Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Narrative and Counter-Narrative in the Streets of Charlottesville: #DefendCville #CvilleStrong

by M. F. Simone Roberts
Poetry & Social Justice Fellow
at Split This Rock

A deep nourishment comes from working daily with poets and their voices, especially the Splitista poets who contribute their work so generously to the world through Split This Rock. These poets are public storytellers, bearers of the cultural memory of America in the twenty-first century, writing the words that arc toward justice. We at Split This Rock are always humbled and grateful for the poetic and social courage of our sibling poets. We lift with you our voices against the fractious and dangerous forces stalking our country and our lives.

White supremacy claims, among other grabby delusions, that only white (nationalist) people have the right to tell the American story. Control over the story of  “who we are” and “what we do,” and the resources that go with that control, are the content of this “white” identity based in a mythical notion of some shared European culture -- as if Europe were not a nearly continual war between peoples who conquered and enslaved each other for 3000 years before globalizing the model in the form of colonialist imperialism.

Our counter-narratives, however, are witness to the deviousness and violence supremacists use to sustain a mediocre, white, racist, heteronormative, and male domination of our institutions and culture. The damage they do is part of what they call “victory” in the false logic of zero-sum identity and a culture of scarcity and deprivation.

But our exposure of their vulgarity is only one danger for them. Our counter-narratives of community, resilience, subversion, and even joy are threats to their insecure, narcissistic ideology.

The poems Split This Rock posted in solidarity with Charlottesville, VA and all who resist these fascist, racist terrorists are clear evidence that it’s our imagination - that one capacity they don’t seem to have -- that threatens them most. The narrative embedded in the name Emancipation Park is open ended, unpredictable. They’re left trembling by our creativity for both methods of subversion and for embodying more just ways of living together. After all, imagining a new reality is the first step in creating a world where we all can thrive, all are honored, all our histories are celebrated.

Our stories reach forward into a future we take pleasure in imagining together. The courage those narratives give us to build a world that loves us has spurred our peoples to a long history of demonstrating the physical courage required to succeed. We testify to our resolute claims to exist, to thrive, to love each other. And that -- our pursuit of genuine community-- drives them into a curated rage and calculated acts of violence.

Charlottesville, Virginia, became a symbolic and real battleground for these terrorist groups because the community dared to take back control of its narrative and write one that owned up to the evil of the Antebellum and Confederate culture and economy of enslavement, one that would create more space to honor all the city’s people.

Putting history in its place, the elected members of the city council renamed Lee Park to Emancipation Park, and proposed to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee, a symbol of confederate revolt against the Republic and of deliberate racist terror that continues, unabated from the founding of this nation to this violent and murderous weekend in August, 2017. For their vision, the people of Charlottesville were targeted for punishment.

The hate groups and the militias guarding them fully intend to continue their work, their “rallies,” and their plans “to take back” this country and punish all who oppose them. And for now, they have a president with a cabinet of advisers who openly support their hate, their violence, and their wholly fabricated reading of history and human nature. As of this weekend, thanks to a campaign ad and yet another violent tweet, the president has declared the majority of the American people his enemies.

This terrorist rally in Charlottesville is of a piece with police violence in communities of color, the school-to-prison pipeline, the logic of for-profit prisons, redlining and fraudulent lending practices, bans on refugee acceptance and immigration for Muslim people, threats to established rights of LGBTQ people, the hocus pocus of evolutionary psychology and legislative attacks on women’s physical autonomy, the droning refrain of their tired, but deadly serious, anti-Semitism. It is of a piece with the abuses demanded by neoliberal capitalism, and permissions given in rape culture.

The white supremacists at that rally were speaking specifically in favor of these practices, from the calls for the eradication of peoples to support for “a free market” to the disparagement of the activist Heather Heyer, murdered by one of their number, in some of sexism’s cruelest terms. There is no ideological gap here; these are gears that grind together to close borders, raise walls, and intimidate opposition.

But there are more of us than them, by tens of millions. Among our numbers are some of the most inventive and imaginative people in the world. We are poets, we are visionaries and advocates, we are certain of the justice of our causes. Let’s embolden each other through our poetry -- sublime and terrible as we must write it.

Let them shake.

My thanks to Sarah Browning and Camisha Jones for help editing and some excellent suggestions. We make each other better.


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.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Statement by Split This Rock in Solidarity with Charlottesville and All Those Working to End White Supremacy

At Split This Rock we are heartsick at the murder and other violence committed by white supremacist nationalists over the weekend in Charlottesville, VA. We know these actions are of a piece with our nation’s long bloody history of genocide and exploitation. And we know that one of the powerful tools of repression is silencing, in this case insisting that the American story is the story of whiteness.

As ever, poets are rewriting that narrative.

The poets of the Split This Rock community come from the groups white supremacists aim to silence, dominate, or destroy outright: we are queer, we are people of color, we are people with disabilities, we are women, we are people of many faiths and no faith, we are white allies, and we are progressives. 

We are powerful visionaries and chroniclers, we are fierce advocates and activists. Split This Rock poets have long offered necessary poetic witness of, and protest against, both the oppression advocated by racist and anti-Semitic neo-Nazis and their ilk and the harm we suffer at the hands of racist institutions.

In this terrible moment, in support of all who seek a world free of hatred and oppression, we offer selected poems from The Quarry, excerpted below, in praise of resistance and social justice movements -- tinged with hurt, hope, and joy -- reminders of our communities’ resilience. 

Black and white image of people holding up candles and lit cell phones at a vigil at the Lee statue in Charlottesville Virginia. Photo by Eze Amos
Photo by Eze Amos:
We offer these poems to nourish liberation and justice movements and to sustain you, the brave Americans who join them and lead them. We offer these poems as a call to renew and deepen -- yet again -- our commitments to each other and to our claims to the American story.

Should you want them as well, The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database is also home to many powerful poems that address themes of racism, violence, police brutality, and the several intersecting injustices that affect our communities and our earth. We offer too the YouTube channels of Split This Rock and the DC Youth Slam Team, where you’ll find performances of striking power and beauty. Please feel free to share all these resources.

Solidarity events are everywhere this week. Find one near you at the website of Indivisible. You can organize your own and register it on their website as well. Bring a poem to read – one offered below or one of your own or any that speaks the grief, power, and resilience you seek and find in speaking out and acting against injustice. Jewish Voice for Peace lists several places to donate on their website. 

With poetry on our lips and our fists in the air,
Split This Rock


Poems in Solidarity With Charlottesville from The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

NOTE: In most cases these are excerpts. To read the full poem and to learn more about the poet, please click on the link below the excerpt.

Vox Populi for the Marooned     

By Vincent Toro

We will break nothing when we leave, bind ourselves like cloth around
a fevered chest, float across plazas like a warm sponge over a sore shin,
and become a shameless shore of sin carousing, a flesh tinted mandala

of static bribing the sky with the promise that we will gather here each
day until fear is in need of hospice. And we will come bearing incense
and peach pie. And whenever the wounds of injustice are salted in our

favelas we will gather again in the squares of Tiananmen and Taksim,
of Tahrir and Trafalgar, of Bolivar and Union. Like barnacles or fluorescent
algae, we will gather… we will gather… we will gather…

By Aracelis Girmay

You protecting the river   You are who I love
delivering babies, nursing the sick

You with henna on your feet and a gold star in your nose

You taking your medicine, reading the magazines

You looking into the faces of young people as they pass, smiling and saying, Alright! which, they know it, means I see you, Family. I love you. Keep on.

Our Movable Mecca

By Danez Smith

    we who were born into conundrum, came into the world as the world was leaving, children of the ozone, the oppressed, the overlooked, of obtuse greed, of oil overlords, of oblong definitions of justice

    who asked for water & were given a border, a wall in the ocean, a wall in the air, a wall right down the middle of our bodies, bodies left to sun dry, bodies
told they were barely bodies, bodies emptied of blood & rights, bodies whispered into rumor

    who were hungry & were given a cell to hunger in & sometimes saw our own flesh transfigured into prisons, running in circles trying to escape ourselves

Declaration of Inter-Dependence
By Richard Blanco

We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor…

We’re the living who light vigil candles and the cop who didn’t shoot. We’re the inmate with his volunteer teacher diagraming sentences, the Buddhist alongside the stockbroker serving soup at a shelter. We’re the grandfather taking a selfie with his grandson and his husband, the widow’s fifty cents in the collection plate and the golfer’s ten-thousand-dollar pledge for a cure.
We hold these truths to be self-evident…
We’re them. They’re you. You’re me. We’re us: a handshake, a smile good morning on the bus, a door held open, a seat we give up on the subway. We tend restrooms or sell art, make huevos rancheros or herbed salmon, run for mayor or restock shelves, work a backhoe or write poems. We’re a poem in progress.

Ode To What We Make
By Kathy Engel

and praise the longed for moon
casting the night, the heaving rain,
its wet coat, praise each alphabet’s
lonely letter clamoring for light,
resisting the end of memory, the
end of touch, each cell and clot
still alive in any language,
still gorgeous, to be invented,
praise the clumsiness of this
word sharpening its animal teeth
for the love of the cub.

‘I am broken by the revolt exploding inside me’
By Minal Hajratwala

Your rage is the fulcrum of your desire, chimaerae busting out of cages, heart-sparks flying. Your rage gets shit done & it is no joke. Your rage is the luminous gold truth of sunrise, what you sit with long enough to dissolve your fear. Your rage is a checkmate to your compromise. Your rage is heat from a magnifying glass, focused, bursting into flame.

Til the Taste of Free in Our Mouths (Brown Baby

By Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes

      Wake baby, wake child, this lullaby will break the cage

You will taste the blood of your brothers in our milk, remembering

their glorious beauty as it warms your throat, you will

not know the cold of the concrete that swallowed them whole.

We are a swarm, a pride, a righteous and thick army

By Ruth Forman

why so afraid to stand up?
someone will tell you
sit down?

but here is the truth

someone will always tell you
sit down

the ones we remember
kept standing

By Gowri Koneswaran

hold hands when
they come calling,
when they threaten,
"this is necessary to
teach you a lesson" or
"this is necessary
to protect you"

hold hands when we stand still,
when we walk, when
we run
when they tell us to
when they tell us
to do anything

The World We Want Is Us
By Alice Walker

It moves my heart to see your awakened faces;
the look of "aha!"
shining, finally, in
so many
wide open eyes.
Yes, we are the 99%
all of us
refusing to forget
each other

from Say Yes
By Andrea Gibson

‘cause tonight Saturn is on his knees
proposing with all of his ten thousand rings
that whatever song we’ve been singing we sing even more.
The world needs us right now more than it ever has before.
Pull all your strings.
Play every chord.