Monday, March 31, 2008

Split This Rock - The Reports Are Pouring In

The reports and blogs are coming in fast and furious. We'll be posting more and links to many more in the weeks ahead. Here's one by Richard Cambridge, above, that he wrote for the Earth Watch Institute, where he is a fellow. The panel he refers to was "The Poet as Oracle," and featured Patricia Monaghan, Coleman Barks, and himself.

Split This Rock Report
Richard Cambridge
21-23 March, 2990

Dear Friends & Fellows:

Here is my report of the Split This Rock festival. At events such as this I am always torn between being a journalist and taking notes, and parking my brain and letting go to absorb what is happening in the moment.

This conference meant so much to me because it brought together, perhaps for the first time with such intention, writers who are also activists. Whenever I’ve engaged in political action it has usually been with my (politically) activist friends. For me, there was always something missing, perhaps the common language I speak with other writers. So it was, in a sense, like finding my tribe. Here were writers taking their craft and their consciousness to the next level. I am thinking of Che’s inimitable words, “I have polished my will with the delight of an artist.” Yeah, that’s what we were doing!

Patricia Monaghan has referred to the itinerary of the festival which you can view at so you can see just how wide and deep was the range. I regret I was not able to be at all the events I would have liked to, but here are my impressions of what I did manage to attend.

(I’m skipping our own panel, (Poet as Oracle) concurring with Patricia’s account; attached is the poem I closed with, “Who Killed McDuffie?” but if you google “Who Killed McDuffie” a poem by Hakim al Jalil you’ll get the full website with the poem and the account it was based on. It's done up much better!

On the Friday night reading, Jimmy Santiago Baca was full of passion and outrage over the war in Iraq, and it was reflected in the language of his poetic rants, finding new combinations of mothers and fornicators that some found over-the-top, but I felt was warranted given the intimacy of the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people he was conveying. So some comfort zones were pushed.

Patricia Smith gave her gold-standard fusion of poetry and performance. Her 34-part poem in the wake of Katrina imagining the last thoughts of the 34 elderly people in the nursing home abandoned to drowning was shocking and awesome in the true, sublime meaning of those words.
On Saturday night, Dennis Brutus took the counterfeit use of “shock & awe” in the government’s description of the bombing of Baghdad, and compared it to the red and green flashing lights on a Christmas tree.

But mostly he talked about citizens’ responsibility not to fund the war through tax resistance. And he personalized the conference name (Split This Rock) for when he was in prison his job was doing just that: busting rocks to gravel and spreading them around the courtyard. The audience honored him with a standing ovation going up to and leaving the stage. He is our shining example of what it means to be a poet-warrior.

Busboys & Poets

If ever there was a model hang-out for poets it’s this joint! Book store, full liquor bar, Java jacked to the max, comfort food, couches, tables, lounge chairs, WIFI, and a cabaret theater! (I did not hallucinate this place!)

The open mic on Friday night was free-wheeling and fun and lasted, until to 2am. It was hosted by my friend and festival organizer, Regie Cabico. Regie was outrageous, vowing to serve the cause by performing all manner of sexual acts on every republican until they were forced to leave town.

On Saturday night there was a film festival featuring about 30 short films made by poets. These were amazing, pushing the boundaries of performance poetry into the medium of film. They ranged from a documentary by Jimmy Santiago Baca using poetry workshops with inner city gangs to break open their hearts to healing from all the violence they’ve witnessed and caused; a rap docudrama about the genesis and murder of a street hustler; a dozen imagistic word-play haiku. (Think what a visualization of Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow” would look like.) And the howler of the lot was a poem by John Giorno, a stand-up rant-reversal called, “Just Say No to Family Values.” He began with something like…”Drugs are GOOD for you! Drugs are your friend!” No stone was left unturned; many glass houses were shattered. I found it on YouTube so google ["Just say no to family values" a poem by John Giorno. ] It is well worth watching!

Sunday Reading at George Washington U.
Sharon Olds & Galway Kinnell

Sharon Olds could not make the reading due to illness. Galway Kinnell said they had to bolt her to her bed to keep her from coming. Naomi Ayala read in her stead, beginning in Spanish, and then reading her poems in English. She was tuff stuff and her words crackled like a cat-o-nine tails. She is the author of “Wild Animals on the Moon.”

Galway Kinnell opened with a mocking, derisive poem by Whitman about the three presidents that preceded Lincoln, and then one “from my friend Robert Bly,” an anti-war poem from the 60”s in which he substituted the word Iraq for Vietnam. Who could tell?

My friend, Jose Gouvea (who ran the “Poetry as Rant” workshop) audio-taped this reading and he says he will be able to email it to me, so I hope to forward it along.

The March

After the reading we gathered outside, a few hundred. We were too many to be unnoticed, too few to march in the street. We were given a permit to walk the sidewalk. Some wore poems, others masks, but all were silent. This was to be a silent march. I thought this odd, poets of witness, voluntarily dumb. Everyone seemed comfortable with this. Obviously, I had spiritual work to do: I had not achieved the state of grace of the Zen no-poem.

Along the sidewalks were newly planted pansies and they were not silent: they shouted and cheered gold, yellow, and white all the way to the park. There were no blustering Blue Meanies: the State was so comfortable with our presence they were absent— until we arrived, un-welcome guests outside the gate of the house…

Lafayette Park
A Living Epistle of Witness

…Then a cop on a horse clippety-clopped us into the park. Another one, breastplated and helmeted, barked orders to a deputy dog to do its work, sniffling the stage and sound equipment like a dope-fiend hunting white powder. Finding no evidence or incendiaries, it pawed and peed the grass and hruff hruff’d a bitch nearby.

We formed a spiral, a giant conch-shell in the ear of the State, each person sounding a line of a poem, like Kerouac blowing word-jazz—an epic witness for peace, against war, with joy and tears, in celebration, in chant— each soul uttering twelve words of free verse, line upon line, here a little, there a little, a living epistle.

If there was life in the house across the street— ears to hear, hearts to understand— I couldn’t tell. I did notice the sparrows in the budding magnolias around us, perched upon branches, and I know they were listening, for the last trills of their song were improvised, just so.
When they lifted off for the house, no alarm sounded as they violated the fence, and although they were noted by guarded eyes, fingers failed to twitch, and guns whispered quietly in their holsters. One broke off from the flock and flew around to the other side of the house, and came to rest upon a rose bush in the garden and began to sing. Someone was there, and I swear their brow furrowed, although I have no proof of this.

Who Killed Mcduffie?

His brain was bashed
cranium crashed
skull fractured/broken
all the way around
but they said those who beat him
didn’t kill him
so who killed mcduffie?
Maybe it was the same ones
who didn’t kill
clifford glover/randy heath/jay parker
claude reese/randy evans/luis baez/
artur reys/bonita carter/eula love/
elizabeth magnum/arthur miller &
countless others
when they musta tripped or
their fingers slipped
Maybe it was the same ones
who didn’t kill
jose torres/zayd shakur/fred & carl
hampton/jonathon & george/joe dell
twyman myers/spurgeon winters &
a few thousand others
Perhaps it was those who didn’t kill
mondolane/marighella/cordero &
quite a few thousand more
Do you suppose it may have been those
who didn’t kill
The indians and mexicans
who didn’t
steal the land &
claim that they discovered it
who didn’t steal afrikan peoples
halfway across the planet
who didn’t loot our customs/cultures/
religions/languages/labor/& land
who didn’t bomb the japanese/
vietnamese/& boriqua too
Do you think it might have been those
who didn’t kill at attica/watts/dc/
detroit/newark/el barrios
at jackson state, at southern u
at the algiers hotel
who didn't shoot mark essex for
16 hours after he was dead
Ask them & they’ll tell you
What they didn’t do
But they can’t tell you
who killed mcduffie
Maybe it was one of those
seizures unexplainable where he
beat himself to death
It wouldn’t be unusual
our history is full of cases where we
attacked nightsticks & flashlights with our heads
choked billyclubs with our throats till we die
jump in front of bullets with our backs
throw ourselves into rivers with
our hands and feet bound
and hang ourselves on trees/in prison cells
by magic
so it shouldn’t be a mystery that
nobody killed mcduffie
He just died the way so many of us do
of a disease nobody makes a claim to
The police say they didn’t do it
The mayor says he didn’t do it
The judges say they didn’t do it
The government says it didn’t do it
Nixon, papa doc, baby doc bush, says they didn’t do it
The fbi/cia/military establishment
says they didn’t do it
xerox/exxon/itt say they didn’t do it
The klan & nazis say they didn’t do it
(say they were busy in Greensboro & Wrightsville)
I know I didn’t do it
That don’t leave nobody but you
& if you say you didn’t do it
we’re back to where we started
looking for nobody
who killed mcduffie.

You remember nobody, don’t you
like with defacto segregation
where they said the schools were segregated
But nobody did it on purpose
Like when they said there’s been
job discrimination for years
but nobody did it intentionally
but nobody we’re looking for

The one with the motive to kill mcduffie
& you see, we must find this noboby
who slew mcduffie
beacause the next person nobody will beat,
stomp, hang, or shoot to death
won’t’ be mcduffie
it will be you or someone close to you

So for your own safety,
you should know the pedigree of
who killed mcduffie
you should know the reason of
who killed macuffie
you should remember all those forgotten
who died of the disease nobody makes a claim to
so we won’t be here asking

who killed you.

—Hakim Al-Jamil

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Mark Doty Video at Split This Rock

Well, the festival is over. We are all elated and feeling full from the remarkable experience of so many poets of conscience coming together for such a weekend.

Dan Vera captured some of Saturday night's reading. Mark Doty's reading has been posted on YouTube. We'll post more as soon as we get it. For now, here's Mark Doty reading his poem Charlie Howard's descent.

Share this video with friends. Send them the link. Spread the word about Split This Rock!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"Sublime" by Christi Kramer on Foreign Policy in Focus

Sublime, if the gardens in misfortune are taken, they shall be returned

If anyone steal cattle or sheep, or an ass, or a pig or a goat, if it belong to a god or the court. If anyone steal the minor son of another. If break a hole into a house. If the thief has nothing with which to pay ...

Read the poem here: