Friday, October 24, 2014

Poem of the Week: Sam Taylor

Past Tense

In the Great Depression of 2047,
a time of sorrow rivaled only
by the Global Unification Wars
of Spring 2029 to 2033,
in the Merlona Plague of 2104,
in the year of the forest die-off,
after the atmospheric hue reduction,
in the year of the last rebellion,
after the rise of the freeze gun,
after the Earth Liberation Army
went into hiding, after sorrow
was renamed, after the Ethiopians
became immune to cancer-
someone was born, and someone loved
in their names like grass
where the river sleeps
and the sky's tears were
a private thing
touched only in solitude.

And four out of five full bellies believed. 
And nine out of ten hungry mouths agreed.
And the ancient books that had never made sense
made no sense again and at last
ceased to be printed.  And all the words
fell out of the bibles in the night.
The pages were filled with a rain of leaves.
And the words that were left could not be read,
and so they acquired an air of sanctity
which they had never, in truth, possessed
in the daylight in the presence of men.

And someone in a field found an old car
from the year black with beetles, eaten like lace,
and the sky fell into it, a private thing.
And everyone had a kitchen or a fold-out bed
and a chair beside an open window,
and no one knew the hour, and no one knew the day,
but behind locked doors and curtains, they danced
to the music pumped through the walls
that no one could escape, and to that other music
that rose off the blood, that could not be silenced-
and so on and so forth-
and the seed of hope still had not vanished
from the face of the childless earth.

Used with permission.
From Nude Descending an Empire (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014). 

Sam Taylor is the author of two books of poems, Body of the World (Ausable/Copper Canyon Press) and Nude Descending an Empire (Pitt Poetry Series), and the recipient of the 2014-2015 Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, as well as other honors.  His work most frequently explores themes of mysticism, sexuality, ecology, politics, suffering, and the mystery of the world.  His recently released Nude Descending an Empire develops the lyrical voice of a citizen-poet engaged with politics, history, and the urgency of our contemporary moment.  Taylor is currently an Assistant Professor in the MFA program at Wichita State University.  See more at


The Poetry Contest Deadline Fast Approaches

Contest judge this year is the inimitable Natalie Diaz, author of When My Brother Was an Aztec (Copper Canyon Press, 2012). Diaz has been honored with the Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, the Louis Untermeyer Scholarship in Poetry from Bread Loaf, the Narrative Poetry Prize, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship. She was a featured poet at the 2014 Split This Rock Poetry Festival.

First prize $500, second and third prizes $250 each.

Sam Taylor is very kindly offering a copy of Nude Descending an Empire for up to three poets selected for honorable mentions in this, the 8th annual Split This Rock Poetry Contest.

For contest details and to submit your poems of provocation and witness, visit our website here

Contest Deadline: November 1st, 2014.


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Friday, October 17, 2014

Poem of the Week: Joseph O. Legaspi


Amphibians live in both.

Immigrants leave their land,
hardening in the sea.

Out of water.

In Greek, amphibian means
"on both sides of life."

Terra and aqua.  Shoreline.
In fresh water:

amphibians lay
shell-less eggs;
immigrants give birth
to Americans.

Tadpoles, polliwogs
metamorphose: gills
in early stages.  On land,

amphibians develop lungs.
Immigrants develop lungs.

Through damp skin
amphibians oxygenate.

Immigrants toil
and sleep breathlessly.

Skin forms glands. 
Eyes form eyelids.

Amphibians seek land; immigrants, other lands.

Their colors brighten, camouflage.

They've been known to fall
out of the sky.

Fully at home in the rain.

Used by permission.
Photo by Emmy Catedral.

Joseph O. Legaspi is the author of Imago(CavanKerry Press) and two chapbooks: Aviary, Bestiary (Organic Weapon Arts), winner of the David Blair Memorial Prize, and Subways (Thrush Press). Recent works appeared in,jubilatThe JournalPainted Bride Quarterly,BLOOM, and the anthology Coming Close (Prairie Lights/University of Iowa Press). He co-founded Kundiman (, a non-profit organization serving Asian American literature.

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

Friday, October 10, 2014

Poem of the Week: Jennifer Chang

Dorothy Wordsworth

The daffodils can go fuck themselves.
I’m tired of their crowds, yellow rantings
about the spastic sun that shines and shines
and shines. How are they any different

from me?  I, too, have a big messy head
on a fragile stalk.  I spin with the wind.
I flower and don’t apologize. There’s nothing
funny about good weather. Oh, spring again,

the critics nod. They know the old joy,
that wakeful quotidian, the dark plot
of future growing things, each one
labeled Narcissus nobilis or Jennifer Chang.

If I died falling from a helicopter, then
this would be an important poem. Then
the ex-boyfriends would swim to shore
declaiming their knowledge of my bulbous

youth. O, Flower, one said, why aren’t you
meat? But I won’t be another bashful shank.
The tulips have their nervous joie-de-vivre,
the lilacs their taunt. Fractious petals, stop

interrupting me with your boring beauty.
All the boys are in the field gnawing raw
bones of ambition and calling it ardor. Who
the hell are they? This is a poem about war.

Previously published in The Nation and then Best American Poetry 2012.
Used by permission.
Photo by Evan Rhodes. 

Jennifer Chang is the author of The History of Anonymity. Poems from a new manuscript have appeared in Best American Poetry 2012, Kenyon Review, The Nation, Poetry, A Public Space, The Rumpus, and have been featured on NPR's Morning Edition and the arts and culture blogs of the Chronicle of Higher Education and PBS NewsHour. She also writes about poetry for the Los Angeles Review of Books and is completing a critical study on race, pastoral, and American modernist poetics. She co-chairs the advisory board of Kundiman and is an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at George Washington University. She lives in DC with her husband and son.  

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

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Review: "Heart of A Comet" by Pages D. Matam

Pages D. Matam’s new book is a model of becoming the change you want to see, of living as if the revolution is over and a new world needs building -- now!

Much political poetry, and certainly much slam poetry, is structured on the observation-and-complaint model -- witness to injustice. In this age, when we feel as if we should have made more progress for the people and the ecology without which we are doomed, these poems of witness are more needed than we want. These poems turn our gaze out, to a world made accountable: a prejudice hard to escape, a power relation rusted into place, a history none of us can revise. The tensions of these poems are usually between the speaker and the world.
For all that outward gaze, however, the world of spoken word and slam poetry is a real community of mutual encouragement, appreciation of difference -- a culture where we become poetically honest in sometimes indecorous ways. Because safe haven is made for that honesty. The slam is, after all, a game. The poetry is what matters, the heart.
Heart of a Comet is born in slam, where the broken in you is welcome, where you can and must name what is breaking you, make it weak by its naming. The honesty of these poems is scouring-pad-to-skin intense. Even for this context, these poems are permission and challenge to turn the witness a little more inward, and the result is so transparent it almost hurts to read:
When you wake up drenched         in tomorrow’s amnesia,
your pulse still burning   
              filled with troubling memories
that reminds you that you are still human, that your heart is not a dandelion, so you must stop scattering yourself to pieces …
You’ll feel beaten down by the weight of your own galaxy
The shooting star emptying its clip into the sky on celestial drive-by;
But if we’re going to live on the shoulders of giants,
We will have to stop complaining of our fear of heights.
This poem arrives early in the first section of the book, called “Apology of a Confused Tornado, Part 1,” and it signals much of what is to come: motifs at once cosmic and personal, Matam's wit that interjects traditional and pop cliches into a confession of personal disaster, a sense of form that mixes and mingles elegantly and at will.
These elements mix with lines clearly in the slam form -- “But drinking more Absolute only made me more obsolete” -- that roll onto the more difficult, and arresting, cadence of a “fiendish appetite for earthquakes at the dripping enjambment of a woman.” There are moments in these poems when the onslaughts of linguistic and symbolic bounce are hard to keep up with.
But this brings me to the matter of theme. The poems present us with a man rebuilding his masculinity from one fractured by immigration, linguistic alienation, racism, victimization, and self-punishment to one still mending but radically changed. A man who chooses to father another man’s son, a man who saves himself from his addictions, a man whose god is feminine and for whom women have become whole and human, a man who puts himself up against the imago of corporate hip-hop and burns it to a crisp.
A series of prose allegories cast the poet as Comet, the son as Sol, the woman as Sky, and the larger (unfriendly) culture as the Fog. The tropes are clearly meant to place this personal drama on the cosmic scale, and this conceit is well placed. When it’s your life on the line, the stakes are cosmic, for you, for your little human constellation. The extended metaphor supports the poetic tension of the whole book. We are discrete beings, but we are also completely part of the larger universe, each other. Our being affects all beings.
The allegorical Comet, paradoxically, zooms through the solar system and lives in a city imbued with a fog of wrong ideas and dead or dying hearts. Matam uses this allegory to think through a transformation, the wrenching tear-down-to-studs that we hazily call “personal growth.”
The Fog has a number of problems with black men, with post-colonial black immigrant men to boot, one of the deepest of which is the matter of carnality, of sexuality. On one hand, an Anglocentric culture wants to reduce black men to their bodies, their sexuality or their violence, and then wants to punish them for its own inability to see much else in them. Matam’s honesty addresses this carnality full-on in beautifully rendered metaphors that are impolitely honest about sex, about the gorgeous fall into the Right Here of the body.
But, the Divine Feminine can be an easy ocean in which to drown. This being a complicated masculinity, rather than the consumer-friendly kind, it exposes the abandonment that can hide in the worship of women as source, as mask. Her orgasm can be his false sense of value. These are not things admitted in the larger culture. Poems titled “Lovemaking Is a Flightless Bird in a Burning Pit” are not the kind of poems about sex that men are “supposed” to write.
On the other hand, Matam’s Comet reminds us that a poet bent on seduction, especially for self-deluding purposes, is a dangerous creature. Embedded in the realization story of Comet we are presented with a barrage of compliments few women would dismiss:
The fire in your eyes potty trained the big bang at gunpoint. The wrinkles in your hands taught phoenixes of resurrection. I have a heart full of ashes ready to Holy-Ghost dance anew at your beckoning call … Allow my lips to learn your bow-legged truth, squeezing your parabolas into a symphony of waves … You make me feel like I mean something.                                                                                                                                                                   
These poems render sensuality as spiritual revelation and as addicting escape. We witness a man’s evolution from soul-killing abandon to tentative learning of love, to really, really blowing it, to rebuilding from the atom outward a whole, more engaged self. In charting this exploration, Matam gives us permission to say – out loud -- that we know what That is. We are rebuilding ourselves for the sake of the world we want to live in. Matam's poems are the rebuttal to every thin, easy, profitable lie ever laid over the black male self by an Anglocentric culture jealous of its status.
Matam is not working on the revolution in this book, but on what comes after. He’s got witness, and complaint, and analysis -- he’s a master of his genre -- but more importantly, his poems chronicle a question: If I don’t want to be what they think I am, or don’t want to live my pain as self-destruction; then how shall I love myself in a country that does not love me, and how shall I live my love as a whole life?
This is what I love most in Matam’s poems. Beyond the formal dexterity, the complex echoes and refrains through the book, the bravely (pointedly) incomplete allegories of the prose poems -- I love that this book is a model of becoming the change you want to see, of living as if the revolution is over and a new world needs building -- now! We do need to live as if, and become our selves replete -- or we’ll just make another muddle of it. More poems of evolution, more poems of enjoyment of our new being and living, more witness of what is loving and nourishing and brave.
… poetry is another name for heartbreak
and just like air
  or a home
     or a chorus
         or a memory
it will fill
until there is no more room
to expand
and you must find somewhere new to

Write Bloody publishes many page-stage poets, and page poets, and fiction writers on the condition that they tour hard like an indie rock band to promote their own work. Pages Matam is touring now, so buy his book and help fund the tour!
To purchase a copy of this visionary work, visit Pages’s site here.
Written by Simone Roberts, Split This Rock Poetry and Social Justice Fellow, a feminist activist, and a scholar of post-symbolist / hybrid poetics and feminist phenomenology.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Poem of the Week: Wendell Berry

2008, XII 

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…
                             Hosea 4:6

We forget the land we stand on
and live from. We set ourselves
free in an economy founded
on nothing, on greed verified
by fantasy, on which we entirely
depend.  We depend on fire
that consumes the world without 
lighting it.  To this dark blaze
driving the inert metal
of our most high desire
we offer our land as fuel,
thus offering ourselves at last
to be burned. This is our riddle
to which the answer is a life
that none of us has lived.

From This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems published by Counterpoint Press.  
Used by permission.

Wendell Berry is a beloved American writer, a novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer.  The author of more than 40 books, his most recent publications include: Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder (Counterpoint), 2014; This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems (Counterpoint), 2013; and A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership (Counterpoint), 2012.  He lives with his wife, Tanya Berry, on their farm in Port Royal, Kentucky. 

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

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Poem of the Week: Chen Chen

Set the Garden on Fire

for Jeanette Li

My friend’s new neighbors in the suburbs
are planting a neat row of roses
between her house & theirs.

Her neighbors smile, say the roses are part
of a community garden project, that’s all.
But they whisper, too—whisper plans for trees,
a wall of them. They plant rumors
that her house is hiding illegals, when it’s aunts
& uncles, visiting. They grow tall accusations
fed by talk radio, that her house was bought
with drug money, not seventeen years of woks
sizzling, people serving, delivering, filing,
people scrubbing, refilling, running—her family
running the best restaurant in town.
Like with your family, my friend says, once we
moved in, they stopped calling us
hardworking immigrants.
Friend, let’s really move in, let’s

plunge our hands into the soil.
Plant cilantro & strong tomatoes,
watermelon & honey-hearted cantaloupe,
good things, sweeter than any rose. 
Let’s build the community garden
that never was. Let’s call the neighbors
out, call for an orchard, not a wall.
Trees with arms free, flaming
into apple, peach, pear—every imaginable,
edible fire.

Come friend, neighbor,
you, come set the garden on fire
with all our hard-earned years, tender labor
of being here, ceaseless & volcanic
making of being here, together. 

Used by permission.

Chen Chen is a University Fellow in poetry at Syracuse University, where he also serves as Poetry Editor for Salt Hill. His work has appeared/is forthcoming in The Massachusetts Review, DIAGRAM, Connotation Press, PANK, Chelsea Station, CURA: A Literary Magazine of Art & Action, Nepantla: A Journal for Queer Poets of Color, among other places. He has received fellowships from Kundiman, Tent: Creative Writing, and the Saltonstall Foundation.

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

Friday, September 19, 2014

Poem of the Week: Ross Gay

Photo of Ross Gay

To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian

Tumbling through the
city in my
mind without once
looking up 
the racket in
the lugwork probably
rehearsing some
stupid thing I
said or did
some crime or
other the city they
say is a lonely
place until yes
the sound of sweeping
and a woman
yes with a 
broom beneath
which you are now
too the canopy
of a fig its 
arms pulling the
September sun to it
and she
has a hose too
and so works hard
rinsing and scrubbing
the walk
lest some poor sod
slip on the 
silk of a fig
and break his hip
and not probably
reach over to gobble up
the perpetrator 
the light catches
the veins in her hands 
when I ask about 
the tree they 
flutter in the air and
she says take
as much as
you can 
help me
so I load my 
pockets and mouth
and she points
to the step-ladder against 
the wall to
mean more but
I was without a 
sack so my meager
plunder would have to 
suffice and an old woman
whom gravity
was pulling into
the earth loosed one
from a low slung 
branch and its eye
wept like hers
which she dabbed
with a kerchief as she
cleaved the fig with
what remained of her
teeth and soon there were
eight or nine 
people gathered beneath
the tree looking into
it like a 
constellation pointing
do you see it
and I am tall and so
good for these things
and a bald man even 
told me so 
when I grabbed three
or four for 
him reaching into the 
giddy throngs of
yellow-jackets sugar 
stoned which he only
pointed to smiling and
rubbing his stomach
I mean he was really rubbing his stomach
like there was a baby 
in there
it was hot his
head shone while he 
offered recipes to the 
group using words which 
I couldn’t understand and besides
I was a little
tipsy on the dance
of the velvety heart rolling
in my mouth
pulling me down and
down into the
oldest countries of my 
body where I ate my first fig
from the hand of a man who escaped his country
by swimming through the night 
and maybe
never said more than
five words to me
at once but gave me
figs and a man on his way
to work hops twice
to reach at last his
fig which he smiles at and calls 
baby, c’mere baby,
he says and blows a kiss
to the tree which everyone knows
cannot grow this far north
being Mediterranean
and favoring the rocky, sun-baked soils
of Jordan and Sicily
but no one told the fig tree
or the immigrants
there is a way
the fig tree grows
in groves it wants,
it seems, to hold us,
yes I am anthropomorphizing
goddammit I have twice
in the last thirty seconds
rubbed my sweaty 
forearm into someone else’s
sweaty shoulder
gleeful eating out of each other’s hands
on Christian St.
in Philadelphia a city like most
which has murdered its own 
this is true
we are feeding each other 
from a tree
at the corner of Christian and 9th
strangers maybe 
never again.

From American Poetry Review, May/June 2013.
Used by permission

Ross Gay is a gardener and teacher living in Bloomington, Indiana.  This poem is from his forthcoming book, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015).

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