Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Poem of the Week: JoAnne Growney

Mitigation of Toxins

A stand of poplars is a self-assembling
solar-powered pump-and-treat
ground-water protection system.
Brake ferns filter arsenic from soil;
Indian mustard drinks up lead.
Sunflowers shrink strontium levels.

........An uncommon man, an occasional woman,
........buffer the malice of others, keep
........the rest of us from tilting the world.



-JoAnne Growney

"Mitigation of Toxins" first appeared in Innisfree and may now be found in Growney's collection, Red Has No Reason, (Plain View Press, 2010).

Used by permission.

JoAnne Growney grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. After a first career in mathematics, she returned to poetry. Her most recent collection is Red Has No Reason (Plain View Press, 2010). Growney promotes math-poetry connections and climate concerns in her blog at She teaches an ongoing poetry workshop at a neighborhood wellness and recovery drop-in center.

Growney attended Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2008.

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!

Split This Rock

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Afflict the Comfortable: Martin Espada at the Poetry Foundation

Kevin Canfield interviews Martín Espada at The Poetry Foundation. An excerpt follows. For the full text, click here:

In a sense, this anecdote encapsulates Espada’s poetry career. Over the course of almost 20 collections of poetry, essays and translations, Espada—a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his 2006 collection The Republic of Poetry—has proved to be the voice of the underdog, a resourceful writer motivated by both personal and political concerns.

“In many of my poems that go beyond the law, I see myself as an advocate, speaking on behalf of those who don’t have an opportunity to be heard,” he says, from his home in Amherst. “Whereas this is a somewhat controversial position to take in the poetry world, in the world I come from as an attorney it was a very natural thing to do.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Mark Doty's "Charlie Howard's Descent"

Dear Friends,

Split This Rock mourns the gay and lesbian young people who committed suicide in the past weeks: Justin Aaberg, Asher Brown, Raymond Chase, Tyler Clementi, Aiyisha Hassan, Billy Lucas, and Seth Walsh. Their deaths demonstrate again the power of words. Words can destroy.

But they can also restore, give hope, remind us of our common humanity. We are privileged to be able to share with you this week Mark Doty's poem "Charlie Howard's Descent," which he read so movingly at the inaugural Split This Rock Poetry Festival in 2008. Charlie Howard's murder took place in 1984. Sadly, we still need this poem now more than ever. Please send it to everyone you know as a call for an end to hate, an end to bullying, a call for a full and rich life for every precious young person.
In peace and poetry,

Split This Rock

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

Please repost this poem widely but we ask that you include the publication credit and festival information listed after the poem. Thanks!

Charlie Howard’s Descent

Between the bridge and the river
he falls through
a huge portion of night;
it is not as if falling

is something new. Over and over
he slipped into the gulf
between what he knew and how
he was known. What others wanted

opened like an abyss: the laughing
stock-clerks at the grocery, women
at the luncheonette amused by his gestures.
What could he do, live

with one hand tied
behind his back? So he began to fall
into the star-faced section
of night between the trestle

and the water because he could not meet
a little town's demands,
and his earrings shone and his wrists
were as limp as they were.

I imagine he took the insults in
and made of them a place to live;
we learn to use the names
because they are there,

familiar furniture: faggot
was the bed he slept in, hard
and white, but simple somehow,
queer something sharp

but finally useful, a tool,
all the jokes a chair,
stiff-backed to keep the spine straight,
a table, a lamp. And because

he's fallen for twenty-three years,
despite whatever awkwardness
his flailing arms and legs assume
he is beautiful

and like any good diver
has only an edge of fear
he transforms into grace.
Or else he is not afraid,

and in this way climbs back
up the ladder of his fall,
out of the river into the arms
of the three teenage boys

who hurled him from the edge -
really boys now, afraid,
their fathers' cars shivering behind them,
headlights on - and tells them

it's all right, that he knows
they didn't believe him
when he said he couldn't swim,
and blesses his killers

in the way that only the dead
can afford to forgive.

- Mark Doty

Used by permission.

Mark Doty's FIRE TO FIRE: New and Selected Poems won the National Book Award for poetry. He teaches at Rutgers University, and lives in New York City.

Doty was featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2008, when he read "Charlie Howard's Descent." You can watch video of that reading here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Poem of the Week: Sonja de Vries

Illegal Borders

a scar starting below his

cheekbone ran down the length

of his face like a road map,

disappeared under his

chin and into his uniform

and my mouth - treacherous

flesh - wanted to kiss the top

of his scar, follow it down,

unbutton his starched shirt to see

where it would lead, but my mind -

that loyal sergeant -

kept me walking, passport open,

my lips moving in prayer.

-Sonja de Vries

Used by permission.

Sonja de Vries is a Kentucky-born writer, filmmaker, and queer social justice activist. She believes that art is integral to creating a deep and lasting transformation of society. She was raised by a powerful radical, activist mother and grandmother. The poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, Nazim Hikmet, Gabriela Mistral and others formed her consciousness and continue to inspire her. De Vries's first book Planting A Garden In Baghdad will be released by Finishing Line Press in January 2011.

de Vries was the third place winner of the 2010 Split This Rock Poetry Contest and attended the 2010 festival.

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!

Split This Rock

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Poem of the Week: Holly Bass

The Furious Dance

an occasional poem in celebration of Alice Walker and her book of poetry, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing

October 2, 2010 (presented with tap dancer Melissa Frakman)

Photo Credit: McKenzie Johnson

What is a furious dance?

It is not polite.

Does not shuck and jive or shuffle along.

It is not beige.

It is bold. In your face. Ready for revolution.

A solidarity of the body. A rhetoric of rhythm.

A furious dance is the knowing

that despite the opposition's best efforts

to suppress, deny, destroy

we will shake off your oppression

and stamp it into dust

with our furiously dancing feet.

Are you furious

in your peacemaking, in your pleasure making,

your life giving and living? Do you dance the sun up

and give thanks each day?

We must be furious, like our sister Alice

Her words cut through

all the tepid tea parties, the sleight

of hand and misdirection of

pundits, politicos and profit mongers

She speaks truth, sings peace

in her garden of words

fingers coaxing nourishment

from the earth's fertile being


The eighth and last child of

Willie Lee Walker and

Minnie Lou Tallulah Grant Walker

royalty of "the rural peasantry"

from red clay Georgia

this Daughter, Sister, Mother

Bearer of magic talismans:

a suitcase, a sewing machine,

a typewriter


She who make inroads

from dirt roads

Who cuts new paths

wherever her feet take her

Spelman to Sarah Lawrence

New York City to Mississippi

Gaza and Washington, DC

Poet, novelist, essayist, anthologist

editor, educator, activist



sending us in search

of our mothers' gardens

only to discover that We

are the ones we have

been waiting for

We praise her for teaching

a generation of women the difference

between lavender and purple,

between feminist and womanist

for reclaiming our heroine

Zora Neale Hurston

and returning her arrow-sharp words

to their rightful position

Alice Walker has given us more

than four decades of catalytic language

beginning with a book of poems in 1967


gathering into the global phenomenon

that is The Color Purple

and arriving some thirty books later here

to Hard Times Require Furious Dancing

Require is a word of urgency,


That is to say, this is not optional, people

this is a call to action,

to march, to shout, to protest, to love

to dance and dance furiously

our collective humanity.

-Holly Bass

Used by permission.

Holly Bass is a poet and performer. A Cave Canem fellow, her poems have appeared in Callaloo, nocturnes (re)view, Role Call, Beltway and The Ringing Ear, an anthology of Black Southern poetry.

Bass, Poet-in-Residence at the 5th & K Busboys and Poets, was a featured reader for the opening night of Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

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!

Split This Rock

In Case You Missed It: Poets and Artists Interviews Tiffany Higgins

In the Fall 2010 issue of Poets and Artists, a wonderful online magazine, poet and critic Michael Parker interviews 2010 Festival participant Tiffany Higgins. Her book is called and Aeneas stares into her helmet, and was published in 2009 from Carolina Wren Press.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Split This Rock Supports One Nation Working Together Rally

By: Carmen Calatayud

Photo credit: Jim Hayes
Split This Rock poets and friends gathered on Saturday morning, Oct. 2nd, to march and show their support for the One Nation Working Together rally on the Washington Mall. One Nation Working Together inspired thousands of like-minded organizations and citizens to attend DC’s rally in a quest for jobs, justice and peace.
Together, a Split This Rock crew, draped with signs created the night before, made its way from 14th and Constitution Streets, NW to the Lincoln Memorial for the 12 noon rally. Here are some of the lines of poetry we wore:

Many men died—although we know the fate
Of none, nor of anyone, and the war
Goes on,.................................................................
Photo credit: Carmen Calatayud
and the moon in the breast of man is cold.

-- John Berryman

My son smells of peace when I lean over him. It isn't just the soap.
Everybody was once the child with the smell of peace.
-- Yehuda Amichai, Israeli Poet

Ravaged animals
creep, bleeding,
from the once-green world.
-- Ellen Wise

things sometimes work as they were meant,
like the torturer who finally can’t sleep

-Bruce Weigl

Photo credit: Carmen Calatayud
Split This Rock poets passed out poems with information about Split This Rock and its festival, met kind and hard-working advocates for justice along the way, and ended the afternoon of speeches with five poets reading poems on Free Speech TV.

The One Nation Working Together movement includes human and civil rights organizations, unions and trade associations, nonprofit organizations, youth and student groups, religious and other faith groups, educational, peace, environmental, and ethnic associations, and other groups and individuals who are committed to uniting our country for the good of all of its people.

Split This Rock was proud to bring a poetic voice to the call for justice on the Mall.

Photo credit: Carmen Calatayud

Photo credit: Jim Hayes

Photo credit: Carmen Calatayud