Friday, February 26, 2010

Up Close and Poetical: Bruce Weigl

Welcome to the second in a series of profiles of featured poets here at Blog This Rock. The series, titled "Up Close and Poetical," aims to introduce you to our featured poets and their body of work. Other profiles can be found here. This profile was written by GMU student and Split This Rock intern Michael McGrath.

I’m often reminded of the difficulty many of us experience when trying to find the words to express what we’ve been through. This can be especially true when such experiences forced us to act in ways that were so overwhelmingly transformational; the person staring back from the mirror can look like a stranger. Someone who has found a way to make this type of experience accessible to others is poet Bruce Weigl.

The work of the Split This Rock Festival featured poet, Bruce Weigl, gives voice to the darker side of existence that often emotionally isolates us from society and even the humanity within us. As a veteran of the Vietnam War, Weigl was exposed to the demons of humanity through firsthand experience with horrors of war. In today’s modern America, the ghost which followed Weigl home from Vietnam are etched into the faces of modern warfighters returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For these individuals, Weigl’s work and subsequent career demonstrates hope for the future that even though their lives have changed, they have not lost that which makes them human. For those whom have never lived through such atrocities, Weigl’s work creates a vivid moment of accessibility that guides an audience to share in the emotional experience within his words.

Those new to poetry will find Weigl’s work quite different from the poetry they once dread from high school English classes. Rather than using abstract constructions, Weigl’s words flow off the page in a familiar manner that resembles the way thoughts flow freely through our minds as we experience the events of our own lives. Speaking about poetry, Weigl has said, “The poem itself, means that no matter however horrible the subject, we can somehow go beyond it as people, as human beings.” This connection with the average individual speaks to the importance of his work and the promise of poetry to empower every man, woman, and child.

While introducing Song of Napalm at the College of Southern Maryland’s 1991 Literary Collection Series, Weigl spoke of his struggles to reconcile the horrors he experienced as a Vietnam Veteran through the his craft as a poet. He said, “You learn that as a poet you want to make the words beautiful, yet your subject is so dark and terrible. I think the salvation comes in the belief… that somehow in the act of writing the poem, is an affirmation of life.” This notion of redemption is not unique to warfighters, and serves as a beacon for anyone struggling with the unique demons of their own pasts.

Bruce Wiegl will be a featured poet at the upcoming Split This Rock Festival in Washington, DC, March 10-13, 2010. Weigl is currently a Distinguished Professor of Arts and Humanities at the Lorain County Community College and has been an active member of the poetry community for quite some time. He has won multiple awards for his work which include such honors as the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, the Poet’s Prize from the National Academy of Poets, as well as two Pushcart Prizes. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for a poem he wrote in 1998, "Song of Napalm," which drew from his experiences as a warfighter during the Vietnam War.

Michael McGrath has recently come to appreciate poetry after he was dragged kicking and screaming to a live reading. His postings on this blog will be from the perspective of someone completely new to poetry, so he asks that he be forgiven if his views seem under-informed. Michael is a native to the DC Metropolitan area and has been involved in the LGBT community for more years than ought to be said publicly. He is senior at George Mason University majoring in communication with a minor in conflict analysis and resolution. And, if everything goes as planned, he will graduate in May 2010.

The World & Me Youth Poetry Contest Awards Reception

Split This Rock Presents:

The World & Me Youth Poetry Contest Awards Reception

Saturday March 6, 2010
14th & V STREET, NW

Keynote Poet: Samuel Miranda
Hosted by: Regie Cabico

The Top Youth Poets of Washington, DC
read original poems of Provocation & Witness.

Poets Representing:
Archbishop Carroll, Seed Charter School,
Bell Multicultural High School,
Sousa Jr. High, Powell Elementary, Alice Deal Middle School, Willam E. Doar


Please R.S.V.P. by March 3, 2010 to gregory [at] splitthisrock [dot] org.

Co-sponsored by Busboys and Poets

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Split This Rock Volunteer Party Tonight!

Don't forget, the Split This Rock Volunteer Party tonight, Thursday February 25, 2010, 6-8pm

@ The Rabbit Room
Studio of Lisa Marie Thalhammer, Thom Flynn, DJ Natty Boom, and Danielle Evennou
The 52 O St. Studios/Contemporary Artists Working
52 O St, NW #100
Washington, DC 20001
(Red Line - New York Ave. Metro)

The next party will be Friday March 5, 2010, 6:00-8:00pm

@ Split This Rock Headquarters
Institute for Policy Studies
1112 16th St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
(Red Line - Farragut North)
(Blue/Orange Line - McPherson Square)

To RSVP and if you can't make it to a party, but would like to volunteer, please e-mail Abdul at ali at splitthisrock dot org.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Poem-of-the-Week: Martha Collins


not as in pin, the kind that keeps the wheels

turning, and not the strip of land that marks

the border between two fields. unrelated

to link, as in chain, or by extension whatever

connects one part to another, and therefore

not a measure of a chain, which in any

case is less than the span of a hand hold-

ing the reins, the rope, the hoe, or taking

something like justice into itself, as when

a captain turned judge and gave it his name.

that was before it lost its balance and crossed

the border, the massed body of undoers

claiming connection, relation, an intimate

right to the prized parts, to the body undone.

* * * *

there was a second another

a white there were two

that night the second an after

thought said one of the papers

the other said when they couldn’t find

the second black in the jail they took

instead the white who’d murdered

his wife because (she said before

she died) she’d refused—

not prejudice the papers

said the hanging of Henry Salzner

proves they were not moved by race

-Martha Collins

Selections from Blue Front (Graywolf Press 2006). Used by permission.

Note: In Blue Front Collins describes the lynching of a Black man - and later, a white man - in Cairo, IL in 1909, an event her father witnessed when he was five years old. The book, part lyric and part narrative, is a collage of investigation into this event, and an exploration of hate, mob mentality, and race in America.

Martha Collins’ work Blue Front (Graywolf, 2006) won an Anisfield-Wolf Award and was chosen as one of “25 Books to Remember from 2006” by the New York Public Library. Collins has also published four collections of poems, two collections of co-translations of Vietnamese poetry, and two chapbooks of poems. Other awards include fellowships from the NEA, the Bunting Institute, and the Witter Bynner Foundation. Collins founded the Creative Writing Program at UMass-Boston, and for ten years was Pauline Delaney Professor of Creative Writing at Oberlin College. She is currently editor-at-large for FIELD magazine and one of the editors of the Oberlin College Press.

Collins will be featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, March 10-13, 2010 in Washington, DC. The festival will present readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, film, activism—four days of creative transformation as we imagine a way forward, hone our community and activist skills, and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for social change. For more information:

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


Activist Vital Stats: Phyllis Bennis

This new feature will showcase activists that embody the spirit of Split This Rock in the world. If you would like to suggest an activist to feature, please contact me at khsplitthisrock at gmail dot com.

Activist Vital Stats: Phyllis Bennis

Name: Phyllis Bennis

Location: Washington, D.C.

Causes: Ending wars and occupations; these days so urgently Afghanistan and Iraq, but for too many decades now, Palestine. My latest book is Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer, available from Interlink Books.

Website: The Institute for Policy Studies

Inspirational Quote: "I have gone through a difficult apprenticeship and a long search, and also through the labyrinths of the written word, to become the poet of my people. That is my reward, not the books and poems that have been translated, or the books written to explicate or to dissect my words. My reward is the momentous occasion when, from the depths of the Lota coal mine, a man came up out of the tunnel into the full sunlight on the fiery nitrate field, as if rising out of hell, his face disfigured by his terrible work, his eyes inflamed by the dust, and stretching his rough hand out to me, a hand whose calluses and lines trace the map of the pampas, he said to me, his eyes shining: "I have known yo for a long time, my brother." That is the laurel crown for my poetry, that opening in the bleak pampa from which a worker emerges who has been told often by the wind and the night and the stars of Chile: "You're not alone; there's a poet whose thoughts are with you in your suffering." ...But how wonderful to have been in Ulan Bator! More so for someone like me who lives in all beautiful names. I live in them as in dream mansions intended just for me. And so I have lived, relishing every syllable, in Singapore's, in Samarkand's names. When I die, I want to be buried in a name, some especially chosen, beautiful-sounding name, so that its syllables will sing over my bones, near the sea." - From Memoirs by Pablo Neruda

A favorite poem:

I Am There
by Mahmoud Darwish

I come from there and remember,
I was born like everyone is born, I have a mother
and a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends and a prison.
I have a wave that sea-gulls snatched away.
I have a view of my own and an extra blade of grass.
I have a moon past the peak of words.
I have the godsent food of birds and an olive tree beyond the ken of time.
I have traversed the land before swords turned bodies into banquets.
I come from there, I return the sky to its mother when for its mother the sky cries, and I weep for a returning cloud to know me.
I have learned the words of blood-stained courts in order to break the rules.
I have learned and dismantled all the words to construct a single one:

Monday, February 22, 2010

Photo of the Week: The Empty Seat

This new feature will highlight a different photo each week from the 2008 festival. For more photos from the last festival, check out Split This Rock's Flickr.

The Empty Seat at the 2008 Split This Rock Poetry Festival.

Photo credit: Jill Brazel

Friday, February 19, 2010

Volunteer Parties for Split This Rock

Split This Rock will have two volunteer parties leading up to the March 10-13th Festival: one on Thursday, February 25th and the other on Friday, March 5th. If you'd like to assist with what promises to be another life-changing event, please attend and sign up for a shift or two during the Festival. There will be refreshments, poetry, and, as always, good energy!

You can help with several things--staffing tables at each venue, helping with set-up and break-down at the end of the day; assisting attendees with disabilities; selling materials, refreshments, registration, etc.

In exchange for your generous service, you will be offered a free day pass per shift you work for the Festival.

Please RSVP if you can by e-mailing Program Associate Abdul Ali at ali at splitthisrock dot org or 202.787.5210. If you don't know if you can make it until last minute, feel free to show up anyway!

And if you can't make it to a party, but would like to volunteer, please e-mail Abdul at ali at splitthisrock dot org .

Last but not least, don't forget to register! Early-bird registration ends on Saturday February 20th. Register now to take advantage of the discount!

Video of the Howard Zinn Tribute at Busboys!

Click here to watch a video of the Zinn tribute at Busboys and Poets.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Poem-of-the-Week: Cornelius Eady

............FOR BELL HOOKS

A warning one white friend hisses
To the one standing nearest to me
At an Upper West Side newsstand.
As if my ears
Could not cradle human speech.

This is the birth of a regret:
My surprise of the woman on my right
As I reach to buy a paper.
How her
Where? becomes an Oh.
How they grin,
I am a close call, how they grin,
Pickpocket my ease,
How they
Grin, then push off down the street.
Now I have the rest of Saturday.

Who will touch my hand,
Who will take my quarters,
These clots of syntax
Growing cold in the blush of my palm?

-Cornelius Eady

From Hardheaded Weather (Marian Wood/Putnam, 2008). Used by permission.

Cornelius Eady is co-founder (with Toi Derricote) of Cave Canem, a national organization for African American poetry and poets, and Associate Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at The University of Notre Dame. He is the author of six other books of poetry. His Victims of the Latest Dance Craze won the 1985 Lamont Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and his The Gathering of My Name was nominated for the 1992 Pulitzer Prize. Additional honors include the Prairie Schooner Strousse Award, a 2002 Oppenheimer Award for the best first play by an American playwright, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. Eady’s latest book of poems, Hardheaded Weather (Marian Wood/Putnam, 2008), was nominated for a 2008 NAACP Image Award.
Eady will be featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, March 10-13, 2010 in Washington, DC. The festival will present readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, film, activism—four days of creative transformation as we imagine a way forward, hone our community and activist skills, and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for social change. For more information:

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Photo of the Week: Sonia Sanchez

This new feature will highlight a different photo each week from the 2008 festival. For more photos from the last festival, check out Split This Rock's Flickr.

Featured Poet Sonia Sanchez reads at the 2008 Split This Rock Poetry Festival.

Photo Credit: Jill Brazel

Celebrating Lucille Clifton

won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

- Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

Monday, February 15, 2010

E. Ethelbert Miller's 1 Question Interview with Jan Beatty

The Little e-Note is 2008 featured poet and Split This Rock Advisory Board Member E. Ethelbert Miller's blog. The following is his 1 Question Interview with Jan Beatty, 2010 Split This Rock featured poet, and author of Red Sugar. Reposted with permission.

THE QUESTION: What are the politics behind the sex in your poetry?

I’m writing poems about eating the world, about stripping off the easy—down to the metal inside us. I’m writing the inside of the body as the ultimate domestic space. I’m writing a football field, what football is: it’s the hitting, the loving the game, the brutality and the intimacy of my body against yours. I’m writing poems to other writers, poems to musicians who drive me: George Clinton walking through Houston, the restaurant he’s in, the black history there that’s now a gated community—I’m continuing this: after the narrowing, the map & the rope, I cross the lake into view. What comes after the lake of the body? I want Frankie Lymon, P-Funk, and Spanka-Vision. I’m writing the stripping of easy moves, the familiar, a moving into, inside of the new thing seen: what is it? It feels like landscape, not machine, but land, sky, view—organic, not man-made. The long view, seeing far. I’m writing life, the integration of movement, pressure, hydraulics—rather than either/or—manic or relaxed. I’m finding a place, a speed I can live with, but still, always, time away for big sky. I’m writing the big, radiant failures, the tower falling, the new world. The muscle car and the body inside. I’m writing the vast, lonely spaces of the American West that tattoo me, fill my empty spaces. I’m writing poems to send out, poems to publish, I’m stuck in the Charlotte airport. I’m writing the airport trash talk with the construction workers there. The sex is the politics in my poems. It’s the speaking it, bold & varied in its representations. It’s about putting the body in, putting the body of a woman on the page, but writing it complicated: in a range of voices, with different looks and levels of intensity. With cunts and deep voices and vulnerabilities. It’s political in that a woman is writing a woman on the page, and she’s sexual, alive, not always sweet—in fact, rarely sweet and nice. She’s brought out her tools and she’s butch and she’s building new worlds on the page.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Call: An Anthology of Women's Writing: Updated!

The following is an excerpt of a review of The Call: An Anthology of Women's Writing by Caroline Malone at the Monserrat Review. You can read the complete review here.

In the anthology’s title poem, “The Call,” by Calder Lowe, the mundane sound of a train whistle transports the speaker back three centuries to the landscape of her ancestors” – glass blowers in the Black Forest, kin carrying Lafayette “off the battlefield”, the Von Eberhardt’s glowing furnaces – where fragments of history lead her back to the recent past. Her ancestors’ craft sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails, glass being a difficult medium with which to work. The speaker imagines “Some of the goblets flower, some crack.” The church bells that end stanza one are then heard at the end of the poem where the immediate past is recalled in which a single mother abandons her children, her son left at “an orphanage / tucked behind the spire of a Presbyterian Church,” her creations left behind. The speaker carries her history as part of her identity, and one sound, the whistle of the train, collapses the divisions of time allowing the speaker to connect with the past.

The writers represented in The Call are summoned to memory and respond with a wide palette of voices to bear witness to the lives of extraordinary ordinary women: daughters, granddaughters, mothers, lovers, caretakers, sisters, adolescents who celebrate life.


Cynthia Benson, Grace Cavalieri, K.E. Copeland, Carolyn Dille, Sharon Doyle, Jean Emerson,
Blanca Espinosa, Anne Gelhaus, Cynthia W. Gentry, Lara Gularte, Parthenia M. Hicks, Kathie Isaac-Luke, Calder Lowe, Margaret Luongo, Patricia McKeown, B.L.P. Simmons, Mary Lou Taylor, and Roberta Young

Available today, exclusively from
Dragonfly Press

$15 plus $2.38 for postage
Please make checks for $17.38
to Dragonfly Press
P.O. Box 746,

Columbia, CA 95310

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Poem-of-the-Week: Martín Espada

The Republic of Poetry

................For Chile

In the republic of poetry,

a train full of poets

rolls south in the rain

as plum trees rock

and horses kick the air,

and village bands

parade down the aisle

with trumpets, with bowler hats,

followed by the president

of the republic,

shaking every hand.

In the republic of poetry,

monks print verses about the night

on boxes of monastery chocolate,

kitchens in restaurants

use odes for recipes

from eel to artichoke,

and poets eat for free.

In the republic of poetry,

poets read to the baboons

at the zoo, and all the primates,

poets and baboons alike, scream for joy.

In the republic of poetry,

poets rent a helicopter

to bombard the national palace

with poems on bookmarks,

and everyone in the courtyard

rushes to grab a poem

fluttering from the sky,

blinded by weeping.

In the republic of poetry,

the guard at the airport

will not allow you to leave the country

until you declaim a poem for her

and she says Ah! Beautiful.

- Martín Espada

From The Republic of Poetry (W.W Norton 2006)

Martín Espada, called “the Latino poet of his generation” and “the Pablo Neruda of North American authors,” has published sixteen books in all as a poet, editor, essayist and translator, including two collections of poems last year: Crucifixion in the Plaza de Armas (Smokestack, 2008), released in England, and La Tumba de Buenaventura Roig (Terranova, 2008), a bilingual edition published in Puerto Rico. The Republic of Poetry, a collection of poems published by Norton in 2006, received the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Another collection, Imagine the Angels of Bread (Norton, 1996), won an American Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. A former tenant lawyer, Espada is now a professor in the Department of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he teaches creative writing and the work of Pablo Neruda.


Espada will be featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, March 10-13, 2010, in Washington, DC. The festival will present readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, film, activism—four days of creative transformation as we imagine a way forward, hone our community and activist skills, and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for social change. For more information:

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Washington Post Article about 'Full Moon on K Street'

The following is an excerpt from the Washington Post article about Full Moon on K Street, the recent anthology published by Beltway Poetry Quarterly editor Kim Roberts. For the full article, click here.

Photo Credit: Dan Zak, Washington Post

Washington has seen its small-press and self-publication movements, its spoken-word renaissance, its uniting of activist poets in the Split This Rock Poetry Festival, and the anchoring of reliable venues like Busboys and Poets and Beltway Poetry Quarterly -- these separate communities, the old and young, the living and the dead, the scholarly and the streetwise, have a place in the anthology.

"We're living in a historical place in historical times in a city that monumentalizes itself," says District writer-editor Dan Vera, 44, as the reception wanes and poets wrap themselves in scarves. "Sometimes you feel trapped in amber, but you try to catch the normal in poetry."

As she ties up small talk with guests, Roberts has other projects on her mind, like putting down a literary history of Washington in book form in a couple years. But first, 1,500 copies of "Full Moon on K Street" will go out, perhaps answering for some people the question "Washington has . . . what, exactly?"

It has Reed Whittemore's "gray facades/Of pillar and portal."

It has Sterling A. Brown's swarmed alleys and deserted pool rooms along Florida Avenue.

It has May Miller's "Cool magnificence of space."

It has Betty Parry's red and yellow roses in a back yard in Brookland.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Adrienne Rich on Split This Rock

May this gathering inspire and affirm the spirit of many, especially younger poets and teachers, who have felt betrayed by corporate government and media, by broken promises and opportunism. Thank you for your belief in the freeing power of language and action. - Adrienne Rich

For more information on Adrienne Rich, check out the Modern American Poetry section on her life and work.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Call for Poetry Film and Video - Deadline Extended

Split This Rock - Poetry Film Deadline Extended to Feb. 26th

Call for Poetry Film and Video - Deadline Extended

New Postmark deadline: Friday, February 26, 2010

Split This Rock invites poets, writers, artists, activists, dreamers, and all concerned world citizens to submit original poetry films or videos for the 2nd Split This Rock Poetry Festival, to be held March 2010. We are looking for artistic, experimental, and challenging film/video interpretations of poetry that explore critical social issues. Selected work will be screened during the Split This Rock Poetry Festival film program. Entries can be up to 15 minutes long.

See the guidelines and entry form for full details and submission requirements.


Entry Form

Review of Andrea Gibson's Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns

The following review was written by guest reviewer and 2010 Split This Rock panelist, Bob Blair.

The title of Andrea Gibson’s first nationally distributed poetry book, Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns, suggests a radically unorthodox fusion of body and spirit -- a striptease to the tune of Amazing Grace, lyrical commentary on tawdry realities. The volume’s 26 poems deliver their provocative synthesis with panache.

For example, Gibson’s Katrina poem, entitled “Yarrow,” consists of an initial 27 lines about a trip to New Orleans, the pre-hurricane pleasures of the city’s music, food, and easy hospitality and a year spent gardening there. Then she pays off with these four devastating final lines:

when I heard of Katrina
I thought, “The flowers, save the flowers…”
I never thought for a second
We wouldn’t save the people.
Pole Dancing includes pieces Gibson has previously performed at various campuses and poetry slams and released on CDs. Written to be staged before live audiences, sometimes competitively, the book’s longer poems display slam poetry’s tight focus on the actor/poet’s persona and the rhetorical intensity necessary to hold and inspire a crowd. The poems -- mostly emotional personal narratives and barbed social commentary delivered in staccato rhythms -- blend anger, sarcasm and humor to build a tension (and audience interest) that drives toward each piece’s dramatic closing declaration. (“She’s not asking what you’re gonna tell your daughter./ She’s asking what you’re gonna teach/ your son.”)

That theatrical style, well suited to polemical oratory, can feel more natural to the stage than the page. But Pole Dancing’s clear, colloquial language, biting (and often bitter) wit, wild metaphors and engaging narratives ensure that Gibson’s work easily survives translation from CD and video to paperback.

Gibson, who calls herself a political and opinionated queer poet/activist bent on promoting social change through a cultural revolution, writes poetry that highlights her views on war, race relations, gender roles, faith and various species of bigotry and violence. What her poems forego in subtlety, they more than offset with their energy, directness and passion.

· On the Iraq war: “Somebody pray for the soldiers./ Somebody pray for what’s lost./Somebody pray for the mailbox/ that holds the official letters/ to the mothers, fathers,/ sisters and little brothers/ of Michael 19…Steven 21…John 33./ How ironic that their deaths sound like bible verses.” (“For Eli”)

· On mental health: “Doctor, our insanity is not that we see people who aren’t there. / It’s that we ignore the ones who are./ ‘Til we find ourselves scarred and ashamed/ walking into emergency rooms at two am/ flooded with a pain we cannot name or explain,/ bleeding from the outside in.” (“When the Bough Breaks”)

· On family relations: “‘Cause I have been half a decade now/ falling slow from the hands of your letting go,/ crashing down upon the pages of our separation/ where you’ve written me into paragraphs of/ short-haired dirty-hippie man-hating queer./ And I wonder if you even remember my name.” (“Marble”)

Woven through the political and social commentary, and at the center of Gibson’s most powerful (and personal) poems, are Pole Dancing’s meta-themes: love and survival. For love (and its survival) is, arguably, the undersong of most of her rants/hymns. It’s what lasts when the anger dissipates and the pain dulls: Love’s sensuality and mystery, urgency and obstacles, loss and remembrance, a sometimes hopeless desire that never can quite be abandoned.

And if you forever choose to shred the blanket of our blood
with the knives that hold our differences
we will both forever sleep cold.
But I will never forget the perfect warmth of your soul.
Will never forget my mother knew
that fairies danced on basement walls
and her song
the way she sang it when she woke me
would take me to a place where feet could walk on ceilings
and feelings were always smarter things than thoughts. (“Marble”)

When your heart is broken you plant seeds in the cracks
and you pray for rain. And you teach your sons and daughters
there are sharks in the water
but the only way to survive
is to breathe deep
and dive. (“Dive”)

And what perhaps qualifies as the most surprising love song in the whole hymnal:

The Yoga Instructor

When the yoga instructor broke Natalie’s heart
she started hanging out at the Holocaust Museum
hoping to put her own pain in perspective.

On the phone I did not tell her
how I fell in love '
the day George Bush was elected President,

and how I fell asleep that night
wrapped in the sweetest peace
I had ever known.

Reduced to the printed page, Gibson’s work may lose the stage presence and vocal stylizing of her YouTube ouvre, but her voice is as strong as ever. Page poetry turns down the volume and freeze-frames her rhetorical fireworks in ways that allow the reader to notice the craft, savor the clever details: halos as handcuffs, bullet casings as seashells, tears strung like Christmas tree lights, and the human heart as a “Labrador Retriever/ with its head hung out the window of a car/ tongue flapping in the wind/ on a highway going 95.”

Pole Dancing is the sort of oral poetry that transforms tapestries of disaster into prayer rugs. It’s what you’d get if Sylvia Plath and Lenny Bruce had a love child that was adopted and raised by Audre Lorde: sad, bad, audacious, energetic, and wildly imaginative.

A review copy of Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns was provided by Write Bloody Publishing. You can read a preview of the book here. The book is available for purchase at Write Bloody Publishing for $15.00.

Andrea Gibson, a Boulder CO-based spoken word poet and four-time Denver Grand Slam Champion, is an independent artist and social activist who has self-released four CDs (Yellow Bird, When the Bough Breaks, Swarm, and Bullets and Windchimes). She won the 2008 Women of the World Poetry Slam and will be one of the featured poets at the Split This Rock 2010 Poetry Festival.

Bob Blair is an economist with a former English Lit major’s residual taste for modern and contemporary poetry which he satisfies by scavenging second-hand bookstores and facilitating weekly poetry workshops at Miriam’s Kitchen in Washington, DC.

Read other reviews of Split This Rock poets here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Poem-of-the-Week: Nancy Morejón

Nueva fábula de albañil

Entre arena y gravilla,
mezcla y paleta,
va transcurriendo su vida
que irradia cien mil vidas
en la fiereza del andamio
en donde nace su espalda peregrina,
tan dura como el ágata,
dispuesta a todo
para el porvenir.

The New Fable of the Bricklayer

Amid sand and fine gravel,
mortar and trowel,
his life unfolds
and beams down on a hundred thousand lives
from the fierce strength of the scaffold
where his pilgrim back is born,
hard as agate,
ready for everything
the future brings.

-Nancy Morejón

From With Eyes and Soul - Images of Cuba (White Pine Press 2004). Used by permission.

Nancy Morejón, one of the foremost Cuban writers and intellectuals, has published more than twelve collections of poetry, three monographs, a dramatic work, and four critical studies of Cuban history and literature. Her lyrical verse, shaped by an Afro-Cuban sensibility and a feminist consciousness, evokes the intimacy of family, the ephemerality of love, and the significance of Cuban history. Her poems have appeared in several bilingual editions in the United States, including Where the Island Sleeps Like a Wing (The Black Scholar Press) and Looking Within-Mirar adentro (Wayne State University Press). She has translated numerous acclaimed French authors including Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Éluard, and Aimé Césaire, and her books of criticism of the work of Nicolas Guillén are considered classics.

Morejón will be featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, March 10-13, 2010, in Washington, DC. The festival will present readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, film, activism—four days of creative transformation as we imagine a way forward, hone our community and activist skills, and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for social change. For more information:

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

Sunday Kind of Love and Workshop with Kathy Engel

Sunday Kind of Love
Sunday, February 21, 2010
4-6 pm
Featuring Kathy Engel

author of Ruth's Skirts and co-editor of We Begin Here: Poems for Palestine and Lebanon
Busboys & Poets
14th & V Streets, NW, Washington, DC
Hosted by Katy Richey and Sarah Browning
Cosponsored by Busboys and Poets and Split This Rock
Open Mic at each event!
Admission free, donations encouraged
For more info: Busboys and Poets browning at splitthisrock dot org
Split This Rock 202-387-POET

Workshop by Kathy Engel:
Everything is Translation: Poetry that Breaks Boundaries

Saturday, February 20, 2010
1-4 pm
Institute for Policy Studies
1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC

$25 fee. To apply, send a check made out to "Sarah Browning" to Split This Rock/IPS
1112 16th Street, NW
Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036

No experience necessary. First come, first served. Scholarships available - contact Sarah at browning at splitthisrock dot org to apply.
Made possible in part by a grant from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities

Everything is Translation: Poetry that Breaks Boundaries

We will each bring a favorite poem and our readiness to listen, to write, and to share our work. We will share poems we love and discuss why, talk about fear and censorship that gets in the way of telling our stories through poetry. Why poetry? we will ask. We will look inside the notion that everything is translation, even within one language, the ways in which we make assumptions about one another without understanding each others' languages, and what can happen when we break open the assumptions and move inside the language. We will write using prompts that push us in language, form and narrative. We look at questions of identity, form, sound, story, magic, dream, research, journey, connection. Our time together as poets will be informed by an understanding that community is not separate from poetry and that community cannot exist without the sharing of all the stories, all the voices.

Kathy Engel is a poet, activist, essayist, organizer, producer and educator. Founder and first director of the women's human rights organization MADRE, co founder and former President of Riptide Communications, she has worked as a consultant for more than 20 year in creative strategic development for human rights, peace, and justice groups. Her passion is the fusion of imagination and change and border crossing. Her book of poems Ruth's Skirts was published by IKON in 2007. The same year she co edited We Begin Here: Poems for Palestine and Lebanon, Interlink Books, with Kamal Boullata. She is an adjunct professor at New York University in the Tisch School of the Arts/Art & Public Policy Program and the Gallatin School of Individualized Study's Community Learning Initiative. She is co producer of a film in process in which more than 175 women from the East End of Long Island speak about their hopes and fears the week preceding the election of Barack Obama. She is a student in the MFA program in poetry at Drew University. She has worked with the people of Haiti for years and will continue to. Kathy lives in Sagaponack, New York with her husband, dogs, cats, and her daughters who are suddenly grown, when they come home.