Friday, May 25, 2012

Poem of the Week: Purvi Shah

Purvi Shah      
Loss is an art, traversing one world to the next

"One wonders if Gwen Stefani of the band No Doubt
and The Artist Formerly Known as Prince know the meaning
behind their freshly minted body hennas...While hennas may  
be all the rage, the meaning beyond the tradition goes much
deeper. The ancient Indian art of body painting called Mehndi
(actually Persian in origin), initially reserved for bridal ceremonies
and spiritual occasions, has become the hot new way to adorn
oneself without committing to a permanent tattoo or wearing jewelry."   

-Aura Project ad

The mehndi is leaving my hands,
brown swirls dissolving into brown skin.
Somewhere you are traveling
through new architecture, celebrating
a companionate life in new cities.
If blind, you could see through your hands,
a universe etched in your palms. Your ankles
are rust, vines of buds and leaves. I envision
him leaning to the hotel tub, washing
the grime of the city from your feet, soap  
separated from the stencil. Love's imprint
lasts long when the fingers
rejoice, when the body's art is treasure.
Sap travels beyond root, cones
can be rolled here or there, a technology.
Here West Village women henna
their breasts before marriage, etching
coarse veins onto skins, parlors
painting commerce from the sacred.
Riding the train in America, the thrush emerges
from water pools, orange chaff unconnected to the earth
growing, as if, without umbilical soils.
Do the roots dissolve through inebriation
like my henna lines growing wild flowers
at the tub? The mark of family is on the body
not the engagement ring suddenly removed at the sink
not in the route the scent of perfume takes to leave the day's sweat
but in the designs which intimate bequeathed blood.
When the liquid paint
hits skin, it is a cold
separation, the memory of hundreds
of daughters walking towards a foreign
house, parents looking askance, blurred.  
They say: absence is a color, the deep
brown of life which is always receding.

-Purvi Shah 
Photo credit: Willi Wong     
Used by permission.    
From Terrain Tracks (New Rivers Press, 2006)   

Purvi Shah's Terrain Tracks (New Rivers Press, 2006), which explores migration as potential and loss, won the Many Voices Project prize and was nominated for the Asian American Writers' Workshop Members' Choice Award. Her work fighting violence against women earned her the inaugural SONY South Asian Social Services Award in 2008. In 2011, she served as Artistic Director for Together We Are New York, a community-based poetry project to highlight the voices of Asian Americans during the 10th anniversary of 9/11. She believes in the miracle of poetry and the beauty of change.  

Check out more of her work at  or @PurviPoets on Twitter.   
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!

If you are interested in reading past poems of the week, feel free to visit the blog archive.    

Split This Rock

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

From the Festival - The Way the World Begins Again

This year at the Split this Rock Poetry Festival, on a beautiful, wet Saturday morning, Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Julia Roxanne Wallace facilitated an intergenerational workshop on love, safety and community inspired by June Jordan’s children’s book Kimako’s Story.   

This poetry workshop was based on the successful initiation of the June Jordan Saturday Survival School in Durham, North Carolina, where whole families used concepts from June Jordan’s unpublished essays, “Towards a Survival Literature for Afrikan Children” (first presented in Washington DC in 1976) and “The Creative Spirit and Children’s Literature.” The workshop activities included collaborative marker mural-making based on quotations from Jordan’s essays, fill-in-the-blank poem-making based on June Jordan’s Kimako’s Story, and the creation of a group new age “Who Look at Me” based on June Jordan’s first children’s book. 

At the end of the workshop, the participants created 7 group poems designed to keep us inspired, connected and present.  Check out a sampling of these poems below.

Poem for the Future
Do not use the words child, children, little, or kids.

Come bright love sing us forward
to safety and wholeness
family and home outside our doors
butterflies from before and after
fluttering inside outside our dreams
our play
welcome here
our smiles welcome here forever
our souls sovereign
our souls free

 - Julia Roxanne Wallace and Ruth Forman


Poem for Getting it Done
Include the word “share”

Get schooled
Wake up to love deeply
And return to love
Share stories
And hydrate

Have babies, wake up, have babies, wake up
Live near grandma, pay mamma back
Share 29 years
And a thousand fifty five before
Into a book a play a song
Read poetry in mothertongue
Write poetry in mothertongue
Plant a whole garden

After you get it done

  - Lauren Muller and Yasi 


A Poem for Moving Your Body
Repeat the word “Black”

Black goes with everything
Black bicycle, biceps
Blue black before orange
this black
this body moving into black
running through the night
and my back and your block
and bimbimbop
push back push up
push through so black
body absorbs all colors
becoming black
throat tongue larynx
bellybutton groin toes
truth new black old
black soft black silky
shiny shifting find
the rhythm black
cartwheel on the black top
yes body yes black

 - Becky Thompson, Kathy Engel,  J. M. Schmidt

Monday, May 21, 2012

Poem of the Week: Meg Eden

meg eden     
factory work: made in china.  

I look for a man's hand inside
the folds of my purse, and find
a pattern that recalls a finger print, the way
skin winds in on itself, always originating
at some inner point that cannot be explained
or defined. I trace the pattern with my index. 
I find something woven into the bottom, a flap
like Chinese newsprint. I know that there are accidents
in work, and that today is no different
than the days two hundred, fifty, four, years ago.
If something is caught, it is bound
and obligated to remain in a type of marriage,
and a man lost his finger for a bag, somewhere-

I carry his finger alongside me as I walk, I carry
his loss in the same folds that I carry my desires,
that I must be in a constant state of justifying
his loss. I do not buy a new purse.

I do not let harm fall over its cheap straps. 

-Meg Eden 

Used by permission.

Meg Eden has been published in various magazines and anthologies, including Rock & Sling, The Science Creative Quarterly, anderbo, Gloom Cupboard, and Crucible. Her collection "Your Son" has received The Florence Kahn Memorial Award. Her collection "Rotary Phones and Facebook" is to be released in June 2012 by Dancing Girl Press.
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!

If you are interested in reading past poems of the week, feel free to visit the blog archive.    

Split This Rock

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Announcing Louder Than a Bomb DMV

Contact: Jonathan B. Tucker
Phone: 301.538.8926

Louder Than a Bomb Teen Poetry Slam Comes to Nation’s Capital 

Washington, DC – On June 2, 2012 teen poets from the District, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV)will come together for the first ever regional high school team poetry slam competition, modeled off of and in partnership with the successful Chicago-based youth slam of the same name, Louder Than a Bomb (LTAB). Twelve high school poetry teams from the DMV area will enjoy an action-packed day of poetry workshops, performances, and slam competition, culminating with the Grand Slam Finals that evening to crown one team the 2012 LTAB-DMV Champions. 

Aiming to bring teens together across racial, neighborhood, and socio-economic lines, LTAB-DMV is a friendly competition that emphasizes self-expression and community via poetry, oral storytelling, and hip-hop spoken word. These teams of poets work after school throughout the year, with guidance from guest teaching artists and coaches from the DC Youth Slam Team, to craft individual and group poems to perform in the slam. For many students, being part of a nurturing and creative team environment—in the context of school—is life-changing. Being applauded and rewarded for speaking their minds and telling their stories is equally powerful and transformative. Please come support the DMV youth and witness their passion, courage, and willingness to share their heart. 

Louder Than a Bomb-DMV is a program of Split This Rock, a nonprofit organization devoted to elevating the role of poets in social and civic life, bringing together a national network of poets and activists using their words to speak for justice and peace. This year’s LTAB-DMV is co-sponsored by GWU’s Africana Studies Department, Busboys and Poets, and the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities. Contact Youth Programs Coordinator, Jonathan B. Tucker at for more information or to get involved. Sponsorship opportunities are available. 

DCYST logo.jpgLTAB-logo-fb-square-7x7-300dpi.jpgLouder Than a Bomb – DMV
Saturday, June 2, 2012
Preliminaries: 1pm, 3pm
Grand Slam Finals: 7pm
GWU – Marvin Center
800 21st Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052
Foggy Bottom/GWU metro
$5 All Access Pass

“There’s so much to say…”: Writings from the Domestic Workers United Workshop

Split This Rock 2010 featured poet, Mark Nowak, has been leading creative writing workshops through Domestic Workers United.  On May 5th, as part of the PEN World Voices Festival, Nowak moderated a panel titled "There's So Much to Say..." featuring seven participants of his workshops, all nannies and housekeepers in New York City.

" became clear that the workshop had not only taught the craft of poetry, but it had also created a space for sharing anger, frustration, sadness and loneliness, and had enabled some of the women to find their voices.  The power of creative writing to illumine pain, to humanize and add dimension to jobs and lives that, too often, go unacknowledged, was made clearly evident as participants read their work aloud."

Check out photos and a full write-up of the event on the PEN Live! blog.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Poem of the Week: Daniel Nathan Terry

Daniel Nathan Terry    
The Execution of Henry Wirz - November 10, 1865

That Andersonville was a camp of nightmares,
a dark machine that brought slow death
to nearly 13,000 men, is not in dispute.
Survivors tell tales of atrocities: dysentery,

a water supply festering with human
waste, mass graves, a fence called the deadline
where snipers waited for would-be escapees.
And you have seen the starving--ghastly images

of what once were men of valor, whose only crime
was love of country, reduced to living skeletons,
skin stretched over bone, life evident
only in their haunted eyes. That someone should

be held accountable for not only the destruction,
but the desecration of these men, is not open
for debate. And it is a just thing that blame should fall
on the shoulders of the prison's commandant,

Henry Wirz, an immigrant who speaks poor English
even as he professes his innocence. In his defense,
it has been argued that Andersonville was cut off
from food and supplies, that guards died alongside

their charges, that the Union refused
prisoner exchange. It has been suggested
that the President's establishment of a military tribunal
to try Wirz, an American citizen, is not even legal.

And it is whispered that the prosecution was allowed
to call any witness, while defense witnesses
were subject to the prosecution's approval.
Forget all of that for now. Feel the winter sun on your face.

Listen to the jeering crowd: ANDERSONVILLE!
Stand here with Gardner as he looks down
upon the scaffold, wait with him a moment longer,

feel your hands tremble as he reaches for the lens-cap,
as he tries to read the executioner's body, as he predicts
the instant the trapdoor will be released. And remember,
you are not the black-hooded Wirz, rope tightening

around your neck, the good earth dropping away
beneath your feet. You are America--injured but victorious.
You are the crowd, the sky darkening above your head--
the white dome of the Capitol rising like a thunderhead

through the naked trees.

-Daniel Nathan Terry

From Capturing the Dead (NFSPS Press, 2008)     
Used by permission.

Daniel Nathan Terry is the author of Capturing the Dead (NFSPS 2008), which won The Stevens Prize,and a chapbook, Days of Dark Miracles (Seven Kitchens Press 2011). His second full-length book, Waxwings, is forthcoming from Lethe Press in July of 2012. His poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in many journals and anthologies, including New South, Poet Lore, Chautauqua, and Collective Brightness. He teaches English at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.    

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!

If you are interested in reading past poems of the week, feel free to visit the blog archive.    

Split This Rock

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May Sunday Kind of Love

May Sunday Kind of Love
celebrating Latin American translations
Luis Alberto Ambroggio, Naomi Ayala, Patricia Bejarano Fisher &
Yvette Neisser Moreno  
LuisNaomi Yvette and Pat
Sunday May 20, 2012
5-7 pm

Busboys and Poets 
2021 14th St. NW
Washington, DC

Hosted by Sarah Browning 
& Katy Richey
As always, open mic follows! 

Co-Sponsored by Busboys and Poets 
& Split This Rock 

For more information:   
This month we celebrate the translations of Latin American poetry with Luis Alberto Ambroggio and his translator, Naomi Ayala, and co-translators of Venezuelan poet Maria Teresa Ogliastri, Patricia Bejarano Fisher and Yvette Neisser Moreno.   

Ambroggio and Ayala will be reading from Ambroggio's latest collection, The Wind's Archeology.  Bejarano Fisher and Neisser Moreno will be reading from Ogliastri's collection, South Pole/Polo Sur.  

Luis Alberto Ambroggio, an internationally acclaimed Hispanic-American poet born in Argentina, is a Member of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language. Author of over fifteen published collections of poetry, anthologies, book of essays, including the bilingual anthologies Difficult Beauty: Selected Poems 1987-2006 introduced by Pulitzer-Prize winner Oscar Hijuelos (2009, edited by Yvette Neisser Moreno) and The Wind's Archeology (2011, translated by Naomi Ayala). His poetry and essays are the subject of two volumes of critical studies and have been recorded in the Archives of Hispanic Literature of the U.S. Library of the Congress.     

Naomi Ayala is the author of Wild Animals on the Moon and This Side of Early. Her third book of poems, Calling Home: Praise Songs and Incantations is forthcoming from Bilingual Review Press.  In 2011, VasoRoto Ediciones (Mexico) released her translation of Luis Alberto Ambroggio's most recent book of poetry, The Wind's Archeology/La arqueología del viento. Naomi teaches at The Writer's Center and works as a freelance writer/editor and translator.    
Patricia Bejarano Fisher has worked as a Spanish instructor, translator and language-learning materials developer for both government and academia. She taught college-level English in her native Colombia and Spanish at the University of Maryland and has a Master's Degree in Linguistics. Her translations of Gladys Ilarregui's poetry will be included in the forthcoming English edition of the anthology Al pie de la Casa Blanca: Poetas hispanos en Washington, DC (At the Base of the White House: Hispanic Poets in Washington, DC).

Yvette Neisser Moreno's first book of poetry, Grip, won the 2011 Gival Press Poetry Award and will be released in Fall 2012. She is co-translator of South Pole/Polo Sur by María Teresa Ogliastri (Settlement House, 2011), editor of Difficult Beauty: Selected Poems by Luis Alberto Ambroggio (Cross-Cultural Communications, 2009), founder of the DC-Area Literary Translators Network (DC-ALT), and a member of Split This Rock's programming committee. She has taught at various institutions, most recently The George Washington University, Catholic University, and The Writer's Center. Her website is       

Maria Teresa Ogliastri has been hailed by critics as one of the "essential" Venezuelan poets of the 21st century for her "refined lyric register." She has authored five books of poetry, most recently Del diario de la Señora Mao (From the Diary of Madame Mao), and her work has been included in several significant anthologies of contemporary Venezuelan poetry. South Pole/Polo Sur is her 4th book, and the first to appear in English.  

Split This Rock

Friday, May 4, 2012

Poem of the Week: Nancy C. Otter

Nancy Otter   
Rios Montt         
The soldier who stopped my father's truck
at the Chiapas border crossing in 1983
might have worked for that man
or been him a tentacle in fresh olive green
smooth leather boots laced tight
machine gun casual on his shoulder
while my father asked ¿Pa' que buscan Uds.?
What are you looking for?
and the soldier curled the two soft bananas
in the glovebox in his clean young hand
crushed them fast and hard, fleshpulpskin, purred

Rios Montt has a prepared statement
a public relations strategy when
the federales come to get him
by appointment.

His dark suit is crisp his modest shirt
gleams white and clean, nowhere
does his tailored surface show
the least smudge of mud, ragged breath
saliva, skin, viscera of Mayan-Ixil
no sawed flesh or unsucked milk oozed
against his careful nails and pressed jacket.

Outside the courtroom families
of the dead, the disappeared, have washed
the stains out of the road, off the steps of the church
collected the tiny finger bones, wrenched
femurs, broken skulls, sung each bone
to sleep for thirty years and now
listen with open eyes, the women's black braids
patient crowns threaded with malachite
and forget-me-not blue, woven with
colors of the mountain quetzál.

The man whose clean hands wrote the orders
whose lips over and over formed the word exterminación
says I prefer to remain silent.

-Nancy Otter            
Used by permission.

Nancy C. Otter teaches humanities at a public middle school in Hartford, Connecticut. Her poems have appeared in Helix and Naugatuck River Review. This spring, a poem from her Harriet Tubman series will appear in the Wallace Stevens Journal.  
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!

If you are interested in reading past poems of the week, feel free to visit the blog archive.    

Split This Rock