Monday, April 25, 2011

What's a Literary Festival Without a Little Tear Gas?

from the "Palestine Festival of Literature" website
PalFest 2011 Closes in Silwan
The 2011 Palestine Festival of Literature closed in Silwan, Jerusalem, last night. It was scheduled to start at 7.30pm, but from around 5.30pm the Israeli Army were in the area, roads had been blocked off and street battles had flared up. Nevertheless, some artists and audience members managed to get to the night's venue - the Silwan Solidarity Tent.

At 7.30pm the Israeli Army fired tear gas at the tent, and everyone inside fled.

But by 8.30pm all the different groups found each other - some had been in the tent, some had been stuck in road blocks - and they all walked back up to the tent and held the event with tear gas hanging in the air and soldiers watching from the hill. The night closed with DAM performing to a packed tent.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Persis Karim's "Other Mothers"

Other Mothers

Their sons who speak of a cause
As if it were their two feet
beneath them. That they could hold an idea
and a weapon at the same time.

The way they could fool themselves
Into thinking they were pure
And righteous, that the great stories
of God or country could keep them safe.

When my son handed me an Israeli army shirt,
asking me to sew a button on its collar, I knew
my refusal would be the beginning
of a long goodbye, of steeling myself

for an angry boy with an inkling
of manhood, undeterred
by what I said or didn't say.
His determination grew
in his shoulders,
in sharp silences.

I thought of those other mothers--
their sons, who, whether with a gun or a car,
could find the white light of belief
that would sow the seeds
of an incalculable grief.

-Persis Karim
Used by permission.

Persis M. Karim is an associate professor in the Department of English & Comparative Literature at San Jose State University where she teaches world literature, comparative literature and creative writing. She is the editor and contributing poet of Let Me Tell You Where I've Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora (2006) and co-editor of A World Between: Poems, Essays and Short Stories by Iranian Americans (1999).

On March 31, 2010, Persis's stepson Kyle Strang (16) and their neighbor Prentice Gray, Jr. (19) were killed in a car accident. To learn about Kyle and the trip his father, Craig Strang, recently took to Israel and Palestine with thirteen of Kyle's Berkeley High School classmates to honor Kyle's memory, go to She can be reached at

Karim was on the panel The War is Not Over: Writing About Iraq and the Case of the Mutanabbi Street Coalition and was part of the We Are All Iran group reading by Iranian-American poets at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

Split This Rock

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mark Halliday: Yeah, He Has Some Good Clumpies.

Last night, Jill Rosser and Mark Halliday read to a packed house last night at John Carroll. Both Jill and Mark held us all in thrall. Much laughter.

Here's my introduction of Halliday:

A few zinger lines of Halliday’s always buzz around my brain:

“A beautiful woman is a problem”
“One zucchini does not ask another zucchini for praise.”
“Romance hates democracy.”
“Schnordink? Oh, I suppose he has a few good clumpies.”
“Everybody’s father dies; but/when my father died, it was my father.”

Taken together, they suggest the odd brilliance of Halliday’s work; his psychological investigation of masculinity, his comical goofiness, his love of postmodern fictions and weird language, and, ultimately, his gravitas.

“Everybody’s father dies; but/when my father died, it was my father.”

Some time ago, Mark Halliday interviewed his former teacher Frank Bidart, who said, ‘If what fills your attention are the great works that have been written—Four Quartets and Ulysses and “The Tower” and Life Studies and Howl (yes, Howl) and The Cantos—-nothing left to be done. You couldn’t possibly make anything as inventive or sophisticated or complex. But if you turn from them, and what you look at is your life: NOTHING is figured out; NOTHING is understood…Ulysses doesn’t describe your life. It doesn’t teach you how to lead your life. You don’t know what love is; or hate; or birth, or death; or good; or evil. If what you look at is your life, EVERYTHING remains to be figured out, ordered; EVERYTHING remains to be done’ (232).

Halliday’s work has lived this contradiction. Everyone wants to make Mark Halliday into a New York School poet, a la Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch, two admirable poets whose hip novelty and charm and verve are certainly inherited by Halliday. But it is his immersion in and conversation with the tradition of more Romantically-inflected poets (Frank Bidart, Allan Grossman, even William Wordsworth and Walt Whitman) that Halliday earns his staying power.

Halliday has published five celebrated collections of poetry, including Little Star (1987), selected for the National Poetry Series; Tasker Street (1992), winner of the Juniper Prize; Selfwolf; Jab (2002); and Keep This Forever (2008), and is known for poetry that he has termed “ultra talk”—a kind of talkative, reflexive, hip, self-referential style.

But I like to think of him as the guy who hand-typed a one-page response to each of my grad school workshop poems when he was a visiting professor at Indiana (all of which I kept); who played hoops with us in his Converse high-tops; who expounded on the glories of Bob Dylan; who lifts his eyebrows, shrugs his shoulders, and does a little poochy-pout of the lower lip when he reads; who cleaned out his father’s house in Vermont after he died; who gave me the permission to listen to my own life, and see in it a text worth working on, and writing out. Mark Halliday.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Beyond "Politics" in Political Poetry (some notes for a seminar)

Beyond "Politics" in Political Poetry (some notes for a seminar)

Though I've been thinking through the complex interactions of poetry and politics for about twenty years now, it was only with the introduction of Apollonaire's "Zone" and the flaneur essay that I went back to the original root of "political"--relating to the polis, the socius, the city, properly. In light of Sarah Gridley's work, and increasingly as I think through the future of political poetry, I'm struck by how reducing the conversation to "political" as human is just the sort of reduction that effaces our common ecological and planetary future.

Second, I've been thinking again about how, in literary criticism and theory, "the political" as a category has been ascendant (at least as an idea, not so much in practice), while in poetry circles and creative writing institutions "the political" remains a deeply problematic and derided category--through which the writer fails to remain independent, or fails to voice the common life, through special-pleading to niche audiences.

The sort of visionary poetics represented by Apollonaire has always been the kind that avoids the brute position papers (agitprop) of the hard (hard-headed?) avant-garde. Yet as a reader and writer, I'm constantly looking for language at the place of change, and thus I don't want to discount any possibilities where language makes something happen, brings unforeseen subjectivities into place, makes a new history visible.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Review of "Instants"

An anonymous review of my chapbook, Instants (2006). Dear Anon, thank you for this:
Philip Metres’s “Instants” is no exception. The conciseness of the historical, poetic narrative remains intact as Metres challenges literary dominance through this mysterious thriller.
And more thanks are due to Phil Cordelli, the designer at Ugly Duckling Presse, who imaginatively worked through some shared ideas to make a truly stunning little book.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

James Carroll on Religion and Violence

We've been talking religion, violence, and peacemaking in Northern Ireland lately in my Peace-Building and Conflict Transformation class, and I thought this might cast a slightly different light on the subject. Carroll repudiates what some theorists call "exclusivist" takes on religion, and falls more into the category of "inclusivist" or "pluralist," depending on context.
Panel Discussions, Workshops, Themed Group Readings
Deadline: JUNE 30, 2011

We are the ones we have been waiting for. -June Jordan

Split This Rock invites proposals for panel and roundtable discussions, workshops, and themed group readings for our third national poetry festival, scheduled for March 22-25, 2012, in Washington, DC.

As people's movements erupt here at home and throughout the world in response to political repression and environmental degradation, the festival will consider the relationship of poets and poetry to power and to the challenges to power. We are especially interested in proposals that address these questions.

In this vein, Split This Rock welcomes proposals that celebrate the legacy of poet-activist June Jordan, as 2012 marks the tenth anniversary of her death. Such proposals might explore, as Jordan did in her poetry, prose, and activism: the intersection of the personal and political; the overlapping experiences of race, gender, and sexuality in our society; poetic language, including the use of Black English in creative writing and education; and internationalism and the responsibility of the American poet to the struggles of the world's oppressed peoples.

We salute Jordan's pioneering community program at the University of California-Berkeley, Poetry for the People, and invite explorations of its continuing impact. As always, we are interested in hearing about innovative, collaborative, community-oriented poetry programs. Read more about June Jordan at

Developing and Submitting a Proposal
First, decide on a topic and select the format that will be most appropriate. The Application Form includes a description of the three formats.
Next, identify (and contact) the participants. Be sure they have agreed to participate before you include their names in your proposal.
Finally, complete the Application Form (Microsoft Word format) and send it in. The form includes full guidelines. Please don't leave out any of the details.
Email if you have questions as you prepare your proposal, and please don't hesitate to contact us if you need the application form in a different format.

Things to Keep in Mind
There is no limit to the number of proposals you may send, but please send only your favorite ideas. Take time to develop your proposal and bear in mind that this is a competitive process. For 2010, we had to turn away many strong proposals.

We value diversity within the panels, creative ways of interacting, ideas that are new to us. We also value history. Take a look at the schedules of the first two festivals to see what kind of discussions have taken place in the past:

Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2010
Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2008

Panel presenters must register for Split This Rock Poetry Festival. Registration will open later this year. Generous scholarship funds will be available; we'll post a simple scholarship application when festival registration opens.

Please sign up for our email list or find Split This Rock on Facebook to stay up-to-date on festival announcements, ongoing programs, and opportunities to help out.

We look forward to reading your proposal!

Support Split This Rock

Please support Split This Rock, the national network of activist poets. Donations are fully tax-deductible.

Click here to donate. Or send a check payable to "Split This Rock" to: Split This Rock, c/o Institute for Policy Studies, 1112 16th Street NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036. Many thanks!

Contact for more details or to become a sponsor.

Split This Rock

Monday, April 4, 2011

Books Not Bombs, Jobs Not Jails, Families Not Foreclosures

Save Our Communities
Books Not Bombs, Jobs Not Jails, Families Not Foreclosures

Join Us At a Community Forum
To Bring War Dollars Home

Kickoff Parade and Performance by the Possibilitarian Puppet Theater
Convene at Old Stone Church, 91 Public Square, Cleveland - 5:00 - 5:30 pm
In and around Public Square
As we parade around, The Possibilitarian Puppet Theater will organize a series of brief performances at the end of which the Umbrella Brigade will move to center and open umbrellas to reveal the message "Bring War $$ Home". Any and all participants welcome! Come at 4 pm to Old Stone Church to be in the parade at 5pm. Or, just come for the parade at 5 pm.

Help us tell the story of our tax dollars sent away to war, never to return to our local communities!

Parade with us to speak truth to the government.
Parade with us to share your frustration and outrage with like-minded people.
Parade with us to help change the minds of everyone else.
Parade with us to break the spell of silence and disempowerment.

We want you to get into the act! Pick one of the following -

1. To join the PPT parade and performance, come to Old Stone Church at 4:00 pm for rehearsal. PPT will also offer free puppet-making workshops for anyone interested in this unique and involving art. You will help assemble the actual puppets that will be used on Friday, April 15 - email

2. To participate in the Umbrella Brigade portion of the performance, here's what you do:

a) Reserve your place by emailing us by March 21st.
b) We will help you attach a fabric sign, BRING WAR $$ HOME, to an umbrella that YOU BRING to either of these meetings - Thursday April 7, 7-8:30 pm or Saturday, April 9, 1-3 pm.
c) Come to Old Stone Church at 4:00 pm on Friday, April 15, with your umbrella/sign, to rehearse with the Possibilitarian Puppet Theater.

3. You can also help pass out our flyers on Public Square. To volunteer, email us.

Bring War Dollars Home - An Evening of Music, Musings and Mayhem
Old Stone Church, 91 Public Square, Cleveland - 6:00 - 9:00 pm
Music - Storytelling - Skits - Games - Food
FREE and open to the public
Listen to great music and storytelling. Participate in fun skits and games that show where our tax dollars are spent, should be spent, and could be saved. Learn what you can do to cut military spending and invest in human and environmental needs.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Khaled Mattawa on Democracy Now! and Dan Wilcox's "Chatham Peace Vigil": Two Sides on the U.S. Intervention in Libya

Just when it seems that the world could not get more confusing and more absurd, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Barack Obama has engaged the U.S. in a third "war" (not a war of course, but bombing and suchlike) in Libya. I find myself terribly torn about this engagement, since my dear friend the poet and Libyan-American Khaled Mattawa has spoken with such force and hope about the end of the dictatorship, and that is unlikely without U.S. military intervention. And yet how easily such intervention could turn ugly, imperial. Below, is a poem about protesting it.

Chatham Peace Vigil

The lunch counter TV is busy.
My sandwich is slow, but
sitting feels good after standing
the hour in the village square.
Freight trains going by, waves
& honks from cars for the graying crowd
at the peace vigil on the 8th
anniversary of the invasion of Iraq
the knit caps & scarves, even two dogs
(they put the "pee" in "peace").

But it didn't work: on TV
a fighter plane tumbles out of the sky
over Libya, "more war" the pundits say
(while we said "no more war").

I eat in peace, for now
while the killing is televised.
Tomorrow I will be back on the street.

-Dan Wilcox

Used by permission.

Dan Wilcox is a poet & peace activist who also hosts the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center in Albany, NY. He is a member of the poetry performance group "3 Guys from Albany" & is an active member of Veterans for Peace. You can read his Blog at

Wilcox was on the panel The Public Role of Poetry: How to Build a Poetry Reading at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

Split This Rock