Friday, December 18, 2015

2015 Poetry Books We Love

From the Split This Rock Family:

So many spectacular books of poetry of provocation and witness are now appearing in print each year we can’t keep up. Some of those same books are winning the major prizes and being reviewed everywhere. It’s a stunning shift in the literary landscape and one Split This Rock is proud to have played a role in helping to bring about.

Rather than publish another list of Recommended Books that tries to take stock of the whole field, Split This Rock Executive Director Sarah Browning asked a number of Splitistas to send her the titles of 2015 books they loved which haven’t received the attention their champions think they deserve. We are thrilled to put a spotlight on some gems. 

Special thanks to nominators Francisco Aragón, Lawrence-Minh Davis, Aracelis Girmay, Joseph O. Legaspi, E. Ethelbert Miller, Naomi Shihab Nye, Melissa Tuckey, and Joshua Weiner.

(You can read Recommended Books Lists of 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011 on Blog This Rock.)

We urge you to buy from your local independent book store, directly from the publisher (we’ve linked to their websites below), or from, a union shop. Remember books, an ancient artform, make great gifts year-round!

Here, Then: Spectacular Books of 2015

Trouble Sleeping, Abdul Ali (New Issues Press)
The Gravedigger’s Archaeology, William Archilla (Red Hen Press)
Ozone Journals, Peter Balakian (University of Chicago Press)

Chord, Rick Barot (Sarabande Books)
The Spectral Wilderness, Oliver Bendorf (Kent State University Press)

Bastards of the Reagan Era, Reginald Dwayne Betts (Four Way Books)
Cover image of Ghost River by Trevino L. Brings Plenty

Ghost River, Trevino L. Brings Plenty (The Backwaters Press)

Redbone, Mahogany L. Browne (Willow Books)
Furious Dusk, David Campos (University of Notre Dame Press)

The Book of Silence: Manhood as a Pseudoscience, Rasheed Copeland (Sargent Press)
Cover image of Furious Dusk by David Campos
String Theory, Jenny Yang Cropp (Mongrel Empire Press)

Honest Engine, Kyle G. Dargan (University of Georgia Press)
Cornrows and Cornfields, celeste doaks (Wrecking Ball Press, UK)
Lilith’s Demons, Julie R. Enszer (A Midsummer Night’s Press)
The Gaffer, Celeste Gainey (Arktoi Book/Red Hen)
Toys Made of Rock, José B. González (Bilingual Review Press)
Life of the Garment, Deborah Gorlin (Bauhan Publishing
Cover image of Lighting the Shadow by Rachel Eliza GriffithsLighting the Shadow, Rachel Eliza Griffiths (Four Way Books)
A Crown for Gumecindo, Laurie Ann Guerrero (Aztlan LibrePress)
Hemisphere, Ellen Hagan (Triquarterly)

The Diary of a K-Drama Villain, Min Kang (Coconut Books)
Ban en Banlieue, Bhanu Kapil (Nightboat Books)
Visiting Indira Gandhi's Palmist, Kirun Kapur (ElixirPress)

Steep Tea, Jee Leong Koh (Carcanet Press Ltd.)
Boy with Thorn, Rickey Laurentiis (University of Pittsburgh Press)
The Darkening Trapeze, Larry Levis (Graywolf)
Life In a Box is a Pretty Life, Dawn Lundy Martin (Nightboat Books)

Yearling, Lo Kwa Mei-en (Alice James Books)
Sand Opera, Philip Metres (Alice James Books)
The Pink Box, Yesenia Montilla (Willow Books)
The Open Eye, Lenard D. Moore (Mountains and Rivers Press, 30th Anniversary Edition)
Cover of My Seneca Village by Marilyn NelsonThe Siren World, Juan J. Morales (Lithic Press)
My Seneca Village, Marilyn Nelson (Namelos)

Silent Anatomies, Monica Ong (Kore Press)
Beauty Is Our Spiritual Guernica, Mario Santiago Papasquiaro, trans. Cole Heinowitz (Commune Editions)

The Same-Different, Hannah Sanghee Park (LSU Press)
She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, M. Nourbese Philip (Wesleyan University Press, rerelease of 1989 classic, with a foreword by Evie Shockley)

Radio Heart: Or, How Robots Fall Out of Love, Margaret Rhee (Finishing Line Press)
Twelve Stations, Tomasz Różycki, translated by Bill Johnston (Zephyr)

Le Animal & Other Creatures, Metta Sáma (MIEL)
Trafficke, Susan Tichy (Ahsahta Press)
The Yellow Door, Amy Uyematsu (Red Hen Press)

Farther Traveler, Ronaldo Wilson (Counterpath Press)

Crevasse, Nicholas Wong (Kaya Press)

Naturalism, Wendy Xu (Brooklyn Arts Press)

100 Chinese Silences, Timothy Yu (Les Figues Press)


The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, edited by Kevin Coval, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Nate Marshall (Haymarket Books)
Make It True: Poetry From Cascadia, edited by Paul Nelson, George Stanley, Barry McKinnon, Nadine Maestas (Leaf Press)
Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation, edited by Brett Fletcher Lauer, Lynn Melnick (Viking)

Writing Down the Walls: A Convergence of LGBTQ Voices, edited by Helen Klonaris, Amir Rabiyah (Trans-Genre Press)

Critical Writings

Outside the Margins: Literary Commentaries, Roberto Bonazzi (Wings Press)

I Will Say This Exactly One Time: Essays, D. Gilson (Sibling Rivalry Press)

Dear Continuum: Letters to a Poet Crafting Liberation, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie (Grand Concourse Press)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Split This Rock Interviews Craig Santos Perez

Second in a series of interviews with poets to be featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, April 14-17, 2016. Festival pre-registration available until March 31 on Split This Rock's website.

Head shot of poet Craig Santos Perez in a cap

by M. F. Simone Roberts

Craig Santos Perez is one of the poets we are honored to feature at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2016, April 14-17, 2016. In addition to participating in the nightly reading series we make free and open to public in the National Geographic Auditorium, Perez will participate in a handful of workshop and discussion sessions during the festival. Registration is now open!

Craig’s most recent book from UNINCORPORATED TERRITORY [guma’] is the third in a likely perpetual series of books about the unincorporated territories of the USs Pacific presence. The first [hatcha], and the second [saina] both consider colonial experience. But, much of [guma]  (Guam) circles around community testimony on the environmental impact statement for a project to develop a US military weapons testing range on what is, for the Chamoru people, the most sacred place on their islands (listen to an interview at Against the Grain).

Perez works in a poetics of the documentary, the collage or intertext, and use of blackouts of existing texts. He creates effects of both textual fragment and historical immediacy. His methods owe a lot to literary Modernism, but Guam is a more post-modern sort of thing. Its a colony once of Spain, then of Japan, and now of the United States. Its the origin  of a huge diaspora, a place of incredible importance to US military and foreign policy -- and its mostly invisible to our sense of what the US is, as well as being very, very small on a map. It is a place that lives mostly in state of what Derrida called erasure (sous rature)

An unincorporated territory is a no mans land, which is not to say that no man is running the place -- it belongs to the machinery of empire. Perezs poetics comes organically from the problem of place and what place means in a region of the world that was integral and whole, and is now other to itself twice over. Surnames pass through colonizer languages. Farmland becomes air strip. Native language becomes economic liability. Imported, processed food replaces traditional diet and culinary practice. Eventually everything revolves around this dominant stranger who wont become part of the place -- and wont leave.       

One of the tensions running through these poems of unincorporated territories is that theyre written from and about places that are still colonies that, in a post-colonial era, exist to further another's colonial ambitions.

Simone Roberts: I want to start with a very personal question. Its not nosiness, but acquaintance-making. Many in the Split This Rock community know very well what it feels like to live as (post)colonial or marginalized persons. But, being Chamoru, and being from Guam, is qualitatively different from these other ways of being and experiences of oppression. What do you understand as the unique qualities of Guams colonial status and the Chamoru who live there?

Craig Santos Perez: Chamorus are one of the most invisible peoples of US empire, partly because we are a small population, partly because Guam is the furthest territory from the US continent, partly because we dont fit into popular images of Pacific Islanders, and partly because we speak English and carry US passports. Being from an unincorporated territoryhas taught us that we are a possession of the US but we are not fully part of the nation. The Chamoru experience is, in some ways, a confluence of other experiences of oppression. For example, Chamorus have experienced a similar history to Native Americans in terms of genocide and missionization and decolonial struggles. Chamorus are similar to other island peoples within US empire (such as Hawaiians and Puerto Ricans) in terms of how we have been shaped by colonization, militarization, and tourism. Chamorus are similar to other immigrant groups in terms of our experience of diaspora, cultural assimilation, and civil rights struggles.

MFSR: Many in the Split This Rock community are not academics, and we put a high value on intellectual accessibility. For readers in and out of the academy, and taking advantage of your talents as a teacher, would you mind describing documentary poetics and how you think it contributes to a poetry of protest and provocation?

CSP: Documentary poetics is a poetry that documents history, culture, politics, etc (think of a documentary film). Often, documentary poetry uses actual documents to tell the story (such as photographs, historical texts, archival material, political tracts, etc). Potentially, documentary poetics contributes to a poetry of protest by giving deeper and broader contexts to whatever the poet might be protesting. For example, if you were writing a poem protesting racist representations of Muslims in the media, you can include actual quotes from the articles (the documents), or you can tell a larger documentary story about Muslims in America. 

MFSR:  I suppose we could ask the same question about experimental poetics (to use a huge umbrella term into which I am jamming many of the modern and postmodern practices). To expand: Experimental poetry gets labeled as apolitical, or insufficiently engaged, because its poetics (indeterminate, collage, ambiguous, juxtaposed, etc) delays and refracts meaning. Rather than experiencing it as allowing meaning to emerge, many readers (and critics) experience it as fractured, chaotic, inert.  But, your poetics puts the lie to this dismissive stance. Why write in this tradition, rather than the more lyric and narrative tradition of poetry of witness and intervention?

CSP: Yes, experimental or avant-garde poetic traditions have a deep history of political engagement (often radical engagements with anarchism, socialism, decolonization, and communism). I write in this tradition because I consider myself a radical poet who is interested in decolonizing and deconstructing empire. That said, I also write in lyric and narrative traditions of witness and intervention, as I believe these poetic traditions have something valuable to offer poets interested in sharing stories of trauma and poems of protest.

MFSR: Beyond some familiar methods of documentary poetics, your books make many gestures outside of themselves that become textured experiences for the reader. Some of your titles are geographic coordinates. We can look those up on maps on the internet, discover a place, rather than be told what it is or how its symbolic in your poem.  the book focuses so much on destruction wrought in Guam, but each section of the book is named for a tool used to build the latte, or stones that either mark sacred places or were  foundations for buildings that elevated them above storm surge. In the lists of Chamoru military dead, you strike out everything but their name, making this person more present than their function for the colonizer. In your recent poems, youre using more hashtags -- sometimes as links to real internet campaigns, sometimes as words, sometimes as fragments that go nowhere. I want first to compliment you on this. Its a kind of profuse minimalism. For me, much of the considerable emotional force of the poems is conveyed this way. These techniques also put the experience of strangeness and dislocation in the foreground for the reader.

So, to turn this into a question: what is the value or strategy of strangeness (which is also discovery) in your poetry? What are the political registers of these techniques?

CSP: Thanks for this close reading, and for your compliment. Yes, I am interested in different poetic techniques that can express, capture, and embody emotions in ways that invite the reader into the meaning making process. This strangeness is defamiliarizing andI hopecreates opportunities for interpretation. Throughout my books, I have referenced urls, Facebook statuses, Google search engine results, and now hashtags to speak to the virtuality of poetry and protest, or how poetry and protest have become so deeply intertwined with the virtual world. To me, this takes the poem from the page to the web, so to speak.

MFSR: In your interview at The Colorado Review, Megan Wilson asks you a brilliant question about the power of poetry. Your response was:

Poetry cannot bring back the dead, nor can it bring back dying languages or cultures. However, I think poetry, and literature in general, is an important site of memory, recovery, resistance, revitalization, resilience, and resurgenceespecially in response to historical, cultural, ecological, and personal trauma. Because the literary is a symbolic space, poetry can inspire and empower us towards real change. There is no guarantee or direct correlation to action, but instead poetry opens up a space of possibility and promise. In this way, poetry is like a prayer that believes in resurrection.

Let me extend this idea a little. So many of your interviews touch on what we call Split This Rock issues,that Im working hard to take this conversation into areas that you havent often been asked to tread. Lets replace resurrectionwith imaginationand world making.”  We want poetry to move us to real change, but I wonder how you feel about its role in imagining what those changes are: what might the other side of the postcolonial moment look like; or, for example, what kind of city will Detroit or Baltimore become as they evolve out of post-industrial wreckage; or, should poetry be a medium in which positive visions are imagined?

In short, is there a vision of a post-colonial Guam, and how does poetry figure in or support that vision?

CSP: As you note, an important aspect of the anti-colonial project is to expose and critique the ravages of colonialism. The decolonial then comes in to recover and revitalize what was lost in terms of native culture, language, history, arts, ecologies, etc. The vision for a post-colonial Guam is one in which Guam is a free, sovereign state, in which the US military de-occupies our land (and that land is once again cared-for and rehabilitated), and the Chamoru people can finally determine our future in terms of governance, natural resource management, education, etc. Poetry can articulate and inspire visions of a sustainable future.

MFSR: I ask because the modes of critique, complaint, protest, or intervention are deeply necessary answers to the sleights-of-hand and commercializing of imperial and domestic forms of state and economic control. The System, for shorthand, needs dismantling, but I worry that we are not also working on ideas and plans and dreams and negotiations of the world and social forms that come next. Its a difficult question, I know, because part of the immigrant and the colonial imagination or mindset is to look back to before -- before the colonizer arrived, before the homeland was left -- its historical. And some of the customs, habits, strategies, attitudes, poetics and artistic forms that we will need in whatevers coming from us do come from these ancestral and even ancient cultures. For you, though, how or should poetry be more than interventionist?

CSP: In many Pacific and indigenous cultures, time is viewed as a spiral so that  we face the futures with our backs, which means we look to the past to teach us how to move forward. This is practical as well, in the sense that ancestral practices will help us deal with modern problems. In this way, the past, present, and future are intertwined. That being said, indigenous futurist writing (such as science-fi, climate-fiction, digital games etc) are becoming more popular because they take our imaginations into the future, which of course is imbued with the ancestral past. While I havent written much futurist poetry, I hope to do so in the future!

MFSR: We are primarily a community of poets, so I want to ask a handful of questions about your process, broadly understood. How do you interweave (or balance) your roles as a father, a husband, a professor, and a poet? Whats your go-to snack or beverage when you write the early drafts? Where do you write? And lastly, whats the most difficult part of revision for you?

CSP: I am struggling with how to fulfill all my responsibilities as a father, husband, professor, poet, activist, editor, publisher, scholar, performer, etc. Obviously, being a father and husband come first, then a professor since that pays the rent, and everything else I try to do a little bit each day so that over time projects actually gets done, even though individual projects take me a long time. Green smoothies and probiotic drinks for poem drafts. These days, I write mostly in bed, while waiting for my daughter to fall asleep. The most difficult part of revision is letting go.

MFSR: What's most lasting in its impression on me is how much power, how much confrontation, and celebration, you include in a poetics of decentering and displacement. There's a kind of self you've developed in these poems who is, of terrible necessity, grounded differently than many other kinds of selves we've seen in history. As poets, we delight in that for you; and as justice activists, we applaud and admire your focused and powerful voice for decolonization and cultural memory on your island and for your people. Thank you.


Craig Santos Perez is a native Chamoru (Chamorro) from the Pacific Island of Guåhan (Guam). He is the co-founder of Ala Press, co-star of the poetry album Undercurrent (2011), and author of three collections of poetry, most recently from unincorporated territory [guma] (2014), which received the American Book Award. His writing explores themes of indigenous identity, militarism, decolonization, food sovereignty, ecological imperialism, migration, and citizenship. He is an Associate Professor in the English Department, and affiliate faculty with the Center for Pacific Islands Studies and the Indigenous Politics Program at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, where he teaches Pacific literature and creative writing.

Perez lists a number of his interviews on his website: Of them, I was particularly impressed with these:

       Post-Colonial Text (2015)

       Prism Review Literary Journal (see 2010)

At Perezs site, you can also hear some of his poems and see video of him reading.

M. F. Simone Roberts is the Poetry & Social Justice Fellow for Split This Rock. Roberts is an independent scholar of poetics and feminist phenomenology, a poet, editor, and activist. She is co-editor of the anthology Iris Murdoch and the Moral Imagination: Essays and author of the critical monograph A Poetics of Being-Two: Irigaray's Ethics and Post-Symbolist  Poetics. Her poems are coming soon to a journal near you. Descendant of both aristocrats and serfs, she adventures this world with her consort, Adam Silverman.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2016 Registration is Now OPEN!

We're thrilled to announce that registration is now open for Split This Rock Poetry Festival, April 14-17, 2016!

Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2016 invites poets, writers, activists, and dreamers to Washington, DC for four days of poetry, community building, and creative transformation. 

Featuring readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, open mics, and activism, the festival offers opportunities to speak out for justice, build connection and community, and celebrate the many ways poetry can act as an agent for social change.

Click here to register today. Only $100 if you register by Februrary 14. And only $50 for students. (Presenters' rate is $85 before February 14, $100 after.)

To coincide with the festival, Split This Rock and Poetry magazine will collaborate once again to produce a special portfolio in the April 2016 issue of Poetry, with new poems by poets to be featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2016. Co-edited by Poetry editor Don Share and Split This Rock Executive Director Sarah Browning, with an introduction by Browning, the portfolio will also be the focus of the magazine's monthly podcast. Poetry, founded in 1912, is the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world and we are grateful for their partnership. Subscribe to the magazine here.

We know it's going to be an extraordinary four days. More information is below and on the website. Please help us spread the word - scroll down for ways you can help.

We hope you'll also consider helping to make it possible for others to attend by making a donation, too. You'll be prompted on the registration page.

Thank you! We can't wait to see you in April!

In peace & poetry, 
Split This Rock


  1. Passionate voices for justice & peace - Where else are you going to hear readings by 15 of the most artistically vibrant and important poets writing today, all on the same stage? See video from 2014 on Youtube. 
  2. Need names? Here they are - Amal al-Jubouri, Jennifer Bartlett, Jan Beatty, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Regie Cabico, Dominique Christina, Martha Collins, Nikky Finney, Ross Gay, Aracelis Girmay, Rigoberto González, Linda Hogan, Dawn Lundy Martin, Craig Santos Perez, Ocean Vuong. Read more about them on our website. 
  3. Compelling conversations - Join us for panel & roundtable discussions on craft, allyship, the Middle East, the role poetry plays in the Black Lives Matter and environmental justice movements, and many more essential topics.   
  4. Workshops for your mind, body & spirit - Explore the intersections of poetry with hip hop, labor movements, liturgy, food justice, journalism, and more! Read about the workshops on our website.   
  5. Plus the U.S. Poet Laureate! - The festival begins with a special kick-off event on Wednesday April 13 at the Library of Congress with Juan Felipe Herrera. Stay tuned for details. 
  6. Group readings! - Themed group readings elevating marginalized voices focused on worker rights, eco-justice, disability, policing of brown and black bodies, the intersection of Queerness and race, and so much more. 
  7. Voices of the future - Youth poets will read, lead writing workshops, teach participants how to nurture youth voices in their own communities, and generally school the grownups on kicking ass and taking names.   
  8. Poetry in the streets - With our world crying out for equity and justice, poets will take to the streets with the imaginative and transformative power of poetry. Check out photos of the previous public action on our website.   
  9. Only $100! - That's right, all this for the early-bird rate of only $100. Register today! On February 14 the rate goes up to $140. Click here to save today.   
  10. Students are only $50 - And scholarships and group rates are available. We want everyone to be able to attend, regardless of ability to pay. Details are here! Contact info for requesting group rates listed below. 
So many more reasons, too - Meet up with old friends, make new connections in poetry and activist circles, explore and celebrate the ways that poetry can be an agent for change, read and perform at open mics, get your groove on at the Saturday evening party hosted by Dark Noise Collective & Busboys and Poets... Four days of transformative events in our nation's capital!

  • Post this announcement to your Facebook, Twitter, blog, or other social media site.
  • Send post cards to your friends and colleagues and/or leave stacks at libraries, cafes, and bookstores. Contact to get a stack. 
  • Are you a teacher or student? Have your institution sponsor a group of students for a special group rate. Contact Tiana at or 202-787-5268.
  • Want to sponsor? It's a great way to support the festival and get lots of visibility with leaders in the literary and social justice worlds. Visit our website for details or contact us at 202-787-5210 or
  • Other ideas? Contact - we'd love your help!

More info at: | |202-787-5210  

We are grateful for the generous support of the following:

Major Partners: Busboys and Poets, The Institute for Policy Studies

Partners: The Poetry Foundation & Poetry Magazine

The festival is made possible in part by the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz, Compton, CrossCurrents, Reva & David Logan, and Alice Shaver Foundations, the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and many generous individuals. Cosponsored by the AFL-CIO, the Beacon Hotel, the Human Rights Campaign, Letras Latinas, the Jimenez-Porter Writers House at the University of Maryland, Poets & Writers, Spectrum of Poetic Fire/Poetry Posse.