Friday, November 30, 2012

Poetry in the Everyday Projects 2012

The following student project videos are for the Poetry in the Everyday Project, an assignment designed for my workshops that involved "creative reading," or interpretive reinstallation of poetry into other media and in public space. These projects are a lot of fun, because they enable "close reading" by means of creative play. I'll have more to post, but these were the first that were emailed to me:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Silence for Gaza" by Mahmoud Darwish

"Silence for Gaza" by Mahmoud Darwish

Gaza is far from its relatives and close to its enemies, because whenever Gaza explodes, it becomes an island and it never stops exploding. It scratched the enemy’s face, broke his dreams and stopped his satisfaction with time.

Because in Gaza time is something different.

Because in Gaza time is not a neutral element.

It does not compel people to cool contemplation, but rather to explosion and a collision with reality.

Time there does not take children from childhood to old age, but rather makes them men in their first confrontation with the enemy.

Time in Gaza is not relaxation, but storming the burning noon. Because in Gaza values are different, different, different.

The only value for the occupied is the extent of his resistance to occupation. That is the only competition there. Gaza has been addicted to knowing this cruel, noble value. It did not learn it from books, hasty school seminars, loud propaganda megaphones, or songs. It learned it through experience alone and through work that is not done for advertisement and image.

Gaza has no throat. Its pores are the ones that speak in sweat, blood, and fires. Hence the enemy hates it to death and fears it to criminality, and tries to sink it into the sea, the desert, or blood. And hence its relatives and friends love it with a coyness that amounts to jealousy and fear at times, because Gaza is the brutal lesson and the shining example for enemies and friends alike.

Gaza is not the most beautiful city.

Its shore is not bluer than the shores of Arab cities.

Its oranges are not the most beautiful in the Mediterranean basin.

Gaza is not the richest city.

It is not the most elegant or the biggest, but it equals the history of an entire homeland, because it is more ugly, impoverished, miserable, and vicious in the eyes of enemies. Because it is the most capable, among us, of disturbing the enemy’s mood and his comfort. Because it is his nightmare. Because it is mined oranges, children without a childhood, old men without old age and women without desires. Because of all this it is the most beautiful, the purest and richest among us and the one most worthy of love.

We do injustice to Gaza when we look for its poems, so let us not disfigure Gaza’s beauty. What is most beautiful in it is that it is devoid of poetry at a time when we tried to triumph over the enemy with poems, so we believed ourselves and were overjoyed to see the enemy letting us sing. We let him triumph, then when we dried our lips of poems we saw that the enemy had finished building cities, forts and streets. We do injustice to Gaza when we turn it into a myth, because we will hate it when we discover that it is no more than a small poor city that resists.

We do injustice when we wonder: What made it into a myth? If we had dignity, we would break all our mirrors and cry or curse it if we refuse to revolt against ourselves. We do injustice to Gaza if we glorify it, because being enchanted by it will take us to the edge of waiting and Gaza doesn’t come to us. Gaza does not liberate us. Gaza has no horses, airplanes, magic wands, or offices in capital cities. Gaza liberates itself from our attributes and liberates our language from its Gazas at the same time. When we meet it - in a dream - perhaps it won’t recognize us, because Gaza was born out of fire, while we were born out of waiting and crying over abandoned homes.

It is true that Gaza has its special circumstances and its own revolutionary traditions. But its secret is not a mystery: Its resistance is popular and firmly joined together and knows what it wants (it wants to expel the enemy out of its clothes). The relationship of resistance to the people is that of skin to bones and not a teacher to students. Resistance in Gaza did not turn into a profession or an institution.

It did not accept anyone’s tutelage and did not leave its fate hinging on anyone’s signature or stamp.

It does not care that much if we know its name, picture, or eloquence. It did not believe that it was material for media. It did not prepare for cameras and did not put smiling paste on its face.

Neither does it want that, nor we.

Hence, Gaza is bad business for merchants and hence it is an incomparable moral treasure for Arabs.

What is beautiful about Gaza is that our voices do not reach it. Nothing distracts it; nothing takes its fist away from the enemy’s face. Not the forms of the Palestinian state we will establish whether on the eastern side of the moon, or the western side of Mars when it is explored. Gaza is devoted to rejection… hunger and rejection, thirst and rejection, displacement and rejection, torture and rejection, siege and rejection, death and rejection.

Enemies might triumph over Gaza (the storming sea might triumph over an island… they might chop down all its trees).

They might break its bones.

They might implant tanks on the insides of its children and women. They might throw it into the sea, sand, or blood.

But it will not repeat lies and say “Yes” to invaders.

It will continue to explode.

It is neither death, nor suicide. It is Gaza’s way of declaring that it deserves to live.

It will continue to explode.

It is neither death, nor suicide. It is Gaza’s way of declaring that it deserves to live.

[Translated by Sinan Antoon From Hayrat al-`A’id (The Returnee’s Perplexity), Riyad al-Rayyis, 2007]

Saturday, November 24, 2012

"A Woman Sings a Song for a Soldier Come Home" by Wallace Stevens

Though Wallace Stevens is known principally as a poet of nature and mind, this is one of the best war (actually postwar) poems that I only recently read, a poem about survival and grief of soldiers returning home.

A Woman Sings a Song for a Soldier Come Home

The wound kills that does not bleed.
It has no nurse nor kin to know
Nor kin to care.

And the man dies that does not fall.
He walks and dies.  Nothing survives
Except what was,

Under the white clouds piled and piled
Like gathered-up forgetfulness,
In sleeping air.

The clouds are over the village, the town,
To which the walker speaks
And tells of his wound,

Without a word to the people, unless
One person should come by chance,
This man or that,

So much a part of the place, so little
A person he knows, with whom he might
Talk of the weather--

And let it go, with nothing lost,
Just out of the village, at its edge,
In the quiet there.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thank you, Ohio Arts Council!

This week, as I complete my final report for a 2012 Individual Excellence grant from the Ohio Arts Council, I want to thank publicly not only the OAC for its widespread support of the arts in the State of Ohio, but also the citizens and its political representatives.

My Excellence Award enabled me to take the summer to focus on a variety of writing projects, including completing a book-length translation of Russian poet Arseny Tarkovsky, guest-editing and writing the introduction to a “focus” on Arab American literature for American Book Review, writing my own poems, writing book reviews, and revising my book manuscript Sand Opera. Without this support, I would be compelled to continue teaching over the summer months; I cherished the chance to turn my full attention toward my critical and creative writing.

The Excellence Award gave me time to concentrate my attention and energies on my writing, first and foremost, but it also affirmed that the judges who chose my application believed in the value of my work, and provided external confirmation that I am on the right track. I would say that it has allowed me the chance both to forget momentarily the immediate concerns of financial burdens and be in solitude with the work, and to highlight the importance of my art as something that speaks to a broader community.

Of course, we exist not in a single community, but in many overlapping communities—our neighborhoods and towns, our counties and regions, our state and our nations, and of course, our global communities. And these are merely the geographical rings of community—we connect to people of common interest, faith, or goal as well. The artist’s role is multivalent in communities—sometimes to reflect the community’s hopes and dreams, sometimes to shed light on its realities and failings. What art can do is to remind us of who we can be, in our best moments, and how we can move together into a future that is sustainable, just, and peaceful. Art is not merely for the elite, nor should it cater to particular interests or classes; its job is to dilate our sense of what it means to be alive, and how to live more intentionally, more honestly, and more joyously.

If you are an artist or interested citizen, visit the Ohio Arts Council website for more information:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"A Question of Friendship"

Poem of the Week -  
Yvette Neisser Moreno           

A Question of Friendship  

Something tender about skin
and muscle framed by ancient stone.

The pyramids behind us in silhouette,
solid, rooted, entirely diagonal.

The night deepened,
the city's glimmer distant.

Fadi drew on his smoke.
Do you support Israel?

I took a deep breath,
listened to the desert hum,

felt the weight of silence.
Would the night weave my love

for Israel and Palestine
into some kind of logic?

I hoped the truth would be enough.
Yes, and the Palestinian cause.

Time stopped ticking
as I waited for an answer:

his half-smoked cigarette
flung from mouth to sand,

that flick of the wrist,
straightening of the elbow,

and the glint of that tiny fire
shimmering against the darkness.

Alright, he said.

We walked on into the long night,
wending down an unmarked path.

-Yvette Neisser Moreno 

Used by permission.
From Grip (Gival Press, 2012).
First published in Foreign Policy in Focus.

Yvette Neisser Moreno's first book of poetry, Grip, won the 2011 Gival Press Poetry Award, and in 2012 she was the first runner-up for the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award. Her translations from Spanish include South Pole/Polo Sur by María Teresa Ogliastri and Difficult Beautyby Luis Alberto Ambroggio, and she recently founded the DC-Area Literary Translators Network (DC-ALT). With a specialization in the Middle East, she has worked as an international program coordinator, writer, editor, and translator, and has taught at GW, Catholic University, The Writer's Center, and other institutions. Yvette serves on Split This Rock's programming committee and leads the ongoing campaign to get more poetry reviews in theWashington Post Book World and other newspapers.  

Yvette will launch Grip at Sunday Kind of Love, this Sunday November 18th from 5-7pm at Busboys and Poets 14th & V location. Reading with her is fellow poet and poetry and lectures coordinator at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Teri Cross Davis. Don't miss it! Details here.  

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

If you are interested in reading past poems of the week, feel free to visit the blog archive.    

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Remi Kanazi's "Normalize This"

Peace is the dream. Yet, as Remi Kenazi forcefully argues in his recent poem, peace does not exist without justice, and trying to normalize relations with the "other side," accepting a context of ongoing oppression, would lead only to a false peace, peace without justice.

Friday, November 2, 2012

My Review of Selma Dabbagh's "Out of It"

One of the reasons for my increasingly lax relationship to this blog has been that I've been writing for other publications, including our local newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  One of them  appeared this past Sunday, of a new book by Selma Dabbagh, Out of It.
selma.jpgThe review begins:
In September, Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy spray-painted over a poster in the New York subway, calling it hate speech. The ad read: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."

read more here: