Monday, February 25, 2008

Susan Tichy on Foreign Policy in Focus

As part of FPIF's ongoing coverage of Split This Rock, they have published this week Susan Tichy's "American Ghazal." Here are the first lines:

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:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Split This Rock on Foreign Policy in Focus - Lee Sharkey Poem

Foreign Policy in Focus, the "think tank without walls" will be featuring Split This Rock Poetry Festival throughout the next 6 weeks. Check them out at: to read "In Vigil (2)," a poem by Lee Sharkey, one of the editors of Beloit Poetry Journal, which has produced a powerful special issue dedicated to Split This Rock poets. Order the journal from

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Maxwell Wheat: Anti-War Poems Lead to Rejection as County Laureate

photos courtesy of Darlene Cunnip

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."

Thirteen poets who had come for a celebratory event, found themselves signing up to speak in my defense. Evelyn Kandel, declaring that she had served as a U. S. Marine as I also had done, stated "That one book (the only one of my five books about war and peace, others being about nature) was the words of someone broken-hearted over what happens in war." "You know what?" snapped Legislator Dennis Dunne, also a former Marine, "he might have written a hundred books. This is the book I heard. You know what? You ain’t getting my vote."

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.
Here are the poems cited by Wheat's detractors:


Males and one woman
sip coffee mornings in the White House,
talk of desires about Iraq.
For ten years
Less-than-Elected-Vice-President Cheney
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 summer,
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

...and the poem he read at his hearing

American Mourning Poem

American Service Men and Women Dead -3,931*

"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments
leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal
some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

George W. Bush
President of the United States
State of the Union Address
January 28, 2003

Coming HomeIn catacombs of military transports
destined for Dover Air Force Base,
loves, beliefs, ideals, plans:
Hancock Community College,
University of Miami,
New York Police Academy,
weddings, children,
barbeques, baseball, bass fishing-
All lidded down inside caskets
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

25-year-old Marine Corps Corporal
St. George, Maine.
Sailor, rock climber, stargazer.
On dance floor, ". . . like a magnet.
"Loves lobsters, mussels-
All lidded down inside casket
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

30-year-old Army Private First Class
Tuba City, Arizona.
". . . young, a single mother and capable."
Her boy, 4 - her girl, 3.
Woman proud of her Hopi heritage-
All lidded down inside casket
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

20-year-old Marine Corps Corporal
La Harpe, Illinois
High school football, basketball player,
lifeguard at health club pool,
lifts weights,
going to be a physical trainer.
Joins Marine Corps Reserve
to pay for studies at Southern Illinois University-
All lidded down inside casket
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

21-year-old Marine Corps Corporal
Gallatin, Tennessee.
Nurses dying mother with his humor,
dresses in clown costume for nieces’ birthdays.
History buff, reads fat books about generals,
presidents, the Revolutionary War-
All lidded down inside casket
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

24-year-old Coast Guard Petty Officer
Northport, New York.
Wife, three months pregnant.
Wants to be a policeman like his father.
". . . the kind of person that you fall in love with
the minute that you meet him," a friend says-
All lidded down inside casket
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

A father, a mother grieve for their only son, an Army Specialist.
"He wanted to be an engineer," the father remembers.
"He wanted to set up his own business when he got out.
And I says, 'Amigo, I’m waiting for you to get out
so we can put up our own business.’
And all that, well, you know, is history."

The Major General carefully, caringly folds The American Flag,
places the nation’s ensign into the mother’s hands

*as of January 23. 2008

All poems ©Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr.

Tour This Rock - Blog These Tours

A message from Kim Roberts:

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 (, 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 ( 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 (

Monday, February 4, 2008

More Haiku Postcards to the President

Here are some more Haiku Postcards to the President, collected at AWP this past week-end. Try your hand? We'd love to see more. We'll keep posting our favorites.


I saw the White House
recently from a distance.
I couldn't get close.

--Thad Rutkowski


My father retired
from the Army just in time.
I am so thankful.

-- Dani LeBlanc


In retirement, read more
listen more, repent

-- YF


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


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.

-- M.R.R.

Dear President,

Bushie- Poo No child
left behind. No more jails please
in Alabama.

-- Anonymous

Dear President,

My friend's boy came back
His nightmares have not ended
Please bring the rest home!

-- L. Desrosiers

Dear President,

Read the bible, man.
Preferential treatment for
the poor, says Jesus.

-- anonymous

Dear President,

We can't wait until
You go back to your ranch and
we can all read Joyce.

-- anonymous

Dear President,

End the war right now
and secure your legacy.
End the war right now.

--Eric Pankey

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

Postcards to the President

Greetings from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference!

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.

--B. Geyer

Do you dream children
in Kabul in Mosul killed
by your certainty

-- Suzanne Gardinier


I listened
with ears
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
president leaving
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)