Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Poem of the Week: Elliott batTzedek

Sunday Afternoon as Oil Pours into the Gulf

Across a small suburban lawn

a very large man is riding

a very large tractor mower

with a bin so the clippings

won't have to be raked

while his young son is driving

his miniature Hummer

around and around the cull-du-sac

and my large ass is planted

in a chair in the house,

AC blasting,

scanning the internet

for photos of the horror,

and feeling sick

as I view them.

-Elliott batTzedek

Used by permission.

Elliott batTzedek is finishing the MFAs in Poetry and Poetry in Translation at Drew University. She works as a literacy program designer, adjunct graduate school faculty, general gadfly in the face of the powerful, and co-leader of Fringes, a poetry-based, feminist, non-zionist havurah in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared recently in Poetica, Poemeleon, Trivia, Naugatuck River Review, and Sinister Wisdom.

batTzedek attended Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2008 and 2010.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Moccasins and Microphones

The celebrated Santa Fe Indian School Spoken Word Team will present our new theater production titled Moccasins and Microphones: Modern Native Storytelling in Washington, DC this summer. The show is based on the poetry of their award-winning CD with Native and contemporary songs and dances interwoven. The event will be on Wednesday, July 20th at the National Museum of the American Indian (Rasmuson Theater), 7:00pm.

Tickets are free, but reservations are required.
To reserve tickets, click here.
More information is available on the Museum website.

The team will also perform shorter poetry sets on Friday, July 22 and Saturday,
July 23 at NMAI and perform at a few other venues throughout our week in DC.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sholeh Wolpé on Poetry in Iran: July 6, noon, IPS

Please join us for a reading and talk by Sholeh Wolpé:

Forbidden: Poetry as a Bridge Between Iran and America

Wednesday, July 6th, noon- 2pm at

the Institute for Policy Studies

1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC
Farragut North or Farragut West Metro
For more information:, 202-787-5210

The event is cosponsored by Split This Rock and Foreign Policy in Focus/The Institute for Policy Studies

Sholeh Wolpé is the author of Rooftops of Tehran, The Scar Saloon, and Sin: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad for which she was awarded the Lois Roth Translation Prize in 2010. She is the regional editor of Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East (Norton), the guest editor of Atlanta Review (2010 Iran issue) and the poetry editor of the Levantine Review, an online journal about the Middle East. Sholeh is also the editor of Forbidden: Poems from Iran and its Exiles (forthcoming from MSU, 2012). Born in Iran, she presently lives in Los Angeles.

Women, War, and Peace - Curated by Sarah Browning

The following poem excerpts are samples of what can be found in the latest edition of On The Issues, of which Split This Rock Director Sarah Browning is the Poetry Co-Editor. Please click over to read the rest.

There is misery by the busload. Mothers scrounge
for bits of bread. Children lose the race with flames.
We can't make sense of paper, rock or scissors
or velvet political games.
- From "All There Is, Washington DC" by Carmen Calatayud

piestewa is survived by two young children by her mother and father in lieu of flowers jessica lynch who was a long-time ally and confidante applied to abc's extreme makeover home edition to fulfill lori's dream of a home where her entire family could live together and be happy and so while the piestewa family was sent off on a paid vacation to disney- world ty pennington and his crew went to work purchasing land and building a home for them when a hopi is deceased she comes back to the home mesas
- From "piestewa, lori" by Meg Hamill

I kick this dream over
like a kerosene can,

galloping flame. I reach
for medicine, sleepless mare.
- From "Horse and Fire Dream" by Kathy Engel

No is the perimeter of stubborn cactus
springing up around destroyed villages.
You can bulldoze houses, evict or kill the inhabitants,
but the thorns of memory can’t be eliminated.
 - From "No" by Lisa Suhair Majaj

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Poem of the Week: Ching-In Chen

American Syntax

............The teacher straightbacked,

faced me off, her eyes.

............My face in the cleave of

her shoulder, my bones

sitting high my cheek.

............The word proper

arrives in the hall...The order

of things, rolling

neat into pine drawers, dead-

clean. Squeezed juice of greedy


............Her teeth not match.

One chipped...The corner lifted,

peeking a window, furtive.

............The other, pearl, round

and perfect, looming above my

arched head...About to bite.

-Ching-In Chen

Used by permission.

Photo by: Sarah Grant

Ching-In Chen is the author of The Heart's Traffic (Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press) and co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (South End Press). She is a Kundiman, Macondo and Lambda Fellow and has worked in the San Francisco, Oakland, Riverside and Boston Asian American communities. Ching-In currently lives in Milwaukee and is involved in union organizing and direct action against the draconian proposals of Governor Scott Walker.

Chen was part of the group reading 7 & 7: 7 Poets Celebrate Kundiman's 7th Year at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

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Ayat Al-Gormezi - PEN Petition

The following is from the PEN Center USA's petition condemning Bahrain's treatment of poet Ayat Al-Gormezi (previously reported on in this blog as Ayat Al-Qarmezi). For more information, and to sign the petition, click here

The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International protests the one-year sentence handed down to poet and student Ayat Al-Gormezi on anti-state charges for poems critical of the Bahraini King. PEN calls for her immediate and unconditional release, and that of all those currently detained in Bahrain for the peaceful expression of their views, in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a signatory.


An excerpt of Ayat's poetry:

We do not like to live in a palace
And we are not after power
And we are not after power
We are the people who
Break down humiliation
And discard oppression
With peace as our tool
We are people who
Do not want others to be living in the Dark Ages
(Translated from the Arabic by Ghias Aljundi).

Your names along with a letter of protest stating these appeals will be sent to the King of Bahrain and to the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs. A copy will also be sent to the Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain (warning: music plays when site opens) in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

Review: The Postman, via FPIF

The following is an excerpt from Split This Rock Program Assistant Alicia Gregory's review of The Postman. For the full review at Foreign Policy In Focus, click here.

Driving the poem through a textured patchwork of history, modern culture, and metaphor is the steady figure of the postman. Specifically, as we learn in the first section of the poem, the postman is Joseph Roulin—a friend to Vincent Van Gogh and the subject of a number of his paintings. This identity is significant: kind, devoted Roulin was said to have been the only man who stood beside Van Gogh after he famously cut off his own ear after a fight with Gauguin. Projecting the goodness of Roulin on his postman, Mun breathes life into the figure that strengthens human relationships by acting as a loyal connector.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: Opening Exhibit and reading

Thursday July 7th, 6-8 pm

The Corcoran College of Art + Design presents 'Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here', a collection of 130 broadsides celebrating our collective cultural voice and representing the deaths and injuries of the March 2007 car bomb on al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad.

Please join us at the opening reception which will be accompanied by a reading featuring poets Tina Darragh, Zein El-Amine, Sarah Browning and Jinahie. The reading is co-sponsored by The Corcoran College of Art + Design, Split This Rock and the Institute for Policy Studies.

Reception: 6-7 pm
Reading: 7-8 pm

Gallery 31
The Corcoran College of Art and Design

Featured poets:

Tina Darragh has been a DC poet for over 40 years. Her most recent books are Deep eco pré, an ecopoetic collaboration with Marcella Durand (Little Red Leaves 2009 - available free at and the Belladonna Elders Series #8 in collaboration with Diane Ward and Jane Sprague (belladonna 2009). Darragh earns her keep as a librarian at Georgetown University.

Zein El-Amine has an MFA in poetry from the University of Maryland. His poems have been published by Folio, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, DC Poets Against the War Anthology, Penumbra, GYST, and Joybringer. His short stories have appeared in the Uno Mas and in Bound Off.

Sarah Browning is director of Split This Rock. Author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden and co-editor of D.C. Poets Against the War, she is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, poetry co-editor of On the Issues Magazine, and co-host of Sunday Kind of Love, a poetry series at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC. She has received fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities and the Creative Communities Initiative.

Spoken Word Poet, Jinahie, has a huge buzz right now. She has been on BET and HBO, performed with Common and the Roots, and won a contest to perform at Sundance Dance Film Festival in Jan 2012. She just met Russell Simmons who is interested in her work and has shared the stage with Rosario Dawson, John Mayer, and more. Jinahie has also shared the stage with Grammy-nominated artists such as Lupe Fiasco, Smokey Robinson, Mos Def and Talib Kweli.

For more information on this event or exhibition please follow the link below:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Poem of the Week: Zara Houshmand

Humor Difficult to Translate

The label says Afghan Comedian
and nothing more, no artist, no provenance,
just a monitor’s unlidded eye embedded
in the blond paneled desert of a gallery
wall among prints of a now old war.
The man sits tailor fashion—seven at one blow!—
his Pashto patter flows
in an indecipherable rush,
but for a moment he’s clearly a woman,
now perhaps a child.
Impersonation interrupted, audience request:
he unstraps his prosthetic shin
and hoists the hollow tube to his shoulder.
Ak ak ak ak ak ak ak! he sweeps the sky,
setting up his punch line, in English: Antiaircraft!
Then the coup de grâce: Bazooka! he announces,
takes aim at the camera, and Boom! almost
falling over from its kick before he bobs
back, half smiling, to applause.

Edward Uhl dies at 92
along with Colonel Leslie A. Skinner
he invented the bazooka
named after an improvised tubular musical instrument
that comedian Bob Burns had popularized
—the bubble gum came later—
a close friend and hunting partner
of Werner Von Braun
after the war Mr. Uhl climbed rapidly
through the aerospace industry
transformed Fairchild from an airplane
producer into a powerhouse
that also made missiles.
Uhl passed away peacefully, survived
by Mary his wife of forty-four years
sons Kim and Scott, daughter Cynthia
two stepsons, a sister, four
grandchildren, and five
—approaching a village now—

..........................Asia Society exhibition, Through Afghan Eyes, 2002
..........................New York Times obituary, May 9, 2010

-Zara Houshmand

Used by permission.

Zara Houshmand is an Iranian-American writer living in Austin, Texas. Her work includes poetry, theatre, virtual reality, literary translation from the Persian, and editing books on the Mind and Life dialogues between the Dalai Lama and scientists. Her most recent book is A Mirror Garden, a memoir co-authored with Monir Farmanfarmaian.

Houshmand was part of the group reading We are All Iran: a Group Reading by Iranian-American Poets at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

Split This Rock

Update on Ayat al-Qarmezi, via Amesty International

The following is an excerpt from an Amnesty International News item. To read the full article, click here.

A military court in Bahrain has sentenced a poet to one year in prison for reading out a poem criticizing the country’s King.

Ayat al-Qarmezi, 20, a poet and student was sentenced in a Manama court today following her arrest in March for reading out a poem at a pro-reform rally. She has reportedly been tortured while in detention.


Military trials related to the protests are under way after at least 500 have been detained and four have died in custody in suspicious circumstances.

Some 2,000 people have also been dismissed or suspended from their jobs, apparently as part of an ongoing purge of those who participated in the protests.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bahraini poet set to face verdict for protest reading - via Amnesty International

Ayat al-Qarmezi Image via Amnesty International
The following is an excerpt from an Amnesty International article. To read the full piece, click here.

Ayat al-Qarmezi, 20, a poet and student was arrested in March for reading out a poem at a pro-reform rally in the capital Manama. She has been charged with "incitement to hatred of the regime" and has reportedly been tortured while in detention.


Its lyrics include the lines "We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery/ Don’t you hear their cries, don’t you hear their screams?".

Friday, June 10, 2011

Split This Rock 5th Annual poetry contest

Split This Rock Announces its Fifth Annual Adult Poetry Contest

Benefits Split This Rock Poetry Festival
March 22-25, 2012 - Washington, DC

$1,000 Awarded for Poems of
Provocation & Witness

Naomi Shihab Nye, Judge

Naomi Shihab Nye will be featured at the 2012 Split This Rock Poetry Festival. She is the author and/or editor of more than 30 volumes. Her books of poetry include 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, A Maze Me: Poems for Girls, Red Suitcase, Words Under the Words, Fuel, and You & Yours (a best-selling poetry book of 2006). She has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow. She has received a Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, four Pushcart Prizes, and numerous honors for her children’s literature, including two Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards. In 2010 she was elected to the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets.


•First place receives $500; second and third place receive $250 each.
•Winners receive free 2012 festival registration.
•The 1st-place winner will be invited to read the winning poem at Split This Rock Poetry Festival, 2012.
•Winning poems will be published here, at


•Deadline: November 1, 2011 (postmark)
•Reading Fee: $20 – Reduced Recession Rate!

Submissions should be in the spirit of Split This Rock: socially engaged poems, poems that reach beyond the self to connect with the larger community or world; poems of provocation and witness. This theme can be interpreted broadly and may include but is not limited to work addressing politics, economics, government, war, leadership; issues of identity (gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, disability, body image, immigration, heritage, etc.); community, civic engagement, education, activism; and poems about history, Americana, cultural icons.

2011 winning poems

2010 winning poems

2009 winning poems

2008 winning poems

Submission Guidelines (also available in Microsoft Word format):

•Send up to 3 unpublished poems, no more than 6 pages total, in any style, in the spirit of Split This Rock (see above).
•Postmark deadline: November 1, 2011
•Include one cover page containing your name, address, phone number, email, and titles of your poems. This is the only part of the submission which should contain your name.
•Enclose a check or money order for $20 (made out to “Split This Rock”) to:

Split This Rock Poetry Contest
1112 16th Street NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036

Split This Rock subscribes to the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses Contest Code of Ethics.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How Split This Rock Measures Up: Gender

The recent VIDA count of the Best American series got us thinking: we claim to value diversity. How are we measuring up when it comes to gender?

At the 2008 festival, we had 28 featured poets. Of these, 2 were unable to attend, Lucille Clifton and Sharon Olds. Of the remaining 26 features, 12 were women (46%)

At the 2010 festival, we had 26 featured poets. Of these, 1 was unable to attend, Bruce Weigl. Of the remaining 25 features, 12 were women (48%)

For our 2012 festival, we have 7 confirmed poets, of which 6 are women (85%).

In our ongoing reading series, Sunday Kind of Love, we presented 91 poets between 2006 and 2010. Of these poets, 54 were women (59%).

In our Poem of the Week Series, we have posted 83 poems on this blog. 45 of these poems have been by women (54%)

So what does all this actually mean? For us at Split This Rock, it means that we are working toward our intent: To call poets to a greater role in public life and to bring the vital, important, challenging poetry of witness that is being written by American poets today to a larger and more diverse audience.

When we provide poets of both/all genders with a platform, we provide audiences with a way to hear and see multiple points of view. We provide audiences with diverse interests diverse speakers. When people see themselves reflected in who is speaking or writing, they may pay more attention to the language. And the language is what matters, what we believe can change the world.

Contemporary poets and other writers are telling the story of what it means to be alive today. But when women writers are slighted – in publications, prestigious readings, contests, teaching jobs, and the like – the experience of the majority of us is not reaching a wide audience. This significantly narrows the culture’s understanding of itself and reinforces the male perspective as the central one. We want young women to see our poets and think, "I have something to say, too. And I can say it. If she can speak, so can I." We want all people to be empowered by poetry, and that means thinking critically about who we uphold, who we feature, who we post, and who we read.

VIDA's stats reveal biases that we all need to examine within ourselves; even if our conversations aren't about gender, even if gender is not a criterion we examine, we still need think carefully about our assumptions.

Sunday Kind of Love Features Readings from Persistent Voices June 19

June Sunday Kind of Love:

A Reading From

Persistent Voices:

Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS


Philip Clark, R. Dwyane Betts, Jericho Brown, H.G Carillo, Richard McCann, and Joseph Ross

Sunday June 19, 2011


Langston Room - Busboys & Poets
2021 14th St. NW

A Cave Canem Fellow, R. Dwayne Betts is 2010 Soros Justice Fellow and winner of the 2010 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Debut for his memoir, A Question of Freedom. He has won a Holden Fellowship, a scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and was a finalist for the Ruth Lily Fellowship. His first collection, Shahid Reads His Own Palm, won the Beatrice Hawley Award given by Alice James Books in 2010. His poetry and essays have been published in Ploughshares, Crab Orchard Review, the Washington Post, the ABA Journal and other national literary magazines, periodicals and newspapers.

Jericho Brown worked as the speechwriter for the Mayor of New Orleans before receiving his PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston. He also holds an MFA from the University of New Orleans and a BA from Dillard University. The recipient of the Whiting Writers Award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the Krakow Poetry Seminar in Poland, Brown is an Assistant Professor at the University of San Diego. His poems have appeared in journals and anthologies including, The Iowa Review, jubilat, Oxford American, A Public Space, and 100 Best African American Poems. His first book, PLEASE (New Issues), won the American Book Award.

H.G. Carrillo is the author of Loosing My Espanish, a novel, published by Pantheon Books and in paperback by Anchor Books. His short stories have appeared in Kenyon Review, Conjunctions, The Iowa Review, Glimmer Train, Ninth Letter, Slice and other journals and publications. Carrillo lives in Washington, DC, where he is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at The George Washington University, and is a member of the board of directors of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. He is currently at work on a novel.

Philip Clark is the co-editor of Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS. A writer and researcher living near Washington D.C., he serves as chair of the board of directors for the Rainbow History Project. His essays and other writings have appeared in such works as The Golden Age of Gay Fiction; The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered; Fifty Gay and Lesbian Books Everybody Must Read; and The Oxford Companion to the Photograph. He is currently completing the late Reginald Shepherd's work editing the selected poems of Donald Britton and researching a book about H. Lynn Womack, Washington D.C.'s Guild Press, and gay life from the 1950s-1970s.

Richard McCann is the author of Mother of Sorrows, a collection of linked stories that Michael Cunningham has described as "almost unbearably beautiful." He is also the author of Ghost Letters, an award-winning collection of poems, and the editor (with Michael Klein) of Things Shaped in Passing: More 'Poets for Life' Writing from the AIDS Pandemic. His work has appeared in such magazines as The Atlantic, Esquire, Ms., Ploughshares, and Tin House, and in such anthologies as The O. Henry Prize Stories 2007 and Best American Essays 2000. For his work, he has received fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He lives in Washington, DC, where he is a professor at American University. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and is a Member of the Corporation of Yaddo.

Joseph Ross' poems appear in many anthologies including Poetic Voices Without Borders 1 and 2, Come Together-Imagine Peace, and the upcoming anthology Collective Brightness: GLBT Poets on Faith. His poems have also appeared in many journals including Poet Lore, whose editors nominated him for a Pushcart Prize. In 2007, he co-edited Cut Loose the Body: An Anthology of Poems on Torture. He directs the Writing Center at Carroll High School in Washington, D.C. and writes regularly at

VIDA Reveals Gender Bias in Best American Series (and responses)

The following is an excerpt from VIDA's discovery of gender bias in the Best American Series. To read the full expose click here. For a discussion of Split This Rock's gender breakdowns, see the next post.

In the Best American Poetry Series, the percentage of women published in the anthologies was 39%. In twenty-four years of the Best American Poetry anthologies, there were only four years in which the number of published works by women were greater than those by men. ...

The Best American Series Count has given us more data and more angles from which to evaluate the state of gender in publishing. It has discounted some of the positions used to explain or support the disparity found in our 2010 Count, while supporting some of the others. And it has raised additional questions that must be asked in our ongoing discussion.

Clearly, counting alone is not enough. However, raising awareness is the first step toward affecting change. We hope that as we continue to disseminate the data, ask the difficult questions raised by our findings and engage in rigorous dialogue with members of our shared literary community, we’ll be embarking on a path toward parity in publishing.

There have been a variety of responses to the VIDA count. Here are a few. Please post more in the comments:
From The Poetry Foundation's Harriet Blog: Why it matters, of course, from writer and board member Cheryl Strayed: “The Best American series is the Academy Awards of the literary world. Publication there is often the most meaningful credit a writer has to offer when seeking further publication or a job. When I look at these numbers, I have to ask: What careers stalled because gender bias plays a role in preventing a writers’ work from reaching a national audience? What price do women writers pay in financial terms and cultural esteem?”

We have to say the data are hardly surprising–the anthologies aren’t known for being progressive aesthetically, either–but this isn’t an issue of progressivity; more largely, numbers trouble is something to be aware of.

From a comment on the VIDA Website: I am a young, female writer hoping to break into the genre of nonfiction. Numbers like these make me feel foolish, and then I wonder how many other young women picked up these compilations, literary magazine and periodicals and felt the same way. How many of them stopped writing because of it? To stifle an entire gender is reprehensible , but at least they are not doing it with our permission, or compliance, anymore.

From Danielle Pafunda, in the VIDA author discussion: As Cheryl says: look what we found. Also: look what you might consider next time! Best is a shifting and subjective appellation. If we want best to stay fresh, then it’ll help to look at what’s been done, what’s yet to do.

From The Missouri Review: One of the things worth noting here is that over the time period examined, BASS has always had a female series editor. Should we be surprised, then, that BASS has published and acknowledged more women compared to the other two Best American series? The same (male) series editors have been running Poetry and Essays for twenty five years. But do remember, the decision ultimately lies with each year’s guest editor: if we point to the series editor’s gender, we also, then, need to look at the gender of the guest editor. What’s the breakdown there?

Best American Essays: 12 women, 13 men

Best American Poetry: 7 women, 18 men

Best American Short Stories: 16 women, 17 men

Here, Best American Poetry looks quite bad. Again, it is also the only one that doesn’t have a short-list. But look at Best American Essays: plenty of women have been the guest editor. During that time period, only once has the guest editor selected more women than man (Joyce Carol Oates in 1991), and most years, it isn’t even close. Does that seem odd?

At The Missouri Review, and presumably at the other literary journals and magazines that first publish the work appearing in the Best American series, the sole criteria for publication is whether or not the writing is good (digression: I realize calling the work “good” or even discussing our criteria for “goodness” can become tangential, but I’ll try to stay on topic). Last year was my first year working on our Editors Prize. We read and re-read and discussed and argued and questioned. Including our winner, we published three stories that were originally Editors Prize submission. All three are written by women. Our prize winner in the essay is male; we published two other essays (non-contest) in our recent issue, both by women. Did the gender of the writers ever come up? No. At no time, not once, was the gender of the author mentioned. That’s not our criteria. In the same way that we don’t care about the race or ethnicity or MFA program of the author, gender is one of those things that, as literary editors, we don’t worry about.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Poem of the Week: Robin Coste Lewis


"...women don't want the men to go into the
bush because the women will only be raped but
the men will be killed...I have seen a woman
who was caught in the bush by several men.
They tied her legs to two trees while she was
standing. They raped her many times and before
leaving her they put stones in her vagina..."

Abshiro Aden Mohammed, Kenya, 2000
Dagahaley Somali Refugee Camp
from A Camel for the Son,
by Fazal Sheik

Before leaving her they put stones in her vagina
The men will only be raped but the stones will be killed
The bush caught many men to go into the stones
The stones will be killed by several trees before leaving
The bush tied the men to the trees in their vaginas
Before bush go to trees they kill many stones
Many men will be caught by the trees in the bush
Several trees will be raped by the bush and killed
Only the caught men will be stoned and bushed by the trees
Several men were caught by the trees before leaving
The men will be killed but the stones will only be treed
The stones put many trees into the men's killed vaginas
By the bush, the trees were raped only several times
Before leaving, the vaginas were seen standing in the stones

-Robin Coste Lewis

Used by permission.

Robin Coste Lewis' work has appeared in various journals, including The Massachusetts Review, Callaloo, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review, GCN, The Pocket Myth Series, and anthologized in Black Silk and The Encyclopedia Project, F-K. She was a finalist for both the War Poetry Prize in 2010, and the National Rita Dove Prize iin 2004. A graduate of Harvard's Divinity School, where she received a Master's of Theological Studies degree in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature, Lewis was the Samuel Valentine Cole Professor of Creative Writing at Wheaton College and Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Hampshire College. She has been awarded residencies and fellowships by the Caldera Foundation, the Ragdale Foundation, the Headlands Center for the Arts, the Can Serrat International Art Centre in Barcelona and the Summer Literary Seminars in Kenya. Recently, she was awarded a Goldwater Fellowship by NYU's Creative Writing Program in Poetry. Born in Compton, California, her family is from New Orleans.

Lewis was on the panel The Poet as Historian in the 21st Century: A Rare Opportunity in Difficult Times at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

Split This Rock

Monday, June 6, 2011

You Are My Mirror - Sarah Browning in Sojourners Magazine

The following is an excerpt from Split This Rock Director Sarah Browning's article in Sojourners, "You Are My Mirror: Poets resist anti-immigration laws with defiance, beauty, and social media" For the full article, click here.

Poets have always played this role, naming injustices and imagining alternatives, acting as visionaries for a society. In the United States, this tradition begins with our great democrat Walt Whitman and continues unbroken through the 20th century, through the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement, but also through the Beats, feminist poets, and the Chicano Art Movement. Poetry and other art forms can combat despair, provide inspiration to those working in the trenches of movements for social change, humanize those we are taught to fear (whoever they may be), and build bridges across our differences, telling our human stories. A poem can be a history lesson -- sometimes the only one we have.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Poem of the Week: Alicia Ostriker


Just finished folding laundry. There's the news. A slender prisoner, ankles shackled, nude back and legs striped by a brown substance you might take for blood but which probably is feces, hair long, arms extended at shoulder level like a dancer or like Jesus, walks toward a soldier with rolled-up pants and a gun, posed legs akimbo in the tiled corridor. I cannot say from the image if the soldier is smiling, too few pixels to tell. Barely do the prisoner's elegant feet touch the floor. In another nude photograph a prisoner with shorter hair cowers against a wall while two dogs whose leashes are held by soldiers examine him. I cannot say from the photograph if the dogs are snarling or drooling. And in this one a girl soldier holds the leash, which leads to the neck of a prisoner lying on concrete.

Oil oozes a mile or two underground. Like sand, it was once alive.

In another photo the nude prisoners have been formed into a pyramid. They look like something in the back of a butcher shop. A stack of magnified calves' livers. Now the girl soldier leaning over a bleeding prisoner--are those dog bites--gives the thumbs' up sign and smiles her toothy wholesome Homecoming Queen smile, a smile descended from a Good Housekeeping cover, twinkle twinkle little... Oil oozes a mile or so underground. Atop it stands a palace of air conditioning. Somewhere in the green zone is a swimming pool for the officers, its water chemically purified. Stagnant waters are also good--to the flies. As is blood. A fly's life there would be prosperous. I put away the laundry. I put my nose in the laundry, it smells warm and well. My husband's underpants and undershirts I lay in his dresser drawer. In my dresser drawer go my underpants and t-shirts.

The correct word is not prisoner. The correct word is detainee.

Speaking of correctness, some other terms have lately come into play: hooding, waterboarding, rendition. The bleaching of the news. The rinsing and spinning. Some of the laundry items are not quite dry, a knit sweater of mine, a flannel of his. I hang them on plastic hangers in the bathroom. The bathroom is tiled in white, the tub is tourmaline. Above our twin sinks hangs a large flat mirror in which we are obliged to see ourselves each day, and on the opposite wall, that is to say behind us when we stand at the sink, a Rodin watercolor sketch depicts a semi-nude woman in some sort of peach diaphanous garment, seated, holding one pink knee in her hands, her shaven pubes showing, the lines at once easy, comfortable, and elegant. The correct word is detainee. The sweaters hang patiently. The mirror ponders a rebuke.

-Alicia Ostriker

Used by permission.

Alicia Ostriker has published eleven volumes of poetry, most recently The Volcano Sequence and No Heaven. Her poetry has appeared in The New Yorker,Poetry, American Poetry Review, The Atlantic, Paris Review, Yale Review, Ontario Review, The Nation, and many other journals and anthologies. Twice a National Book Award finalist, she has also received awards from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, the Poetry Society of America, the San Francisco Poetry Center, and the Paterson Poetry Center, among others.As a critic, she is the author of Stealing the language: The Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America,and other books on poetry and on the bible.Her newest prose work is For the Love of God: the Bible as an Open Book. Ostriker lives in Princeton, NJ, is Professor Emerita of English at Rutgers University, and teaches in the Drew University MFA Program.

Ostriker was a featured poet at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witnes 2008 and on the panels Fire & Ink: A Social Action Writing Anthology, and the Rewards of Teaching Activist Writing and Birth and the Politics of Motherhood in Poetry at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

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