Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Putting the Blood Back into Words

In "On 9/11 and the Politics of Language: An Interview with Martin Espada," Espada discusses his poem "Alabanza," written for the workers in the restaurant who died in the terrorist attacks, and also the politics of language around 9/11 more generally. One nugget:

What I want to do as a poet is to reconcile language with meaning, to bring them back together again. A phrase like enhanced interrogation or, for that matter, weapons of mass destruction removes the blood from words, drains the blood from words. Our job, whether we are poets, activists, or teachers, is to put the blood back into the words, so the words are once again vivid, alive and charged with meaning.

Monday, August 29, 2011

From Louisa Thomas' "Give Peace a Chance" op-ed

From Louisa Thomas' "Give Peace a Chance," that appeared in the New York Times on August 27, 2011 (thanks to Tim Musser for sending it along):

FOR the most part, though, nonviolence and pacifism in the United States are today discredited as utopian, hippieish or narrowly religious, more anti-American than anti-war. There are still people who say that force only destroys, that its consequences are uncontrollable, that it is unethical — but those critiques trouble us on the margins, or in books or movies. There are still a few antiwar groups (not all of them pacifist) — the War Resisters League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Albert Einstein Institution — but hardly any serious public figures take the stage to defend their views.

Some of what the American peace movement fought for has come to pass: there is no draft, there are no special taxes raised to pay for war, the threat of nuclear Armageddon has receded and the country plays a leading, if controversial, role in multilateral institutions. Rooting out terrorists and intervening in civil conflicts, soldiers often do more police work than conventional combat.

The results have been mixed, though, and in some ways at odds with pacifism’s longer-term goals. Most people don’t want to think of war, and thanks to the lack of a draft, most don’t have to. Huge worldwide protests against sending soldiers into Iraq in 2003 were a sideshow for many people. Significant antiwar sentiment over the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has mostly challenged the time, the place, the conduct and the costs of deployment, not the use of force itself. Those who are on active duty — less than one percent of the population — and their families bear most of the burdens.

Such complacency has allowed for the possibility of unending war. Because of the nature of intelligence gathering and weapons technology like drones, the government can use deadly force without popular support or approval. The president has claimed — and we have given him — extraordinary powers.

We should respect the sacrifices of soldiers and the complexity of governing in a dangerous world. But war has a way of coming home, eroding our democratic culture as well as our safety. American pacifists of the past knew that, and we need people like them today: people who don’t believe war is inevitable, who will challenge what we assume and accept, and who will work to end it.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Two Versions of President Bush's Initial Response to 9/11: Bush vs. Moore

As we near the 10th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the nation begins the necessary memorializing of that terrible event, we need to pay attention to what it is that our public gatherings propose to remember, and what gets left off the page of memory, outside of the frame. Recently, National Geographic interviewed President George W. Bush about that fateful day, and some of his comments articulated some degree of regret about the "fog of war" that surrounded those hectic hours when no one quite knew the extent of the attack.

In the first video, we have Bush recounting the events, narrating his first person impressions as he recalled them; in it, Bush is very much the self-branded decider, issuing orders, "intently listening" to the teacher's lesson, etc. In the second video, if you watch 16:34-19:39, we have Michael Moore's take on the same events; here, the voiceovers by Moore brand the President as a nitwit who has suddenly realized his utter helplessness, and is frozen in place, a deer in the headlights of history, unable to act.

At this point, if this were my classroom, I'd ask you to decide what you think of each take. The moderates among you may suggest the "truth" is somewhere in the middle of Bush and Moore. What it reminds us is that it was difficult not to feel some anger at the failure of the powerful to take the terrorist threat seriously.

"The Seinfeld Analog"

The Seinfeld Analog from Bresland on Vimeo.

I've never liked "Seinfeld," for reasons that mostly evade me now. Perhaps it hit when I wasn't really watching television--during college, during a year out of the country, etc. Though I was one of those graduate students in the 1990s who saw pop cultural artifacts as the juiciest of texts to theorize, "Seinfeld" seemed to celebrate the narcissism of the culture through its profoundly narcissistic characters--all of whom the audience was invited to laugh at. Like a sitcom version of the Jerry Springer show, the audience was allowed to feel smugly superior to the jackassery of the fumbling Elaine, the ridiculous Kramer, etc.

John Bresland's fascinating video essay, "The Seinfeld Analog" juxtaposes three motifs--his obsession with a fast car from his youth, the genocide in Rwanda, and Seinfeld; through this juxtaposition, we see how difficult it is to navigate the insularity of our own culture in the face of our connectedness and distance to global catastrophes. He doesn't propose to judge Seinfeld or us, but simply to hold a mirror to our cultural conundrum.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Barbara Crooker's "Rewind"

I'm about to complete my syllabus for the course, "After 9/11," and this poem came across my digital desk from Split This Rock, a wish-poem for the life previous to 9/11. I'm intrigued to hear how students who were less than 10 years old experienced September 11, 2001...Stay tuned for more details...


Oh, how we'd like to put this video in slow rewind,
go back to September 10th, refurl the chrysanthemum
of ash to a bud, pull the towers back up
from their soft collapse, harden their sides,
slap cement on with our bare hands, smooth it flat
with a trowel, return the sky to its flawless blue,
no plume of black smoke, just windows glittering
in the September sun, office workers breaking
for coffee and bagels, the world's commerce
humming on. Let the planes remain in their hangars.
Let the men who plan harm get caught in traffic,
misplace their tickets, miss their connections.
Let us all sleep again at night.

-Barbara Crooker

Used by permission.

Barbara Crooker's books are Radiance, winner of the 2005 Word Press First Book Award and finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize; Line Dance (Word Press, 2008), winner of the 2009 Paterson Award for Excellence in Literature; and More (C&R Press, 2010). Her poems appear in a variety of literary journals and many anthologies, including Good Poems for Hard Times (Penguin, 2006) and Good Poems, American Places (Viking, 2011) -- both edited by Garrison Keillor -- and the Bedford Introduction to Literature.

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

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

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Thinking of Khaled Mattawa During the Siege of Tripoli

Libyan-American poet Khaled Mattawa appeared on the PBS NewsHour in March 2011, and the rebels are now in Tripoli, attempting to take down one of the longest-lasting dictators in the Middle East. I've been thinking of Khaled ever since the rebellion began, in his hometown of Benghazi, many months ago, thinking with the mixed feelings of one who wishes for dictatorships to fall, but also wishes that it doesn't require force of arms or Western involvement, which always comes with so many seen and unseen strings.

I wish good wishes for Khaled, on today his birthday, and for the Libyan people--that they may make a transition to a free and democratic society without the torrent of blood and retribution that so often comes with coups, that the promise of the future is not loaned to the empires of the past.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

D. Boon's Mom is Awesome

Finally got the chance to watch this documentary of the band, the Minutemen, and heard again the story of D. Boon's mother's encouraging him and Mike Watt to play music, and allowing them to practice in the house despite the unholy racket they created. Some of the best noise ever made in rock and roll, actually. And D. Boon is, as far as I'm concerned, as one of the best agit-prop poets ever to sing (or bellow, in his case).

David Rees, on the 20th anniversary of D. Boon's death, wrote a litany of thoughts, in Minutemen fashion, on one of the heroes of American punk rock:
That song's jarring first line: "Let the products sell themselves / fuck advertising, commercial psychology / psychological methods to sell should be destroyed," is the greatest first line of a song of all time.

-The band's political lyrics, printed on album covers without line breaks or capital letters, like James Frey channeling Noam Chomsky, are the greatest political lyrics of all time:

"I saw some military hardware today they changed the color olive drab to yellow/brown/gray the color of our dead the color of our glory"

-The band's other lyrics, many of which were combined with brief, angular melodies to create remarkably accurate approximations of what Western intellectual thought actually sounds like, are the greatest other lyrics of all time:

"starting with the affirmation of man I work myself backwards using cynicism (the time monitor, the space measurer)"...

That D. Boon's bassist and best friend, Mike Watt, still plays bass, writes music, and tours the country in a Ford Econoline van; and that Mike Watt ends his gigs with the exhortation to "start your own band, paint your own picture, write your own book"--twenty years after his friend's death broke his heart--and that Mike Watt continues to champion this D.I.Y. punk philosophy while many other punks have burnt out, grown soft, or given up; and that Mike Watt (I imagine) perseveres in part to honor his brilliant friend's brief life and the possibilities bequeathed to future musicians, artists, activists, punks and outsiders--is one of the greatest American success stories of all time.

"Our band could be your life."

D. Boon is dead. Long live D. Boon.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cleveland Peace Show! featuring Peace Poetry...

10th Annual Cleveland Peace Show
Labor Day, Monday, September 5th at the Free Stamp

10th Annual Cleveland Peace Show is on September 5th from 12:00PM - 6:00PM. As always, the Peace Show is at the Free Stamp, corner of E. 9th and Lakeside, in downtown Cleveland. And, as always, it's free - details

Performers this year include Early Girl, Deborah Van Kleef, E&JNtoxicated, Zak, and Revolution Brass Band. A key feature of this show will be Peace Poetry. Come for the children's activities, music and lots of activists; the Bloodmobile will be onsite for donations as well. The Eyes Wide Open display of boots representing Ohio's lost servicemen and women will be featured.

Rain location: St. Paul's Community Church, 4427 Franklin (W. 45th & Franklin), Cleveland.

Volunteers needed...We need help leafletting at fairs and festivals in August; call 216-932-8546 for details.

Folks, this year's Peace Show will feature some poets from the area, including Kazim Ali, Philip Metres, Mary Weems, and others!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Treasonous Poems That Name the "Enemy" Dead

Check out this review by Maureen Doallas, of John Siddique's book of poems, Full Blood, in which exists one poem--which lists names of the "enemy dead" in Afghanistan--which would be treasonous to read aloud in the United Kingdom.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Don Share's "At Home"

Here's Don Share's contribution to the Split This Rock series. In "At Home," Share echoes Elizabeth Bishop's "A Visit to St. Elizabeth's"--in which the poet employs "The House that Jack Built" nursery rhyme structure to capture the surreal meeting of the poet Ezra Pound in the asylum--to provide us with a comic scene of the wreck of domestic life (Ortega y Gassett: life is shipwreck). The poem suggests both the tenuousness and fragility of modern American life, and the greater fragility that appears on the doorstep, in the news of wars abroad.

At Home

Greetings to the red-eyed clouds
from this, the house that sits

on the mound and faces the corner
that marriage built, where wine

was drunk and semen flooded
the egg which lodged in the uterus

that built the daughter who greeted
the man and the woman here

in the mound at the corner in the house
that education built, and you

know from home-schooling
that the woman can be the teacher

and the man can be the tender child
and ditto the actual infant, depending

on her sex, dependent on love and
income; oh our dear dependent

is ruining the new chair in the house
that nested ambition built, along

with naked sense, and the beak
of god, the job of love, the hurt

of older homes, the hang
of it generally, the hands of pain,

the haze of Zoloft and the pudge
of Prozac, the twins of failed

marriages that manage to live on
in the ardor of our redone arbor

here in the house that books built,
that Yiddish and the Book of Common

Prayer built, that Presbyterian pride
built, that pogroms built, that blue

and white collars built, that Bildungs-
romans built, that the Biltmores built,

that mad dogs bayed at, that the baby
was born in that the cat bit and mouse

whispered within, over which, mortgaged,
the thunder caught its tongue and brought

great downpours upon while the coffee boiled,
while the paper, delivered late again, said:

We fight the terrorists abroad
so we don't have to fight them at home.

-Don Share

Used by permission.
Originally published in Squandermania
(Salt Publishing, 2007)

Don Share is Senior Editor of Poetry. His books include Squandermania; Union; and Seneca in English. Forthcoming are a new book of poems, Wishbone; a critical edition of Basil Bunting's poems; and Basil Bunting's Persia. His translations of Miguel Hernández, collected in I Have Lots of Heart, received the Times Literary Supplement Translation Prize and P.E.N./New England Discovery Award. With Christian Wiman, he has co-edited The Open Door: 100 Poems from 100 Years of Poetry.

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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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Poetry of Resilience: A New Documentary

Poetry of Resilience Excerpt from Penelope Pictures on Vimeo.

From the website:
'Poetry of Resilience' is a documentary by Academy Award®-nominated director Katja Esson about six international poets who individually survived Hiroshima, the Holocaust, China’s Cultural Revolution, the Kurdish Genocide in Iraq, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Iranian Revolution.

These six artists present us with a close-up perspective of the "wide shot" of political violence. Each story is powerful, but the film’s strength comes from its collective voice: different political conflicts, cultures, genders, ages, races – one shared human narrative.

Majid Naficy, who fought the Shah in Iran and then witnessed the murder of his family by forces of Ayatollah Khomeini, states: "Artistic creativity is the only thing left to you as a survivor."

"I wish I could say the human spirit is resilient," says Chinese poet Li-Young Lee, "some days I don’t think so."

Lillian Boraks-Nemetz knows why she survived the Holocaust: "I am a witness and I am telling the story."

Japanese poet, Yasuhiko Shigemoto, sums up his experience in one haiku:
"Still being alive / seems to be a sin for me. / Hiroshima Day."

The film takes us to memorial sites in Poland, Rwanda, and Hiroshima; we also travel to the clogged streets of New York City’s Chinatown and the boardwalks of Venice Beach. We witness the contrast between the voyages back to the poets’ home countries with their experiences of immigration and exile.

As we follow these survivors into their past and present lives we learn that they write for different reasons: to remember, to take revenge, to curse, to forgive, to honor, to commemorate, to transcend. For all, poetry was the gift that restored.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"Say Your Peace" Video Contest from September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows

Dear Friend

As an American, how do you think our nation, it leaders and citizens can promote alternatives to terrorism, violence and war?

September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows’ Say Your Peace Video Contest is your chance to share your ideas for supporting the U.S. Constitution and creating a more peaceful world for everyone. Winners in three age categories will each receive a cash prize of $1,000.

Maybe you’d like to talk about how respecting the rule of law is more important than ever today. Or, why we should honor our Constitution and protect our civil liberties. Or, why we should pursue alternatives to war? Or, how we can better support our Muslim and Sikh neighbors as well as others who have become targets of misplaced anger and violence in the wake of September 11th?

Create a 30-second video with your camera, cell phone, or other video device, and upload it to YouTube to enter it in our Say Your Peace Video Contest. Be as creative as you’d like, but remember that your video must be 30 seconds or less in order to be considered.

All entries must be received by August 31, 2011 and winners will be announced before September 11, 2011.

You can download the application or read the contest guidelines, eligibility requirements for how to enter the contest by visiting: www.PeacefulTomorrows-SayYourPeace.org.

You can follow the contest on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube Channel.

Help create peaceful tomorrows for everyone when you say your peace!

Thank You,
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Richard Foerster's "Savasana" on Poetry Daily

Richard Foerster's "Savasana" (pronounced "shavA-sanA") is a good poetic rendering of the so-called "corpse pose" in yoga. If he hasn't done a series of yoga pose poems, then someone should! I call Warrior. Once I started doing yoga about ten years ago, I knew that a door had been opened in me that I hadn't known existed. It was as if all the codes of Western masculinity had forgotten about the most basic human action: breathing (kin to being)...


The corpse I am become
lives in pure counter-
poise, between weight and
weightless tidal flow, its breath
osmotic, its pulse subsumed. Here
is death beyond fear, without
want of resurrection, unyoked

from hate or any spur to forgive,
where all the masks of God
melt into irrelevant silences.
Here the body surrenders all
tethers to the past, its crowns
and cups of woe, and hope's
a stain absolved of any future,

where the only present is presence,
a nothing that is everything stillness
yearns to inhabit, that lights
no way to or fro. Dark bliss!
Yet give me back, for now,
my stuttering heart, staccato air,
the buzzing contagions of the world.

Richard Foerster

Texas Review Press
reprinted at POETRY DAILY www.poems.com

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Melissa Tuckey's "University Kiss in a Time of War"

University Kiss in a Time of War

Two slight young women--
the smaller one
reaches for hands
leans close to give a kiss
to the taller girl
an in between things kiss
a so long for now kiss
and nothing breaks
no alarms are sounded
no one is injured
Other students pass without
comment or craning.
As the rain that's gentled
our spirits since morning.
But the giver of the kiss looks back,
a quick glance over her shoulder
as if she's learned
that kisses can be dangerous.
I'm reminded of children who live
on the border between wars,
how farmers pay them
to go to rocky fields and find
landmines. Small hands
mostly agile enough to keep the bombs
from exploding; the farmers
hungry to return to their fields.

- Melissa Tuckey
Used by permission.

Melissa Tuckey is the author of Rope as Witness, a chapbook published by Puddinghouse Press. She's received a Fine Arts Work Center residency, among other awards for her writing. Her poetry has been anthologized in DC Poets Against the War, Fire and Ink: An Anthology of Social Action Writing, Poets for Palestine, Days I Moved Through Ordinary Sounds: The Teachers of Writers Corps in Poetry and Prose, and is forthcoming in Ecopoetry: A Contemporary American Anthology. She is co-translator with Chun Ye and Fiona Sze-Lorrain of Chinese poet Yang Zi's collected works, which have been published by Conjunctions, Manoa, and Witness, among other journals. Tuckey serves as Poetry Editor at the online journal Foreign Policy in Focus (a think tank without walls). She teaches at Ithaca College, and lives in Ithaca, New York.

Tuckey has been with Split This Rock since its inception and served as a founding co-director. She now serves on the Board of Directors.

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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Support Split This Rock
Please support Split This Rock, the national network of activist poets. Donations are fully tax-deductible.
Click here to donate. Or send a check payable to "Split This Rock" to: Split This Rock, c/o Institute for Policy Studies, 1112 16th Street NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036. Many thanks!

Contact info@splitthisrock.org for more details or to become a sponsor.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Don't You Hear This Hammer Ring?

Open Call for Poems to Build a Bridge Across Our Fears

This fall marks the 10th anniversary of the horrific attacks of September 11 and of our country's militarized and repressive response. Split This Rock calls for poems to help us mark this somber occasion, poems that mourn, rage, imagine, speak out for a new future. We'll choose our favorite poems for Poem of the Week and post some to 10 Years + Counting, inviting peace and social justice groups nationwide to read the poems at their events and to use them in their organizing.

This call is open to all, whether or not you have attended a Split This Rock festival or have been previously featured.

Split This Rock began Poem of the Week in 2009 as a way of publicizing the poets to be featured in the 2010 festival. We later opened it to registered participants at Split This Rock festivals. 90 poems later (and counting), the series reaches an expansive audience of poets, activists, and dreamers.

Please send up to three short poems (poems of 40 lines or under work best) as a single Word document email attachment to: info@splitthisrock.org.
Include in the cover email your full contact information (name, address, phone, email address) and a bio of up to 75 words.
Poems may have been previously published in a book, chapbook, or print journal, but not on the web, please. If previously published, you must own the rights to the work. Please include the citation, including the web address of the publisher, so we may link to it.
Poems will be featured on a rolling basis.
This call is open to all, whether or not you have attended a Split This Rock festival or have been previously featured.
We will contact you if your poem is accepted to confirm details, and may request additional information at that time.
Questions? Please e-mail: info@splitthisrock.org