Thursday, May 28, 2015

Poem of the Week: Paul Tran

I Want

TO SAY IT PLAIN. He comes inside
without a sound. I shut the door

I should have never opened. My body
flips over on the bed like a coin

face up. There’s no choice
in the outcome—just blood

sliding down on my knees. I try to speak
but his tongue in my mouth doesn’t

let me. SAY IT PLAIN. He pins my arms
back and makes me call him

DADDY. The ceiling suspends
above me. I feel it shake

each time he thrashes his weight
into my skull. Like a ghost,

I pull the white sheets around me
until I disappear completely. I pretend

I’m not there. I don’t want to look at him
but he makes me. SAY IT PLAIN.

I dig my nails through the seams. I watch
him watch me watch him stroke my hair.

I know it isn’t him but his kindness
that hurts me to the point of death.

I WANT TO SAY IT PLAIN. I don’t know
how else to explain what happened

except to—SAY IT, SAY IT
PLAIN—say it

the only way I can.


Photo by Chrys Tran


Paul Tran is a Vietnamese American historian and poet. He won "Best Poet" and "Pushing the Art Forward" at the national college poetry slam, as well as awards and fellowships from Kundiman, VONA, Poets House, Lambda Literary, Napa Valley Writers Conference, Coca-Cola, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. His poems appear in CURANepantlacream city review, and RHINO, which selected him for a 2015 Editor's Prize. Paul currently lives in New York City, where he is a graduate student in Archives & Public History at NYU and coaches the Barnard/Columbia slam team.


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Friday, May 22, 2015

Poem of the Week: Jamila Woods

Blk Girl Art

--after Amiri Baraka

Poems are bullshit unless they are eyeglasses, honey
tea with lemon, hot water bottles on tummies. I want
poems my grandma wants to tell the ladies at church
about. I want orange potato words soaking in the pot
til their skins fall off, words you burn your tongue on,
words on sale two for one, words that keep my feet dry.
I want to hold a poem in my fist in the alley just in case.
I want a poem for dude at the bus stop. Oh you can’t talk
ma? Words to make the body inside my body less invisible.
Words to teach my sister how to brew remedies in her mouth.
Words that grow mama’s hair back. Words to detangle the kitchen.
I won’t write poems unless they are an instruction manual, a bus
card, warm shea butter on elbows, water, a finger massage to the scalp,
a broomstick sometimes used for cleaning and sometimes
                                                                          to soar.

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From The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket Books, 2015). Used with permission. Photo by Reginald Eldridge.

* * *

Jamila Woods is a poet, singer, and teaching artist from Chicago, IL. She the Associate Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors and a founding member of YCA’s Teaching Artist Corps. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her poetry has been published by Poetry Magazine, MUZZLE, and Third World Press. Her first chapbook entitled The Truth About Dolls was released in 2012 by New School Poetics Press. Jamila is a member of the Dark Noise Collective of poets & educators of color. She is also the front-woman of soul-duo band M&O, whose music has been featured by Okayplayer, JET, and Ebony Magazine. For more info visit & follow @duhmilo. 

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Poem of the Week: Aaron Kreuter

Photo of Aaron Kreuter. 

Paddling the Nickel Tailings Near Sudbury

-- After Edward Burtynsky's Manufactured Landscapes Photographs

We put in at the edge of the tailings pond,
our canoe loaded with gear and food
to take us on the four-day loop trip,
our nylon tent and stainless steel pots.
The river at first is like any other river
but not, a photo with the colours twisted,
stunning, rich orange fluorescence,
tailing off into the blackened valley bed.
The slurry so thick it takes a dozen strokes
before we learn how to move in it,
but by mid-aft we're paddling well,
elbowing with the river's curves,
the blades of our paddles sizzling
as we dig through the golden slur.
We pass charred river banks,
stunted trees subsumed in industrial after-thought,
the refinery puffing away on the horizon
busy piping out the iron chaff
that ends in the tailings impoundment
we're set on exploring
(I think: iron, ironic, nickel).
We enter a delta and pick our way
through; later, on the only portage
of the day-from Wet Tailings Outflow 3
to Wet Tailings Outflow 7--
the ground gives like fresh bread,
endless salt-and-pepper spongy loam.
The canoe on our shoulders
we sink knee-deep in the gummy effluent.
There are no animal tracks, no
beaver dams to break through
(I think: terrestrial habitat disturbance,
I think: various tailings disposal alternatives
at a conceptual design level,
think: slurry trench cut-off wall).
We put back in at Stony Waste Basin.
The sun, coalish through the haze,
is lowering. We're an hour or so
from the main tailings pond, can
smell the tangy iron-oxide (I think: fact, faction,
factor. I think: Factory).
Stew, my paddling companion, coughs, says:
"I didn't think I'd miss the insects
as much as the potable water,
the blue sky, green." We
haven't used the bathroom
since parking at the quarry.
It's started raining fire, pitch.
Our faces black, our hands glowing.
We need to set up camp.
We need to find someplace
to hang the food barrel.

From the forthcoming Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology (University of Georgia Press). Used with permission.

Aaron Kreuter is a writer of fiction and poetry currently based in Toronto, where he is pursuing a PhDin English literature at York University. He has had work published in numerous journals, magazines, and anthologies, including: Best Canadian Poetry 2014, Parchment, Vallum, Carte Blanche, and PacificREVIEW, among other places. His first poetry collection,Arguments For Lawn Chairs, is forthcoming from Guernica Editions. Learn more at his website

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Poem of the Week: Peter Cook and Kenny Lerner


Need, desperate need, eagle-taloned need
is a pumping drill. The oil sloshes
to the brim. The lid slams and it’s a tanker
spewing smoke. It burps and hisses
into a truck. It barrels through highways. It pours
down underground. It’s a gas pump and a car
and a stopping and a refilling and a continuing.
It pulls over at the side of a tall tree.
It chops and strips and grinds and pounds
until dead fish float downstream
and our need is a single sheet of paper
sliding into a typewriter. It folds and licks
and places three stamps and sends on beating wings
to a door opening somewhere. A man reads it and fastens
his chin strap, carrying a rifle as bodies
fall and things go up in flames. It finds him
and the coffin lid closes. As soon as it stakes
a cross in salute, the crush comes again
to squeeze the soil for more. O need,
desperate need, eagle-taloned need, why
do we need you so much?

Translated from the American Sign Language by John Lee Clark. Used with permission.

Translator's Note

Although it is Peter Cook whom we see performing “Need” in ASL while Kenny Lerner, off screen, voices a word here and a phrase there in English, both of them created the poem together. They share equal credit on all Flying Words Project texts. What Kenny voices for the benefit of those who don’t speak ASL is not a translation but rather audio captions. They always create the ASL poem first, before mulling over what aids to offer to hearing audiences. Their goal is to clue in English listeners without feeding their ears so much that their eyes are closed to the ASL performance.

I translated the poem without knowing what English words were used to complement the poem; it wasn’t until I’d finished the third or fourth draft of the translation that I read the transcript. It was interesting to see where my translation and the transcript met, even sharing the exact same words. More illuminating, though, is how all three--the original, the skeleton audio text, and my translation--differ in emphasis. The original emphasizes the sheer force and physicality of the “need,” while the audio text brings into relief, more than either the original or my translation do, an environmental subset.

Readers may enjoy knowing that “Need” is one of the best-loved ASL poems. In his entry on ASL poetry for “The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics,” Christopher Krentz included it on a very short list of examples of seminal ASL poetry. Peter Cook and Kenny Lerner wrote the poem in 2008 and had in mind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other things. “We are disillusioned,” they stated at its performance, “after seven years of fake liberalism and war.” 

Flying Words Project was launched in 1986 after Jim Cohn, a Beat poet, suggested that  Peter Cook team up with Kenny Lerner, who, Cohn said, was a brilliant interpreter. Lerner would later say, “I don’t understand why Jim said that; I have never worked as an interpreter before.” Nevertheless, the two quickly created what is surely one of the most successful and long-lasting artistic collaborations outside of music and dance. They have performed in many countries, and prestigious venues they’ve been featured in include Harvard, the Whitney Museum, the Kennedy Center, “United States of Poetry” on PBS, and the International Poetry Festival in Rotterdam. Currently, Peter Cook is on the faculty of Columbia College’s Department of ASL-English Interpretation and Kenny Lerner teaches history at Rochester Institute of Technology.

John Lee Clark is one of the finalists for this year’s Split This Rock Freedom plow Award for Poetry and Activism. His latest book is Where I Stand: On the Signing Community and My DeafBlind Experience (Handtype Press, 2014). He is currently a Braille instructor and lives in Hopkins, MN, with his wife, the artist and author Adrean Clark, and their three sons.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

Poem of the Week: Lee Sharkey

Photo of Lee Sharkey 

Man on a Sofa

 --for Henry Braun

A man is lying on a sofa.

The man has been reading.

He has laid down the book beside him.

The man's form is waiting to be occupied.

Give him a name, Henry, say; look how the form fills in,

as if you could read, in Henry's limbs,

in Henry's countenance,

Henry's dreams dancing in his head.

The book by his side is Henry's companion.

The book beside Henry is writing itself as we speak.

Meanwhile, a night-dark form in the shape of a man has occupied the sofa.

Somehow it has taken the place of the man,

the man we call Henry.

Pick up the book the absence of Henry was reading.

The book is night-dark and brilliant.

The book is writing itself as we read.

Maybe, the book says, Henry has gone for a walk in the woods

and found a small patch of small green lilies.

Maybe, the book says, Henry has set off the New World with his backpack.

The absence of Henry stirs in its sleep.

Used with permission.

Lee Sharkey is the author most recently of Calendars of Fire (Tupelo Press 2013) and A Darker Sweeter String (Off the Grid Press 2008), of which Maine's Poet Laureate Betsy Sholl says, "If our dreams could edit the news (and sometimes our nightmares) these poems are how they'd wake us up to the urgency of our times." Her poem sequence To A Vanished World (Puckerbrush Press 1997) was written in response to Roman Vishniac's photographs of Eastern European Jewry in the years just preceding the Nazi Holocaust. Her awards include the Maine Arts Commission's Individual Artist Fellowship in Literary Arts and the Abraham Sutzkever Centennial Translation Prize. Lee lives in rural Maine, teaches a writing workshop for adults with mental illness, and stands in a weekly peace vigil with Women in Black. She co-edits the Beloit Poetry Journal, which published chapbooks of the work of Split This Rock poets for the first and third Split This Rock festivals.

Please feel free to share Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this post, including this request. Thanks! If you are interested in reading past poems of the week, feel free to visit the blog archive.