Monday, May 11, 2015


Ascension                   by Elmaz Abinader, from This House, My Bones (2014)

                                    For Mahmud Darwish

What do exiles do but continue to walk
in countries where they were not born?

And when they leave are their ghosts alone,
Wandering routes river to home to horizon?

Breath   visible   from the cold of death
I call you to smoke and   vapor

__

We search for the lost through shards of cement
a crusty coffee cup impossible to read.

The cities are homes as much as they are tombs
you draw the map, a longitude of loss

The names of the storytellers will be catalogued
next to saints, teachers, revolutionaries, and bread makers

__

How many times can your heart break?
How many ways is writing a surgery?

Mahmud, is it too much to hold
I stand in the square and call for you

You pierce the voices of this city—

the sky over Ramallah is refrain.

Friday, April 24, 2015

"Relentless" by Zeina Hashem Beck (Stop writing about war...")


"Relentless" by Zeina Hashem Beck 

“Stop writing about war,” he said. “Stop
writing about borders and blood. Stop writing
about revolutions and revolvers, about cities,
rooftops with antennas and snipers.
Stop writing about bread
and barefoot children with their dark
skin, their hair blond from too much sun.
Stop telling the story of how your friend
bought hats for them and gave them out
from her car window, saying put this on
put this on. Stop telling the story of the gates
your grandfather painted on his wall
to remember, and the gates he painted
on his heart to forget. For God’s sake stop
writing about religion, I’m tired
of minarets and crosses, even the prayers
are tired and want to sleep. Just write
some shade for me to sit in.”

So I drew him a tree without roots
and a street with enormous wings and said, “Here
is a tree that cannot be uprooted
and a street that will take flight
before it explodes.” And I drew myself
some mud, two strong legs, a clothesline
upon which to hang my drenched words,
to see what this sunlight would make of them,
and black birds on a fence

like the pattern of a kufiya.


This poem originally appeared in Rusted Radishes

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sand Opera

sand-opera.jpg

Sand Opera--my attempt to make sense of the post-9/11 years--came out a couple months ago, thanks to Alice James Books

I'm grateful for the good review from Earl Pike in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who wrote: "The contrast, a brief moment of tenderness amidst the brutal depositions about war's collateral, is striking. The cumulative effect of Metres' collection, its testimonies and gaps, its forms and disassemblies, is operatic and often incendiary, generally discomforting, and nearly always powerful. It is worth reading, and re-reading, to unearth the buried words."

Thanks as well to Fady Joudah, with whom I had an extended conversation over at Los Angeles Review of Books about Sand Opera. Along the way we discuss quite a bit—including love and politics, Elaine Scarry and the theology of torture, the Oliver Stone Syndrome and American Sniper, empire, the Iraqs I carry, 9/11, Standard Operating Procedures, black sites, docupoetics, trance states, recursion, poems about children, the vital vulnerability of the human body, the openness of ears, the sound of listening, the War Story and its exclusions, the Umbra poets and the Black Arts Movement, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, RAWI (the Radius of Arab American Writers), and the state of Arab American literature.

This is the beginning: 
FADY JOUDAH: Sand Opera is ultimately a book about love, its loss and recapture, and the struggle in between. Many will completely misread it as another political book of poems, in that reductive, ready-made sense of "political" which is reserved for certain themes but mostly for certain ethnicities. So part of that misreading is due to the book’s subject matter or its Abu Ghraib arias, and also because it is written by an Arab American.
PHILIP METRES: I love the fact that you read Sand Opera as a book about love. The longer I worked on the book, the more I felt compelled to move past the dark forces that instigated its beginnings, forces that threatened to overwhelm it and me. Love, as much as I can understand it, thrives in an atmosphere of care for the self and other — the self of the other and the other of the self — through openness, listening, and dialogue. Because the book was born in the post-9/11 era, it necessarily confronts the dark side of oppression, silencing, and torture. Torture, as Elaine Scarry has explored so powerfully in The Body in Pain, is the diametrical opposite of love, the radical decreation of the other for political ends. The recent release of the so-called “Torture Report,” and the torrent of responses (both expressions of condemnation and defensive justifications) has felt like a traumatic repetition for me. Didn’t we deal with this during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the “Enhanced Interrogation” debate? Even now, the political conversation seems to skip over the fact that torture contravenes international law and is a profoundly immoral act, and moves so quickly to debate its merits — whether any good “intelligence” may have been gleaned from it. Why is that the writers who have gained the widest platforms were veterans of the war, some of whom participated directly in interrogation — for example, Eric Fair’s courageous mea culpa December 2014 Letter to the Editor in The New York Times — while Arab voices, like Iraqi writer Sinan Antoon’s, are so hard to find and so marginalized?
My hope is that Sand Opera can help be the start to a new conversation about the state of poetry, American life, and the role of Arab American literature in our ongoing cultural and political debate about U.S. foreign and domestic policy regarding the Arab world. We welcome further conversation. More to come....

"Advising the Prince" by Chuang Tzu

I came across this curious parable in The Way of Chuang Tzu, translated/interpreted by Thomas Merton. It seems to apply to everything from personal to political decision-making. Would that our leaders carried themselves with as much integrity.

"Advising The Prince" by Chuang Tzu (translation by Thomas Merton)
The recluse Hsu Su Kwei had come to see Prince Wu. 
The Prince was glad. "I have desired," he said, "to see you for a long time. Tell me if I am doing right. I want to love my people, and by the exercise of justice to put an end to war. Is this enough?"
"By no means," said the recluse. "Your 'love' for your people puts them in mortal danger. Your exercise of justice is the root of war after war! Your grand intentions will end in disaster!"
"If you set out to 'accomplish something great' you only deceive yourself. Your love and justice are fraudulent. They are more pretexts for self-assertion, for aggression. One action will bring another, and in the chain of events your hidden intentions will be made plain."
"You claim to practice justice. Should you seem to succeed, success itself will bring more conflict. Why all these guards at the palace gate, around the temple altar? Everywhere? "You are at war with yourself! You do not believe in justice, only in power and success. If you overcome an enemy and annex his country you will be even less at peace with yourself than you are now. Nor will your passions let you sit still. You will fight again and again for the sake of a more perfect exercise of 'justice'!
"Abandon your plan to be a 'loving and equitable ruler.' Try to respond to the demands of inner truth. Stop vexing yourself and your people with these obsessions! Your people will breathe easily at last. They will live and war will end by itself.

Monday, February 23, 2015

High-Risk Activism and Popular Struggle Against the Israeli Occupation in the West Bank

High-Risk Activism and Popular Struggle Against the Israeli Occupation in the West Bank

Professor Joel Beinin, Stanford University
Monday, March 2nd , 4:30 pm, CWRU, Tinkham Veale University Center, Ballroom A

Scholars have longed distinguished between normal political protest and what can be termed "high-risk activism," best exemplified in the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of 1964. The International Solidarity Movement consciously invoked the precedent of Mississippi Freedom Summer by designating its 2002 campaign of Palestine solidarity action "Freedom Summer." Protesting the occupation in any form has always been a high-risk activity for Palestinians, who have regularly experienced tear gas, beatings, torture, incarceration, and live fire from Israeli security forces, as well as indefinite administrative detention and other judicial procedures based on secret evidence.

Professor Beinin will discuss a new phenomenon: the participation of Israelis and internationals in qualitatively new ways involving high risk - not only social reprobation, but arrests and trials, tear gas asphyxiation and other forms of severe physical discomfort, serious bodily injury, and in a few cases of internationals, death.

Joel Beinin is the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History and Professor of Middle East History at Stanford University and a past president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America. His research focuses on workers, peasants, and minorities in the modern Middle East and on Israel, Palestine, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Sponsored by Department of Political Science, Department of History, NOCMES, and Kent State University.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Craig Santos Perez, from "understory" (Split this Rock poem of the week)

Poem of the Week:
Craig Santos Perez




 
from understory

(to my wife, nālani
and our 7-month old daughter, kai)

kai cries
from teething--

how do
new parents

comfort a
child in

pain, bullied
in school,

shot by
a drunk

APEC agent?

-kollinelderts--
nālani gently

massages kai's
gums with

her fingers-
how do

we wipe
away tear--

gas and
blood? provide

shelter from
snipers? disarm

occupying armies?

nālani sings
to kai

a song
about the

Hawaiian alphabet--
what dreams

will echo
inside detention

centers and
cross teething

borders to
soothe the

thousands of
children atop

la bestia?
#unaccompanied--

nālani rubs
kai's back

warm with
coconut oil--

how do
we hold

violence at
arm's length

when raising
[our] hands

up is
no longer

a universal
sign of

surrender? #black
livesmatter--

kai finally
falls asleep

in nālani's
cradling arms,

skin to
skin against

the news--
when do

we tell
our daughter

there's no
safe place

for us
to breathe #...

 

***
From  Hawai'i Review special online issue, Write for Ferguson. With special thanks to editors Anjoli Roy and No'u Revilla. 

Used with permission.

***
Craig Santos Perez is a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guåhan (Guam). He is an Associate Professor and the Director of the Creative Writing Program in the English Department at the University of Hawai'i, Mānoa. 
We strive to preserve the text formatting of poems over e-mail, but certain e-mail programs may distort how characters, fonts, indents, and line wraps appear. Please, visit the poem at our site.

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
Support Split This Rock 

Please support Split This Rock, the national network of activist poets. Donations are fully tax-deductible. 

Click here to donate. Or send a check payable to "Split This Rock" to: Split This Rock, c/o Institute for Policy Studies, 1112 16th Street NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036. Many thanks!

Contact info@splitthisrock.org for more details or to become a sponsor.

Split This Rock
www.SplitThisRock.org
202-787-5210 info@splitthisrock.org

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

abu ghraib arias: a reading (from Sand Opera)


With the release of the so-called “Torture Report” yesterday, I’ve been casting back to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. After the invasion of Iraq, from late 2003 to 2004, U.S. military police of the Army and Central Intelligence Agency committed a series of outrageous abuses of Iraqi detainees at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, abuses that had been tried and exported from Guantanamo Bay prison and secret "black sites" around the world. Because of extensive photo and video documentation of the abuse by military police themselves, the scandal became an international embarrassment that led W.J.T. Mitchell to declare it, not without hyperbole, the moment that the U.S. lost the war in Iraq.

Sand Opera began out of the vertigo of feeling unheard as an Arab American, in the decade after the terrorist attacks of 2001. After 9/11, Americans turned an ear to the voices of Arabs and Muslims, though often it has been a fearful or selective listening. Even Errol Morris chose to interview only Americans for his Abu Ghraib film, “Standard Operating Procedure.” One centerpiece to Sand Opera is the “abu ghraib arias." It is a dialogue between Standard Operation Procedure for Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay, the soldiers who served in Abu Ghraib, and the Abu Ghraib prisoners. I draw upon a number of sources: a Standard Operating Procedure manual for Camp Echo at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp (thanks to WikiLeaks); the testimony of Abu Ghraib torture victims found in Mark Danner’s Torture and Truth: America and the War on Terror; the words of U.S. soldiers and contractors as found in Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris’s The Ballad of Abu Ghraib; the official reports on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal (the Taguba Report, the Schlesinger Report, etc.); interviews with Joe Darby and Eric Fair (two whistle-blowers); the Bible; and the Code of Hammurabi. 

The following audio performance of the arias involved the piano work of Philip Fournier, and the voices of Danny Caine, Jackie Orchard, Paige Webb, and me (Philip Metres), and was engineered by Mike MacDonald.






Saturday, December 6, 2014

Split This Rock call for poems: We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest



December 5, 2014
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We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest - 
 
Call for Poems that Resist Police Brutality 
& Demand Racial Justice

Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's son-we who believe in freedom cannot rest. 
                    - Ella Baker

Even as our hearts break in rage and anguish over the murder of Black and brown people throughout the land by police who are not held accountable, here at Split This Rock we are heartened by the powerful actions in the streets and the visionary leadership of mostly young people of color in this growing movement for justice.

We are also moved by the poets, who continue to speak out, and especially by BlackPoetsSpeakOut and its manifesto: "I am a black poet who will not remain silent while this nation murders black people. I have a right to be angry." Another powerful forum is VONA/Voices Against Racial Injustice.

In solidarity, Split This Rock offers our blog as a Virtual Open Mic, open to all: 
  • Send us your poems on the long history of the brutalization of Black and brown bodies and we will publish them on Split This Rock's blog, Blog This Rock, to create a running open mic. We welcome poems new and old, whether previously published or not. (Please include credit information for previously published.)

    Thematically we are wide open: resistance, mourning, rage, celebration. Send the poem(s) as email attachments (.doc or .docx only) with the subject line "We who believe in freedom" toinfo@splitthisrock.org.
  • From the open mic collection, we will choose poems to run as Poem of the Week in the weeks ahead. We will contact you directly if we decide to use your poem for Poem of the Week.
We are proud to begin this series today, with "bitter crop," as our Poem of the Week, by Kelli Stevens Kane. Please share her poem and this call widely.
As the virtual open mic grows, we hope to print out and present all the poems to the U.S. Department of Justice, along with the national demands for police accountability and racial justice articulated by Ferguson Action. Stay tuned for details.

In grief and resistance,
Split This Rock
Poem of the Week: 
Kelli Stevens Kane
 
  


bitter crop 

blueberry blackberry as always
bleeding, back road or boulevard,
our boy crowned with baton,
breathing, barely, if you
believe the breeze is just 
air blowing through branches

above the fruited plain

have a seat. when our baby left
we believed he'd come back
in his body. we believed
youngberries grew
into elderberries. but now,
when the wind blows
against your necks, know it's him,
you feel him now that he's up

above the fruited plain

don't you? I hate pavement, I hate summer,
I hate yellow tape, I hate chokeberry,
pokeberry, the way it'll always be too late
to comfort him. the way I'll never dare to say
I hate you back
to our strange America that only protects the few

above the fruited plain

                                    -for Michael Brown and  

 
***

Used with permission.
Kane reads her poem in solidarity withBlackPoetsSpeakOut

***
 
Kelli Stevens Kane is a poet, playwright, and oral historian based in Pittsburgh, PA. She's a Cave Canem Fellow, an August Wilson Center Fellow, and a Flight School Fellow, and has twice received Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grants from The Pittsburgh Foundation. She's studied at VONA, Hurston/Wright, and Callaloo. She reads her poetry and oral history, and performs her one woman show, BIG GEORGE, nationally. For more information, please visit www.kellistevenskane.com and kskpoet.wordpress.com.
 
   ***    
We strive to preserve the text formatting of poems over e-mail, but certain e-mail programs may distort how characters, fonts, indents, and line wraps appear. Please,visit the poem at our site.

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. 
Support Split This Rock 

Please support Split This Rock, the national network of activist poets. Donations are fully tax-deductible. 

Click here to donate. Or send a check payable to "Split This Rock" to: Split This Rock, c/o Institute for Policy Studies, 1112 16th Street NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036. Many thanks!

Contact info@splitthisrock.org for more details or to become a sponsor.

Split This Rock
www.SplitThisRock.org
202-787-5210 info@splitthisrock.org