, while at the same time many in this country have blindly acquired and borrowed, acquired and borrowed, without a sense of connection to community or earth.

We are also living in a time of amazing paradigm shift and openings. Economic journalist Paul Krugman and others say that this economic crisis is the perfect time to invest in the people. This makes sense to me intuitively and poetically. To invest, one must let go. We must also invest in our own imaginative forces, trust the "yes we can" in all its manifestations. Poetry is rooted in generosity. It is the window letting air in and the air itself, and everything complicated that one sees and experiences in the air when looking clearly. So the significance is not simply political, but human, which of course is political in the deepest sense.

Generosity is a necessity for a new way of living together, in families, in the workplace, in communities, across borders, on this planet. It also means thinking about what you need and about what other humans and animals need, what the earth and air needs. Living connected. This sounds like a cliché, but for a reason — I have encountered the most generous people often in my travels to war-torn places where people were struggling each day just to get bread on the table, just to survive bombardments and raids in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, El Salvador, Nicaragua. The generosity comes from someplace deep inside and a way of being in the world. A sense of history and continuity. A generosity of imagination, together with discipline, might allow us to rethink where we are and move towards what Wendell Berry calls "coherent community," what King called "beloved community."I think the Obama culture opens the country for the marriage between discipline, service, imagination, and generosity. I'm not talking about a floppy generosity, but a fiercely dedicated, complex one.

We need to redefine ownership, the economics and possible largeness of mutual ownership versus the limitations of individual possession, in light of the stress of resources we have, as a species, created on the earth. Young activists and artists know this. My students are engaged in "bike-shares," and creating art from garbage and community gardening.

There are times, and perhaps this is one of them historically, when crisis leads to greatness. One wishes it wouldn't take crisis. Often death and suffering lead to new consciousness, new sight. Perhaps these challenging economic times, along with the layers of possibility signified by Obama's leadership, will lead to rounder thinking.

We live in abundance and act out of a sense of scarcity. Even in this crisis we are surrounded by abundance, just not shared abundance. At the same time, there is famine in Zimbabwe, occupation in Iraq and Palestine, chaos and uprootedness, unhealed wounds, displacement, and poverty in the Gulf Coast.

Generosity can become pragmatic and be implemented by programs and policies. But it is a way of walking into the day. Fundamentally, the politics of generosity can't be separated from the politics of listening and empathy.
MILLER: I've been looking for poetry that will be as transforming of our cultural landscape as Obama has been to our political one. How might someone overseas interpret your poem? Are you proclaiming a new America has come into existence?

ENGEL: I'm also looking for transformative poetry and all our artistic expressions, an opening in our cultural landscape. It's interesting because I still find the "progressive" culture, whatever that is, to be very reticent to let go, to really transform. I believe that has to do with so long assuming we can't win. And now there is a shift, and we have to shift with it.

How might someone overseas interpret my poem? As a wave, perhaps. An embrace. Hopefully some soil with seeds and a river. A listening and a beckon.

I am not proclaiming a new America has come into existence. I don't have to. Look out the window. Listen. To every young person in the Young People's Project, Detroit Summer, Brother Sister Sol, Global Kids, the Palestine Israel Education Project, Finding Our Folk Tour, the League of Young Voters. The Hip-Hop Theater Festival. My students and yours. All the 20-somethings who ran Obama campaign offices around the country. The ones who welcomed my family and me in PA twice. Listen.

And we need to remember. Without memory we can't listen and we can't change. Remember all the work that's been done, the quiet, disciplined, imaginative, and dangerous work, all these years, that led to this new planting. Find the place which Whitman describes in "Leaves of Grass," the bridge where we look into the truth of the past, fully, with the blood, the loss, and then face forward.

And remember the places and people who today are still not being seen or heard. Remember how we need to hold Palestine. Haiti.

The ruptured earth.
Each child living in poverty.

If we can dare, be brave enough to fall knee-deep in our mistakes, in the bad poems too, then perhaps we will create the poetry that will be transforming in the way you describe. The poetry that dares in the same way we have to dare to redefine all the important things — what is health? What is a meaningful education? What is peace? Poets need to open up these terrains. And let us give poetry its place in this new day. It was annoying during the Democratic primaries that journalists and pundits attempted to diminish the meaning of Obama's gift with language. But he won. Poetry won!

Let us do more than have an inaugural poem or try to get a job in the new NEA. Let every office of everything have a poet in residence. Let poets work on policy language. Let poetry guide us into a world driven by empathy, and yes, generosity; a lyrical, toughly truthful, multilingual world in which we can hear the clams, the porcupines, the worker who hasn't had a break since he or she can remember, and the children who've been told to keep quiet.

Kathy Engel is a poet, cultural worker, producer, and creative and strategic consultant for peace, human rights, and social justice groups. She is the co-founder and founder of numerous organizations, including MADRE and Riptide Communications. She is the author of Banish The Tentative and Ruth's Skirts, and teaches at NYU.

E. Ethelbert Miller is an award-winning poet, the director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University, and the board chairperson of the Institute for Policy Studies. His interviews are a regular feature of Fiesta.

Alexander and Colbert

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Poetry Inaugural: Obama, "Praise Song for the Day," and Lowery's reading of James Weldon Johnson's "Lift Every Voice and Sing"

Elizabeth Alexander, the inaugural poet, had the unfortunate (and mistimed) task of reading after Barack Obama--himself of the poetic phrase and rousing intonations--and before Joseph Lowery's final prayer, which began with James Weldon Johnson's moving "Lift Every Voice and Sing." In the process of her reading, television crews cut to pictures of the masses filing away and out of the mall; it looked, quite simply, like the death of poetry. Alexander's poem was not and is not a miserable failure, but I hoped for more; her reading style, however, the "MFA style" of felt stilted and worlds away from the way in which we speak and speech. God love her--she had an impossible task. But poetry abounded in the words of that day. And could not be bounded by a single poem.

Praise Song for the Day, Praise Song for Struggle

by Elizabeth Alexander

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each others’
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of someone and then others who said,
“I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.”
We need to find a place where we are safe;
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”
Others by “first do no harm,” or “take no more
than you need.” What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp —

praise song for walking forward in that light.

—transcribed from the Presidential inauguration ceremony, January 20, 2009
© 2009, Elizabeth Alexander

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Letter to Barack Obama"/an inaugural poem

"Letter to Barack Obama (Solstice, 2008)" by Philip Metres (

Yes, you’ll need to stay alive
to the possibilities
of disappointing us, who believe
you’d change everything

& yesterday. To dodge bullets,
those ballots of the disaffected
& the entrenched,
their undisclosed locations

in our collective mind. To stare
whole buildings back
from rubble of foreclosure
& condemnation, stand watch

over bridges to nowhere
we’ve never known, & always
someone’s somewhere. To end stop
/loss & unlawful

combatants, extraordinary
renditions & waterboarding,
the cool abstractions that make
torture into Pet Sounds.

You’ll need to pierce the wall
of sound that power makes,
or tent yourself in your living
room & slowly go mad. Stay long

enough that we grow
used to you, scion of the globe,
become mundane as a dollar,
flawed, iconic, yet alive.

So when you’re called to kill
in our name, like a lover
who’s slept with another,
we’ll never let you live

it down, though we will
never leave. Nor forgive.

Visible Voice Reading: Tyrone Williams and Philip Metres

Language Foundry Presents
Philip Metres & Tyrone Williams
reading from their poetry

Visible Voice Books - Thurs Jan 22 - 8pm
1023 Kenilworth (in Tremont)
Cleveland, Ohio 44113

Philip Metres teaches in the English Department at John Carroll University, and is the author of To See the Earth (Cleveland State U Poetry Series 2008) and the scholarly work Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront Since 1941 (University of Iowa Press, 2007). He translates Russian poetry and also creates poetry non-sites and other verbal installation works.

Tyrone Williams was born and raised in Detroit, where he was long active in the verbal performance scene before taking a teaching position at Xavier University in Cincinnati. His books of poetry include c.c. (Krupskaya Books, 2002) and most recently On Spec(Omnidawn Publishing, 2008). He is working on two other book projects, one on quotation and intellectual property in modern art and another on rap music and the public.


Larry Smith's "Tu Fu Comes to Washington"

Larry Smith, poet, editor, and publisher of Bottom Dog Press, sent me along a resonant poem about Barack Obama. He catches something about Obama that I recognized immediately but had not put to words. What did Alexander Pope say about poetry?--"what oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed." I'll share mine a little later today. Welcome to the future, everyone.

Tu Fu Comes to Washington

A new leader has been called out
by those enslaved by the old--
a tyrant blind to his own heart.

My oldest boy lies buried
in a mound in Afghanistan.
My wife and children have moved
into the shelter in Cleveland,
and so I’ve hitched to the Capital,
walking half the way.

Many sleep dreamless in the streets here
jobless and hungry for hope,
all of us conscripted to the banks.
A heavy snow lies about avenues,
a cold wind blows through the parks.

I rise from cardboard, stand in door fronts
imagine the faces of my wife and children
standing in line for oatmeal and bread.

No wonder we gather at shop windows
to watch news of a leader risen among us.
His face smiles with kindness, and yet
in that sadness about the eyes
lies our real hope.

--Larry Smith

Monday, January 19, 2009

Interviews with John Dear and Martin Sheen

ABC News Interviews John Dear and Martin Sheen (Dec. 2008) Part I
ABC News Interviews John Dear and Martin Sheen (Dec. 2008) Part II
ABC News Interviews John Dear and Martin Sheen (Dec. 2008) Part III
Thanks to Tim Musser for sending along these interviews with John Dear and Martin Sheen, two Catholic radicals.

"On A Sign Announcing: Expanding Arlington National Cemetery" by Joseph Ross/Come Together: Imagine Peace series

"On A Sign Announcing: Expanding Arlington National Cemetery" by Joseph Ross

The sign stands innocent as a smile.
Held aloft on two legs,
it is satisfied and confident,
announcing “Your tax dollars at work.”
Expansion is progress. Growth is good.

It is clean and straight, this sign.
It is clear.
Placed by a competent caretaker-
no lean, no tilt, no doubt.
Its letters stare out at us,
no flourish, no curls,
efficient, laces tight.

Most signs in this cemetery
are solemn carvings in stone
or fatherly warnings against irreverence.
But this one brags,
like much of America: bigger is better.

In the past, this cemetery has expanded
with no publicity.
No need to remind the grieving
that even graveyards need to grow.

And this cemetery does grow
in bursts of gunfire.
Here, the green hills do not roll like waves,
they rattle as if covered by a blanket
woven from bones,
unfurled flat above this pregnant earth,
covering a cold it can never warm.

I walk through this place
where names and dates stare
from every direction:

old wars, new wars, wars to end all wars,
conventional wars, all manner of wars,
a war that took my neighbor,
a war that did not take my father.

I realize that I must step carefully here,
from road to grass,
I walk in this meadow where water is red
and I am brought back to other lawns—

I remember afternoons playing army,
running through front yards, hiding in my own,
rolling on grass that smelled like August,
crouching behind trees whose leaves
I had earlier raked.
In those days, when you were shot
you got to lie on your back
and watch the sunlight strain
through a heaven of green leaves,
then, after counting to twenty,
you could jump up and play again, of course.

But today, I stand still,
surrounded by a silent, gawking crowd.
They stare up from beneath
their white stones,
their teeth bared and straight,
their smiles long since gone.
I wonder what they think
of this sign of the times,
whose black and white letters
tell us, in a language we know too well,
that progress is tallied in tears.

Poet's Comment:
For the last several years, when I have felt most discouraged with my country, I take a walk through Arlington National Cemetery, to the grave of Robert F. Kennedy. Its simplicity and quiet often rebuild my hope. On one summer day, a few years ago, as I walked beyond the Visitor Center, I saw a very tasteful sign stating: "Arlington National Cemetery is Expanding." Needless to say, I was stunned. While the information was true, to present it in that way, in that place, showed a level of cluelessness I was not ready for. Who would create such a sign? Paint it? Approve it? Install it?

As a member of D.C. Poets Against the War and of the Split This Rock Poetry Festival community, I have been honored to connect poetry to the struggle for peace in many ways. Just last month, we held four poetry readings at the Peace Mural in Washington, D.C. This is just one of the many ways our local poets in D.C. bring our craft to the public conversation about war and peace in our time.

Visit for blog posts, poems, readings and other interesting information.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bill Moyers on the Middle East violence

Robert Miltner's "How to Draw a Horse"/from Come Together: Imagine Peace

"How to Draw a Horse" by Robert Miltner

after a linocut by Marc Snyder

Begin with a pyramid. With an Egyptian riding a horse across the sandy expanse, planning to have his cats and liver accompany him to the afterlife, a place where honey never goes bad.

After the Israelites leave, the British will arrive, pockets stuffed with guns and laws, filling the coal cars with pirated mummies they’ll toss into the locomotive’s fire, fuel for the Colonial train.

But today the Egyptian basks in the sun like a sphinx, head held high, centered in a momentary universe. A cloud briefly covers the sun like an eye patch, then passes. Leaving only a horse.

Poet's Comment:
My poem "How to Draw a Horse" began as an ekphrastic piece written in response to a linocut by my friend Marc Snyder of Pittsburgh, who by the way has great politics. I was going for the magic and transformation of art, but as I wrote it, the pyramidal images in the original, and the horse, suggested Egypt. I recalled something I had read about the British colonizers actually using mummies for the trains. This, of course, evoked Middle Eastern history, colonialism, and all that comes with that. But for the moment, all I could see was a man on a horse--Arabian, in my mind, but not in the poem--proud and free. And that seemed somehow a symbol of what all people who are displaced or oppressed want--to live free. That is life as transformation.

I have read the poem a few times at peace readings--a May 4th reading at Kent Stark, once, for example--and it seems that listeners don't respond as they do to poems with more direct contemporary references, like to Iraq.

I don't belong to any established peace organizations, really, though I go to rallies and readings associated with American Friends, Code Pink, the Huron group for Peace and Justice, some May 4th readings, and the like, and I organized a fundraiser reading for Poets Against War. I have always supported candidates who worked for peace: Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, and Dennis Kucinich specifically, and Obama in this election, knocking on doors, registering voters, trying to get people to be The People. I support UPJ, US Labor Against the War, and the ISO. Each, as Whitman would say, is a part of the whole.

This past fall I was invited to read in the Columbus as part of the event for Sam Hamill at OSU when he read with Elinor Wilner and Breyten Breytenbach--three strong voices for human rights and peace. I was part of a community of Ohio pacifist poets with whom I have read several times. Isn't that what we do--form communities? Stand together as readers that takes us beyond our separateness as writers? Is this how art transforms us?


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mary Weems' "Kwansaba for June Jordan"/On the Anniversary of the Persian Gulf War

As if the bloodshed in Gaza weren't enough to remember, this is also the anniversary of the Persian Gulf War. One of the best poems of that conflict was June Jordan's "The Bombing of Baghdad," for its relentless catalogue, naming the targets in that city, and its admonishment of our moral highground. In honor of June, I'm sharing a poem by Mary Weems, that appears Come Together: Imagine Peace.
"Kwansaba for June Jordan"

June Jordan would be dumping word bombs
on the White House like D-Day in
America, wailing verbs like an elder blues
singer, hitting that one right note each
night—If she wasn’t busy filling God
in on all the ways the world
needs to collect like clouds, rain change.

Mary E. Weems, 2008

In: An Unmistakable Shade of Red and the Obama ChroniclesBottom Dog Press, Huron, OH

Like the late, African American photographer, Gordon Parks, art (in my case the language arts) is my choice of weapon. So while I can't claim marching, or standing, siting in, or any other physical resistance to war, for me the creation and subsequent sharing of my poems in print and/or out loud and voicing my anti-war anywhere position constitutes a political act.

The poem "Kwansaba for June Jordan" in the Come Togethercollection was inspired by my admiration for the late poet and essayist June Jordan, who, before she succumbed to breast cancer had her contract with the New York Times cancelled after she spoke out about the treatment of the Palestinians. She was a word-warrior all of her life, and spoke truth to power even when her position was not popular. In the poem, I imagined/thought about what she'd be doing in Heaven (though I'm not a Christian, I believe the spirit survivies and goes some place), and decided she'd still be trying to bring the world together---in peace.

Below I share another poem (part of a forthcoming book chapter titled "The E in Poetry Stands for Empathy) -- inspired by a Plain Dealer Article, 1-6-07).

You can share this poem too on your website--if you'd like. Let me know if you need anything else. Great idea.

Peace, Mary

Missing Feet

(1-6-07, [1-6-05] Bomb’s Lasting Toll: Lost Laughter, Broken Lives
By: Sabrina Tavernise)

The war in Iraq is a boy dying in his father’s arms.
His nickname English Ali, his body burning,
his feet missing

His father thinks two missing feet are nothing
compared to losing a son while he looks inside
death’s eyes, trying to pretend this is a dream,
34 boys are not dying; his other son has not just died
on the same street.

Newsprint and paper smell like car bombs;
the words, people standing in line for help;
hope the last thing anyone talks about, most
of them missing a boy at their table.

Grief the same everywhere,
their anger local and familiar. Not even revenge
can help the fathers feeling like failures, mothers
violated, womb-stunted, organs
snatched without reason, tears that don’t
soothe, sorrow that kills and makes you walk
around showing people you’re dead.

Ali’s father’s face is one terrible tear. He says Life has no taste.
I even feel sick of myself, and I’m in his one-room apartment
with him, putting an arm around his shoulder, our silence
a connection across cultures that needs nothing.

I think of my grown daughter, of all the children in my family
who play in the street everyday not worrying
about whether or not a truck bomb will kill them.

I think of a child’s life without feet,
the upturned soles of Iraqi men praying,
the American soldiers standing in parked
Humvees tossing candy to the children
just before the booby trapped truck blew up.

By: Mary E. Weems

"The Boss Has Gone Mad" by Uri Avnery

Avnery, a journalist, former member of the Knesset, and Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc) activist, dissects the cynicism of all parties in this Gaza bloodshed.

The Boss Has Gone Mad
by Uri Avnery
(Friday, January 16, 2009)


"In Israel, all the talk is about the “picture of victory” – not victory itself, but the “picture”. That is essential, in order to convince the Israeli public that the whole business has been worthwhile. At this moment, all the thousands of media people, to the very last one, have been mobilized to paint such a “picture”. The other side, of course, will paint a different one."


169 YEARS before the Gaza War, Heinrich Heine wrote a premonitory poem of 12 lines, under the title “To Edom”. The German-Jewish poet was talking about Germany, or perhaps all the nations of Christian Europe. This is what he wrote (in my rough translation):

“For a thousand years and more / We have had an understanding / You allow me to breathe / I accept your crazy raging // Sometimes, when the days get darker / Strange moods come upon you / Till you decorate your claws / With the lifeblood from my veins // Now our friendship is firmer / Getting stronger by the day / Since the raging started in me / Daily more and more like you.”

Zionism, which arose some 50 years after this was written, is fully realizing this prophesy. We Israelis have become a nation like all nations, and the memory of the Holocaust causes us, from time to time, to behave like the worst of them. Only a few of us know this poem, but Israel as a whole lives it out.

In this war, politicians and generals have repeatedly quoted the words: “The boss has gone mad!” originally shouted by vegetable vendors in the market, in the sense of “The boss has gone crazy and is selling the tomatoes at a loss!” But in the course of time the jest has turned into a deadly doctrine that often appears in Israeli public discourse: in order to deter our enemies, we must behave like madmen, go on the rampage, kill and destroy mercilessly.

In this war, this has become political and military dogma: only if we kill “them” disproportionately, killing a thousand of “them” for ten of “ours”, will they understand that it’s not worth it to mess with us. It will be “seared into their consciousness” (a favorite Israeli phrase these days). After this, they will think twice before launching another Qassam rocket against us, even in response to what we do, whatever that may be.

It is impossible to understand the viciousness of this war without taking into account the historical background: the feeling of victimhood after all that has been done to the Jews throughout the ages, and the conviction that after the Holocaust, we have the right to do anything, absolutely anything, to defend ourselves, without any inhibitions due to law or morality.

WHEN THE killing and destruction in Gaza were at their height, something happened in faraway America that was not connected with the war, but was very much connected with it. The Israeli film “Waltz with Bashir” was awarded a prestigious prize. The media reported it with much joy and pride, but somehow carefully managed not to mention the subject of the film. That by itself was an interesting phenomenon: saluting the success of a film while ignoring its contents.

The subject of this outstanding film is one of the darkest chapters in our history: the Sabra and Shatila massacre. In the course of Lebanon War I, a Christian Lebanese militia carried out, under the auspices of the Israeli army, a heinous massacre of hundreds of helpless Palestinian refugees who were trapped in their camp, men, women, children and old people. The film describes this atrocity with meticulous accuracy, including our part in it.

All this was not even mentioned in the news about the award. At the festive ceremony, the director of the film did not avail himself of the opportunity to protest against the events in Gaza. It is hard to say how many women and children were killed while this ceremony was going on – but it is clear that the massacre in Gaza is much worse than that 1982 event, which moved 400 thousand Israelis to leave their homes and hold a spontaneous mass protest in Tel-Aviv. This time, only 10 thousand stood up to be counted.

The official Israeli Board of Inquiry that investigated the Sabra massacre found that the Israeli government bore “indirect responsibility” for the atrocity. Several senior officials and officers were suspended. One of them was the division commander, Amos Yaron. Not one of the other accused, from the Minister of Defense, Ariel Sharon, to the Chief of Staff, Rafael Eitan, spoke a word of regret, but Yaron did express remorse in a speech to his officers, and admitted: “Our sensitivities have been blunted”.

BLUNTED SENSITIVITIES are very evident in the Gaza War.

Lebanon War I lasted for 18 years and more than 500 of our soldiers died. The planners of Lebanon War II decided to avoid such a long war and such heavy Israeli casualties. They invented the “mad boss” principle: demolishing whole neighborhoods, devastating areas, destroying infrastructures. In 33 days of war, some 1000 Lebanese, almost all of them civilians, were killed – a record already broken in this war by the 17th day. Yet in that war our army suffered casualties on the ground, and public opinion, which in the beginning supported the war with the same enthusiasm as this time, changed rapidly.

The smoke from Lebanon War II is hanging over the Gaza war. Everybody in Israel swore to learn its lessons. And the main lesson was: not to risk the life of even one single soldier. A war without casualties (on our side). The method: to use the overwhelming firepower of our army to pulverize everything standing in its way and to kill everybody moving in the area. To kill not only the fighters on the other side, but every human being who might possibly turn out to harbor hostile intentions, even if they are obviously an ambulance attendant, a driver in a food convoy or a doctor saving lives. To destroy every building from which our troops could conceivably be shot at – even a school full of refugees, the sick and the wounded. To bomb and shell whole neighborhoods, buildings, mosques, schools, UN food convoys, even ruins under which the injured are buried.

The media devoted several hours to the fall of a Qassam missile on a home in Ashkelon, in which three residents suffered from shock, and did not waste many words on the forty women and children killed in a UN school, from which “we were shot at” – an assertion that was quickly exposed as a blatant lie.

The firepower was also used to sow terror – shelling everything from a hospital to a vast UN food depot, from a press vantage point to the mosques. The standard pretext: “we were shot at from there”.

This would have been impossible, had not the whole country been infected with blunted sensitivities. People are no longer shocked by the sight of a mutilated baby, nor by children left for days with the corpse of their mother, because the army did not let them leave their ruined home. It seems that almost nobody cares anymore: not the soldiers, not the pilots, not the media people, not the politicians, not the generals. A moral insanity, whose primary exponent is Ehud Barak. Though even he may be upstaged by Tzipi Livni, who smiled while talking about the ghastly events.

Even Heinrich Heine could not have imagined that.

THE LAST DAYS were dominated by the “Obama effect”.

We are on board an airplane, and suddenly a huge black mountain appears out of the clouds. In the cockpit, panic breaks out: How to avoid a collision?

The planners of the war chose the timing with care: during the holidays, when everybody was on vacation, and while President Bush was still around. But they somehow forgot to take into consideration a fateful date: next Tuesday Barack Obama will enter the White House.

This date is now casting a huge shadow on events. The Israeli Barak understands that if the American Barack gets angry, that would mean disaster. Conclusion: the horrors of Gaza must stop before the inauguration. This week that determined all political and military decisions. Not “the number of rockets”, not “victory”, not “breaking Hamas”.

WHEN THERE is a ceasefire, the first question will be: Who won?

In Israel, all the talk is about the “picture of victory” – not victory itself, but the “picture”. That is essential, in order to convince the Israeli public that the whole business has been worthwhile. At this moment, all the thousands of media people, to the very last one, have been mobilized to paint such a “picture”. The other side, of course, will paint a different one.

The Israeli leaders will boast of two “achievements”: the end of the rockets and the sealing of the Gaza-Egypt border (the co-called “Philadelphi route”. Dubious achievements: the launching of the Qassams could have been prevented without a murderous war, if our government had been ready to negotiate with Hamas after they won the Palestinian elections. The tunnels under the Egyptian border would not have been dug in the first place, if our government had not imposed the deadly blockade on the Strip.

But the main achievement of the war planners lies in the very barbarity of their plan: the atrocities will have, in their view, a deterrent effect that will hold for a long time.

Hamas, on the other side, will assert that their survival in the face of the mighty Israeli war machine, a tiny David against a giant Goliath, is by itself a huge victory. According to the classic military definition, the winner in a battle is the army that remains on the battlefield when it’s over. Hamas remains. The Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip still stands, in spite of all the efforts to eliminate it. That is a significant achievement.

Hamas will also point out that the Israeli army was not eager to enter the Palestinian towns, in which their fighters were entrenched. And indeed: the army told the government that the conquest of Gaza city could cost the lives of about 200 soldiers, and no politician was ready for that on the eve of elections.

The very fact that a guerrilla force of a few thousand lightly armed fighters held out for long weeks against one of the world’s mightiest armies with enormous firepower, will look to millions of Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims, and not only to them, like an unqualified victory.

In the end, an agreement will be concluded that will include the obvious terms. No country can tolerate its inhabitants being exposed to rocket fire from beyond the border, and no population can tolerate a choking blockade. Therefore, (1) Hamas will have to give up the launching of missiles, (2) Israel will have to open wide the crossings between the Gaza Strip and the outside world, and (3) the entry of arms into the Strip will be stopped (as far as possible), as demanded by Israel. All this could have happened without war, if our government had not boycotted Hamas.

HOWEVER, THE worst results of this war are still invisible and will make themselves felt only in years to come: Israel has imprinted on world consciousness a terrible image of itself. Billions of people have seen us as a blood-dripping monster. They will never again see Israel as a state that seeks justice, progress and peace. The American Declaration of Independence speaks with approval of “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind”. That is a wise principle.

Even worse is the impact on hundreds of millions of Arabs around us: not only will they see the Hamas fighters as the heroes of the Arab nation, but they will also see their own regimes in their nakedness: cringing, ignominious, corrupt and treacherous.

The Arab defeat in the 1948 war brought in its wake the fall of almost all the existing Arab regimes and the ascent of a new generation of nationalist leaders, exemplified by Gamal Abd-al-Nasser. The 2009 war may bring about the fall of the current crop of Arab regimes and the ascent of a new generation of leaders – Islamic fundamentalists who hate Israel and all the West..

In coming years it will become apparent that this war was sheer madness. The boss has indeed gone mad – in the original sense of the word.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New York poetry/art events for Gaza

Art Activism and Gaza: Poets and Hip Hop Artists Organize for Gaza

New York City's Alwan for the Arts, located in Wall Street, teaming up with hip hop heavy weights and organizations like Palestine/Israel Education Project will be one of the sites hosting a multi-event benefit night for Gaza this weekend. The first and second events,"Hands Off Gaza" and "I *heart* Gaza," will feature performances by Immortal Technique, M1 of Dead Prez, Hasan Salaam, Aalikes, Sabreena Da Witch, G.O.D, Rebel Diaz, Remi Kanazi, Tahani Salah, Queen Godis, Khalil al Mustafa; and DJs: Johnny Juice (Public Enemy), DJ Oja, and K-Salaam. The scheduled events will take place this MLK Sunday and will include speeches, music, dance, art, and resistance for Gaza

"Hands Off Gaza"

When: Sunday, January 18th, 2009, 5 - 7 PM
Where: Alwan for the Arts
16 Beaver St, 4th Floor, New York, NY
Admission: $20 at the door

Subway Freedom March to Brooklyn (with music)

When: Sunday, January 18th, 2009, leaving at 7:30 PM
Where: Alwan for the Arts to Williamsburg

"I *heart* Gaza" Benefit Hip Hop Concert, Dance, Art Show

Presented by PEP (Palestine/Israel Education Project)

When: Sunday, January 18th, 2009, 9 PM to 4 AM

Where: Sugarland

221 N 9th St (bt Driggs Ave and Roebling St)

Admission: $10+ at the door (Age 21+ only)

email for more information

In addition to hip hop artists, New York tri-state area poets have been doing their share for the raising of awareness and funds for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

This past January 3rd, on the streets of New York City's jam-packed Times Square, the likes of New Jersey State Poet Laureate Amiri Baraka (who almost had his title revoked for a line in his poem "Somebody Blew Up America" that merely questioned the silence surrounding the influence of the Israeli-Zionist lobby in the US) and "Poets for Palestine" editor and Palestinian poet Remi Kanazi withstood frigid temperatures to rally and make some noise about the crisis in Gaza.

And this Friday, January 16th, NAAP-NY and Urban Word NYC will be co-hosting a night of poetry to express solidarity with the 1.5 million suffering in Gaza to raise money to aid the Palestinian people in their time of need:

"Poets for Gaza"
When: Friday, 1/16. 7pm
Where: Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South
Donation: $20 suggested

Join poets Amiri Baraka, Roger Bonair-Agard, Marty McConnell, Vaimoana Niumeitolu, Tahani Salah, Remi Kanazi and Urban Word NYC youth poets for a night of stimulating and invigorating spoken word. More poets to be announced!

All proceeds from this fundraiser will benefit the people of Gaza directly through United Palestinian Appeal. For more information concerning the event, contact: Remi Kanazi at

Michael Rosen's poem at the London Gaza protest

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Angele Ellis' "Federal Building"/from Come Together: Imagine Peace

Federal Building
by Angele Ellis

I enter through security as taxpayer,
the needle’s eye of censorship. Bag on the table,
keys in a plastic container that could hold mail
or explosives. The only way in and out.
I remember with strained nostalgia
the protests of the eighties—
South Africa, Nicaragua, El Salvador,
the sit-ins at congressional offices,
the time we rode up and down the elevators
with our leaflets until the guards nabbed us
and threw us out. And that last time,
the sit-in during Desert Storm,
suspended between freedom and arrest,
swimming in ether like exotic fish
while our friends pressed against the aquarium glass
with hopeful signs
as if we could change history, levitate the building
like Abbie Hoffman tried with the Pentagon.
Now we are lucky to stand unmolested
on the public sidewalk,
the thin edge of the wedge of democracy.

Author's note:
"Federal Building," like a number of my poems, springs from my long engagement in the peace movement and from my concerns--as an American citizen and as a global citizen--about the nature of modern democracy, its means and its ends, particularly as practiced by the nation that is the world's superpower. I have shared the poem--originally published in the Arab-American cultural journal Mizna, and included in my book Arab on Radar as well as in the anthology Come Together: Imagine Peace--at readings and with friends. The devastation of Gaza, the desperation of a people squeezed beyond endurance, makes the final line of this poem--"the thin edge of the wedge of democracy"--ring ironically and tragically in my mind as I write these words. (January 2009)

--Angele Ellis

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Michael Rosen's poem for the children of Gaza

I found a link that shared a poem for the children of Gaza, written by a children's writer from England, Michael Rosen, for a London demonstration against the Gaza invasion. What's interesting to me about it is that, somehow, it shows how a children's writer also can be a capable poet for demonstrations; after all, its syntax is simple, its message is clear, and the focus on the child's point of view brings home the fundamental violence of these attacks--that they are traumatizing a future generation, virtually assuring future attacks.

Poem by Michael Rosen, read out at the London demo today:

In Gaza, children,
you learn that the sky kills
and that houses hurt.
You learn that your blanket is smoke
and breakfast is dirt.

You learn that cars do somersaults
clothes turn red,
friends become statues,
bakers don’t sell bread.

You learn that the night is a gun,
that toys burn
breath can stop,
it could be your turn.

You learn:
if they send you fire
they couldn’t guess:
not just the soldier dies -
it’s you and the rest.

Nowhere to run,
nowhere to go,
nowhere to hide
in the home you know.

You learn
that death isn’t life,
that air isn’t bread,
the land is for all.
You have the right to be
Not Dead.
You have the right to be
Not Dead.
You have the right to be
Not Dead.

Come Together: Imagine Peace

This is a message I sent out to the poets from Come Together: Imagine Peace, but the invitation is open to anyone.


It is a grave time in the Middle East, and I want to share my sympathies with everyone who is suffering over this violence--including the families of contributors to our anthology.

One of my brainstorms for how to share our work from COME TOGETHER and beyond was to invite you, the poets, to share a bit of the contexts which might illuminate the work for readers. Obviously, the work stands alone. But here's my argument:

First, a paragraph from BEHIND THE LINES for context:
"As we contribute to the poetics of the peace movement, we must actively become archivists of the movement itself. We need to save everything we write and make, documenting how the texts came into being, when and how they were employed, and how they might be used in the future. Since many books have almost no information about the ephemeral conditions of a poem's making, they create the impression that war resistance poetry comes out of an ahistorical pacifism that lacks pragmatism and melts at the first sign of manufactured imminent threats."

My invitation is to you 1) to write a few sentences/statement about the poem from the anthology, and whether you've shared it or used it (or other poems) in your peace work. And 2)to say something about what peace work they've been involved in, or peace communities to which they belong, etc.

I would like to highlight, as soon as possible, those poets involved in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, to have those voices in this dark time illuminate some other ways of being. But everyone is invited.

We might be able to quote a bit from the poem as well.

If you're interested, please respond. Thanks, Phil Metres

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Poetry and Gaza and Congress and Charara

There has been some poetry blogosphere buzz over the violence in Gaza--the feneon collective, Ron Silliman, Joshua Corey, Linh Dinh, Don Share (to name a few)--and, though each seems to articulate a kind of discomfort about making a statement (and, importantly, about the power of such statements), I'd argue that it is not only important but a sign of courage and humanity. Of course, in one sense, it's already too late. It's always been too late. At the same time, as Naomi Shihab Nye writes in "Jerusalem," "it's late, but everything happens next." I'd hope that these poets also phone their congresspeople, who are bending over backwards to condone this attack.

Persis Karim sent this note:
Please join a swelling national movement to bring a just end to Israel's attacks on Gaza - call 202.224.3121 and ask the operator to connect you to your Representative. If you don't know who your Representative is you can find out by entering your zip code in the upper right corner on

When you are connected with your Representative's office make your message short and to the point. *Tell your Representative to vote NO on any resolution which fails to call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, and for unimpeded access for humanitarian aid into Gaza and a lifting of Israel's illegal siege.* If you have time make the following three points:

* We need an immediate, unconditional cease-fire. Biased resolutions that enable Israel to continue killing and injuring Palestinians are unacceptable. Israel has killed more than an estimated 700 Palestinians and injured more than 3,000 since Dec. 27. Resolutions that condition a cease-fire will only lead to more needless death and destruction.

* Demand unrestricted access for humanitarian aid. Israel is allowing through only a trickle of humanitarian aid into Gaza. As the Occupying Power of the Gaza Strip, Israel is legally obligated by the 4th Geneva Convention to ensure that Palestinians receive adequate supplies of food, medical supplies, and other necessities of life. Israel's siege on the Gaza Strip imposes an illegal collective punishment on 1.5 million civilians by denying them access to these vital supplies in violation of international law. Israel must lift its siege of the Gaza Strip to comply with its Geneva Convention obligations and humanitarian aid deliveries must be allowed to enter without restrictions.

* Israel is misusing U.S. weapons to attack a civilian population. Instead of placing blame for Israel's war on and siege of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on the victims, Members of Congress should join with Rep. Dennis Kucinich in demanding from the Secretary of State an investigation into Israel's violations of the Arms Export Control Act. Members of Congress must hold Israel accountable for its misuse of U.S. weapons to kill Palestinian civilians in violation of U.S. and international law, not vote for resolutions which justify these illegal killings.

Thank you for joining me and thousands of others pushing Congress to do the right thing!

For more ideas on what you can do to help the people of Gaza through this crisis visit

Hayan Charara, a recent NEA recipient, wrote this statement about his recent poetry:
The poems I submitted to the National Endowment for the Arts grew out of an enormous sense of helplessness over the ways my government--and the governments it supports--used and misused language toward violent ends. As a result, my grandfather died a victim of war, as did many family friends, old neighbors, and some animals. So while this award is especially meaningful, its irony is not lost on me. Too often, my government's loudest voice endorses violence. That an endowment exists for writers and artists is a sign of hope. And where there's hope, there is at least the capacity for change. This is a start.

Of course, I trust poets more than politicians, and I have more faith in poems than in policies. And while I don't believe that poems will keep bombs from falling on schools, or bullets from entering bodies, or tanks from rolling over houses, or men or women or children from being humiliated, poetry insists on the humanity of people, which violence steals away; and poems advocate the power of the imagination, which violence seeks to destroy. Poets change the world. I don't mean literally, though some try. I mean with words, with language, they take the many things of this world and its make them new, and when we read poems, we know the world and its many things differently--it might not be a better or worse place than the one we live in--just different--but without the imagination, without poetry, I don't believe that the world as most of us know it would be tolerable.

Friday, January 9, 2009

From Gaza to Sderot and Back Again: A Palestinian and an Israeli Blog Together

When a slaughter is going on, and calls for a ceasefire are the most immediate items of business--I myself called my Senators to ask for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the economic blockade of Gaza--it is a momentary balm to hear of stories of friendship and trust between Palestinians and Israelis, such as the one between Peace Man and Hope Man that I've heard on npr the past couple days.

They are, of course, an extreme minority, and yet in their example they offer us the image and model of a common humanity, a sense of connection that goes beyond national identifications, some distant light by which to guide ourselves to coexistence. They have overcome, no doubt, great barriers within themselves and from their communities just to establish this bond, and for their courage they are warriors for peace. There is a blog called "Life must go on in Gaza and Sderot," in which a Palestinian (whose nom de plume is Peace Man) and an Israel (Eric Yellen, Hope Man) correspond together and to all of us.
This is their description of the project:
This blog is written by 2 friends. One lives in Sajaia refugee camp in Gaza and the other lives in Sderot, a small town near Gaza on the Israeli side. There is ongoing violence between Israel and Gaza which has intensified greatly since October 2000. Many have been killed and many have been injured. The media coverage on both sides has been extremely biased. Our Blog is written by 2 real people living and communicating on both sides of the border.

In Peace Man's recent posting, thirty-seven comments emerged, one of which, by Amina Altaf, shared this:
I heard about you both on a local radio station (NPR) in Boston. Each day while driving to work, I listen to the depressing news of innocent people dying in the Gaza/Israel region due to the recent conflict. After listening to it all and hearing the government/political officials on both sides, I get even more aggravated. All I can hear is them pointing fingers at each other. While the blame game goes on, no one is ready to take responsibility. They pretend to be fighting for the country and their people, yet their people are dying. I wonder if the people of Gaza and Israel ever question -- are our leaders there for their own agendas or are they really fighting for the land and the people? As the drive ends I try not to think about it. Not because I don't care, but because it’s saddening. At the end of the drive I tell myself I need to listen to something more exciting to start my day tomorrow.

However, curiosity gets me tuned in again. Tonight as I drove back from work, I heard about you both. It made me want to cry since I can’t even fathom what you both have to go through, yet you instill a sense of hope – a hope for peace. Your writing is way more powerful than what the media delivers. It’s the story of Israel and Gaza that I wonder about and find rather different than the propaganda we hear. I want to thank you both for your courage and wish you a safe and peaceful life with your family and friends.

We need stories like these, even though they won't end the conflict themselves, they show us that peace between peoples might be possible.

A number of stories have been told/written about them, including this one.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"You Will Miss Me When I Burn"/Will Oldham

Check out the recent New Yorker article, "The Pretender," about songster Will Oldham, whose There Is No One What Will Take of You from 1993 (under the authorship of Palace Brothers) was a revelation, and then after a couple disks I lost contact with his music... until my brother sent me something called "Bonny Prince Billy"--turns out he has more heteronyms than Fernando Pesso and Kent Johnson put together. Oldham's music is certainly "Old Weird America," by way of the No Depression genre, with some sense of the oddball (crazy?) holy fool in his voice and playing style.

Anyway, as a way out of the Gaza nightmares, enjoy "You Will Miss Me When I Burn."