Friday, December 31, 2010

Monica Raymond, Notes on “Collateral Damage Noted”

I've been trying to catalogue creative means of dissent, symbolic actions that move beyond the protests that became typical and stereotypical during the post-1960s movements for rights and justice. Here's a good example of how artists continue to engage the political without disappearing into harangue.

Monica Raymond, Notes on “Collateral Damage Noted”

On Memorial Day of 2005, I took part in a performance conceived by Tom Plsek at the large open plaza in front of Boston City Hall. “Collateral Damage Noted” was to be a sound meditation on the civilians killed in the Iraq war. The latest reliable figures place this total at almost 25,000, he wrote in his call.

Plsek’s idea was that musicians would stand in a circle and sound a note for perhaps ten or twelve seconds,then pause, averaging three to four long notes a minute. Each note was to represent the life and death of an Iraqi civilian. By his calculations, if a hundred musicians did this for an hour, we would have made enough notes to account for the Iraqi women, children, and non-combatant men killed till then.
read more here....

Monday, December 27, 2010

Deema Shehabi, Melissa Kwasny, and Anna Moschovakis.

reading from Deema Shehabi on Vimeo.

Congratulations to my friend, Deema Shehabi, on her forthcoming book! And to Anis Shivani, for covering her work, as well as the work of Melissa Kwasny (poet and editor of I Go To the Ruined Place: Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights), and Anna Moschovakis, poet and member of the Ugly Duckling Presse collective.

Anna Moschovakis Reads from You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake (Feb. 2011, Coffee House Press) from CoffeeHousePress on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"Christmas Soccer Game, 1915" by Robert Cording

"Christmas Soccer Game, 1915" by Robert Cording

I suppose what made it possible
Was that no one expected more
Than a day of unhurried hours, better
Food, some free time to reread old letters,
Write new ones. Small Christmas trees
With candles lined both sides of the trenches
And marked the two days’ truce.

Who can explain it? – one minute troops
Are sitting in mud, the next raising themselves
Out of the trenches, as if all they needed
Was a soccer ball to remind them
Of who they were. Imagine a Scotsman
Heading the ball into the air and catching it
On his instep, then flicking it across

The frosted grass to a German smoking
A cigarette who smiles and settles the ball,
Then boots it back. Soon a few soldiers
From both sides circle around the Scotsman
And the ball moves quickly back and forth,
Left foot, right foot, all of the men rocking
From side to side, the ball, the cold,

Making good neighbors of them all.
A game’s begun, a real match without referees,
Attack and counterattacks, the ball crossing
From side to side, a match played,
We can imagine, as if it were all that mattered,
As if the game’s sudden fizzes of beauty –
Three crisp passes or two perfect triangles

Laying end to end and pointing to the goal –
Could erase what they had learned
To live with. Laughing, out of breath, dizzy
With the speed of the ball skipping over
The frozen earth, did they recognize themselves
For a short while in each other? History says
Only that they exchanged chocolate and cigarettes,

Relaxed in the last ransomed sunlight.
When the night came and they had retreated
To their own sides, some of the men
Wrote about the soccer game as if they had to
Ensure the day had really happened. It did.
We have the letters, though none of them says
How, in the next short hours, they needed,

For their own well-being, to forget everything
That had happened that Christmas day.
It was cold, the long rows of candles must have
Seemed so small in the dark. Restless, awake
In the trenches, the men, I suppose,
Already knew what tomorrow would bring,
How it would be judged by the lost and missing.

– Robert Cording, Common Life: Poems (Fort Lee: CavanKerry Press, 2006), 39–40.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Asymmetries (after Spencer Tunick) by Philip Metres, courtesy of World Literature Today (2010)

Asymmetries (after Spencer Tunick) by Philip Metres, courtesy of World Literature Today (2010)

Longing to grasp the familiar, names
-----against the anonymous
appendages & naked flesh, a nipple the eye
-----could nuzzle, to hide in
dark islands of hair, I near the photo –

-----as if the body erotic
could shield against the camera’s scalpel.
-----In its distance, the bodies
without faces line a riverbank, shade
-----into some darker shadow...

obeying the desire of gravity. I’m thinking
-----of Iraq, how they lay out
each disinterred nest of femurs & ribs
-----on separate sackcloths,
trying to punctuate the run-on sentence

-----of oppression & unfettered
blood. All’s asymmetry. After making love,
-----once you said every face,
split in half, fit so precariously, so comically,
-----we spent the next half

-hour shading one side of our faces in the mirror,
-----then the other. This world
is centaur: half dream, half nightmare.
-----Wandering the gallery,
we drift onto an imagined balcony

-----& gape at the traffic
of bodies jamming the crossroads, im
------mobile sculpture of
pure fact, dangling odd-angled & earth
------bound us.

Read more in the recent issue of World Literature Today.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Dear Michael (2)" by Mark McMorris

I heard Mark McMorris read at Split This Rock 2010, and I'm struck by the way in which the recent wars filter into his new book, Entrepot, from Coffee House Press.  Coffee House Press has made a real mark in contemporary poetry with excellent recent books by Mark Nowak, Ange Mlinko, and Julie Carr, among others, with a vision of social engagement and philosophical nuance.  McMorris' poem reminds me at once of contemporary poststructural theories of language (where language is, to quote Robert Hass, elegy to the thing it signifies) and the tradition of war poetry, in which the poet attempts to sing the unsingable, to speak the unspeakable of war.  I believe there's a hint of Dickinson here, as well, "Success is counted sweetest."
"Dear Michael (2)"  by Mark McMorris

The wound cannot close; language is a formal exit
is what exits from the wound it documents.
The wound is deaf to what it makes; is deaf
to exit and to all, and that is its durable self,
to be a mayhem that torments a city. The sound
comes first and then the word like a wave
lightning and then thunder, a glance then a kiss
follows and destroys the footprint, mark of the source.
It is the source that makes the wound, the wound
that makes a poem. It is defeat that makes
a poem sing of the light and that means to sing
for a while. The soldier leans on his spear.
He sings a song of leaning; he leans on a wound
to sing of other things. Names appear on a page
gentian weeds that talk to gentian words, oral
to local, song talk to sing (Singh), and so
he goes on with the leaning and the talking.
The wound lets him take a breath for a little
because it is a cycle of sorts, a system or a wheel
a circle that becomes a wheel and is not a sound
at all, the idea of a sound and the sound again
of an idea that follows so close; say light
and then is there light or a wound, an idea of being
itself in the thing sound cancels. Is there ever a spear
a soldier that leans in, a song that he sings
waiting for a battle? This soldier is only a doorway.
Say that book is a door. I say the soldier
and the local, the word and the weed, the light
and the kiss make a mayhem and a meeting.
So then that the voice may traverse a field
it transmits the soldier on a causeway to the city
leaning on a spear and talking, just after the wound opens
that never creaks and closes, and has no final page.

Mark McMorris
Coffee House Press

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Happy Advent, Everyone! Poems & Music in the Dark Time

This Advent program of poems and music came into being thanks to Gail Roussey, of Campus Ministry, and in collaboration with Cynthia Caporella, the Director of Music at John Carroll University.  Thanks to the musicians (listed at the end of the program) and Lydia Munnell, who read the scriptural epigraphs of the poems.  (I have yet to send these poems out, as they are a departure from my work, and I'm not quite sure if they have fully emerged as poems.)

This is the note to the poems included in the program:

Antiphons for Advent

Years later, I now believe that the psalms and readings and prayers I heard as a child in Mass were among my first experiences of poetry—a language that draws us into its song, that claims us, even when we don’t understand all its meanings. The longer I write, the more I admire the durable language of Scripture. Despite its translations from distant languages, its vivid evocation of the sacred flows in and between the lines. I am still awed when I read the poetry of Isaiah:

The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue,
That I might know how to speak to the weary
A word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning
He opens my ear that I may hear…

These poems were begun during Advent 2008, when I wrote a poem every day, in the season of darkness, of anticipation and hope. Reading Scripture, I tried to have a dialogue with the stories, taking up ideas and phrases and turning them over and through my own life. In the process, I found myself writing two kinds of poem: meditative poems (often about my own immediate life), and prayer poems (poems that attempt to speak to the divine).

The first type of poem meditates on Scripture through my immediate surroundings—the increasingly dark and cold weather, being a dad to two young children, and witnessing from a distance the wars over our horizons. In this new millennium, I continue to be struck by the vulnerability of human life in the face of oppression and devastation around us, in us.

The second type of poem comes out of my desire to write prayers that could be shared with people of faith, but were entirely my own. I have puzzled over prayer as long as I’ve been repeating my prayers from catechism. The word “prayer” comes from precaria—a root shared with the word “precarious.” In prayer, we seek a kind of sturdiness that the world often does not offer.

The notion of the “antiphon” struck me as precisely what I was after, in both these types of poems. “Antiphon” comes from the Greek: ἀντίφωνον, ἀντί "opposite" + φωνή "voice". The notion of an opposite voice, a voice in opposition, appealed to me as one who struggles in faith. Actual liturgical antiphons are responses, usually sung; the “O Antiphons” are sung at Vespers in the last seven days of Advent. These poems are my personal antiphons, sung first to myself, and now shared with you in the silence of print and through my own voice.

Philip Metres


"SPAM's carbon footprint" by Craig Santos Perez

Craig Santos Perez has been unrolling an epic poem over the years about his native island, the Pacific Island of Guåhan, a crucial counterepic to the ways that the "U.S. territories" get figured into American history.  I first read of his work from Tinfish's publication of his first book, and have been intrigued ever since.   According to the bio, Perez, a native Chamorro originally from the Pacific Island of Guåhan (Guam), has lived in California since 1995. He is the co-founder of Achiote Press and author of several chapbooks, including constellations gathered along the ecliptic (Shadowbox Press, 2007), all with ocean views (Overhere Press, 2007), and preterrain (Corollary Press, 2008). His first book, from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish Press in 2008) has been taught in universities across the United States and the Pacific. The latest is from unincorporated territory [saina].  His poetry, essays, fiction, reviews, and translations have appeared in New American Writing, Pleiades, The Denver Quarterly, The Colorado Review, Sentence, and Rain Taxi, among others.


"SPAM's carbon footprint"  by Craig Santos Perez

Guam is considered the SPAM® capital of the world. On average, each Chamorro consumes 16 tins of SPAM® each year, which is more per capita than any country in the world. Headline: Guam Struggles to Find Its Roots From Beneath Growing Piles of SPAM®. Guam, Hawaii, and Saipan have the only McDonald's restaurants that feature SPAM® on the menu. I went to the "World's Largest K-Mart" in Guam and I was amazed at the SPAM® was like a whole "Wall of SPAM®." SPAM® has a place not only in the stomachs of Guam's people, but in our hearts as well. Here SPAM® is considered a gourmet luxury and is often presented as a gift at birthdays, weddings, and funerals. Hormel even made a Hot and Spicy SPAM® especially formulated for Guam with Tabasco already added to it! A culinary legacy of American troops stationed in the Pacific during World War Two, the GIs noticed how much the people of Guam loved SPAM®, so they started to jokingly call it "Chamorro Steak." Not coincidentally, SPAM® is also popular in Hawaii, the Philippines, Okinawa, and Saipan, all places with a history of a U.S. military presence. In fact, SPAM® may have been responsible for Hitler's defeat. The Allies would not have won WWII without SPAM®. Plus, it's processed so I guess we can keep it forever right? Wow, I haven't seen this much SPAM® since I lived on Guam and the car dealership there started offering 50lb bags of rice and cases of SPAM® with every purchase. The end result can be found in the newspaper's obituary pages. In 2004, Public Health reported that heart disease was the leading cause of death on Guam, representing 33.7% of deaths. You can rub the entire block of SPAM®, along with the accompanying delicious gelatinous goo, onto wood furniture. The oils from the SPAM® moisturize the wood and give the furniture a nice luster. Plus, you'll have enough left over to polish some of your neighbors' furniture. You'll be like Santa Claus meets Mr. Clean. How did I miss hearing about the "In Honor of Guam's Liberation" SPAM®! I thought I had collected them all! But as I got older and tried to be "healthier" (whatever that means, haha), SPAM® faded from my consciousness. Then I met my future wife, who is Hawaiian, and SPAM® became part of my life again. Maybe the economic downturn will help people truly appreciate SPAM® instead of loathing it. SPAM® doesn't have to be unhealthy. I eat SPAM® on a regular basis and I'm not dead yet. Just switch to SPAM® Lite. In the devastating wake of Typhoon Omar, SPAM® arrived. Hormel Foods donated 40,000 cases of the belly-filling foodstuff to the Salvation Army's disaster relief effort. That's about six million SPAM®burgers! Despite rumors, SPAM® is NOT made of such odds and ends as hooves, ears, brains, native people, or whole baby pigs. SPAM® is for realz made of pork shoulder, ham, salt, water, sugar, and sodium nitrate, if you can belief it. The name itself stands for Specially Processed Army Meat, Salted Pork And More, Super Pink Artificial Meat, Squirrel Possum And Mouse, or Some People Are Missing. My uncle is the reigning Guam SPAM® king. He won the last SPAM® cook-off with his Spicy SPAM® meatballs. I will never forget the two-pound SPAM® bust of George Washington he made for Liberation Day, toasted crispy on the outside with raw egg yolk in the hollow center. The kids loved it! Only a fool would start a company in Guam that provides SPAM® protection. We don't want to be protected from SPAM® bots. For Xmas, I bought a SPAM® snow-globe featuring a can of SPAM® sitting on an island; turn it over and a typhoon swirls madly, unable to unseat SPAM® from its place of honor. I have a souvenir can I bought after seeing Monty Python's SPAM®ALOT on Broadway. It cost me $10 and is the most expensive SPAM® I've ever bought. I will never eat it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Where Do I Find Hope?

Poet Joseph Ross, guestblogging at The Basin Blog, invited a number of poets (Naomi Shihab Nye, Naomi Ayala, and others to come) to answer the question: Where do I find hope?

Here's mine, posted today.  The first paragraph:

Where do I find hope? My father is wont to quote endlessly Khalil Gibran, his family’s kinsman: “your children are not your children. They are life’s longing for itself.” In my own children, in their shining eyes and longing selves bounding into this world; in the work of poets and activists and workers who toil in darkness, in obscurity, in the pity or judgment of others; in the cycles of death and rebirth in the seasons; I see glimmers of a kind of vital perpetuity that all my apocalyptic nightmares, all of my pessimism about the human soul, all of my darkness and pain, cannot overwhelm....

Any comments welcome.  Where do you find hope?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Philip Metres/Jason Dodge Collaboration: Weathering the Weather

H.L. Hix's blog, IN QUIRE, is conducting artistic-poetic dialogues, setting up poets to respond to works of art.  Today, Hix published my poetic response "The Weather" to Jason Dodge's piece, "Above The Weather."  Check it out.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Oubliette" by Angele Ellis

I discovered this intriguing poem from Angele Ellis' forthcoming chapbook, Spared, her second collection (the first being Arab on RadarYou can find an earlier post about her here.   There are some dazzling pieces; in one poem, a sonnet called "First Dawn in Costa Rica," she writes about her beloved's guilt over missing mass:

You could atone by climbing the steps of St. Ladislaus
on your knees--but now you are a communicant
of flesh, receiving benediction when you kneel over me.

Last week, I said to someone that "Christian sexuality" could be an oxymoron, but this poem proves otherwise.

The poem "Oubliette" struck me in part because of its formal structure, a stricture of metaphorical impact and force.  An "oubliette" is a dungeon whose only escape is from above--but the imagery of the poem also suggests the womb and religious transcendence. 

"Oubliette" by Angele Ellis

Before my eyes had sight, I felt a wall,
damp as a cheek, its tears all wept.
My cracking voice brought back no call
into the iron darkness where I slept.
But towards the roof, a rim of light,
bright outline of the eclipsed moon.
I traced this circle on the penciled night,
bracing myself against another moan.
And then--the sudden breaking blue
of freedom, and I climbed to you.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"Lyric on the Inside" by Alex Chambers

Guest to the blog, Alex Chambers meditates on teaching poetry (particularly documentary poetry) in the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Program. Just when we think we know what poetry is for, it flees our (prisoning) visions of it. His experience reminds us that poetry may be different from what we supposed (pace Whitman). It may also end up being what we feared it would be.

"Lyric on the Inside" by Alex Chambers (

When you walk into a prison—but already the description is a problem. You don’t just walk into a prison. You park in the visitor lot that the director of the prison education program has warned you might be bugged, and, if you’re at the oldest still-running prison in Alabama, shout up to the guard in the tower (the guard in the tower, as if you’re in a fairy tale and the princess has been locked in the dungeon for a hundred years), then wait for the guard to motion you to the heavy entrance gate, where the next guard will buzz you into the waiting area. When you walk into the prison proper, after a few more gates and a search of your books and handouts, you are surrounded by men in white watching you from behind their bars or their bunks or as they pass you in the hall. By the end of the semester, you notice a word passing among them as you walk, and the word is poetry, and it’s not often you hear the word spoken outside the English Department with such significance, and it feels good. You’ve brought something.

The position of the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Program was that we could not be activists in our teaching. Our activism was the teaching and writing itself, sharing literature with people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to encounter it. I sympathize with program’s reasoning. Its presence in the prisons depends on positive relations with the overworked and only sometimes sympathetic prison administrations. Also, most other prison programs, at least in Alabama, proselytized, and the APAEP wants to be an antidote to such position-taking rather than another instance.

And yet, as a teacher, I want to create in my students a sense of political possibility. Meaningful change only happens when people realize—imagine—they can do it themselves. Another way of saying this is that the only people who change an element of society, who shift power toward the powerless, are the ones who realize they can make things happen. Therefore as activists (as teachers) we must help people realize they can come together and make a stand. It’s dangerous idea in a prison, taking a stand, and I never actively encouraged it. I only approached the idea indirectly.

Rereading the previous paragraph, I ask myself, Is this an essay about poetry or teaching?

Then I ask, Is poetry about poetry or teaching?, and remind myself no, it’s not about teaching, not exactly.

I am trying to think about poetry, especially documentary poetry, and its political possibilities. This is about text. It is a question of what a poetic text is, or what makes a poem, and why that might matter politically. Or not. Inevitably, it is also about teaching, because teaching and poetry are both shapers of culture.

I thought one way to marry the poem with the politics would be to assign a documentary poem. In the week preceding, we read some of the documentary poems Phil discusses in his Poetry Foundation article on the subject. I encouraged my students to look around them and record conversations they heard, to appropriate text from the prison walls or (anonymously) from their own or others’ court proceedings (as in Reznikoff), to write the histories of their places (as in Rukeyser), to note as many realities of language they could. I could have asked them to note where the power was. Notice the people and places who are underrepresented, I suggested, and represent them. “Give voice to stories of people and movements that the mass media tend to ignore or misrepresent,” I wrote in their assignment, after Phil’s article. At least tell a story from your own life.

When I came back the next week they shared what they had written. The poems were surprisingly conventional. One talked about his small hometown in abstract terms, with sentiments about everybody knowing your name. He didn’t refer to any individuals, and even the town remained nameless, somewhere (maybe) in the South. Another student, a man who each week showed me one of his chapbooks, recited, from memory, a verse he’d written about love, already printed in the chapbook, as he did every week. One student came closer, by recording, in a rhyming list, the major stories from the year in sports. That was one way of thinking about historical memory.

And then the oldest student, had buzzed hair and the gaunt face of man who had been homeless when not in prison, read his poem. He had, over his many years in and out of prison, been talking to convicted killers, asking them to tell their stories and why they had done what they’d done. His poem was a simple list of quotations from his interviews. Its juxtapositions of horror and numbness were a shock. I didn’t keep the poem—the APAEP’s policy is that all materials stay with them—but I remember lines like “All those flies. / I walked up to my ex-wife’s car window and shot her in the face. / There were bodies all over the house. / All those flies. / I looked in the fridge to see what was to eat.” The banality of hunger surpasses our human cruelty.

It was the most memorable single piece of writing I experienced there. Why did I have so much trouble getting more tense, raw writing like that?

Because “poetry” signifies, as Phil pointed out in suggesting I do this post. I think both the program and my students had an idea that the goal was to write traditional lyric poems, poems about their families, fresh air, green grass, the ocean, and birds. Good things.

I failed. I wanted poetry to help my students look at language differently; they wanted to make beautiful objects. For me, as a reader and writer, poetry is a way to examine assumptions and, out of that examination, create a new thought. I see it even as a way to record and think about power, instances of power that would otherwise go unsaid. To embody linguistic possibility. To remind us what we hope for. Maybe what we hope for is as simple as the clichés.

I wanted poetry to give my students a way to speak truth to institutions.
I wanted them to look around and report. My students, for the most part, wanted poetry to let them escape, at least for the moment of the writing and the reading of the poem. Clouds, open fields, birds. The men in the prison didn’t have a single tree to touch or see in their daily lives; can I blame them for insisting on traditional (Hallmark) lyric?

What I hope for, still, is that writing poetry can give us ways to think beyond dichotomy. That probably means breaching the false wall I’ve created between documentary-linguistic experimentation and romantic-lyric verse. It also means, though, that we keep pushing to see the whole world, the razor wire, the posters about the reentry program, the language of institutional power, as strange and interesting, and worthy of thinking about in the poem.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Countries of Our Skulls, and the Myths We Use to Bury Them

In addition to The Country of My Skull, a brilliant and terrifying exploration of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I've been reading Tiffany Higgins' And Aeneas stares into her helmet (Carolina Wren Press Press (2008), a book-length meditation on the wars of our recent age.  Higgins does a remarkable discipline by staying with the war, measuring the extent of its merging in us, its emergence from us.  Neither expose nor diatribe, Higgins stays with it, dances in time with it, in its time. 

Since the recent imperial wars seem not to require anything more than our silence, such a poetic perserverance is itself an achievement; whatever the gain of having a professional army (and not a volunteer one), we collectively have lost by our greater distance from the brutalities of the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War.  We need to stop burying that brutality.  The truths will out, Wikileaks or no Wikileaks, Assange or no Assange.

Here's a video I featured before, from Higgins, which explores the way the war is both with us and invisible to us.

Here's a post from Split This Rock featuring one of Higgins' poems; Split This Rock is an organization devoted to such poetic tasks.  If you can support them in some way, please do so.

Split This Rock began the 'Poem of the Week' program in October 2009 as a way of publicizing the poets who were to be featured in the 2010 festival. We are now pleased to be continuing Poem of the Week by featuring poems by poets who were registered participants in either (or both!) Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, in 2008 and/or 2010.

This week, we feature Tiffany Higgins and her poem "Aeneas & the pilgrim child set out into the city."
If you are interested in reading past poems of the week, feel free to visit our blog archive.

In peace and poetry,
Split This Rock

Tiffany Higgins
"Aeneas & the pilgrim child set out into the city"

I shall build a city upon a hill
and upon a hill and upon a hill and upon a hill

--------I am a little shepherd piping low
--------through the valleys of Babylon

I shall build a city upon a hill
and it shall be as a light unto-

-------and upon a hill and upon a hill and upon a hill a citadel-
--------the world  aaaaI shall build

through the valleys of Babylon
I lay down and weep

--------I lay down and weep
---------And weep for thee, Babylon

but then I, I recall I-
I am aloft in my omnipotence

and so there is no problem

-Tiffany Higgins
From And Aeneas stares into her helmet (Carolina Wren Press Press 2008). Used by permission.

Tiffany Higgins is the author of And Aeneas Stares into her Helmet, a book of poems which asks where our wars live in us. Evie Shockley selected it as winner of the 2008 Carolina Wren Press Poetry Prize. Critic Michael Parker chose it as his Best Book of Poetry 2009. Tiffany has performed her poems with music by Moisés Nascimento at various venues, including DC's Busboys and Poets. Tiffany is currently cowriting and helping to produce a documentary set in Brazil and the U.S., Duas Américas. Tiffany grew up in Massachusetts and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, teaching English at several community colleges. See video of performances at, where she blogs on environmental topics. Contact the poet to book readings / multimedia performances.

Higgins attended 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
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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!
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My review of Fady Joudah's *The Earth in the Attic* online at "On the Seawall"

Ron Slate's "On the Seawall" has a new feature called "Nineteen Poets Recommend New and Recent Titles."  In Ron's words, "For holiday-time reading and gift-giving, here are 21 poetry collections recommended by 19 poets – Hank Lazer, Ange Mlinko, Tony Hoagland, Tara Betts, Lisa Russ Spaar, Philip Metres, Ken Chen, Julie Sheehan, Rusty Morrison, Joel Brouwer, Todd Boss, Robert Cording, Elaine Sexton, Leslie Harrison, Deborah Woodard, Aaron Belz, Don Bogen, Amanda Auchter, and Aaron Baker."

My entry, on Fady Joudah's The Earth in the Attic, begins like this:

I first met Fady Joudah online, in his role as editor for the Radius of Arab American Writers site, and was struck by his email address — which was not his name, but “isdoud.” What was this isdoud, I wondered. Was he referencing that he’s “a dude”? — Fady is, indeed, a dude. It turned out to be the name of a village in what was/is Palestine, with ancient roots going as far back as the Canaanite peoples, thousands of years ago. The village was where his parents came from, before their expulsion in 1948. Now, it is a ruin of a few remaining stone buildings — the mosque, a wall of a school where his father once attended. How strange, to be carrying his exiled home as email address, a place that exists as a cyberlink to wherever he happens to be, clicking on the Internet in search of mail.

Joudah’s The Earth in the Attic (2008), winner of the Yale Younger Poets prize, is a book about life in exile, life as exile. The son of Palestinian refugees — refugees twice over — Joudah’s lyric territory is the exilic subjectivity, and his style is a blend of the hard-edged witnessing of a Forche with the dreamlike evanescence of a Darwish (whose poems he translates brilliantly). The sort of book that shows its textures and layers after re-reading — I’m tempted to say the way in which a seemingly wild landscape comes to reveal evidence of human habitation only after careful attention. Joudah composes a narrative poetry that defies the linearity of dull narration; instead, his is a braided technique, full of returns, fragments, and veerings-off before returning to lost places.
read on...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


for those in the Greater Cleveland area:


Colombian Catholic Priest Father Jesús Alberto Franco will talk on his two decades of Human Rights Work in the midst of Colombia’s Civil War

Wednesday November 17th 7 PM Jardine Room Lombardo Student Center

Father Jesús Alberto Franco is a renowned leader in the Colombian human rights movement. He is a Colombian missionary priest, as well as the executive secretary of Inter-church Justice and Peace Commission, a 22 year-old Colombian human rights and community organizing group. For over 20 years, Fr. Alberto has worked for human rights and accompanying the resistance processes of Afro-Colombian, indigenous and mixed race farmers.

He has been a featured speaker in the Global Counsel of Churches at the United Nations in 2009, the Alternative Network to Globalization and Impunity in Spain 2008, the Public Trial of the Movement of Victims of State Crimes and a session for the Ethics Commission for Truth in France 2008. In 2009, he was a featured speaker in the School of the Americas vigil at Ft. Benning. Additionally, in 2007 and 2008 he testified before the European Parliament and the European Commission.

The Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission campaigns on behalf of civilian communities in conflict regions in Colombia, whose members have been killed, tortured or forced to flee from their homes by the security forces and paramilitary groups. Many of these communities have also been targeted by guerrilla groups.

The Commission has been supporting the cause of the Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities living in areas where paramilitaries have occupied the land of some Afro-descendent communities and have attempted to force the Afro-descendant communities to grow plantations of African Palm, a cash crop used in products ranging from cooking oil to soap and where powerful mining interests are trying to develop operations.

Their human rights work with these communities and on important cases of impunity against senior members of the security forces has made them target of multiple death threats and attacks.

Free and Open to the Public

Jena Osman's "Dropping Leaflets" on PoemTalk: How to Get Through the White Noise

Jena Osman's poem, "Dropping Leaflets," is audible and discussed thoughtfully on PoemTalk (#37), as a particularly intriguing example of documentary poetry.  Documentary poetry, as I've described elsewhere, attempts to employ language from other texts and documents in order to read against the grain of official history, to reveal (either through cutting, through absence, or differential presence) that which is unspoken yet nonetheless part of the truth.  According to Osman, on the poem:

"The title of this programs is 'Finding the Words.' Every day I look in the newspapers. I keep sensing the presence of what's not being told... 'Help me come up with a strategy to get through this white noise.' I don't have that strategy, except to call attention to components of that white noise so we can hear it for what it is. In the spirit of Marianne Moore, who often incorporated what she was reading into her poems, I'm going to read a piece made of words I found when I read transcripts of press conferences given by Bush, Ridge, Rumsfeld, and Cheney in the last few days. I read the transcripts, printed them out, I tore them up, and then I stood on a chair, and then I bombed my office floor with them as if they were leaflets and the leaflets told me what to do. So this piece is called 'Dropping Leaflets.'"


fffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffHelp me come up with a strategy to get
ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffthrough this white noise.
ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff-- U.S. Representative Cynthia McKinney,
fffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffNovember 2001

Are we on the ground now? Ally cells and I said operations.
We cleared 50% of a wonderful friend and enduring opposition.
Take the solid.
We clearly are loud. We are the postal system.
No evidence has been information.
Attacking the caves. Are you on the ground enduring?
A wonderful friend ramped it up.
You ought to open your mail.
Opposition element: the air. The talents work with precision.
84%. The population attacking the caves, the talents work with the
caves and tunnels.
Hiding in caves, wavering in caves and hiding in mosques.
A wonderful friend on the ground.
Freedom I said: the enduring ally cells.
Interested in the view, in our aid sensitivities.
50% to the front of our effort adding that 80% are willing to play.
Independent oper-oppo-sition forces that are rosy.
So make assumptions on the ground. Are we on the ground now?
Scraps of information work from opposition.
Can be more than air. The target. The air liaison.
Campaign with the bombing and entirely happy.
Attacking the leaflets.
We keep working hiding in hiding in caves
and cowering in cowering in cowering in caves
and I could say confidential areas.
The mosques and rest efforts are mad.
Execution in the targeting of democracy.
Those risks culti-targeting to minimize the individual.
An obligation to the spirit of enterprise.
A war of roundup freezing worldwide, and proceeding on course.
Training facilities, proceeding on course, freezing their guided
A population is tons of struggle against evil.
A civilized world of innocents in the mud, an enemy that's on the
ground for there is no neutral ever. No neutral homeland.
For the first time first time first time in history
ordinary busi-security bioterror
to defend enemies with the no-ness of life.
Confident in destruction / complete and cause / certain of the rightness
of this time / in the right / man the victories / to comment for a freer
world history / committee of evil / defeat the forces / we will fight and
great coalition wherever they are an era of over flight right against
terror basing global terror the global trade and lives of our world improve /
the modern alliance / I like citizens / but rather than the dust settle it
could mean / as acknowledged /the carpet bombs precision bombs / as
long as 23 months and I said go to America on alert / get a softball to
school if you work / take your child / game this afternoon / game or a
soccer to the president's going to the game / the fight / our new
baseball game / to help us in our task / force will sign terrorists tracking
American citizens / to protect level warriors / the decibel from these
shadows / open your mail louder

Friday, November 5, 2010

Why the new "Howl" movie is worth seeing, even if you know the poem and the story

Watched "Howl" last night, the movie that weaves the story of Allen Ginsberg's writing of the poem, the poem itself, and the obscenity trial that ensured its immortality in American culture.  As biopics go, it artfully approached the art itself, by creating graphic-novelistic interpretations of the three-sectioned poem, interwoven in the interview and the trial scenes.  No movie that I can think of--with the exception of "The Mystery of Picasso"--ever gives justice to the processes of art-making, since so much of it is not properly visual or representable.  But this one, in avoiding that problem, captures well the heat that burns itself into art-making, and the afterburns that that art sometimes can make.  I hope that it gives Ginsberg another life with the younger generation, to whom this movie is addressed.

I was most moved by the inclusion of Ginsberg's singing of "Father Death Blues" at the end of the movie, since it telescopes our view of the young Ginsberg (ah, the romanticizable Ginsberg!) to the Ginsberg that I knew--the elder statesman, still childlike, weirdly wise, post-stroke yet thoughtful and present as ever.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"The Sabbath Poems: I" and a Commencement by Wendell Berry

It seems fitting on a day where the elections reveal our great fears suddenly crystallized, and the fears from those fears about our collective future, that we check in with Wendell Berry and see what's next.

The Sabbath Poems: I              by Wendell Berry

No, no, there is no going back.

Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over the grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Great Bell Chant (The End of Suffering), featuring Thich Nhat Hanh

A Warm Embrace - The Great Bell Chant (The End of Suffering) from R Smittenaar on Vimeo.

This meditation video, sent to me by my father, includes the words of Vietnamese monk and poet Thich Nhat Hanh, a practitioner of Buddhism and nonviolence.  As I've struggled with my own physical pain (and spiritual suffering, along the way), I've been returning to the words not only of the poets, but also of the world religions, struck by the profound struggle that each faith makes with the problem of human suffering.  Though not all the words and images of this piece speak to me, they make present a kind of slowness that much of our poetic and economic values--in our space/time hurtle--seems to belie.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Terror-Stricken: An AAWW Benefit Against Islamophobia (or, Go Ken Chen and AAWW!)

Terror-Stricken: An AAWW Benefit Against Islamophobia

featuring Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru, Faiza Patel, and others.
Tuesday, November 2, 6-7 pm dinner with authors, 7-9pm cocktail program.
At the home of Faiza Patel, 111 Hudson Street, Apt. 6

Nearly a decade since September 11, Islamophobia burns hotter than ever. More than sixty percent of Americans hold negative opinions of Muslims, a nativist hysteria manifested most recently in Pastor Terry Jones's bonfires for the Koran and in the protests against Park51's free exercise of religion. Join two prestigious authors--Amitava Kumar, finalist for the biggest literary prize in India, and Hari Kunzru, one of Granta's top 20 writers under 40--for a compelling discussion with Faiza Patel, Counsel in the Liberty and National Security Project at the Brennan Center for Justice.

This benefit supports The Asian American Writers' Workshop, a 21st century arts space that has done more than any other literary nonprofit to portray Asian America after 9/11. Led by an award-winning poet who litigated against the Department of Homeland Security, the Workshop has presented civil rights advocates alongside Pakistan punk rockers, connected detainment and Japanese internment, and showcased some of the brightest chroniclers of the war on terror: Moustafa Bayoumi, Rinku Sen, Amitava Kumar, Jill Magid, Hasan Elahi, and H.M. Naqvi. Invest in the future of Asian American arts and ideas and show up in your most festive attire.

Dinner with authors 6-7pm $250 (comes with AAWW membership, cocktail tickets & listing as Benefit Committee member)

Cocktails & literary discussion., 7-9pm $50 (comes with AAWW membership)

Special Cocktail Package, 7-9pm 6 tickets for $250 (comes with AAWW membership & listing as Benefit Committee member)

Benefit Committee members will be honored on the Workshop and PAGE TURNER websites, as well as the event program.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Mitigation of Toxins" by JoAnne Growney

When I'm feeling apocalyptic about the environmental catastrophes underway, inducing paralysis, I'm occasionally guilty of projecting a "silent victim" status on this robust planetary system.  It's true, we've been trashing the place, but if we'd just let it work... (Sandburg: "I am the grass.  Let me work.").  And we, to do our small part.
"Mitigation of Toxins"

A stand of poplars is a self-assembling
solar-powered pump-and-treat
ground-water protection system.
Brake ferns filter arsenic from soil;
Indian mustard drinks up lead.
Sunflowers shrink strontium levels.

........An uncommon man, an occasional woman,
........buffer the malice of others, keep
........the rest of us from tilting the world.



-JoAnne Growney
"Mitigation of Toxins" first appeared in Innisfree and may now be found in Growney's collection, Red Has No Reason, (Plain View Press, 2010).
Used by permission.

JoAnne Growney grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. After a first career in mathematics, she returned to poetry. Her most recent collection is Red Has No Reason (Plain View Press, 2010). Growney promotes math-poetry connections and climate concerns in her blog at She teaches an ongoing poetry workshop at a neighborhood wellness and recovery drop-in center.

Growney attended Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2008.

Split This Rock


Monday, October 25, 2010

Emily Dickinson's "The morns are meeker..." as performed by Adele M.

Emily Dickinson's "The morns are meeker..." as performed by Adele M, October 25, 2010.  Early Dickinson, mid-fall, early Adele.  Adele: "I guess I like Emily Dickinson, because I like history, and she's from a long time ago.  I really liked this poem.  It's pretty easy to understand.  I understood that [in this poem] everything was getting dressed up for fall, and she felt like she should get dressed up."

"The morns are meeker than they were..." by Emily Dickinson (poem 12)

The morns are meeker than they were—
The nuts are getting brown—
The berry's cheek is plumper—
The Rose is out of town.

The Maple wears a gayer scarf—
The field a scarlet gown—
Lest I should be old fashioned
I'll put a trinket on.

Thomas Merton on becoming the poet that you were meant to become (note to self)

Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet or the particular monk they are intended to be by God. They never become the man or the artist who is called for by all the circumstances of their individual lives.

They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet, some other saint...

They wear out their minds and bodies in a hopeless endeavor to have somebody else's experiences or write somebody else's poems.

There is intense egoism in following everybody else.  People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular--and too lazy to think of anything better.

--Thomas Merton

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mark Doty's "Charlie Howard's Descent"

Let's stand with our brothers and sisters, wherever they are intimidated, brutalized, and broken by the hatred of others.

Split This Rock mourns the gay and lesbian young people who committed suicide in the past weeks: Justin Aaberg, Asher Brown, Raymond Chase, Tyler Clementi, Aiyisha Hassan, Billy Lucas, and Seth Walsh. Their deaths demonstrate again the power of words. Words can destroy.

But they can also restore, give hope, remind us of our common humanity. We are privileged to be able to share with you this week Mark Doty's poem "Charlie Howard's Descent," which he read so movingly at the inaugural Split This Rock Poetry Festival in 2008. Charlie Howard's murder took place in 1984. Sadly, we still need this poem now more than ever. Please send it to everyone you know as a call for an end to hate, an end to bullying, a call for a full and rich life for every precious young person.

In peace and poetry,

Split This Rock

"Charlie Howard's Descent"

Between the bridge and the river
he falls through
a huge portion of night;
it is not as if falling

is something new. Over and over
he slipped into the gulf
between what he knew and how
he was known. What others wanted

opened like an abyss: the laughing
stock-clerks at the grocery, women
at the luncheonette amused by his gestures.
What could he do, live

with one hand tied
behind his back? So he began to fall
into the star-faced section
of night between the trestle

and the water because he could not meet
a little town's demands,
and his earrings shone and his wrists
were as limp as they were.

I imagine he took the insults in
and made of them a place to live;
we learn to use the names
because they are there,

familiar furniture: faggot
was the bed he slept in, hard
and white, but simple somehow,
queer something sharp

but finally useful, a tool,
all the jokes a chair,
stiff-backed to keep the spine straight,
a table, a lamp. And because

he's fallen for twenty-three years,
despite whatever awkwardness
his flailing arms and legs assume
he is beautiful

and like any good diver
has only an edge of fear
he transforms into grace.
Or else he is not afraid,

and in this way climbs back
up the ladder of his fall,
out of the river into the arms
of the three teenage boys

who hurled him from the edge -
really boys now, afraid,
their fathers' cars shivering behind them,
headlights on - and tells them

it's all right, that he knows
they didn't believe him
when he said he couldn't swim,
and blesses his killers

in the way that only the dead
can afford to forgive.

- Mark Doty
Used by permission.

Mark Doty's FIRE TO FIRE: New and Selected Poems won the National Book Award for poetry. He teaches at Rutgers University, and lives in New York City.

Doty was featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2008, when he read "Charlie Howard's Descent." You can watch video of that reading here.

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, October 14, 2010

"Illegal Borders" by Sonja de Vries

"Illegal Borders"

a scar starting below his
cheekbone ran down the length
of his face like a road map,
disappeared under his
chin and into his uniform
and my mouth - treacherous
flesh - wanted to kiss the top
of his scar, follow it down,
unbutton his starched shirt to see
where it would lead, but my mind -
that loyal sergeant -
kept me walking, passport open,
my lips moving in prayer.

-Sonja de Vries

Used by permission.

Sonja de Vries is a Kentucky-born writer, filmmaker, and queer social justice activist. She believes that art is integral to creating a deep and lasting transformation of society. She was raised by a powerful radical, activist mother and grandmother. The poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, Nazim Hikmet, Gabriela Mistral and others formed her consciousness and continue to inspire her. De Vries's first book Planting A Garden In Baghdad will be released by Finishing Line Press in January 2011.

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

Monday, October 11, 2010

Franz Wright's "Why is the Winter Light": Poetry as Prayer

This is courtesy of Panhala, which daily posts what I can only describe as inspirational poems--poems of inbreathing, of spiritus.  As I've been trying to write my own prayer poems, I'm amazed how Franz Wright has so thoroughly, so unabashedly, dived into the rhetoric of prayer, at a time when so many poets and poems are allergic not only to the authenticity mode, but also to any wider claims of voice, of the transcendent, of belief.  As in great religious poetry, we feel the struggle, the wound, and also how the wound becomes the site of grace--what Leonard Cohen sang: "there is a crack in everything/that's how the light gets in."

"Why is the Winter Light"

Why is the winter light
disturbing, and who
if anyone shares this impression?
If somebody enters the room
am I going to stop being afraid?
Why am I afraid
to go grocery shopping?
I suppose there is a pill for that, but
why? Surrounded by so vast
a cloud of witnesses
why do I feel this alone
in the first place? Is heaven a place
and if so, will our poor
hairy speechless forebears-
all millions of years of them-
be there to greet us
if and when we arrive? The meek
shall inherit Auschwitz, too,
if they're not careful. Where do such obscenities
of thought originate? And are the words
we speak being mercilessly recorded, or
are we speaking the already written
premeditated words? Why
do I want to live
forever, and the next day
fervently wish I had died
when I was young? Why do I abruptly feel blessed?
And if (and it does) this city harbors
a single individual suffering
unendurably, am I
prepared to take his place?


Empty me of the bitterness and disappointment of being nothing but
Immerse me in the mystery of reality
Fill me with love for the truly afflicted
that hopeless love, if need be
make me one of them again --
Awaken me to the reality of this place
and from the longed-for or remembered place
And more than thus, behind each face
induct, oh introduce me in --
to the halting disturbed ungrammatical soundless
words of others' thoughts
not the drivel coming out of our mouths
Blot me out, fill me with nothing but consciousness
of the holiness, the meaning
of these unseeable, all
these unvisitable worlds which surround me:
others' actual thoughts -- everything
I can't perceive yet
know it is there.

~ Franz Wright ~
(God's Silence)

Friday, October 8, 2010

My chapbook *Instants* (2006) now released in electronic format

Instants, my chapbook from Ugly Duckling Presse (2006), has now been released in electronic format. 

A series of snapshot poems inspired by the life and work of the eccentric photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who murdered his wife's lover, then went on to become one of the pioneers of motion photography and the grandfather of cinema.  Handmade by members of the Ugly Duckling collective, the cover image, folded in two, echoes Breughel's "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" and the larger split/subject that the serial poem dramatizes.  Plus, it's a flip-book as well.

Ted Leo's "The Mighty Sparrow" and my "Along the Shrapnel Edge of Maps"

I've been listening to Ted Leo's new CD, "The Brutalist Bricks," obsessively for a week, and can't believe how he has done it again.  He takes all of punk and post-punk--the Clash, Fugazi, Billy Bragg, etc.--and puts it in the blender of politics and love and serves it up with a side dose of speed. 

I'm struck by the first song, "The Mighty Sparrow"--perhaps a nod to the well-known Calypso singer--which is the first person account of someone in a cafe explosion, who comes back to himself in the moments after the bomb, noticing some bird, some little image of the soul in flight, the soul in song.  How can we hold onto the beautiful in a world where people are willing to blow everything to heaven? 

I was shocked by the persistence of a few motifs that appeared in a poem I wrote a few years ago, from "Along the Shrapnel Edge of Maps," which appeared in Field.  The description of concussion, the image of a beloved face, the lack of sound--all are not that surprising, but the weird clocks that appear at the end--man's mastery of time, versus the bird song?    

when the cafe doors exploded

i reacted too, reacted to you
reacted to you

cast into the sunny morning
i was coming too, but now i'm
coming to, but now i'm coming to,

papers in the wind a-waltzing,
i was dancing too, my mind danced to you,
lifted up on wings of strangers, saw a face and knew,
then i saw you red white and bruised
silent for a moment, then singing
i thought i could hear, singing turned
to sirens as ringing returned to my ears
and the sirens called me back to there
miserable rock, while you're following
the sparrow, i can only follow the clock
Here's my poem, which takes a polyvocal look at a cafe bombing (from the bomber's point of view, from a cafe owner, from a cafe worker, from an angry unnamed bystander, and from someone far away but connected nonetheless--who experiences the metaphorical explosion of realization.  I only wish my poem could rock your brain as hard as Ted Leo rocks my body and soul...
from "Along the Shrapnel Edge of Maps" by Philip Metres (first published in Field)

To lift my arms as if in praise / when they strap it on beneath
my shirt, to feel the ice-cold shell / against my chest, its promised

hatching into blood-heat. To imagine myself already
dead, yet buoy in the wash / of capillaries pulsing like web,

every strand tensile, agleam. To tread the streets now paved
over my father’s house, & to be held / up at the checkpoint

between my village & what’s left / of our groves of lemon
& olive—razor-wired & identity card. To believe that

this will stanch his wound, this mad algebra dividing
all numbers back to one, the columns on each side

of the equal sign equal again, if I can walk into a stranger’s café
&, in a sudden illumination, / join shard to skin, flesh

to flesh, we will wake / from a nightmare, unhooked
from the wall like a clock / that needs to be wound again.


First, the sudden deaf as in a dream, people & their mouths
open & moving not sounding out. Plaster & glass dress.

Frame of the face frozen in. & you running. In place.
This was your store, your plate / glass, your café, turned in

-side out. What is tumble & shard. You see your mouth
before you hear it, all of the wax of the explosion now unplugged

& bleeding. Smoke the mouth of the door. Everything now
shaken, the salt of plaster & blood-shivers of sliver no time

to make any of this anything but the rubble of the human.
& where is she, the one I loved, who served everyone—

That is not her leg. Bloodslick & shatter. Is there nothing,
no clock alarming us out of this dream? I’m standing

in someone else’s brain. Flesh of. My place, not my flesh.
My love, I have no mouth to kiss your chosen face.


My job was to disappear. To follow orders in another
hard tongue, & hold my own. My job: to clear

the tables of the leavings, to harvest the crumbs,
to shoot the plates with so much scalding water

I could see my unshaven face in them. To plumb
the overflowing toilet, that constant fountain

of other people’s shit, I had to breathe through
my mouth, & curse. I couldn’t help myself

to what others could not eat—it was not my own,
it lingered against their mouths, who cursed the wealth

of my slowness, or did not hear their call, or heard
their hidden distaste. So when he sat down,

his eyes darting, I knew this was my chance
to choose my fate, to end my disappearance—


It’s because I wanted it to happen. Longed & waited.
Let there be flash & flood, I said, let there be black

& acrid / choking lungs. I said, yes, send
rivulets of blood, plaster in the scalp, democratic,

& dark hovering over the surfaces of everything.
Let there be klieg lights & sudden cameramen & lens

& cordons policing the scene, the secular expanse
of a café now sacred by blood. & let us sing

this memorial to the lost, this blessed loneliness—
let there be blood to remind our people who we are

& what we have suffered at the gloves of our oppressor,
those long & desolate years, our lips probing a font

from a rock. To remember that this is nothing if not war,
& in this tide of blood we all get what we want.


In the other room I heard you asking your mother:
“am I a Palestinian?” When she answered: “yes,”

a heavy silence fell on the whole house. It was
as if something hanging over our heads had fallen, its noise

exploding, then—silence. Afterwards, I heard you crying.
I could not move. There was something bigger

being born in the other room. As if a blessed scalpel
was cutting your chest & putting there the heart

that belongs to you. I was unable to move, to see
what was happening. A distant homeland born again: hills,

plains, olive groves, the dead, torn flags, all cutting their way
into a future of flesh & blood. Man is born suddenly—a word,

in a moment, begins a new throb. One scene can hurl
him down from the ceiling of childhood onto the rugged road.

Thanks to Field: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics for continuing to publish challenging and thoughtful poetry, including this one.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Jeff Gundy's "A Day at the Pond Without Geese"

Jeff Gundy's wily poems have the echoes of the ancient Chinese poets, who were living in their own empire--full of taut observations of the natural world, of the world of human desire, and of the worlds outside the safer worlds of the poet's "pond without geese."
A Day at the Pond Without Geese

A good day for late wildflowers--daisies and burrs
leaned out into the path for a better view, brilliant

blue somethings with tiny blooms on tall stalks.
A good day for a young dog's yapping, the splish

of a muskrat, thin gold of poplar leaves screening
the low sun. At the end of a lush summer, not much

has changed. The latest suicide bomber was nearly
done with law school. The enemy shot her brother.

Afterwards her head was found on the floor
of the restaurant in Haifa, black hair still flowing.

Like most men in such times, I want to give advice.
The pond is pretty in its small way, trees still green,

a bank of cattails, water echoing blurry greens and sky,
for once no geese to harry and complicate things.

Two quiet wrens, that dog yelping stupidly,
and a crow way off to the east. Like most men,

I think I'm smarter than most men. I dream of women
even when I'm awake. If I sit long enough, the trees

or the water will surely tell me something. A woman
passes, explaining to her cell phone as she walks.

As far as I can see, everything is calm as Eden.
Her black hair, flowing like the night.

- Jeff Gundy
From Spoken among the Trees (Akron, 2007).
Used by permission.

Jeff Gundy's eight books of poetry and prose include Spoken among the Trees (Akron, 2007), Deerflies (WordTech Editions, 2004), and Scattering Point: The World in a Mennonite Eye (SUNY, 2003). He teaches at Bluffton University, and was a 2008 Fulbright lecturer in American Studies at the University of Salzburg.

Gundy appeared on the panel "The Peace Shelves: Essential Books and Poems for the 21st Century" during Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

Friday, October 1, 2010

"Speaking Out Against U.S. Military Drones" by John Dear

Tim Musser has passed along that John Dear will be speaking at Rivers Edge [3430 Rocky River Drive - Cleveland] this Monday Oct 4th - which is the feast day of St Francis. Pax Christi Cleveland is also celebrating is 20th year this October so ase join us. John's lecture is entitled: "Francis, the Beatitudes, and the Gospel of Non-Violence."

John Dear, SJ
October 4, 7-8:30pm Fee $25
Please register by calling 216.688.1111 - and please carpool if possible.

Below is a recent NCR piece by John Dear about the "Creech 14" action to protest the use of military drones.  Having recently read Wired for War, I've been thinking a lot about how technological capabilities to outsource death via robotics extend the battlespace, and implicates all of us.  There are men outside Las Vegas piloting drones that assassinate people in Afghanistan; this has transformed the ways in which the formerly sacrosanct boundaries between military and civilian have been collapsed.

"Speaking out against US military drones"
By John Dear SJ
Sep. 28, 2010

On Sept. 14, thirteen others and I -- known together as the "Creech 14" -- went on trial in Las Vegas, Nev., for an action we committed in April 2009 at Creech Air Force Base to protest the U.S. military's use of unmanned drones in combat abroad.

The night before the trial the University of Nevada at Las Vegas Law School hosted an evening panel discussion on the use of the drones. Much to our surprise a large crowd turned out, including many law students and faculty, to hear from our all-star speakers. The speakers were invited by the Nevada Desert Experience -- a local organization which questions the U.S. nuclear weapons system -- to testify about the drones.

The panel featured Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General; Bill Quigley, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Ann Wright, a retired colonel in the U.S. Army and retired U.S. State Department diplomat; and Kathy Kelly, director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and one of our co-defendants. All four of them also spoke at our trial the next day.

Kathy Kelly began her talk at the law school by reflecting on her recent visit to Pakistan, where she met survivors of a U.S. drone attack. Those survivors had told her ghastly stories of people being blown up around them. "Do people in your country know that your government is using these drones to kill us?" the survivors asked her.

"Last week in Afghanistan a drone bombed and killed six children who were rummaging through fields for food. A recent drone bombing raid may have killed as many as 125 civilians," Kelly said.

Under U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, we know the U.S. specifically targeted civilians for assassinations, Kelly added.

The Army's goal is to eradicate Al Qaeda -- by using the same methods of Al Qaeda. Yet according to National Security Agency Director Keith B. Alexander, there are only 100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. According to CIA Director Leon Penetta there are only 50 Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan.

Kelly asked: So why are there so many U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan? Imagine the cost for having one U.S. soldier there, when every single day, 850 children die of hunger and related illnesses in Afghanistan, she added.

"The drones protect our military, most people think," Wright said at the beginning of her talk. "But what does the drone program do when we implement it -- not only to the people in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, but to those who operate it? The Creech Air Force Base operators see the killings that occur when they bomb, and are psychologically damaged."

The subway system in Washington, D.C., Wright said, is full of advertising posters for General Atomics, one of the leading manufacturers of the drones. The caption under the photos of the drones used in each poster reads: "These make you feel safe."

"But how are drones different from B-52 or F-16 planes or cruise missiles?" Wright asked. "We should be debating the morality of all our weapons. But we are escalating the number of undeclared wars and the weapons themselves. And what other countries are getting drones from us? To whom will they then sell our drones? Israel recently sold 10 drones to Turkey and 14 to Brazil. This technology will inevitably come back and bite us."

"What we are talking about is assassination," Clark said at the beginning of his talk. "I know about assassination."

Clark then spoke movingly of his work in the U.S. Justice Department and as U.S. Attorney General while remembering the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy.

"The drones are extra-judicial executions," Clark continued. "And they're hardly precise…. This technology can destroy us. There is something singularly dangerous about using technology to assassinate. We should only use technology if it is for the good of children."

"How far do we want this technology to go?" Clark asked. "We will soon have the capacity to kill anyone wherever they are anywhere in the world. We have to stand up and say 'No' to these drones. These killings are criminal. And the ethical implication of this program is that we are condoning assassination, pure and simple. We are paying for and supporting assassination with our tax money.

"With all the suffering in the world, do we have nothing better to do than to assassinate people? We should get out of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. We should stop killing these people, help them, tell them we love them.

"I've never seen the political environment so chaotic, the people so angry, the future so uncertain. But the issues are crystal clear. There is no good war. We have to prevent war and reduce the U.S. military budget by 90 percent if there is ever to be peace on earth."

Bill Quigley spoke of two recent scholarly studies on the impact of U.S. military drones. One report said at least one third of the people who are killed by our drones are innocent civilians. The second claims that nine out of every 10 people killed by drones are civilians.

Last month, a Pakistani newspaper reported that for the first seven months of this year, 50 U.S. drone attacks killed 13 Al Qaeda- and Taliban-linked people and 476 innocent civilians. Only 13 of the 50 strikes actually hit their "targets." Bob Woodward's new book Obama's Wars reports that our drones have killed "many" from the global west, even U.S. citizens.

"Where are the checks and balances on these drones?" Quigley asked. "There are none. There is no prosecution, no indictment, no trial, no sentencing. The executive branch has decided that any person at any time can be annihilated. We have a responsibility to check our technology and our military so that human rights are respected."

"Will we allow other countries to use drones against us?" Quigley asked. "Would we be allowed to use drones elsewhere? We wouldn't be allowed to use them on China or Russia. It's a violation of law, of morality, of basic fairness -- that we treat others the way we would expect to be treated."

"Both Clinton and Bush used drones," Quigley noted, "but Obama has radically increased the number of drones. The issue of the drones is not about Democrats or Republicans. It is a human rights issue, a legal issue, a moral issue. No U.S. court has decided on the legality of targeted killing by drones. We have the right to live in safety; that's a legitimate quest. But these drones are used in so-called 'anticipatory self defense,' against people who might someday participate with a group who might use violence. This is unethical.

"Even if you believe in the war in Afghanistan, why are we using drones in Pakistan? In Yemen? Why use the drones in places outside of the countries where we are at war?

"The U.S. claims it uses drones to kill drug dealers in Pakistan. Are we under threat from drug dealers in Pakistan? Then we have given a blank check to our government to kill anyone anywhere at any time and they don't have to give any explanation for it."

I was saddened to learn while lecturing and leading a retreat in Nova Scotia these past few days that the drones have even come to eastern Canada. It was heartening to reflect together with church friends about the nonviolent Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount and his great commandments: "Offer no violent resistance to one who does evil" and "love your enemies that you may be children of your heavenly God."

When we place the Gospel teachings in the context of our wars, nuclear weapons, and drone attacks it is clear that the God of peace calls us to stop the killings.

I hope that people of peace everywhere will rise up against the drones, vigil against them, and call for their dismantling and an end to drone warfare. The God of peace does not want us to fill the blue skies with these so-called unmanned aerial vehicles that bomb and kill our sisters and brothers.

"The greatest threat to life on this planet is our own country," Clark concluded that night in Las Vegas. "We've got a lot of work to do and time is short."


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"29 Men" by Heather Davis (Split This Rock poem)

"29 Men" by Heather Davis

“If any of you have been asked by your group president, supervisors, engineers, or anyone else to do anything other than run coal, you need to ignore them and run coal.”
--Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, owner of the Upper Big Branch Mine

The lights in your home channel 29 men, their
soot stained clothes, last breaths, crystalline sweat
let loose on black rock.

The lamps in your den cast 29 men
from West Virginia to your retinas, making night
like day, closing the circle.

Did the bulbs in their kitchens pop and spark, the floors
revolt when the methane blew, stopping the hearts
of family members for what seemed like hours?

When he left that morning he said, “Love you too, buddy.
mmmmmmmmNow I’m gonna
mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmCut me some coal.”

Along with the brilliance in your bedroom you get 29 men
so cheaply it’s like nothing, an easy find
at the second hand store, a keeper.

I heard about Don Blankenship, King of Coal, Massey CEO.
How he made it his crusade to crush the union
so the men could start working 12-hour shifts.

I heard about Don Blankenship, Pied Piper, 1,000 violations
studding his golden belt, how it wasn’t enough, how he
wooed those boys to the precipice like hard used toys.

Your porch light out front floods the yard and sings
29 men, electric lives exuberant, giving everything. Don’t
turn away. This is what we pay for.

They’re not down in the mine anymore.

-Heather Davis
Used by permission.

Heather Davis earned a B.A. in English from Hollins University and an M.A. in creative writing from Syracuse University. She is the author of The Lost Tribe of Us, which won the 2007 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Cream City Review, Gargoyle, Poet Lore, and Puerto del Sol, among others. She is the founder of the Winding River Writers and a member of DC Poets Against the War. With her husband, the poet Jose Padua, she writes the blog Shenandoah Breakdown about post-city life in conservative small-town America at;

Davis appeared on the panel The Care and Feeding of the Rural/Small Town Poet-Activist at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation and Witness 2010.

Split This Rock;

Derek Mahon's "Everything is Going to Be All Right"

I can't tell if this poem is blissful or ominous.  Is it the words of a mystic, or a denier?  Thoughts? 

"Everything Is Going to Be All Right"

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

~ Derek Mahon ~

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Arts as Activism in Sheikh Jarrah

One of the unique aspects of this movement—particularly in Sheikh Jarrah—is the crucial role that visual and literary culture play in it. There exists within the movement a live, engaged practice of bridging the arts and activism, culture and politics. On both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides there is a recognition of art as a powerful and nonviolent political tool that can be used to practice freedom of expression as well as to enhance socio-political consciousness among the people. The arts have come to provide a central role in digesting and exposing the fragmentation that marks the region, and act as a tool of resistance against the violence spurred by the Israeli occupation.
Read more:


The poetry event that Guerilla Culture staged in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood drew over two hundred people. A group of twenty Israeli and Palestinian poets from various religious and ethnic backgrounds traveled from all over the country to read at this event. They performed poems in Hebrew and Arabic that were simultaneously translated into both languages by on-site translators, and then the microphone was opened up to the general public and members of the neighborhood stood up to speak to the audience. Protestors are generally barred from congregating in the neighborhood, but because of the cultural nature of the event, the police allowed the readings to be staged in the heart of the neighborhood, right in front of the settlement and the houses of the evicted.

Read more:

Attention Span 2010: 10 "Books" That Caught My Eye This Year

Critic Steve Evans has been doing his "Attention Span" series for a number of years now; in it, he asks poets and critics to name 10 books that caught their attention in the past year.  I did one a year ago, and two years agoHere's this year's.  There were, of course, many other books of poems that also stayed with me, but I had to limit it to ten.

What drives my list this year is a tug between poetic durability and the need for a picture of the contemporary moment; in rare occasions, these two aspects dovetail beautifully.
Pablo Neruda | The Poetry of Pablo Neruda | FSG | 2003
What is there to say, except that I was a little embarrassed to have taken so long to read one of the modern masters, and much relieved to find his voluminous work worth the long haul.
Robert Hass | The Apple Trees at Olema: Selected Poems | Ecco | 2010
Hass remains one of my favorite contemporary poets, partly because his poems are at once approachable and resistant to singular readings. His concerns frequently overlap with the tough thinking of avant-gardists, but his poems have a luxuriousness to them that suggest an epicure with a slightly-guilty conscience. I re-read “Museum,” a prose poem that describes a couple with a sleeping baby sitting in a museum café, surrounded by pictures of suffering by Kathe Kollwitz, in which a kind of symphony of everyday bourgeois life comes into being. Many years ago, the poem inflamed my imagination. Then, years later, when I returned to it, I didn’t feel that it earned its ending. This time, a parent now, I found the poem open itself again to me. His poems have that kind of strange irreducible endurance about them.
VA | Split This Rock Festival | Washington, DC | 2010
Props to Sarah Browning and her Split This Rock crew (of which there are numerous others!) for hosting this conference, which brought together poets involved in social change. Their mission is “to celebrate the poetry of witness and provocation being written, published, and performed in the United States today, and to call poets to a greater role in public life and to equip them with the tools they need to be effective advocates in their communities and in the nation.”  I felt very much at home among these poets, who included: Chris Abani, Lillian Allen, Sinan Antoon, Francisco Aragón, Jan Beatty, Martha Collins, Cornelius Eady, Martín Espada, Andrea Gibson, Allison Hedge Coke, Natalie Illum, Fady Joudah, Toni Asante Lightfoot, Richard McCann, Jeffrey McDaniel, Lenelle Moïse, Nancy Morejón, Mark Nowak, Wang Ping, Patricia Smith, Arthur Sze, Quincy Troupe, and the Busboys and Poets Poets-in-Residence: Holly Bass, Beny Blaq, and Derrick Weston Brown. A pretty big tent.
The Book of Isaiah | Isaiah | various translations | various publication dates
He shall strike the ruthless
With the rod of his mouth
And with the breath of his lips
He shall slay the wicked.
I keep finding myself going back to the Bible as a resource; there’s something about the authority and vision of the prophets, Isaiah in particular, that I miss in contemporary poetry and modern life.
Rachel Zolf | Neighbour Procedure | Coach House | 2010
This intriguingly rendered, philosophically challenging book brings investigative poetics to bear on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I first learned of Rachel Zolf from her XCP essay, “A Tenuous We: Writing As Not Knowing,” about learning Arabic and Hebrew—in order to look for convergences in the languages and to speak the Arabic names that comprise one of the pieces of this book. The first section is about the occupation, enacting a grieving over the other, and attacking Zionist privilege and blindness. The title poem is stunning, bringing to bear different voices who play roles in a “neighbour procedure”—that name for the IDF’s use of a neighbor as a human shield or their house to enter another. Later sections show points of contact between Arabic and Hebrew, employ variant translations of Quranic verses, collage various news sources around a target X.
VA | RAWI Conference | University of Michigan | 2010
The Radius of Arab American Writers conference brought together people from around the country and world to Ann Arbor to present and read and dance over the texts that we write and read and write about; my conference began when I carpooled from Ohio with Kazim Ali, the first of a long series of conversations that reminded me how many good writers face the same dilemmas that I face, but each in their own way.
Mark Doty | Fire to Fire: Selected Poems | HarperPerennial | 2008
“What did you think, that joy / was some slight thing?”
Khaled Mattawa | Tocqueville | New Issues | 2009
A brilliant book that situates itself on the fault lines of empire, the most experimental of this lyrical poet’s oeuvre; the title poem is a tour de force of collage and testimony.
Tony Barnstone | Tongue of War | BkMk Press | 2009
A strange but compelling book, which attempts to answer in the affirmative: can one write a series of sonnets that illuminates various voices—from p.o.w’s to Hiroshima survivors—in the unspeakable Pacific part of the Second World War?
Elena Fanailova | The Russian Version | Ugly Duckling | 2009
What Sergey Gandlevsky did for Russian poetry in the late 1970s and 1980s, Fanailova does for the 1990s and 2000s; a vigorous, richly allusive, and often raw exploration of Russian life.
More Philip Metres here. His Attention Span for 2009, 2008. Back to directory.