Monday, November 28, 2011

Poem of the Week: Kathleen Hellen

Kathleen Hellen

Belly Song

I sit in the front row of

bleachers -- cheap seats for greater grief.
My son

the tribe in his ribs
the strength in him, keen, huddled
runs through the hits, breathes
through the pale ghost of stitches
these games that go long into hard victories.

Who knows how long we have them?
when sirens call to the streets
when one sends back his fatigue

another's enlisted.

The bones of an open humvee. The bones
at a roadside checkpoint.

It might be that we swallow them:
A belly song. A flag sent home
A rosary like dog tags

A triage of crows flies over
My son

packs up his cleats
The fog of his breathing surrenders
He limps to the car where I tender
his wounds. The bones
of a cradle, breaking.

-Kathleen Hellen

First appeared in Yellow Medicine Review, Fall 2009

Used by permission.

Kathleen Hellen is the author of The Girl Who Loved Mothra (Finishing Line Press, 2010). Her work has appeared in Cimarron Review; the Cortland Review; The Evansville Review; the Hollins Critic; In Posse Review; Prairie Schooner; RHINO; Subtropics; among others; and on WYPR's "The Signal." Awards include the Washington Square Review and Thomas Merton poetry prizes, as well as individual artist grants from Maryland and Baltimore City. She is senior editor for The Baltimore Review.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Sulu DC is turning two! TWO! Y'all know what this means, right?

From our great friends at Sulu DC:

PARTY! Come celebrate with us at our 2nd Anniversary & Awards show! We're fun people, we promise.

*Advance tickets on sale now for $20:**
(Buying in advance enters you in a raffle to win $100 worth of sushi! Details below.)

The evening will begin with a reception where you can see and buy cool arts and crafts made by artsy and crafty APIA folk, get your glamour-shot on in our fabulous Sulu DC photo-booth by a professional photographer, and drink and mingle with all the lovely peoples before the featured performances and award ceremony.

Hosted by critically acclaimed spoken word pioneer, Regie Cabico the night's performers include:

- Screening of short films by deaf filmmaker and playwright Sabina England;
- Keva I. Lee, professional dominatrix, fetish model, and former counselor for sex workers in the criminal justice system;
- Chip Han, Virginia-based beat boxer and winner of the 2010 Kollaboration DC talent showcase;
- J Pharaoh & the Manhattan Project, a hip-hop/soul/rock band out of Virginia Beach
- DJ Boo, a Filipino-American DJ and musician based in New York

We will also be announcing the recipients of the following awards:

-Artist of the Year Award
-Community Contribution Award
-Audience Award
-Community Partner Award
-Sulu DC Star Award
-Sulu DC House Award

So come mingle with some down and happenin' people, make new friends and rock out, all the while supporting phenomenal AAPI artists. Doesn't get much better than that! Plus, who doesn't love a reason to get a little dressed up?

Sponsored in part by Toki Underground, DC APA Film, Ichiban Sushi in McLean, Artisphere and Kollaboration DC.

* Everyone who buys a ticket online in advance will be entered in a special raffle for a $100 gift certificate to Ichiban Sushi in McLean! Don't miss this opportunity to host the best holiday party ever -- buy your discounted advance tickets now at! Many thanks to Ichiban Sushi for donating this gift card.*

The deets: Each ticket purchased counts as one entry. The winner will be announced at the show. You must be present to win.

Poem of the Week: Kathleen O'Toole

Halim, waiting

He arrived first as a student of geology the bicentennial year.

..................................................He witnessed

the fireworks, read the Declaration and believed it.

One by one, he brought his family -- Fatima, Anas,

............Nassir. Today they are all citizens. He alone waits.

He built houses, a business, this dream. Eighteen years

...........of waiting to savor the meat he first smelled roasting

on Manhattan streets. His father's home in Baghdad in ruins. The cousins in Najaf are dead, conscripted --

His youngest son has brought the daughter of a family friend Virginia to marry. Even she will be a citizen before him.

Each time he travels home, one more letter in his file
...........for helping the war effort.
....................................Still at each airport, the pat-downs,
pull asides, manhandling -- the eyes.
..........................................................At the immigration office
they say: one more name check. One more set of fingerprints.

His wife says: now they will not give this. They need to keep him
............on this leash.

-Kathleen O'Toole

Used by permission.

Kathleen O'Toole is the author of Meanwhile and Practice, a chapbook of poems. She has combined a more than thirty-year professional life in community organizing with teaching and writing. She has taught writing at Johns Hopkins University and at the Maryland Institute College of Art. She currently works for V.O.I.C.E., an affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation in Northern Virginia.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Poem of the Week: Judith Arcana

Judith Arcana

Can Safety Matches Make Us Safe?

You read the tiny cardboard book before

you scratch the strip under Augie's New Pizza
on the back of MIA:We still don't know

(and isn't that the truth?). Earn college

credit at home, taking tests on a screen

being screened. Bad credit? We can help.

Remember to close cover before striking

or go out on strike /// three strikes: you're out

of the fire into a plastic frying pan, teflon

on electric glowing rings - not like when

your phone rings and someone tells you

what you know you don't want to know.

-Judith Arcana

Used by permission.

Photo by: Barbara Gundle

First published in 5AM, Summer 2011

Judith Arcana writes poems, stories, and essays. Her books include Grace Paley's Life Stories, A Literary Biography, the poetry collection What if your mother, and the poetry chapbook 4th Period English. This year her work has appeared in several journals and anthologies online and in print. Judith lives in Oregon, in an apartment upstairs of her neighborhood library.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Occupied with Poetry

Art and politics intersect at Occupy Columbia (SC)

Art connected with politics, quite literally, on a warm October night at the intersection of Main and Gervais Streets in Columbia, South Carolina. A downtown poetry and pub walk, hosted by the local arts magazine Jasper, led right across the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse, where the Occupy Columbia protest was in full force, joined for the evening by a Latin American coalition.

We’d started off the evening at a local arts center with “Invocation” by Ron Rash, a poem in which Rash invokes the ghost of his grandfather over a jar of whiskey, asking him to guide him in his first collection, Eureka Mill, a poetry homage to the mill workers of the Carolinas during the 1930s textile mills strikes.

I was leading the pub walk. We had poets with poems, pretzel necklaces, a map with stops marked, and a pizza party waiting on us at the end of the evening. It was a lively group of fellow travelers, propelled by a couple of pints, a snatch of music at one local bar, and some fun (sometimes political, sometimes sexy) poems selected by local poets Ray McManus, Tara Powell, and Kristine Hartvigsen.

The statehouse grounds was on our map, since we had a couple of poems engaged with the difficult histories of our state—one by African American poet Nikkey Finney, “Hate,” and another by DC poet Dan Vera about one of the most awkward monuments on the grounds, “This is not the postcard for the monument to J. Marion Sims,” which he wrote after I took him on one of my “unofficial” tours of the grounds.

Sims, lauded as the founder of the modern science of gynecology, built his reputation by operating on slaves, as Vera points out. Elsewhere on the grounds are monuments to “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman (one of the founders of Jim Crow practices in the post-Reconstruction South), Strom Thurmond (his monument visibly altered to include his bi-racial daughter after his death), and a beautiful monument to African-American history, which our enlightened legislature approved but only if paid for by private not public funds. Oh, and the Confederate flag.

When we crossed Main to join the line of protestors waving signs at passing traffic, we had bags of popcorn to share with them, and a couple of poems we wanted to share as well.

I had been following Occupy Wall Street, and I’d seen the inspiring and arresting images as the movement gained traction around the nation. But it was when I drove by the capitol grounds in my hometown of Columbia and saw the local protestors that I was galvanized. As the local news media began to follow the protest, one image leapt out for me, a photo from the local alternative newspaper the Free Times.

In it, one of my former undergraduate students was leaning against a statue, watching Travis Bland, the movement organizer, raising his arms.

I wrote a poem, “Letter to Travis,” and I had it with me that night.

We asked if we could share the poem. Standing on the steps of a monument to the Confederate dead, I read the poem, phrase by phrase, and the protestors echoed it back in the mic-check format of the Occupy movement, transforming the poem into a call and response.

Letter to Travis

at Occupy Columbia, 22 Oct 2011, after reading the Free Times coverage

I saw that photo of you, lean, grinning, skinny jeans,

flannel shirt, newsboy cap, and nearby,

my former student Anna, hair dyed black, arms crossed

over her tie-dyed purple tee, leaning

on a not-quite-life-sized bronze George Washington

(the one boxed off at the MLK march

earlier this year, unfortunate fodder for FOX to spout off

about respect and legacy and shit like that,

the one with the broken cane, broken off by Union troops

in 1865 and never repaired,

as if he’s doomed to limp down here, and he was shot later

by drunken Governor Ben Tillman, the one

so racist he got his own statue in 1940, just

across the square from George, standing watch

now over a cluster of punks in sleeping bags, just down

the lawn from the one for gynecological

marvel J. Marion Sims, who Nazi-doctored black

women, then ran off to New York to experiment

on destitute Irish immigrant women—such difficult history here,

stories of the black, the poor.). I heard more

about George this morning on NPR, his whiskey distillery

back in business, though without the slave labor,

that story after the one about Occupy Washington

clustered near K Street. The front pages

of the local papers are Gadhafi’s slaughter, the body stashed

in a shopping center freezer, GOP

would-be’s descending on us for another debate, the state fair

ending this weekend, its rides and fried things.

I’ve got the list of what you guys need, Travis, gloves,

storage tubs, “head warming stuff,”

water, and I plan to drop by later with supplies.

For now, though, I look out my window,

the weather beautiful if cool, fair weather, the dogwood gone

red and finches fidgeting among the limbs.

Too easy, probably, to turn all pastoral at times

like these, to tend my own garden,

the last tomatoes ripening up, collards almost ready,

needing that chill to sweeten a bit.

A dear friend wrote me this week, says he’s scared

he’ll lose his job come the new year,

a fear we hear over and over, though the GOP folks

tell us it’s our own fault that we’re

not the rich—individual responsibility and all that.

I want to believe in the joy

and resistance I see there on your face, Travis,

the will revealed in Anna’s crossed arms.

I want to believe it, I want it to last, I want it to win.

I’ll stop by later with gloves and water.

While there can be many audiences for a poem, this was the perfect audience, and Travis, the Occupy Columbia organizer, was there among them. And when they repeated, forcefully, “such difficult history here” or “I want it to win,” I was so moved.

A couple of days later, someone forwarded to me an essay by Sarah Browning about poetry as a form of activism. In it, she writes: “Poetry and other art forms can combat despair, inspire those working in the trenches of social change movements, humanize those we are taught to fear, and build bridges across our differences, telling our human stories.” She adds—and I couldn’t help but think of my own take on our statehouse monuments, or Dan Vera’s poem—“A poem can be a history lesson.”

I hope this poem can do that kind of work. But my partner and I will still stop by again with more practical support: gloves, bottled water, “head warming stuff.”


Ed Madden teaches at the University of South Carolina. He is the author of Signals, which won the 2007 South Carolina Poetry Book Prize, and more recently, Prodigal: Variations. He is also the literary editor of Jasper. Photos by Kristine Hartvigsen.

Occupy Columbia

FOX coverage of the Washington statue

J. Marion Sims

A local feminist perspective

Friday, November 4, 2011

Review of Meanwhile

Review by Katherine Anderson Howell

Kathleen O’Toole’s Meanwhile dwells as much on what is not present as what is. The book plays with time, transience, land and place, and works these themes into a powerful statement about justice and love.

Throughout Meanwhile, spirituality and religion echo – from Lent to Advent, from Bible verses to portable communion, from ku to Pentecost to Buddhist peace flags, spiritual things become not the subject of the poems, but an overtone, serving to keep the reader in mind of a search for enlightenment and peace.

The search is not always successful. In the poem “At Kelly Ingram Park” a photographer shoots pictures of the memorials to the victims of the Sixteenth Street Church bombing. The poem moves through time, from when the speaker’s “grandmother lit candles in the dark fearing/ the riots would spill our way in April of ’68” and even further back to “parents// dress[ing] her as Aunt Jemima for Halloween in’59.” The speaker considers the “un-oiled wheels of law” and the “couple of 80-year old preachers, former klansmen/ in wheelchairs for their life sentences,” contrasts these with the broken lives of the young girls who were murdered. The reader senses the fullness of life – the ice cream truck, a neon sign – and the absurdity that comes with the creeping pace of justice that allows hatred to breath long and cuts off innocence.

The next poem in the book continues this juxtaposition between the full life and the broken life. “Seen, Unseen” begins with a litany of natural images – a heron, a Sierra ridge, and winged insects. The poem then shifts, asking us to:
“Imagine a movement/ among the super rich, rushing to cash in their billions./ A river of balm floods the sub-Sahara, overtakes the pillaging of AIDS.”

Justice here is economic and abstract – it is money becoming a healing agent. Such a thing exists only in the imagination, as O’Toole reminds us in the next lines: “Only first see the mothers/ queuing up at a Bostwana clinic, their sons bending over the cassava plots,/ sisters minding babies who play gamely in the dry stream bed.” We cannot imagine justice that will heal this; we certainly cannot imagine it until we have seen this brokenness ourselves.

Our physical lives hold fascination for O’Toole. “County Antrim Archeology” discusses the transience of the physical, how our bodies will be subsumed into atoms, will become just “a small moist stain on the lip of the whirling god.” Even in life, our bodies are divisible; they break, they become ill, they require healing. O’Toole connects the tools we use for healing with the tools we use for murder in “Themes and Variations: Baltimore Museum Sculpture Garden”:

Nuclear medicine, the technician explained only three steps of mind
.........................- a few acrobatic sparks –
from the science of war..........................I watch
...........the inscrutable screens moving dots
and what may be white
.................................masses of organ or bone
as if my flesh were dissolving…

Our bodies are both knowable and unknown, both victim and assailant.

So too are our homes. “Demolition in a Time of Penitence” shows the transience of shelter, and here again, justice is slow, imagined or absent: “For weeks the demolition experts have been at work -/ picking clean the carcasses of four public housing high-rises.”

O’Toole connects this destruction to all of us – the eyes that watch are ours, the skeletons forced out of closets are ours, and questions are left hanging after the explosion that brings the buildings down.

These themes of injustice, transience, and the search for peace converge in the poem “April is National Poetry Month.” The speaker of the poem is in a taxi, listening to the radio with a driver from Sierra Leone. Together, they feel the absurdity of a world with justice for some but not for all:

He recoils at the lawyer’s voice on the radio
defending the serial arsonist: “My client
only set those fires to relieve stress!” …
…his corner of the world
abandoned by Cold War interests, leaving
the vultures of chaos free reign with home-grown
(Harvard educated) rebels swooping in

The rest of the poem slides away from this reality, returns to nature, where many of O’Toole’s poems return in their search for peace: cherry blossoms, the dogwoods of “dependable” spring in DC. “Poetry” this book claims “is where you find it.” O’Toole has found it in the fight to love the world.

Kathleen O'Toole
David Robert Books

A free review copy of this book was provided to Split This Rock poetry Festival

Poem of the Week: Penelope Scambly Schott

Penelope Schott

At the Demonstration

Back when I used to march
in the noon of the green world,

I sang like a crow.
The cacophony of insistence

burnt like lightening.
Now ash lowers the sky

and I gasp through slits in my ribs.
Injustice, are you listening?

Light rises from my round mouth
and my heart jerks in my hand.

Greed hangs among clouds
as we stand here together,

palms up. Whatever sifts down
is our only food.

-Penelope Scambly Schott

Used by permission.

Penelope Scambly Schott is the author of eight collections of poetry, including a verse biography of Protestant dissenter Anne Hutchinson and, most recently, Crow Mercies (2010), available from CALYX Books.

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100 Thousand Poets for a Free Tibet

Reading of poems by Tsoltim N. Shakabpa, Jigme Dorjee DAGYAP, Tashi Rabten, and Tenzin Tsundue in front of the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles.

by Teresa C. Dowell

As a poet, writer, teacher and human being, I feel a moral responsibility to help bring forth voices that need to be heard. If I were in China, I would be put in prison for what I write and say; however, luckily, I live in the U.S. where I can freely express my thoughts and feelings. In places such as Tibet, one can not write or speak one’s mind freely. Consequences include being arrested, imprisonment, torture and/or death.

A few days before ENOUGH: Global Day of Action for Tibet, I made copies of poems by Tibetan poets Tsoltim N. Shakabpa (a.k.a. T.N. for Tibetan National), Jigme Dorjee DAGYAP, and Tashi Rabten (pen name: Theurang).

On November 2, 2011, 100 Thousand Poets for Change, a grassroots global coalition of poets, joined L.A. Friends of Tibet and Tibetan Association of Southern California at the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles to protest China’s oppression, to read and distribute poems by Tibetans, and to pray during a candlelight vigil in solidarity with the global campaign - ENOUGH is ENOUGH – Global Intervention to Save Tibetan Lives.

It was important for me to bring forth the voices of Tsoltim N. Shakabpa, a renowned Tibetan poet, who experienced a stroke recently and can not travel or read his poems out loud, Jigme Dorjee DAGYAP who lives in Sikkim, Gangtok in the Himalayas, and Tashi Rabten, poet and editor of a banned literary magazine known as “Shar Dungri” (Eastern Snow Mountain), who is in prison, sentenced to four years by the Chinese government. However, their voices need to be heard because it is a matter of survival for a people and a culture on the verge of extinction, and Tibetans are the ones that must tell their story to the world, not the colonizers.

Tibetan Association of Southern California began the protest in front of the visa office in hopes of raising awareness among potential visitors of China. At 4:30 p.m., we protested in front of the Chinese Consulate, demanding human rights, freedom of religion, freedom of speech. Photos of the 10 monks and nun in Tibet who self-immolated this year were strewn like prayer flags across the lawn and on picket signs. Then, we marched around the block, I held a sign painted in the colors of the Tibetan flag that read, “100 Thousand Poets for a Free Tibet” and passed out leaflets with poems by Tsoltim N. Shakabpa, Jigme Dorjee DAGYAP, and Tashi Rabten to passersby and people who were wondering what the protest was about.

Afterwards, we returned to the front of the Chinese Consulate and began the poetry reading with the reading of the poem, “Remember,” by Jigme Dorjee DAGYAP. Tibetans continued to read aloud poems by Tsoltim N. Shakabpa: “We Can and We Must,” “Devil in Disguise,” and “China O China.” Some Tibetan children read poems by Tashi Rabten. The poem, “Rangzen,” by Tibetan writer/activist Tenzin Tsundue was read. It was a very touching and emotional moment for me to hear the poems read aloud by Tibetans in front of the Chinese Consulate.

After the reading, it was already night time, the sky had darkened. Above us was the waxing moon and a few stars. We all sat down on the lawn surrounded by candles during a prayer – om mani peme hung...

At about 7:30 p.m., the press release was read aloud and I listened to the demands for human rights, freedom of religion, freedom of speech. I listened to the names of the 10 monks and nun in Tibet who had sacrificed their lives by lighting themselves on fire in self-immolation, sending their only voice, fire, burning flesh, over the great Himalayas for the world to hear. I could not hold back my tears. As the tears streamed down my face, I told myself, I must be strong, I must be resilient, as we all must be and continue this peaceful fight for freedom and basic human rights.

Photos from the November 2nd ENOUGH: Global Day of Action for Tibet at the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles:

Stand Up For Tibet Campaign Unites World Wide on Eve of G20 Summit

Petition to Free Poet Tashi Rabten:

A poem read at the protest:


By Tsoltim N. Shakabpa

You affect democracy

We effect democracy

You bear no criticism

We bare our soul

You prey on the weak

We pray for the weak

You exorcise freedom

We exercise freedom

You complement injustice

We compliment justice

You faze human rights

We phase in human rights

You pair wrong with right

We pare wrong from right

You censor free speech

We censure limited speech

You break laws

We brake to prevent illegality

You go left

We go right

You tell lies

We tell truths

You hate religion

We love religion

You talk crooked

We talk straight

You adore money

We adore God

You act violently

We act non-violently

You promote autocracy

We promote democracy

You restrain free speech

We restore free speech

Your power grows out of the barrel of a gun

Our power grows from the legitimacy of our claim

China O China

Give up your sins

And save your skins

We pray for your soul

Abandon your goal

Give up your wrath

Follow our path

So we can get along

And be true friends life long