Tuesday, December 23, 2008
another Inauguration poem
Got up this morning, doffed my pyjamas
And penned this poem for Barack Obama's
Oodles and oodles of happy fans
Leaping and shouting their "Yes, we can!"s....
"Und so weiters" (Berlin), "et ceterae" (old Rome),
"Et plus encore"s! (Paris)---until I got home
& found that our porridge had been quite et up
By Bushes and Madoffs in Goldilocks get up!
The Bull Market now has turned to a Bear
& the Bankers are saying there's nothing there
For the homeless, the sick and the heart-broken poor
Who patiently stand by the Great Golden Door
That sweet Emma said would be opened to all.
Remember them, Barack, at your Inaugural
& save ‘em a dance at the President’s Ball.
Henry Braun & Jim Watt
Monday, December 22, 2008
Split This Rock has joined up with Institute for Policy Studies to call on Congress to include the arts in its stimulus package. We need your help!
We're asking that one percent of the stimulus plan be dedicated towards support for the arts in a program modeled after the WPA program that employed thousands of artists and writers during the 1930s.
Artists and writers are part of the economy and the work we do changes lives, unfortunately, artists and writers also tend to be underemployed and undervalued for their work. This is an opportunity to restore NEA funding, get artists and writers back into our schools, libraries and other public spaces, and create new opportunities for the arts.
Take a moment, please, and sign our petition and send word along to friends. I apologize for giving you work to do during the holidays but Congress aims for the stimulus plan to be on Obama's desk his first day in office.
Sign our petition today and share it with friends.
Thanks and best wishes,
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Obama’s election has given the Italians hope that they can kick Berlusconi and the neo-fascists out next. There are demonstrations here in Rome almost every week — against cuts in the education budget, the national research budgets, against racism and anti-immigrant sentiment… Political posters are everywhere — it’s a very charged atmosphere. Apparently, though, the opposition is divided: the Communists march one weekend and the Partito Democratico marches the next. (Sound familiar, peace movement?) Progressives have felt despairing of any possibility of change. Still they march. Here are the Communists passing in front of the Colosseum, Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls of Fire blaring from the loudspeaker:
But now, for a change, the American people have given them hope. Here’s a poster the Democraticos got up within two days of the election: The World Changes.
Melissa asked us to think about the implications of the election for our poetry. I have to admit I find this a daunting challenge. I always write as the words and images rise up in me, not in a conscious way toward a political – or even poetic – agenda. If I try to do so, the words lie flat and lifeless on the page. I know our spirits have shifted. I hope some of the despair that some of us have been feeling is lifting.
But I also remember the great relief on the left when Bill Clinton was elected, bringing an end to 12 years of Reagan-Bush. Even though we knew at the time we had an imperfect president. We were tired, with good reason, and we let up. The temptation will be even greater now, with a President Obama. But change in our daily lives will not come rapidly. Children will still be dying at our hands in Iraq. Families will still be going without supper up the street in Washington, DC. Mothers will be working two jobs to pay their health care bills. Hope will dissolve into despair as dramatic change does not arrive quickly. Our jails will remain full. Our streets will be violent. The great disparity in wealth will continue to tear our country apart. Race, social class, gender, sexual orientation, variation in physical ability – these differences will sometimes still seem insurmountable, like walls in a fairy tale we thought we had torn down in the evening, only to wake to see them rebuilt in the morning.
And so I believe that our fundamental task as activists and, when the words arise, as poets, has not changed. Adrienne Rich exhorts us: “to insist in our art on the depth and complexity of our lives, to keep on creating the account of our lives, in poems and stories and scripts and essays and memoirs that are as rich and strange as we are ourselves. Never to bend toward or consent to be rewarded for trivializing ourselves, our people, or each other.” (From Points of Departure: International Writers on Writing and Politics, Interviews by David Montenegro.)
As Salman Rushdie has said, “A poet's work is to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep.” I am very proud of our work of the past five years, especially of keeping voices of hope and visions of possibility alive in the darkest of times. I’m proud of the poets who’ve kept the world from going to sleep. Let us celebrate and savor this victory. And then let us also keep doing what we do well: starting arguments, pointing at frauds, taking sides, helping to shape this new world, in our poetry, in our communities, and in our daily lives.
Sarah Browning is Co-Director, with Melissa Tuckey, of Split This Rock and author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden. She’d be delighted to hear from you during her semi-sabbatical year in Italy (though she can’t promise an immediate response, as her internet access is spotty and there are just too many ancient ruins and medieval churches to be visited... she asks that you be patient with her.) She can be reached at: email@example.com.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Obama won the presidency. The night was revelatory, ecstatic, transformative, amazing, unbelievable said the people I talked to that night, which also happened to be the first night of my video camera ownership experience. Standing in front of the White House, as I tried to control the zooming, I recorded the gathering of a small group of friends from southern California who expressed relief that health care help was on the way. I managed to hold a steady frame on two serious young men from the Netherlands who predicted an improved image for the U.S. abroad. Less of the rough conqueror image, one said. An older woman from AFL-CIO, who canvassed for Eugene McCarthy in 1964, felt vindicated. Another woman, younger, was pleased by the turnout of voters, especially among young people. A man wearing a suit and a very wide grin exclaimed what felt like a personal accomplishment at having won by states – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Wisconsin, New Mexico – to name a few. On the screen in the lobby behind him, Jesse Jackson was seen crying.
As I review the 35 minutes of wobbly footage, the insights of people witnessing this time and place in history, I am struck by the background noise. For the most part, the background consists of loud, long shouting. There was high young shouting of 20-something women. There was my partner Bob, who, by the nature of our relationship, was heard frequently with his arms-raised baritone bellow. An abundance of AH and OO sounds overall. Nasal and guttural. There was also a delightful whistle I especially liked. A gym whistle wielded by an older man with the enthusiasm of a 13 year old boy. He whistled and waved. He whistled and jumped. He wanted to make some noise, he said. He was adorable.
Beneath this din of the long tone – high, low, and shrill – was a three-syllable beat. I don't think it was randomly chosen. It was heard in chants as well as in accompanying rhythm. One chant everybody outside that night could hear over and over was his name, the incantation of our leader in rally-style fervor. It was heard most certainly inside the walls of the White House (a friend who writes for the Washington Post tells me the White House is not sound proof. You cannot see into or out of the windows, but you can hear noise from the street.) The chant of our three-syllable President-elect's name echoed all the way to the ears of the deposed. Deposed is not quite right, but the feeling that we have overcome, that we have triumphed against tyranny and injustice; that we organized a critical segment of the state apparatus, which we then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder . . . this was nothing short of a coup d'état. But as I was saying, it was his name, O-BA-MA,O-BA-MA, O-BA-MA we heard on the rain-soaked streets, under the red, yes red, sky.
The second of the two chants was YES-WE-DID (formerly YES-WE-CAN.) A remarkably effective cheer, not unlike the songs played in the bleachers during high school and college basketball games. YES-WE-DID has the persistence of a marching tune but for it's 3-beat time. A waltz has a 3-beat, or 3 / 4 time. In the 19th century the waltz primarily indicated that the dance was a turning one, the dancers rotating rather than proceeding straight forward. The celebration on the night of November 4th 2008 was certainly about turning, about changing directions and stepping away from the previous path.
People in the crowd in front of the White House were mostly young, tirelessly cheering past midnight. But there were some standing in the back against the chain-link fence who have seen many elections. I approached an older African-American man and his two adult sons for comment. I'm ecstatic, said one son. The other asked his Dad if he wanted to say anything. He declined and looked up at the rain coming down. Tears of joy? Exactly, said the son.
Along with O-BA-MA and YES-WE-DID we heard the three-beat rhythm in claps, in drums and in police sirens. We saw police when they stopped their cars to close off a street to traffic as it filled with people; police who were smiling and hugging one another (a cadet was directing traffic in her Obama t-shirt) and blowing their blow horn-ish loud speaker brap, brap, braps. Cars and their horns contributed to the chanting. Some stuck to the three beats. Many had their own signature rhythm. All could be heard throughout the city. I know this because my friend Yael and I had to walk home from the White House. No busses. No taxis. Three miles of car horns, flag waving, long tone shouting and three beat shouting. When we got close to U St., the neighborhood we live in, a new crowd appeared. Another dancing-in-the-streets celebration. The same chants.
The same drums. This election. This historical night. We made history. Yes we did. Yes we did.
Eleanor Graves holds an MFA in Poetry from George Mason University. She was the recipient of the Mary Rinehart Prize for Poetry in 2005 and was awarded a Thesis Fellowship by George Mason University the same year. Her poems have appeared in Phoebe, Practice: New Writing + Art, and in Hayden’s Ferry Review. She has led poetry workshops for young people at the Freer and Sackler Galleries and for grown-ups at the Split this Rock Festival. Eleanor currently leads workshops for the non-profit writing group, Capitol Letters.
Eleanor hopes to get her video online of the
festivities in DC online as soon as she sorts out the technology
Friday, November 14, 2008
When the news came across the wires that Senator Barack Obama had been elected the 44 The president of the United States I was busy teaching a graduate workshop in nonfiction writing at the University Of Idaho where I had been invited as a kind of smarty pants out of town guest writer. If you know anything about the United States you likely know that Idaho is one of the reddest of the red zones and that only Utah has more Mormon residents. Add Pentecostal groups and John Birchers and various militias and you get the general picture. Rumor has it that my graduate class of ten (most of whom were from somewhere other than Idaho) actually doubled the number of big D or small d Democrats in the state.
I raced back to my hotel along with a troupe of students hoping to get to hear Obama’s victory speech. Oh victors! Have you ever experienced an overdose of shadenfreude? The snug and airless cocktail lounge was filled with sulking and sputtering Republicans, most of them men, all of them pink and large and wearing dark business suits.
Oh victors! How these Munchkins stirred their respective tumblers of Cutty Sark and how they sneered as we tried to turn up the barroom widescreen TV. One of our group challenged them thusly:”We’ve endured 8 years of your leadership you can endure at least 4 years of ours!”
The pink men snickered, went vocal, hissing like snakes. One of them sounded like he had a bolus of crow stuck in his windpipe. They refused to let us hear the speech by hooting and generally carrying on like the contestants on a game show. “I’ll take the gas grill and the Broyhill sofa and I’ll take advertising for fifty!” They babbled and whined in order that those of us who were hoping to hear the most historic acceptance speech in American history would be locked out.
And of course that’s just it. We weren’t locked out at all. We knew ourselves to be part of the most energizing and groundbreaking coalition of voters in U.S. history. We were finally winners after two suspicious national elections.
Oh victors, you can’t overdose on shadenfreude no matter what Aristotle might have said on the subject. Pain in others is one of the elements both of comedy and tragedy but last Tuesday night there in the bar of the Moscow, Idaho Best Western the suffering of the McCain supporters was a clear representation of what it felt like to be out of step with America.
Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Only Bread, Only Light, a collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, and of the memoirs Planet of the Blind and Eavesdropping. He was a featured poet at Split This Rock in 2008. Visit his blog at www.planet-of-the-blind.com
Our journey doesn't end here. There is so much work to be done just to undo the damage of the last eight years, it will take all of us.
In Washington, DC, the streets on election night were jubilant. I've never experienced anything like it. It was like walking through a Whitman poem—everyone embracing one another in celebration of our expanding democracy. One by one they came, until every street was occupied by chanting joyful people. In front of the White House, pure glee. We were every color, every ethnicity, every age that night and none were strangers!
The next day was more sobering—propositions to deny the rights of same sex couples to marry were passed in several states, including proposition 8 in California. And then began the Obama appointments, which have already disappointed.
For now though—let there be joy. Let our poems break boundaries in their joy.
Something large has changed in our country, how will we put it into words? This is our time to reclaim language. To reclaim community. To reclaim hope. We have work to do. How shall we begin?
Posted by: Melissa, Tuckey, Co-Director, Split This Rock
Thursday, August 14, 2008
“’Me or him’
that’s how war starts. But
it ends in an awkward stance:
‘Me and him’”
--from A State of Seige, translated by Fady Joudah, 2002
On Saturday, this past week, the world lost one of its great poets when Mamoud Darwish passed away due to complications following heart surgery in Houston, Texas.
The loss has an extra sting for us here at Split This Rock in that the evening before he died we were joyfully discussing the possibilities for poets to invite to our 2010 Festival and all agreed the first person on our list would be Mahmoud Darwish, and we also agreed that it as central to our mission to include international voices on our stage.
Darwish embodied so much of what it is we admire—a necessary poet, as well as essayist, who put to words—resistance to occupation, the desire of Palestinian people to live as equals in their own country. All the while, Darwish wrote with an attention to craft and a poet’s sensibilities, writing prolifically in a wide range of styles, inventive throughout his life.
Here are some links to obituaries and editorials that have been shared with us:
There's also a great video on youtube from AlJazeera. The video is at
Darwish is loved throughout the world, only recently coming to the attention of American readers with several excellent translations of his work in the past ten years or so, including most recently, “The Buttrerfly’s Burden,” which includes his recent three books, translated by Palestinian American poet and Yale Younger Prize winner, Fady Joudah.
I first encountered Darwish in an anthology called “This Same Sky” a collection of poems selected by Naomi Shihab Nye. The poem that knocked me out is called “The Prison Cell."
I read it whenever I begin to doubt that poetry can make a difference. Thank you Mahmoud Darwish for this gift and many more!
The Prison Cell
It is possible…
It is possible at least sometimes…
It is possible especially now
To ride a horse
Inside a prison cell
And run away…
It is possible for prison walls
For the cell to become a distant land
-What did you do with the walls?
-I gave them back to the rocks.
-And what did you do with the ceiling?
-I turned it into a saddle.
-And your chain?
-I turned it into a pencil.
The prison guard got angry.
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn’t care for poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.
He came back to see me
In the morning,
He shouted at me:
-Where did all this water come from?
-I brought it from the Nile.
-And the trees?
-From the orchards of Damascus.
-And the music?
-From my heartbeat.
The prison guard got mad;
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn’t like my poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.
But he returned in the evening:
-Where did this moon come from?
-From the nights of Baghdad.
-And the wine?
-From the vineyards of Algiers.
-And this freedom?
-From the chain you tied me with last night.
The prison guard grew so sad…
He begged me to give him back
Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Ben Bennani
Please share a favorite poem or quote from Darwish or a comment about how this poet has had an impact on your life or work. We invite you to post below.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
This is a question that we might want to ask America in 2008.
The sickness of war surrounds us.
Do we want to be well?
One would hope that poets can be healers like Minnie Ransom.
We know the power of the word.
Many of us have been touched by the word.
It's language that holds us together.
It's an honor to be invited to read at Split This Rock Poetry Festival; to read at this historical moment.
I gave my very first poetry reading back in 1969, just down the street at All Soul's Church. I read with poets Ebon and Carolyn Rogers. The musician Marion Brown was there. Brown had once played with John Coltrane.
We were all witnesses back then; artists giving testimony to a new consciousness.
Today poets gather at Split This Rock to voice opposition to war. To proclaim the wellness that flows from peace.
We lift our voices to sing.
And to quote Prince - "This is what it sounds like when doves cry."
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Originally uploaded by Split This Rock Poetry Festival
Naomi Shihab Nye, Melissa Tuckey, Regie Cabico, Sarah Browning, Jamie Jarvis, Yael Flusberg, Alix Olson
Part of the gang after the final day of Split This Rock 2008. Check out more photos on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/splitthisrock/ - we're adding more every day.
Monday, May 12, 2008
I’m a participant in the third annual daylong writing marathon sponsored by the New York Writers Coalition, an organization that offers groundbreaking creative writing workshops to the city’s under-served communities.
Beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 17 at Manhattan’s Center for Independent Publishing, I’ll take my place along other ambitious wordsmiths, and—energized by your generous pledge—will write and workshop for EIGHT WHOLE HOURS (interrupted only by breaks for toilette and light sustenance).
Who knows? I may even be able to finish that blank verse novella I’m writing for our soon-to-be-ex President George Bush. All single syllable words of no more than three letters. No complex contractions. Pages to color.
Please visit my donation page (http://www.firstgiving.com/wordwoman) and help me help the NYWC do their wondrous work, teaching the power of the written word to seniors, the homeless and at-risk youth. Once a word reaches the page, it’s ready for the open air. And once it reaches the open air, it belongs to everyone.
Thanks in advance for your huge heart. For more information about the NYWC, visit http://www.nywriterscoalition.org/.
Hugs from here,
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Here's a description from a local newspaper about yesterday's court proceedings.
oday we were all acquitted. Let civil resistance to this war thrive!
Local peace activists testify at Bangor trial
Robert Shetterly, left, and Doug Rawlings, two of the six people charged with criminal trespass and on trial for refusing to leave the office of U.S. Senator Susan Collins at the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in Bangor on March 7, 2007. The trial concludes Wednesday. (Lynn Ellis photo)
By Lee Sharkey
BANGOR - Two Farmington-area peace activists, Doug Rawlings and Henry Braun, had their day in court today.
Along with four other activists, they are on trial as a result of refusing to leave the Federal Building in Bangor, where Senator Susan Collins has an office, on March 7, 2007. They had come to the office to get Senator Collins, who had refused on numerous occasions to meet with them, to listen to their arguments for cutting off funding for the Iraq War.
Rawlings and Braun’s defense to the charge of criminal trespass is that their intent was not to break a law but to act on their responsibility as citizens to uphold a higher law, the Constitution of the United States, and to resist actions that undermine it. The United States is a signatory to the Nuremberg Principles, which define preemptive wars such as the Iraq War as war crimes. The Constitution states that international treaties agreed to by the United States are “the supreme law of the land.”
A veteran of the Vietnam War and a founding member of Veterans for Peace, Rawlings testified that he and other members of the organization have devoted their lives to abolishing war. He recounted a VFW conference at which Iraq war veterans pleaded with other vets to help them end this war.
“I had,” Rawlings said, “a sincere and deep obligation to speak to Senator Collins on behalf of the American soldier; I carried the veterans of the Iraq war with me.”
Braun is a poet who has been engaged since the 1960s in peaceful anti-war activities. Responding to the Assistant District Attorney’s question about why he chose to stay in the Federal Building rather than “go home,” he said, “I believed I was at home there, in the building with the Bill of Rights on the wall. It tells me that as a citizen I have the right to redress of grievances. I was grieving. We all are feeling the grief of this war.”
The trial continues tomorrow with closing arguments, Judge Michaela Murphy’s instructions to the jury, and the jury’s deliberations.
Last week, they were all acquitted!
Read them here:
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Monday, March 31, 2008
The reports and blogs are coming in fast and furious. We'll be posting more and links to many more in the weeks ahead. Here's one by Richard Cambridge, above, that he wrote for the Earth Watch Institute, where he is a fellow. The panel he refers to was "The Poet as Oracle," and featured Patricia Monaghan, Coleman Barks, and himself.
Split This Rock Report
21-23 March, 2990
Dear Friends & Fellows:
Here is my report of the Split This Rock festival. At events such as this I am always torn between being a journalist and taking notes, and parking my brain and letting go to absorb what is happening in the moment.
This conference meant so much to me because it brought together, perhaps for the first time with such intention, writers who are also activists. Whenever I’ve engaged in political action it has usually been with my (politically) activist friends. For me, there was always something missing, perhaps the common language I speak with other writers. So it was, in a sense, like finding my tribe. Here were writers taking their craft and their consciousness to the next level. I am thinking of Che’s inimitable words, “I have polished my will with the delight of an artist.” Yeah, that’s what we were doing!
Patricia Monaghan has referred to the itinerary of the festival which you can view at http://www.splitthisrock.org/ so you can see just how wide and deep was the range. I regret I was not able to be at all the events I would have liked to, but here are my impressions of what I did manage to attend.
(I’m skipping our own panel, (Poet as Oracle) concurring with Patricia’s account; attached is the poem I closed with, “Who Killed McDuffie?” but if you google “Who Killed McDuffie” a poem by Hakim al Jalil you’ll get the full website with the poem and the account it was based on. It's done up much better!
On the Friday night reading, Jimmy Santiago Baca was full of passion and outrage over the war in Iraq, and it was reflected in the language of his poetic rants, finding new combinations of mothers and fornicators that some found over-the-top, but I felt was warranted given the intimacy of the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people he was conveying. So some comfort zones were pushed.
Patricia Smith gave her gold-standard fusion of poetry and performance. Her 34-part poem in the wake of Katrina imagining the last thoughts of the 34 elderly people in the nursing home abandoned to drowning was shocking and awesome in the true, sublime meaning of those words.
On Saturday night, Dennis Brutus took the counterfeit use of “shock & awe” in the government’s description of the bombing of Baghdad, and compared it to the red and green flashing lights on a Christmas tree.
But mostly he talked about citizens’ responsibility not to fund the war through tax resistance. And he personalized the conference name (Split This Rock) for when he was in prison his job was doing just that: busting rocks to gravel and spreading them around the courtyard. The audience honored him with a standing ovation going up to and leaving the stage. He is our shining example of what it means to be a poet-warrior.
Busboys & Poets
If ever there was a model hang-out for poets it’s this joint! Book store, full liquor bar, Java jacked to the max, comfort food, couches, tables, lounge chairs, WIFI, and a cabaret theater! (I did not hallucinate this place!)
The open mic on Friday night was free-wheeling and fun and lasted, until to 2am. It was hosted by my friend and festival organizer, Regie Cabico. Regie was outrageous, vowing to serve the cause by performing all manner of sexual acts on every republican until they were forced to leave town.
On Saturday night there was a film festival featuring about 30 short films made by poets. These were amazing, pushing the boundaries of performance poetry into the medium of film. They ranged from a documentary by Jimmy Santiago Baca using poetry workshops with inner city gangs to break open their hearts to healing from all the violence they’ve witnessed and caused; a rap docudrama about the genesis and murder of a street hustler; a dozen imagistic word-play haiku. (Think what a visualization of Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow” would look like.) And the howler of the lot was a poem by John Giorno, a stand-up rant-reversal called, “Just Say No to Family Values.” He began with something like…”Drugs are GOOD for you! Drugs are your friend!” No stone was left unturned; many glass houses were shattered. I found it on YouTube so google ["Just say no to family values" a poem by John Giorno. ] It is well worth watching!
Sunday Reading at George Washington U.
Sharon Olds & Galway Kinnell
Sharon Olds could not make the reading due to illness. Galway Kinnell said they had to bolt her to her bed to keep her from coming. Naomi Ayala read in her stead, beginning in Spanish, and then reading her poems in English. She was tuff stuff and her words crackled like a cat-o-nine tails. She is the author of “Wild Animals on the Moon.”
Galway Kinnell opened with a mocking, derisive poem by Whitman about the three presidents that preceded Lincoln, and then one “from my friend Robert Bly,” an anti-war poem from the 60”s in which he substituted the word Iraq for Vietnam. Who could tell?
My friend, Jose Gouvea (who ran the “Poetry as Rant” workshop) audio-taped this reading and he says he will be able to email it to me, so I hope to forward it along.
After the reading we gathered outside, a few hundred. We were too many to be unnoticed, too few to march in the street. We were given a permit to walk the sidewalk. Some wore poems, others masks, but all were silent. This was to be a silent march. I thought this odd, poets of witness, voluntarily dumb. Everyone seemed comfortable with this. Obviously, I had spiritual work to do: I had not achieved the state of grace of the Zen no-poem.
Along the sidewalks were newly planted pansies and they were not silent: they shouted and cheered gold, yellow, and white all the way to the park. There were no blustering Blue Meanies: the State was so comfortable with our presence they were absent— until we arrived, un-welcome guests outside the gate of the house…
A Living Epistle of Witness
…Then a cop on a horse clippety-clopped us into the park. Another one, breastplated and helmeted, barked orders to a deputy dog to do its work, sniffling the stage and sound equipment like a dope-fiend hunting white powder. Finding no evidence or incendiaries, it pawed and peed the grass and hruff hruff’d a bitch nearby.
We formed a spiral, a giant conch-shell in the ear of the State, each person sounding a line of a poem, like Kerouac blowing word-jazz—an epic witness for peace, against war, with joy and tears, in celebration, in chant— each soul uttering twelve words of free verse, line upon line, here a little, there a little, a living epistle.
If there was life in the house across the street— ears to hear, hearts to understand— I couldn’t tell. I did notice the sparrows in the budding magnolias around us, perched upon branches, and I know they were listening, for the last trills of their song were improvised, just so.
When they lifted off for the house, no alarm sounded as they violated the fence, and although they were noted by guarded eyes, fingers failed to twitch, and guns whispered quietly in their holsters. One broke off from the flock and flew around to the other side of the house, and came to rest upon a rose bush in the garden and began to sing. Someone was there, and I swear their brow furrowed, although I have no proof of this.
Who Killed Mcduffie?
His brain was bashed
all the way around
but they said those who beat him
didn’t kill him
so who killed mcduffie?
Maybe it was the same ones
who didn’t kill
clifford glover/randy heath/jay parker
claude reese/randy evans/luis baez/
artur reys/bonita carter/eula love/
elizabeth magnum/arthur miller &
when they musta tripped or
their fingers slipped
Maybe it was the same ones
who didn’t kill
jose torres/zayd shakur/fred & carl
hampton/jonathon & george/joe dell
twyman myers/spurgeon winters &
a few thousand others
Perhaps it was those who didn’t kill
quite a few thousand more
Do you suppose it may have been those
who didn’t kill
The indians and mexicans
steal the land &
claim that they discovered it
who didn’t steal afrikan peoples
halfway across the planet
who didn’t loot our customs/cultures/
who didn’t bomb the japanese/
vietnamese/& boriqua too
Do you think it might have been those
who didn’t kill at attica/watts/dc/
at jackson state, at southern u
at the algiers hotel
who didn't shoot mark essex for
16 hours after he was dead
Ask them & they’ll tell you
What they didn’t do
But they can’t tell you
who killed mcduffie
Maybe it was one of those
seizures unexplainable where he
beat himself to death
It wouldn’t be unusual
our history is full of cases where we
attacked nightsticks & flashlights with our heads
choked billyclubs with our throats till we die
jump in front of bullets with our backs
throw ourselves into rivers with
our hands and feet bound
and hang ourselves on trees/in prison cells
so it shouldn’t be a mystery that
nobody killed mcduffie
He just died the way so many of us do
of a disease nobody makes a claim to
The police say they didn’t do it
The mayor says he didn’t do it
The judges say they didn’t do it
The government says it didn’t do it
Nixon, papa doc, baby doc bush, says they didn’t do it
The fbi/cia/military establishment
says they didn’t do it
xerox/exxon/itt say they didn’t do it
The klan & nazis say they didn’t do it
(say they were busy in Greensboro & Wrightsville)
I know I didn’t do it
That don’t leave nobody but you
& if you say you didn’t do it
we’re back to where we started
looking for nobody
who killed mcduffie.
You remember nobody, don’t you
like with defacto segregation
where they said the schools were segregated
But nobody did it on purpose
Like when they said there’s been
job discrimination for years
but nobody did it intentionally
but nobody we’re looking for
The one with the motive to kill mcduffie
& you see, we must find this noboby
who slew mcduffie
beacause the next person nobody will beat,
stomp, hang, or shoot to death
won’t’ be mcduffie
it will be you or someone close to you
So for your own safety,
you should know the pedigree of
who killed mcduffie
you should know the reason of
who killed macuffie
you should remember all those forgotten
who died of the disease nobody makes a claim to
so we won’t be here asking
who killed you.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Dan Vera captured some of Saturday night's reading. Mark Doty's reading has been posted on YouTube. We'll post more as soon as we get it. For now, here's Mark Doty reading his poem Charlie Howard's descent.
Share this video with friends. Send them the link. Spread the word about Split This Rock!
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Sublime, if the gardens in misfortune are taken, they shall be returned
If anyone steal cattle or sheep, or an ass, or a pig or a goat, if it belong to a god or the court. If anyone steal the minor son of another. If break a hole into a house. If the thief has nothing with which to pay ...
Read the poem here: http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5031
Monday, February 25, 2008
Three men who look like Bedouin, but are not, pause with their camels in the snow—
Photo shot through a bus window, twenty-nine years ago on the Khyber Pass.
On the radio I thought they said: ‘The way the war is disinfected,’
So I turned the page over and found it blank.
Was. Was. Was. Was, the mad poet said. But the president says no,
That poet wasn’t mad. That poet understood the rent collector.
Read the whole poem here: http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5008
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Monday, June 4, 2007, I was supposed to be approved by the Nassau County (New York) Legislature as the County’s first Poet Laureate, having been unanimously endorsed by the Legislature’s six-member Nassau County Poet Laureate Panel. Instead, I sat in the chamber hearing myself attacked by Republican members of the Government Services & Operations Committee for having "condemned" the troops with my poetry. They rejected me 6-1, the Democrats, except for Legislator Wayne Wink, toppling over.
June 24, a sunny afternoon, poets gathered at Cedarmere, home of the famous 19th Century poet, William Cullen Bryant, and made me Poet Laureate by acclamation. House count (I call it the "lawn count" because people were assembled on the spacious lawn overlooking lovely Roslyn Harbor) was 173 -- poets, naturalists (I am a birder), activists, teachers, friends and family.
I had "condemned the troops and their efforts in Iraq," Republican Legislator Francis Becker charged at the legislative meeting. "Earlier today," he continued, "we on the Republican side started to do our research and came up with this book [Iraq and Other Killing Fields: Poetry for Peace, which I published in 2004] and some other pieces that are on the Internet, all very, very damning to our troops overseas. This is not the time for that in a time of war."
While I stood speaking at the podium I found myself summoning up my techniques as an eight-grade English teacher to halt disturbances. I would stop talking, silently stared at the young culprits and always they stopped. Tallish Mr. Dunne had risen from his seat, walked over to Mr. Becker and looming over him carried on a conversation. I stopped, stood facing and staring at them. In this adult situation, however, it required Chairwoman Diane Yaturo to ask Mr. Dunne to sit down. He did.
I was trying to describe my mission as Poet Laureate which was to "make Nassau County an open classroom for poetry," to bring to residents the awareness that everybody has the ability to enjoy poetry. To show concern for the troops, I read "American Mourning Poem," in which I take the generic out of the word "troops" with short biographical stanzas of four service men and a service woman flown to Dover Air Force Base in flag-draped caskets. (The scene the Government does not want the press to photograph). The legislators were not an attentive audience.
My lone supporter, Legislator Wayne Wink, declared "I’m loss, quite frankly, as to what a Poet Laureate should be, if not someone who is actually going to bring attention to and perhaps stir things up in the name of poetry."
Three poems in the book were cited by my detractors: "The Colonel Will Know When the Troops Can Go Home," "Torture," and "Iraq." All three were based on news stories. The poem "Iraq" was given prominent display the next day in Long Island’s major newspaper, Newsday. Later, the paper’s right-wing columnist, Raymond J. Keating, said of my poems, "there's a good deal of infantile, leftist tripe. How else could one possibly read lines like ‘Less-than-Elected-Vice-President Cheney evolves the Plan, the Empire of the United States of America, or comparing the Oklahoma City bombing to the Iraq War?'"
Afterwards I had the eerie experience of watching the roll call vote, hearing the parade of "no’s" across the rostrum, including that of Democratic Chairwoman Yaturo. "Once I saw," she explained, "that he had picked an elected official -- the President -- to write about, it made me uncomfortable."
The media recognized this as a blatant example of an artist disciplined for speaking against a critical governmental policy. It sped across the nation via The New York Times and the Associated Press. My daughters, Dede in California, Emilie in Virginia and Nell in Maryland sat by their computers monitoring the Internet. "Here comes one!" Nell would shout that Wednesday evening when I sat in telephone contact with her and her daughter, Juliane, for an hour-and-a-half. "Here’s another one!" I would hear as new story came up. "You’re in Canada!" Nell calls out. The story was run by the Montreal Telegram, Toronto Star and a paper in Vancouver.
On June 11, the Boston Globe editorialized:
The hearing on Wheat’s appointment erupted into an argument about
supporting the troops. Nuance was lost. Tossing out this unruly poet, the
unanimous choice of the nominating panel, came to seem like an act of valor.
Voted down by county legislators 6 to 1, Wheat nonetheless stands in
the proud tradition of poets who write about war, an unflinching group who dip their pens into the worst of battle.
Males and one woman
sip coffee mornings in the White House,
talk of desires about Iraq.
For ten years
evolves The Plan,
the Empire of the United States of America.
Empire building requires "pre-emptive strikes."
When is the strategic time to promote a strike against Iraq?
not with Less-than-Elected-President Bush vacationing in Crawford,
ensconced in his golf cart,
quipping "crawfished" about Saddam Hussein.
"From a marketing point of view,"
says the White House Chief of Staff,
"you don’t introduce new products in August."
Oil waits in the Iraqi womb,
second biggest oil field in the earth.
Think of the Oklahoma bombing.
Whom did the bomber call "Collateral Damage?"
Think of bombing, invading Iraq.
Half Iraq’s population,
The Colonel Will Know When the Troops Can Go Home
"Brute force is going to prevail today."
Lt. Col. Bryan McCoy
The Colonel his men call him,
son of two-tour Vietnam veteran,
Company Commander, Persian Gulf War, 1991,
Commander, Third Battalion, Fourth Marines, 2003.
He sits in front seat of armored Humvee
thirty yards from the Diyala River Bridge,
gateway to southeastern Baghdad,
encrypted radio phone nestled by his left ear.
He is Hannibal with General George Patton appreciation of words.
"Lordy," he exclaims.
"Heck of a day. Good kills."
"Their blood is up," he brags of his men.
Fifteen hundred marines
crouch, empty machine guns, M-16s,
splay mortar shells from Abrams tanks, armored assault vehicles.
"We’re killing them like it’s going out of style."
He points to black smoke other side of the 150-foot span.
Boasts his men are establishing "violent supremacy."
"We’ll drill them," he asserts,
learning suicide bombers are driving for the bridge.
Boasts his "Boys are doing good."
Twenty bullet holes through front windshield of blue van.
Bodies of two men in street clothes slumped in front seat.
Body of woman in black chador crumpled on back floor.
No cargo. No suitcases. No bombs.
"The crueler it is, the sooner it’s over," says The Colonel.
"It’s over for us when the last guy who wants to fight for Saddam
has flies crawling across his eyeballs."
Saddam Hussein Regime
Beat soles of feet with stick ("Bastinado")
whip a prisoner’s head
twist arms, legs until they break
confine in cold cells until arms, legs freeze
press hot iron all over body
sit prisoner on cold bottle-like object
forced up rectum
use machines to remove human limbs, fingers to legs
If a child, make parents watch
dump him into sack with starving cats
Perfection of one hundred seven methods of torture.
Order prisoner to choose
from the State’s Menu of Torture
George W. Bush Administration
Make naked prisoner crouch 45 minutes, stand 72 hours
Balance black-hooded prisoner
draped in make-shift poncho on narrow box
wire his outstretched hands
warn him he will be electrocuted if he falls
Pose men in pyramid of nakedness
stand (male and female soldiers) behind the "pile"
laugh, hold thumbs up, take photographs
grind shoes down on fingers, toes
Back naked man against cell door
confront him with straining, growling dogs
Unleash the Dogs of Democracy
American Mourning Poem
Three guided walking tours will be offered on the Saturday morning of the Split This Rock festival. I'm very pleased to be coordinating the tours, because it's a great opportunity to remind participants of DC's rich, vibrant (and often overlooked) literary history. These tours will be fun--they are a wonderful way to take a walk around three neighborhoods and see them with new eyes! The tours will be offered concurrently, and are limited to the first 25 people who sign up for each. (You can sign up when you register for the festival.) Tours run from 10:30 am to noon on March 22.
"Walt Whitman's Washington" is a tour of the sites downtown where Whitman lived in boardinghouses, worked as a clerk for the Federal government, and volunteered in Civil War hospitals. The tour is led by Martin Murray, a nationally-known scholar specializing in Whitman's ten years of residence in DC. Martin is also the founder of the Washington Friends of Walt Whitman (http://www.whitmandc.org), this tour's sponsoring organization. Martin is adept at incorporating Whitman's own words into his tours, interweaving poems, letters, journal entries, and essays into the experience, which helps you visualize what the city was like during and after the Civil War, when downtown streets were unpaved, and there were no highrises, when almost every large building was taken over as a temporary hospital for wounded soldiers pouring into the city from battlegrounds to the south.
"GLBT Writers of Washington" will focus on the Dupont Circle neighborhood, an area where gay literary culture flourished from the 1970s to the present. Dan Vera is currently researching and writing this tour, which will include bookstores, clubs, Dupont Park, and writers homes. This tour is sponsored by White Crane, a magazine of gay wisdom and culture, of which Dan is Managing Editor (http://www.gaywisdom.org). Dan is also co-publisher of the DC-based Vrzhu Press, which publishes books of poetry, and a fine poet himself. I can't give many details of the tour as yet--it's still in progress! But Dan says he is excited to be learning so much about his literary forebears, and hopes to show in this tour the importance of community in supporting the work of writers such as Essex Hemphill, Ed Cox, Tim Dlugos, Michael Lally, Richard McCann, and Andrew Holleran.
"The 'Harlem' Renaissance in Washington" is my own tour of the greater U Street neighborhood. Despite its misleading name, the 'Harlem' Renaissance actually got its start in DC, and many of the literary stars of that movement lived here, including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Jessie Fauset. We'll talk about the Saturday Nighters salon, the 12th Street Y, the Association for Negro History, Howard University...most of the buildings and houses from the 1920s still stand (and are well preserved!) so it's easy to imagine what it might be like strolling the "Black Broadway" of U Street, perhaps all dressed up for a movie at the Lincoln Theater, or heading to True Reformers Hall for a concert by Duke Ellington's band. I hope to recreate that earlier time, when American letters were on the cusp of change. This tour is sponsored by Beltway Poetry Quarterly (http://www.beltwaypoetry.com).
Monday, February 4, 2008
I saw the White House
recently from a distance.
I couldn't get close.
My father retired
from the Army just in time.
I am so thankful.
-- Dani LeBlanc
In retirement, read more
listen more, repent
Now we are talking
about you: you had your turn.
our decision: peace!
-- Christi Kramer
On a bathroom hand-
dryer, a note states: "push butt-
on to hear Bush speak"
-- Alan King
SPECIAL DELIVERY: A MESSAGE FROM CHILDREN
They said to tell you,
we are all ashamed of you.
Say you are sorry.
-- Christi Kramer
You've topped murders in Texas!
Now: pack light, quick.
-- Yael Flusberg
history of honoring
and harboring love.
Bushie- Poo No child
left behind. No more jails please
My friend's boy came back
His nightmares have not ended
Please bring the rest home!
-- L. Desrosiers
Read the bible, man.
Preferential treatment for
the poor, says Jesus.
We can't wait until
You go back to your ranch and
we can all read Joyce.
End the war right now
and secure your legacy.
End the war right now.
It is difficult to read the names on the postcards, so please let us know if we misspell your name.
(more Haiku below...)
Friday, February 1, 2008
We are here in New York at a gathering of 7,000 writers. It's a tremendous pleasure to be here among so many like (and unlike) souls and to have the opportunity to meet people from around the country who are planning to make the trek to DC this Spring to come to the Split This Rock Poetry Festival.
We have a table at the bookfair (table 213) and will be here through Sunday. While we are here we are giving a writing assignment to those who stop by our table to write a haiku postcard to the president and we invite you to join us via cyberspace. Attached below are some of our favorites from yesterday's writings. We'll post again at the end of this day & tomorrow, so stay tuned...
Much love from all of us here in NYC, Melissa Tuckey
For not being a
Math'metician, George Bush is
A great divider.
Do you dream children
in Kabul in Mosul killed
by your certainty
-- Suzanne Gardinier
STATE OF THE UNION
made of Napalm
-- Brian Dickson
Catch and release?
A border crossing is not
a fishing trip-- sir!
-- Jaime Jarvis
The world is watching
Empire shatters as glass
What's left? People. The Arts.
-- Robert M.
What is the
sound of one
A Great Celebration!
-- Marlon Fick
(P.S. I am reading names of postcards, so please drop me a note if I misspelled, or misread a name and I'll correct it)
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Kenya – A Love Letter
Mukoma Wa Ngugi
Inside looking out, snow is falling and I am thinking
how happy we once were, when promises and dreams
came easy and how when we, lovers covered only
by a warm Eldoret night, you waved a prophecy
at a shooting star and said, "when the time comes
we shall name our first child, Kenya" and how I
laughed and said "yes our child then shall be country
and human" and we held hands, rough and toughened
by shelling castor seeds. My dear, when did our
clasped hands become heavy chains and anchors holding
us to the mines and diamond and oil fields? Our hands
calloused by love and play, these same hands – when
did they learn to grip a machete or a gun to spit hate?
And this earth that drinks our blood like a hungry child
this earth that we have scorched to cinders - when we
are done eating it, how much of it will be left for Kenya?
My dear, our child is born, is dying. Tomorrow the child
will be dead.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
The Split This Rock Issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly features poems by: Winona Addison * Naomi Ayala * Sarah Browning * Grace Cavalieri * Teri Ellen Cross * Heather Davis * Joel Dias-Porter * Yael Flusberg * Brian Gilmore * E. Ethelbert Miller * Princess of Controversy * Tanya Snyder * Susan Tichey * Melissa Tuckey * Dan Vera * Rosemary Winslow * Kathi Wolfe
The Split This Rock Issue (Volume 9, Number 1), is co-edited by Regie Cabico and Kim Roberts. The issue is available online now at http://www.beltwaypoetry.com