Friday, March 25, 2011

Poem of the Week: Rashida James-Saadiya

Rain Dance

we scatter
dodge words that rip into flesh
hide from clenched fist

ache in unison
wait and run

full speed into Mother's arms
her body somehow a magic shield
flying us over everything ugly

as she weeps a muted death

the story always ends the same

we hold on

gathered like broken straps

clinging to memories of light

he twirls in circles

eyes arrow sharp

sometimes he screams at God

or simply smiles at our tears

-Rashida James-Saadiya

Used by permission.

Rashida James-Saadiya is an educator, writer and Artistic Director of Crossing Limits, an inter-faith art-centered non-profit supporting social change, progressive literature and creative thinking. In addition she is a founding member and co-editor of Voyages, a quarterly online journal dedicated to Africana Arts and Culture and the idea that knowledge should be shared.

James-Saadiya 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!

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Naomi Shihab Nye to read at the Folger

Naomi Shihab Nye reading
Naomi Shihab Nye reads at the 2008 Festival.
2008 Split This Rock Featured Poet Naomi Shihab Nye will be reading at the Folger Elizabethan Theatre on Monday April 11 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.

From the Folger Library Bio: Naomi Shihab Nye’s work provides a spotlight on the everyday and reawakens the beauty in the ordinary. Her books of poetry include A Maze Me: Poems for Girls; Red Suitcase; Words Under the Words; You & Yours, a best-selling poetry book of 2006; and 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, a finalist for the National Book Award. Other works include What Have You Lost? Honeybee, her collection of poems for young adults, which won the 2008 Arab American Book Award in the Children’s/Young Adult category. Nye has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow. In January 2010 she was elected to the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets.

Naomi Shihab Nye
At the 2008 Festival March

For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

For more examples of Naomi's poetry, and how it affects the world, please check out this Weekend Meditation on The Kitchn (the comments are especially worth reading): "Red Brocade"

Also check out "Famous", Naomi's poem chosen for the National Poetry Recitation Contest, Poetry Out Loud.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Can Poetry Heal the Planet? Stephen Levine’s Surreal Dharma Jazz

So, let us welcome Stephen Levine’s return to poetry. Breaking the Drought can also refer to a return to one of humanity’s most ancient of spiritual practices: sacred speech. As such, it’s a link back to a continuity temporarily severed by the Technological Revolution. It is a link we need in order to live in a fragmented world, dislocated by loss of spiritual unity. Meanwhile, with such grounding our collective drought continues, literally and figuratively.

Read the article by Gary Gach in Religion Dispatches here.

Poem of the Week: Rich Villar

Always Here

lacking a proper entrance

into a poem

about Arizona Senate Bill 1070

prompts me instead

to tell you

about the flamboyanes blooming

in Doña Yeya's mouth

every time she speaks

about her children,

or the pasteles that do not

wrap themselves

until blood is offered to the masa,

or the boys she sent to Germany,

who came back headless

and quoting Bible verses

or the girls

with thirteen years of bruises

at the hands of those same boys

who were told asi es la vida

without the slightest sense of irony

who shouldered Nuyorican babies

dutifully to Bayamón

dreaming about a nation

under which they cannot

legally claim citizenship

or parrandas of gold stomping

flat the Jersey snow

forgetting that coquito never meant

cold weather

or the act of forgetting

beneath every aguinaldo,

because civil cafesito

and politics cannot coexist

and we do not question

our birth certificates

unless we are agents of Homeland Security

because we were born American citizens

and as such are eligible to die

at a higher rate

in exchange for houses in Orlando

that we do not own.

There are Puerto Ricans

in Arizona and New York and Nebraska and,

I promise you,

good gente, it makes no difference

if your grandmother conjures

Michoacan or Mayaguez

in her flowered breath, it makes

no difference

if you bless the four winds

or pray to San Juan Bautista,

to those who only see papers

and brown flesh, who cannot

locate your cities on the maps

of conquerors or conquered,

you are a threat,

and if this is the case,

gente, I say,

be a threat. Unquieted,

bloom where you are not permitted

to bloom. Disjointed,

walk anywhere you please, stumble

if you must, but be present.

And when they ask you

where you keep your company,

tell them here, here,

always here.

-Rich Villar

Used by permission.

Rich Villar is the executive director of the Acentos Foundation, a Bronx-based organization fostering audiences for Latino/a poetry in the United States. His poetry and prose have appeared in MiPoesias: The American Cuban Issue, Ocho, Rattapallax, Latino Poetry Review, and the chapbook series Achiote Seeds. He is the fiction editor for The Acentos Review and lives and writes in New Jersey with his wife, poet Tara Betts.

Villar was on the panel Radical Diversity: The Presentation of Poetry as an Agent for Radical Change and was part of the Aqui Estamos: A Sampling of Poetry From the Inaugural Acentos Poetry Festival reading at 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!

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Your Activism Pays Off!

Great news everyone! Today the Washington Post published an article on the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. As many of you know, Split This Rock, in cooperation with local poets, has been leading a letter writing campaign urging the Post to publish more poetry reviews - and it now looks like the effort is making an impact. Details of the campaign are here.

While this is great step, we can't stop now. Be sure to read the article:

and leave feedback thanking the editors for publishing commentary on this vital art form. While you're at it, keep the pressure on by writing a letter letting the Post know that you want to see more poetry.

Note: to comment on the story, click here and login or register

Thanks so much for your work on this, and lets keep the momentum going!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Poem of the Week: Reginald Dwayne Betts


Prison is the sinner’s bouquet, house of shredded & torn
................Dear John letters, upended grave of names, moon
................Black kiss of a pistol’s flat side, time blueborn
& threaded into a curse, Lazarus of hustlers, the picayune
Spinning into beatdowns; breath of a thief stilled
................By fluorescent lights, a system of 40 blocks,
................Empty vials, a hand full of purple cranesbills,
Memories of crates suspended from stairs, tied in knots
Around street lamps, the house of unending push-ups,
................Wheelbarrels & walking 20s, the daughters
................Chasing their father’s shadows, sons that upset
The wind with their secrets, the paraphrase of fractured,
................Scarred wings flying through smoke, each wild hour
................Of lockdown, hunger time & the blackened flower.

-Reginald Dwayne Betts

From Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James Books, 2010)

Used by permission.

A Cave Canem Fellow, R. Dwayne Betts is 2010 Soros Justice Fellow and winner of the 2010 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Debut for his memoir, A Question of Freedom. He has won a Holden Fellowship, a scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and was a finalist for the Ruth Lily Fellowship. His first collection, Shahid Reads His Own Palm, won the Beatrice Hawley Award given by Alice James Books in 2010. His poetry and essays have been published in Ploughshares, Crab Orchard Review, the Washington Post, the ABA Journal and other national literary magazines, periodicals and newspapers.

Betts 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

Poet C.K. Williams to Receive Prestigious Tikkun Award

Presented by Tikkun Magazine, the international voice of spiritual progressives, the Tikkun Award honors individuals who advance the magazine's vision of a unified world free of exploitation, oppression, and domination. One of this year's awards is being presented to Pulitzer Prize winning poet, C.K. Williams. Williams joins a long list of notable recipients, including Grace Paley, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, and Allen Ginsberg. To mark the occasion, Tikkun's poetry editor Josh Weiner offered his thoughts on why, especially now, Williams deserves the award.

His remarks below.

What is the role of the poet in Tikkun’s core vision, of commitment to peace, social justice, ecological sanity? What is the role of the poet in a movement that aims to foster solidarity, generosity, kindness, and radical amazement? What is the role of the poet when it comes to social change and individual inner change?

Poetry is often discussed in our culture as a kind of commodity that few people are buying; but like meditation, reading poetry, listening to poetry, is less of a product, and more of a process, of coming into fuller awareness. Awareness of what? Our sense of connection to others starts within, moves without, and returns. The reciprocity between self and world is one of continual fluctuation, and there is no poet writing today who is more attuned to the ethical implications of that existential flux than C.K. Williams.

In a growing body of work that now spans over 40 years, C.K. Williams has dramatically rendered the exigency of mindfulness that is our ultimate living paradox—a state of consciousness we cannot escape because we are so busy expanding it: wonder, fear, doubt, curiosity, yearning, hopefulness, resolve, anger, tenderness; the recognition of one’s belonging, the necessity of one’s separation; the inevitability of extinction, the intuition of duration. A radical amazement wedded to a radical skepticism. An impossible marriage of mutual exclusions.

C.K. Williams has devoted himself to dwelling in the possibility of poetry, which, according to the rigor of his art, dissolves facile dualisms through imaginative engagement.

His poetry has become one of the necessary records of our spiritual struggle, which is a cognitive condition, a material situation, a worldly concern. He is one of our great storytellers of consciousness in quest of equilibrium, between the pressures of reality and the imagination that conceives new realities.

The possibility of change requires the ability to imagine change; and to imagine the greatest change, we need great poets. With verbal intensity, formal energy, restless intelligence, unyielding scrutiny, and something incalculable that we call authenticity, C.K. Williams has become one of this country’s great poets of conscience.

Join us at the ceremony honoring him Monday evening March 14 at the University of California, Berkeley.

Info and to register: or by calling 510 644 1200.

Can't come? Then make a contribution to "the healing, repair and transformation of the world" (in Hebrew: tikkun) by donating in his honor (or in honor of the other honorees that evening--Justice Richard Goldstone who wrote the UN human rights reports on Bonsia, Rwanda and Gaza), Congressman Raul Grijalva (who leads the struggle for immigrant rights in the US House of Representatives), Naomi Newman (a cofounder of A Traveling Jewish Theatre), Rabbi Marcia Prager (director of the Jewish Renewal rabbinic training program and author of A Path of Blessing) and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf (Muslim theologian and a founder of Zaytuna College).

Donate at
or by a check to Tikkun: 2342 Shattuck Ave, #1200, Berkeley, Ca. 94704.

-Josh Weiner

We hope those of you in California can make it!

International Women's Day

In honor of International Women's Day, we'd like to share this wonderful Audre Lorde quote with you. Thanks to Pete Montgomery!

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives."

-Audre Lorde

In peace & poetry,
Split This Rock

AWP Wrap Up: What People Are Saying

Things have been a little crazy in Split This Rock's post-AWP world. In many ways we're still recovering from our mini-festival, and in the lull we sometimes forget to mention how tremendously pleased we are that our programs were well received. Rather than rehash anything we've already said, we opted to share what other bloggers have been saying- enjoy:

(click on each excerpt to read the rest of the post)

Jessica Vooris
From The Bucknell Afterword

This conference made me remember how much I love writing and has made me want to finish some new poems. Hopefully this newfound determination will help me produce some new things. Also, with the political poet panelists voices in my ear, perhaps I can rekindle both my activism and writing at the same time. Here’s to a productive 2011!

Barbara Jane Reyes

Espada does not romanticize the existence of the poet dissident, and neither should we; we should recognize this as the power of the word, a potential all of us poets have when we take pen to paper, indeed why we come to poetry in the first place.

Adam Pellegrini
From THEthe

Nor do I think, looking back on my full experience, that AWP should be cornered as some sort of backwoods, yet fancy, family reunion, rife with inbreeding, as was my initial cynicism. I did hear moments of life, feel excitement, swallow poetry and sweat it out.

Lyle Daggett
From A Burning Patience

The events I found particularly worthwhile included Undivided: Poet as Public Citizen, sponsored by Split This Rock, an excellent panel featuring Martín Espada, Carolyn Forché, Toi Derricotte, and Mark Nowak, and emceed by Melissa Tuckey of Split This Rock. Each of the panelists talked about various ways in which politically conscious poetry, and poetry in general, has engaged with the larger world; each quoted from the work of other poets as examples of the relevance of poetry in people's lives.

Sandra Beasley
From Chicks Dig Poetry

Most moving moment: Hearing Sonia Sanchez read Langston Hughes' work and reflect on his legacy. I got the shivers.

Serena Agusto-Cox
From The Examiner

Among some of the featured presenters this year are keynote speaker Jhumpa Lahiri, Sarah Browning of Split This Rock, Former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Joyce Carol Oates.

Eric Webb
From TriQuarterly Online

The next panel, in the same room, “Dream the Dreamers Dreamed: A Tribute to Langston Hughes,” reinforced that understanding, and also sparked a need to express political outrage in my own work.

Thanks again to everyone who helped make AWP a success- we'll see you there next year!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Poets on the Ground in Wisconsin

Be sure to check out poet Brenda Cárdenas' inspiring account of the protests in Wisconsin. An excerpt:

At the Wednesday rally, Carlos’ warm coyote laughter snuck out of my heart and into my throat. I told those gathered that this revered Chicano Wobbly poet had been quite fond of saying, “Workers of the World, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your generals!” and that I didn’t think he’d mind one bit if I changed his dicho (his twist on the old IWW saying) to fit our present circumstances. So together we chanted, “Workers of Wisconsin, Unite! We have nothing to lose but our governor! Students of Wisconsin, Unite! We have nothing to lose but our governor!”

Read the rest of the post here, (via Montevidayo)

Examiner Article on our Book World Campaign!

A few days ago the DC Examiner published an excellent article about Split This Rock's campaign to increase the frequency of poetry reviews in the Washington Post. The story does a great job of introducing the campaign and includes an interview with Sarah Browning, director of Split This Rock. Here's a excerpt:

Poets from all racial and ethnic backgrounds, of all ages, are writing, publishing, and performing work in a huge variety of styles and taking on the pressing issues of our time, helping us wrestle with our difficult and contradictory world. We know that more residents of our area, including many Washington Post readers, would benefit from exposure to these voices, the poets who are telling the true stories of our times.

Be sure to check out the rest of the article here and for more info on the campaign, check here.

Thank you for the support, and keep writing letters!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Poem of the Week: Marie-Elizabeth Mali


Pulling out of Union Square station, the subway

sounds the first three notes of There's a place for us,

somewhere a place for us. A woman sits on me, shoves

her dim planet-face at mine and blames me

for not moving. My face half numb --

post-root canal. I want to incinerate her

with a blast from Shiva's third eye. But she

is Shiva, too. Give me back the luxury of blame.

-Marie-Elizabeth Mali, from Steady, My Gaze

Used by permission

Marie-Elizabeth Mali is the author of Steady, My Gaze (Tebot Bach, 2011). She is a co-curator of louderARTS: the Reading Series and Page Meets Stage, both in New York City. Her work has appeared in Calyx, Poet Lore, and RATTLE, among others. You can visit her website at:

Mali won second place in Split This Rock's 2010 Poetry Contest and read the winning poem, "Oceanside, CA," onstage on the 2010 festival's final night. Read the winning poem here.

Also! Mali will be featured alongside Reginald Dwayne Betts at the next Sunday Kind of Love on March 20th. Stay tuned for details!

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 post, including this request. Thanks!

Split This Rock