Friday, March 29, 2013

Poem of the Week: Jacob Rakovan

Jacob Rakovan     

Hilt's Law 

The bones cast in the field like seed corn grow nothing,
grow briars in the boarded gas stations
brown stalks ready for the fire.
You do not hear our song,
earth thick in our throats, benzene, chromium
cadmium and arsenic
shuttered stores,
hosts of dead in cold-mill towns
the day that does not come though prayed for.

The trains of coal and corpses, the price of power
though wires are stretched like a mandolin on our backs
though the saints bob above us like car-lot balloons
You do not hear our singing.
In electric light the bubble gum machine is full of teeth
the babies' bottles with a slow sweet poison
the air thick with cancer, the rain with
teeth, without flowers, without cease.

This dream of sleep, in hunter's orange
over oil-black in cups, in the hollows under eyes.
The unborn sun in the darkest river, the hollow hills
unsong of un-place, Bloody Harlan, Centralia
the blessed fly over in air conditioned comfort.
Let the bone-fire of your city burn 'till your shadow stains the bricks 
Let the dark come spilling from the mine thick as molasses
Let the end come if it is coming,
Let the rich hang from their ankles,
a washtub full of black blood.
You do not hear.
Let the hills and stones fall on us and cover us
Let those curse us who curse the day, who are skillful
the smelters of iron, and armaments, the hilltop removers.
Though we are dying, though we breath black dust
and blue powder, spit liquor and blood
the black drink, the earth's secret breath.
Though we are toothless, though we are blind
we hear this:
Steady trundle of the train under storm clouds
loaded down with malediction,
the radio tower's Babel-bleat to heaven
with the black stone, with the dead for burning 
song of electric light, and sleeplessness.
Weariest river at the end of all things 
We follow you into the earth.

-Jacob Rakovan   

Used by permission.

Jacob Rakovan is an Appalachian writer in diaspora. He is a 2011 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Poetry and recipient of a 2013 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. His work has appeared in numerous journals including The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The James Dickey Review, Anon, Thrush and Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism as well as anthologies by Salmon Poetry Press, MTV Books and The Arsenic Lobster. His manuscript The Devil's Radio was a finalist for the 2012 Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature and the Gell poetry prize and is forthcoming on Small Doggies Press. He is co-curator of the Poetry & Pie Night reading series in Rochester, New York. 

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

Friday, March 22, 2013

Poem of the Week: Melissa Tuckey

Melissa Tuckey    

Dick Cheney's New Heart Speaks  
A roadside bomb is planted in every chest

I was a pea sized fist in the dirt of a man
who had half your brains
but he was good

The heart does not relinquish its domain
Your blood confesses to every crime

Don't expect me to be patient with you

Your DNA has struck a compromise  
with the purgatory of souls

Your fingerprints engraved with
names of the dead

Have a seat Mr. Cheney while
your skin
reads its final testimony 

-Melissa Tuckey  

Used by permission.

Melissa Tuckey is author of Tenuous Chapel, selected by Charles Simic for the ABZ Press first book prize (May 2013) and Rope As Witness (Pudding House Press, 2007). Her honors and awards include a Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Winter Fellowship, and writing fellowships from DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and Ohio Arts Council, as well as a residency at Blue Mountain Center.
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!

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

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Speaking Wiri Wiri April 6!

Dan Vera Launches Award-Winning Book 
Speaking Wiri Wiri
Saturday April 6, 2013
Busboys & Poets 
1025 5th St. NW
         ........Washington, DC 20001

Join Dan Vera, board chair of Split This Rock, for a book launch and reading from his award-winning book of poems, Speaking Wiri Wiri. 

Winner of the inaugural Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize, Dan Vera's Speaking Wiri Wiri is a work of historical insight and wry wit, unexpectedly delightful and full of surprises as it meditates on the challenges of multiple identities, ethnicity, geographies of migration, familial displacement, popular history, and more. Everything is fair game for Vera, who finds poetry in the mundane and the monumental, the hidden lives of iconic television stars and the alternate and accidental histories of Latinos in the United States. Carmen Miranda makes an appearance, as do Captain Kirk, Vladimir Nabokov, and José Martí in a literary landscape careening lyrically between lost and found.
Join us as we toast Dan and celebrate this exciting book of poems!

Advance Praise for Speaking Wiri Wiri 

"Speaking Wiri Wiri keeps traveling across the "false borders of men" into "memory of the tongue." These poems-paeans to his Cuban family, heritage, history - testify to the thundering power of words. Whether Spanish, lost and found, or English, familiar and strange, these poems evoke the various ways that language exiles us and embodies the indelible past - who we are, where we came from, how we know. Like Vera's monarch butterfly and Queen Anne's lace - this collection wanders from otro lado to this side and back-defying the impossible logic of fences...." - Valerie Martínez

"These poems are charged with a poignant longing and the kind of humor that grins as it bleeds. Speaking Wiri Wiri is also a careful look at the untraceable impacts of the words that surround us. Each of us-whether we mean to or not-looks back to find out where we are and why we are what we are. Dan Vera's new collection operates as a kind of soulful blueprint for this search." - Tim Seibles

"As a poet driven to reconstruct the fragments of memory, just as an archeologist rebuilds ancient ruins, Vera knows that any possible reconnection to the past depends on a prescient understanding of the copious interplay between language and culture, made more lush still by the mediation of his Romantic imagination. . . Another person would have avoided this agonistic search for his roots (both linguistically and culturally), but Vera chose instead to persevere in connecting with his ancestral homeland, and I can only explain this doggedness as the result of a deep familial bond, an emotional debt that has to be repaid with poetry and poetry alone." - Orlando Menes

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

5 Years Ago Today Split This Rock Touched Down!

Five years ago, on March 20, 2008, I stood on the stage at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, DC, and welcomed hundreds of poet-activists to the first Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness.

We had chosen the date to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, a war so many of us had opposed, a war which our government waged illegally and immorally despite the opposition of millions throughout the world.

Four essential American poets joined me on the stage that night, E. Ethelbert Miller, Martín Espada, Alix Olson, and Naomi Shihab Nye. 

Today, five years later, we have a different president. US combat troops have left Iraq. But what a country they left behind -- one of the most violent in the world, torn apart by ten years and more of war and occupation. We spent over $1 trillion fighting that war, funds desperately needed for building a just and sustainable society. 

And though major combat has ended in Iraq, our government continues to approach the world through the lens of war, sending drone proxies over Asia and Africa, sending advisers, waging war.

Happily, the poets continue to wage peace. We remember Muriel Rukeyser in her centenary year: "As we live our truths, we will communicate across all barriers, speaking for the sources of peace. Peace that is not lack of war, but fierce and positive."  

Split This Rock marks its 5th anniversary today. We'll be celebrating all year. But for today, on this solemn and joyous anniversary, I offer below my welcoming comments from that first festival, five years ago. The poetry has blossomed, our numbers grow, we are sisters and brothers together. It's been a remarkable five years. Thank you.

- Sarah Browning, Split This Rock Executive Director

E. Ethelbert Miller 
Alix Olson

Martín Espada
Naomi Shihab Nye

Sarah Browning Welcomes the Poet Hordes 
Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness
March 20, 2008

Friends – Welcome. Look at all of you – please take a moment and look around at one another – the activists and poets and activist poets and lovers of poetry, gathered from all over this crazy, beleaguered nation for Split This Rock Poetry Festival. You are the most beautiful crowd I have ever seen. Adrienne Rich has a poem that reads:

Poetry means refusing
the choice to kill or die

but this life of continuing
            is for the sane mad
and the bravest monsters

Thank you for being the sane mad and the bravest of monsters.

On this bloody and awful anniversary – five years of a disastrous, illegal, and immoral war – poets have come together to challenge one another and this country to end this appalling war and to dramatically reorder our national priorities. We come together to reclaim our language from the spinmeisters and propagandists who would murder it, who would use it only to pacify the people, to convince us all that perpetual, worldwide, preemptive war is the only alternative.

We come together to imagine all the many alternatives, the rich and varied possibilities of our human experience. We come together to speak for the voiceless, for those who have been silenced by oppressive governments worldwide, including our own, and by that most silencing of forces, despair. We come together to give hope. We come, as one of tonight’s poets, E. Ethelbert Miller, has said, “not with our dirges but our jubilees.”

And so we welcome you to Washington, DC, a city of the most crazy-making contradictions in American life. It is the seat of imperial power, a symbol of wealth and autocratic strength all over the world. But it is also the city with the greatest disparity of wealth of any in the country; the highest child poverty rate, the highest HIV infection rate, the highest adult illiteracy rate. And it is also a city of beauty, of liveliness, of warmth, of a rich and essential tradition of poets who have wrestled with the city, have given voice to its citizens who live here, in the shadow of the Capitol who yet have no one representing them in that building. Yes, Washington DC is still a disenfranchised colonized city.

Poets here have become the unacknowledged legislators – Walt Whitman lived and wrote here during the Civil War, witnessing the horrors of that war. The Harlem Renaissance was born here – yes, New Yorkers, here – with Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Alain Locke, and many others writing and publishing early works from that period. Essex Hemphill was the most important Black gay writer of his generation. And these poets of course are part of a long tradition in this country and around the world of poets who work and write in the public sphere, who know that poetry is for everyone, that poetry and the world tussle and jostle and struggle with one another endlessly, attempting a way forward.

Split This Rock builds on this great tradition. We are thrilled that so many poets responded to our call to come together this weekend to demand an end to this war and a dramatic reordering of our nation’s priorities. In the days ahead we’ll experience a real tapestry of poetry – some of the glory that is American poetry at the start of the millennium. We hope to build a lasting network and home for activist poets and we invite you to join us. You’ll be given an evaluation form this weekend – we know these things are awful and hated, but please use this one. Tell us what meant the most to you this weekend and what we can do better next time. But also tell us how Split This Rock might serve your needs in the future as you continue to do the powerful, important work you are all doing in your own communities.

Split This Rock is the result of two long years of dreaming and planning and insanely late nights fueled by chocolate and coffee or chocolate and wine. Many, many people have worked incredibly hard to make it happen. The volunteers have stood up tonight and I add my halleluiahs to the chorus of praise. I also want to thank an incredible coordinating committee and advisory board who have helped to birth this crazy baby from the start. Three people deserve special recognition – they have given their lives over to Split This Rock for months, with no pay and little glory, and I want to thank them with everything that is in me and ask them to stand so we can praise them: My friends, my comrades Melissa Tuckey, Jaime Jarvis, Regie Cabico.

Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys and Poets, has also believed in Split This Rock and supported it with all the power of his considerable energy and resources. There would be no Split This Rock without Busboys and Poets. Thank you.

The gorgeous slideshow of socially engaged poets that was playing at Busboys this afternoon is by Lynda Koolish, who flew all the way from California to share that with us and to document the festival. Lynda, please take a bow.

I also want to take a moment to honor and call out the poet Sam Hamill, who was supposed to have been with us reading tonight. Most of you know that Sam is a huge part of the reason we are all here together this weekend. Five years ago, he challenged poets to speak out against the impending war and he galvanized poets as never before. DC Poets Against the War and all of our organizing that has led us here results from Sam’s clear vision and dedication to the public role of poets and poetry. Sadly, Sam had a mild heart attack last week – he’s alright – he’s had angioplasty and is already up and walking around. But he obviously couldn’t travel. He is very very sad to miss this week and he sends you all greetings and warm wishes. Stephen Kuusisto is reading tomorrow night at 5 pm here and will be reading two poems that Sam sent so that he could be here with us in spirit. Please come back tomorrow at 5 to hear those poems.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Haiku Postcards to the President: AWP 2013 Edition

Haiku Postcards to the President: 
AWP 2013 Edition

If you were at AWP this year, you may have stopped by Split This Rock's table at the bookfair and encountered one (or all) of the smiling faces above. These are a few of our staff and volunteers who may have urged you to write a haiku postcard to President Obama.  We've read through them all and pulled the most inventive, the most powerful, the funniest. Read them below! And thanks to all those who shared their voices with us.

The whole campus cheered
The night you were elected
We watched. Eyes wide-tears.
-          Lianne McCray

The silence before the drone
And the heavier silence
Forever After
-          Corrie Etter

Snow blows in the wind
Empty apartment windows
Dusty with promise
-          Lyle Daggett

Birds fly high over
The city. Snow muffles loud
Mouth voices below
-          Dr. Virginia Gilbert

Split the rock and hear
Musical notes rise to
Awaken your sleeping soul.
-          Satya Plalaparty

On the subject of
Drones – focus on the bees, sir,
Not on weaponry.
-          Liz Lanedale

Mr. President
Take congress out for Tacos.
Everything will change.
-          Kate Eber 

The love of country,
Honor, pride, justice, and peace
Collide a rainbow.
-          Yolanda J. Franklin

Yes humanity
Yes peace yes music of love
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
-          Dawn Lonsinger

Be your conscience. Don’t
Bow under the weighted snowfall
Of everyone’s gaze.
-          Andrew Kozma 

Because I love her
I want to marry her lips
Legalize our kiss
-          Leigh Phillips

Holes on highways leave
Broken bits of gravel in
The craks of my skin
-          Nicole Byrne

Education for
Our youth, or do you intend
To make drones of them?
-          Pages Matam

Poem of the Week: Jericho Brown

Jericho Brown   

They said to say goodnight
And not goodbye, unplugged
The TV when it rained. They hid
Money in mattresses
So to sleep on decisions.
Some of their children
Were not their children. Some
Of their parents had no birthdates.
They could sweat a cold out
Of you. They'd wake without
An alarm telling them to.
Even the short ones reached
Certain shelves. Even the skinny
Cooked animals too quick
To get caught. And I don't care
How ugly one of them arrived,
That one got married
To somebody fine. They fed
Families with change and wiped
Their kitchens clean.
Then another century came.
People like me forgot their names. 

-Jericho Brown 

Used by permission.

Jericho Brown was born in Shreveport, Louisiana and once worked as the speechwriter for the Mayor of New Orleans. The recipient of the Whiting Writers Award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, Brown is an Assistant Professor at Emory University. His poems have appeared in journals and anthologies including The American Poetry ReviewjubilatOxford AmericanPloughsharesTin House, The Best American Poetry, and 100 Best African American Poems. His first book, PLEASE, won the American Book Award.

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!

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

Friday, March 8, 2013

Poem of the Week: Remica Bingham

Photo by: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Things I Carried Coming Into the World

The weight of my parents,
the dawn of them;
my grandmother's lackluster
life; the guilt of my grandfather's mistress
after he'd been scalded with hot
water, tender flesh boiling on his back;
my color, the umber slick of it
deepening over two weeks' time,
an aunt worrisome it would never stop;
the heart of a boy whose name
was forgotten before it was given
who passed me a note in fourth grade
that I spat upon and shot back
in scribbled, torn pieces;
obligation, the bane of memory,
the cleft a loss in 1967 creates
when a mother of mine
two mothers removed
is left broken on the sidewalk
after a drunk white man
jumps the curb
in the colored neighborhood,
the sorrow of the familiar voice
that has to tell me this;
my father's falsetto
before nicotine had its way
with his song; Jesus and all
his demands; soft hands;
the sight of a woman
at my first funeral, called away
to God, erupted, brought back
in a mega-church;
the bend of a slow, steady hump
overpowering an uncle's back;
my godson's vermillion face,
the uncertainty of him,
the walk I took with his mother,
past the clinic
through the divide;
a fistful of wanting; foreign bodies
wandering through my own;
a blow to the insides when distance
walks in; the braid of death,
streaked and ribboned against
my family's back, its greedy
interruption, its persistence,
the unwanted strands
of the thick-lcaed thing.

-Remica Bingham

Used by permission.
From What We Ask of Flesh (Etruscan Press 2013).

Remica L. Bingham earned an MFA from Bennington College and is a Cave Canem fellow. Her first book, Conversion, won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award and was published by Lotus Press. Her second book, What We Ask of Flesh, was recently released from Etruscan Press in February 2013. Currently, she is the Director of Writing and Faculty Development at Old Dominion University. She resides in Norfolk, VA with her husband and children. For more information on her work and upcoming events, please visit:


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

Friday, March 1, 2013

Poem of the Week: Philip Metres

   Phil Metres  

Hearing of Alia Muhammed Baker's Stroke  

How a Basra librarian
could haul the books each night,
load by load, into her car,

the war ticking like a clock
about to wake. Her small house
swimming in them. How, the British

now crossing the limits
of Basra, the neighbors struck
a chain to pass the bags of books

over the wall, into a restaurant,
until she could bring them all,
like sandbags, into her home,

some thirty thousand of them,
before the library, and her brain,
could finally flood into flame.

-Philip Metres

Used by permission.

Philip Metres has written a number of books and chapbooks, most recently A Concordance of Leaves (Diode 2013), abu ghraib arias (Flying Guillotine 2011), which was the winner of the 2012 Arab American Book Award, To See the Earth (Cleveland State 2008), and Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941 (University of Iowa 2007). His work has appeared in Best American Poetry, and Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry, and has garnered two NEA fellowships, the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, four Ohio Arts Council Grants, the Anne Halley Prize, the Arab American Book Award, and the Cleveland Arts Prize.  He teaches literature and creative writing at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. Philip blogs at  

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all ofthe information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

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