Monday, April 26, 2010

It's Springtime, and that means the "Poetry in the Everyday Projects" are scattered like seeds across Cleveland

It's springtime, and that means the "Poetry in the Everyday Projects" are scattering themselves like seeds across the heights of Cleveland--part of my Introduction to Poetry Workshop course at John Carroll University.

Here's the first readymade, by Katie Ratacjak, a series of poetry installations in the elevators of John Carroll, which have been documented on the video below, to a melody by Aerosmith:

One of the best bits of feedback she received was from two workers, who rode the elevator with her while she finished taping up "The Red Wheel Barrow" by William Carlos Williams. As they left, one said, "great, now I'm going to be wondering about those chickens all day."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Wikileaks Video "Collateral Murder," the Problem of Frames, and "Gunner's Pantoum"

Warning: not suitable for children or people with heart conditions.

In my talk on documentary poetry at the Split This Rock conference, I made it a point to encourage everyone to sign up to Wikileaks for their updates. Just a few weeks later, Wikileaks has made the news with its provocative release of a video that they've entitled "Collateral Murder" (see above). There was an unfairly framed segment on "Talk of the Nation," one of my least favorite shows on npr, which framed the video in a "what we (civilians) don't know about what war is like" sort of discourse. No one, at least during my listening, called in to ask the larger questions that this sort of narrowed frame refuses to allow (such as, why are they in this situation in the first place, not just what other dangerous situation calls for such air support). (Again, today, it should have been called, "Talk of the Empire").

In fact, those who called in to decry the video occasionally proved the opposite of their argument--one particular caller said that he would kill everyone in a village (which village, and which war, he didn't say) rather than let any American even be threatened. Of course, Neal Conan didn't engage the blatant criminality of this point of view; I wish he had called a crime a crime. Perhaps he thought that restraint would allow this point of view to reveal its limited truthfulness.

Perhaps I am being too harsh about it; clearly, our soldiers are being placed in an ethically compromised and deeply confusing situation--that of an insurgency, where paradoxically the occupying power is both responsible to maintain the security of the populace while they fight an insurgency that uses the populace as a shield and sometimes as collaborators for their fight. The real criminals, of course, are reaping the benefits of their privilege far from the war zones.

I don't know all the details, but one place to begin is with what Wikileaks posted on their site:
5th April 2010 10:44 EST WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad -- including two Reuters news staff.

Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.

The military did not reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured.

After demands by Reuters, the incident was investigated and the U.S. military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own "Rules of Engagement".

Consequently, WikiLeaks has released the classified Rules of Engagement for 2006, 2007 and 2008, revealing these rules before, during, and after the killings.

WikiLeaks has released both the original 38 minutes video and a shorter version with an initial analysis. Subtitles have been added to both versions from the radio transmissions.

WikiLeaks obtained this video as well as supporting documents from a number of military whistleblowers. WikiLeaks goes to great lengths to verify the authenticity of the information it receives. We have analyzed the information about this incident from a variety of source material. We have spoken to witnesses and journalists directly involved in the incident.

WikiLeaks wants to ensure that all the leaked information it receives gets the attention it deserves. In this particular case, some of the people killed were journalists that were simply doing their jobs: putting their lives at risk in order to report on war. Iraq is a very dangerous place for journalists: from 2003- 2009, 139 journalists were killed while doing their work.

I don't know the whole truth, and maybe such a "whole truth" is impossible. But we owe it to ourselves to engage in a truthful discussion about the implications of this video, which the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange compared hauntingly to a video game. And that is the scary part of the video--the way in which the video looks like a game, and the game prepares for war, and those little humanoid figures--from such distance of sky and screen--remain targets and nothing else.

And all this would be enough to talk about (and I've been remiss in not getting into the fray), but then Ian Demsky, a fellow poet and investigative journalist, got right down to the job and transcribed and transformed the language of the video into the form of a pantoum--a form of repetitions, as this video itself will be repeated over the internet, and mulled over, and rejected or hailed depending on one's point of view.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

by Ian Demsky

Last conversation Hotel Two-Six?
Do you want Hotel Two-Two element—
Request permission to engage.
Roger, received.

Do you want Hotel Two-Two element?
See all those people standing down there?
Roger, received.
I can’t get them now because they’re behind that building.

See all those people standing down there?
You are free to engage.
I can’t get them now because they’re behind that building.
Hotel Two-Six: Crazy Horse One-Eight.

Repeat: You are free to engage.
We’ll be engaging.
Hotel Two-Six: Crazy Horse One-Eight.
Light ‘em all up.

We are engaging.
God damn it.
Light ‘em up.
Come on fire.

God damn!
Just fuckin’, once you get on him, just—
Fire. Fire.
Keep shooting.

—once you get on him, just open ‘em up.
We need to move. Time now.
Keep shooting. Keep shooting.
We’re still firing.

We need to move.
Roger, I’ve got ‘em.
We’re still firing.
Oops, I’m sorry. What was going on?

Roger. I got them.
God damn it, Kyle.
What’s going on?
All right, you’re clear.

God damn it.
Got bunch of bodies laying there.
All right, you’re clear.
We’ve got one guy crawling around down there.

—bunch of bodies laying there.
Hey, you shoot, I’ll talk.
We’ve still got one guy crawling around.
Crazy Horse One-Eight, this is Hotel Two-Six. Over.

You shoot, I’ll talk.
Oh yeah. Look at those dead bastards.
Crazy Horse One-Eight: Hotel Two-Six.
Good shootin’.

Look at those dead bastards.
Location of bodies: Mike Bravo five-four-five-eight.
Yup. Good shootin’.
There’s one guy moving down there, but he’s wounded.

Location of bodies: Mike Bravo five-four-five-eight.
We’ll let them know so they can hurry up and get over here.
There’s one guy still moving around down there.
We have a van that’s approaching and picking up the bodies.

—so they can hurry up and get over here.
Possibly picking up bodies and weapons.
We have a van that’s approaching and picking up the bodies.
Right down there by the bodies.

They’re possibly picking up bodies and weapons.
Let me engage.
Right down there by the bodies.
Can I shoot?

Can we engage?
Can I shoot?
We’re trying to get permission to engage.

Are they picking up the wounded?
We’re trying to get permission to engage.
Come on let us shoot.

Are they picking up the wounded?
They’re taking him.
Come on let us shoot.
Bushmaster Seven: Crazy Horse One-Eight.

They’re taking him.
Bushmaster Seven: Crazy Horse One-Eight.
Bushmaster Seven, roger. Engage.

Bushmaster Seven: Roger.
No more shooting.

No more shooting.
Oh yeah, look at that. Right through the windshield.

The vehicle appears to be disabled.
—right through the windshield.
Bradley element turning south down the road where the engagement was.

The vehicle appears to be disabled.
I think I drove over a body.
Bradley element approaching engagement site.
Maybe it was a visual illusion.

I think I drove over a body.
Last conversation Hotel Two-Six?
Maybe it was a visual illusion.
—permission to engage.

Author’s Note: This poem is adapted from radio traffic heard on U.S. Military gun-camera video depicting a 2007 attack in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad that killed two Reuters news staff and wounded two children. The video, which Reuters had sought under the Freedom of Information Act, was made public by

Ian Demsky, a longtime investigative newspaper journalist, often draws from public records to help make visible what J.G. Ballard called the "invisible literatures" of our society. He is enrolled in the MFA program at the University of Idaho.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Brian Turner on Carl Sandburg's "Grass" (from Poetry Daily)

This is from Poetry Daily--Brian Turner's reflections on Carl Sandburg's "Grass":

by Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass
Let me work.

Brian Turner Comments:
Sandburg’s “Grass” was published in his 1918 collection Cornhuskers, in the shadows of WWI. It may be useful to note that Sandburg volunteered to fight in the Spanish-American War twenty years earlier, in 1898, with the 6th Illinois Infantry (when he must have been about 29 or 30 years old). Still, all of this lies ancillary to the poem, which is timeless and speaks with a voice that resounds through the centuries. It is the voice of the grass itself which compels me, reinforcing the theme through repetition of phrase (Pile them high / And pile them high / And pile them high; Shovel them under / Shovel them under; and so on) as well as individual notes within the music (the middle syllables of Austerlitz and Waterloo repeated in under, cover, Verdun, conductor, for example).


The poem finishes in the reader. And what’s more—it actively engages the reader to become a part of the poem, even if only through the oblique angle created by the passengers. It opens up the possibility that we might be complicit in the erasure of history. That is, we all might be passengers on that train—passing by the obscene waste, the accumulated turpitude and ruins of war, battlefield by battlefield, war by war. Sandburg recognizes that in order for the grass to do its work the act of witnessing itself must be erased. Silenced.

An awful silence exists between the passenger’s dialogue (“What is this place? / Where are we now?) and the final couplet (“I am the grass. / Let me work.”) And the silence which follows this admonishment is even more devastating. This is what I mean when I say the “poem finishes in the reader.” And between the silences, when the Grass does speak—Is the tone sardonic? Is it a tone of resignation? A combination of these? And the work of the grass itself—Is it a grim effort toward healing? Or the mortician’s inexorable duty? …Nature seems to be exhausted from the work we humans offer it, again and again. The poem leaves us with much to consider.


I’m reminded of when I was in Basic Training in Ft. Benning, Georgia, and we practiced bayonet drills. We were taught the following call and response:

Drill Sergeant: “What makes the grass grow green?”

Recruits: “Blood. Blood. Bright red blood makes the grass grow green.”

Sandburg’s “Grass” seems to ask of us all—Well? Will you let me do my work?

About Brian Turner:
Brian Turner served for a year in Iraq with the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Second Infantry Division. His book Here, Bullet (2005) won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books and a New York Times “Editor’s Choice” selection. Turner received a Lannan Literary Fellowship in Poetry in 2006 and an NEA Fellowship in 2007. He is also the recipient of the Northern California Award for Poetry, the Maine Literary Award for Poetry, and the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Poetry.


Don't forget! If you enjoy our regular features and special events like this one, please join Brian Turner in supporting Poetry Daily by making a tax-deductible contribution.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


(Cleveland Scene), Posted by Frank Lewis on Mon, Apr 5, 2010 at 2:53 PM

After some recent infighting, the anti-hunger collective known as Cleveland Food Not Bombs wants to reestablish itself a positive force in downtown Cleveland.
The group — a loose coalition of activists that serves meals to the homeless — is part of a larger Food Not Bombs national network and has been in existence for more than 15 years. Local member Kevin Williams tells Scene that the group plans to distribute meals at Public Square this Sunday, despite a tense relationship between the activists and a Cleveland City Hall. Williams says city leaders have tried to push them and other food serving groups out of Public Square. “They would like to have Public Square be a gateway, a touristy, clean space,” Williams. But the square, Williams says, has historically been a meeting place for all sorts of groups and is the ideal location for handing out food to the city’s homeless and drawing attention to issues of peace and hunger.

This weekend’s Public Square meal coincides with the visit of Keith McHenry (right), the activist who established Food Not Bombs in 1980 in Cambridge, Mass. McHenry will join the local group from 1-4 p.m. at the Cleveland Food Coop, 11702 Euclid Ave, for a workshop and food preparation. The group will then serve a communal meal and pass out food on Public Square from 5-7 p.m. at West 3rd and Rockwell (also known as Daniel’s Way, for the late Cleveland poet Daniel Thompson).

The public is invited to these events and the organizers are seeking more volunteers. For more information about the event and Cleveland Food Not Bombs, email the group at — Damian Guevara

Monday, April 5, 2010

Call for Poetry Submissions: Vietnamese Children’s Art Exhibit

Call for Poetry Submissions: Vietnamese Children’s Art Exhibit

The Wick Poetry Center, Kent State University Art Galleries, and Soldier’s Heart are pleased to announce a unique collaborative project that you can participate in.

For the last decade, the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam has collected artwork on the theme of peace and war made by Vietnamese children. From this collection, we’ve selected about sixty images to showcase—for the first time—in galleries across the United States. Alongside the paintings and drawings, we’re also planning to exhibit original poems written by American students, veterans, and professional poets.

We invite you to respond to these provocative images of peace and war. View the drawings and paintings here:

Vietnamese Children Illustrate Peace

Vietnamese Children Illustrate War

Write as many poems as you’d like in response. E-mail your completed poem(s) with a short bio to our Wick Program and Outreach Coordinator, Nicole Robinson, at, including in your submission the title and number of the work to which you are responding. (This information is available in the textbox found below each image.) The deadline for poetry submissions is May 31, 2010.

Feel free to forward this call along to fellow poets and/or gallery curators, the latter of which might be interested in housing the exhibit next year. Thank you for your support in this unique and timely project, which will showcase the visions of Vietnamese children and the power of poetry to promote peace and reconciliation worldwide.

In addition to accepting curriculum materials built around the exhibit's drawings and paintings. We will archive curriculum materials (for all age levels) here, on our website - making them available to educators everywhere.

Curriculum materials may be sent to our Communications and Education Specialist, Melissa Barrett, at To ensure optimum use, curriculum materials should be submitted by May 1, 2010 - though we will continue to collect and archive materials as the exhibit travels in 2010 and 2011.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Melissa Kwasny, Dick Miles, and Sarah Gridley reading on April 19th!

An Evening of Poetry featuring visiting poets Melissa Kwasny and Dick Miles
& CWRU assistant professor of creative writing, Sarah Gridley
Monday, April 19, 2010
8:00-9:30 p.m.
Guilford Parlor

Melissa Kwasny is the author of four books of poetry: The Nine Senses (forthcoming 2011, Milkweed Editions), Reading Novalis in Montana (Milkweed 2009), Thistle (Lost Horse Press 2006), and The Archival Birds (Bear Star Press 2000). She is the editor of Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry 1800-1950 (Wesleyan University Press 2004) and co-editor with M.L. Smoker of I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights (Lost Horse Press 2009). Her poems have appeared in many journals, including Three Penny Review, Willow Springs, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Bellingham Review, Boston Review, Interim, Cerise Press, Columbia: A Journal of Art and Poetry, and many more.She holds a M.F.A. from the University of Montana and lives on Prickly Pear Creek outside of Jefferson City, Montana.

Richard Miles was born in 1945, grew up in southern Vermont and graduated from The University of Vermont and the Iowa Writers Workshop. He co-founded the Aspen Writers Conference in 1975, teaching there for three summers, then moved on to teach English at The University of Arizona in Tucson. From 1978-1983 he and Mary Jarrett published The Evener, a draft horse magazine, and during that time he began building stone walls which inspired his career as a stone mason and sculptor, specializing in landscape features which led most recently to an installation at The Guggenheim Museum. His book, Boat of Two Shores, came out in 2007 with The University of Maine at Machias Press. He lives "off the land" as much as possible in downeast Maine with Susan Hammond, a painter.

Sarah Gridley is the author of two books of poetry: Weather Eye Open (University of California Press, 2005), and Green is the Orator (forthcoming from the University of California Press April 2010). Her poems have appeared in various journals, including Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Gulf Coast, jubilat, and New American Poetry. Recipient of a 2009 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, and a 2010 Creative Workforce Fellowship from the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, she is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

"A Few Reasons to Oppose the War" by Lisa Suhair Majaj

A Few Reasons to Oppose the War

because wind soughs in the branches of trees
like blood sighing through veins

because in each country there are songs
huddled like wet-feathered birds

because even though the news has nothing new to say
and keeps on saying it
NO still fights its way into the world

because for every bomb that is readied
a baby nestles into her mother
latches onto a nipple beaded with milk

because the tulips have waited all winter
in the cold dark earth

because each morning the wildflowers outside my window
raise their yellow faces to the sun

because we are all so helplessly in love
with the light

-Lisa Suhair Majaj

From Geographies of Light (Del Sol Press 2009). Used by permission.

Lisa Suhair Majaj, a Palestinian-American writer and scholar, was born in Iowa, raised in Amman, Jordan, educated in Beirut, Lebanon and in Michigan, and after spending many years in Massachusetts currently lives in Nicosia, Cyprus. Her poems and essays have been published in more than fifty journals and anthologies across in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East, and have been used in art installations, photography exhibits and political forums, as well as in more traditional venues. Her recently published poetry volume, Geographies of Light, won the Del Sol Press Poetry Prize. She is also co-editor of three collections of critical essays: Going Global: The Transnational Reception of Third World Women Writers (Garland/Routledge 2000), Etel Adnan: Critical Essays on the Arab-American Writer and Artist (McFarland Publishing 2002), and Intersections: Gender, Nation and Community in Arab Women's Novels (Syracuse University Press, 2002).

Majaj appeared on the panel Women & War/Women & Peace: International Voices duing 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!

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