Thursday, March 15, 2018

I L L N E S S: A Flash Memoir Prologue

Photo of poet Jeanann Verlee speaking into a microphone. She has long, reddish hair. There is a jukebox in the background.
Split This Rock presents this essay, below, as part of our participation in Where My Dreaming and My Loving Live: Poetry & the Body, this year's programming of the national Poetry Coalition. To read more about this initiative, supported in part by a grant from the Ford Foundation, visit the website of the Academy of American Poets.

Jeanann Verlee will read at two events with Split This Rock in Washington, DC, March 17 and 18. Details at Split This Rock's website.

by Jeanann Verlee

Since April of 2015, I have been ill. Quietly. Secretly. My body turning against itself, devouring. Ravaging and shrinking me. I have not had the courage to talk about it. It was six months before I even confessed to my spouse that I was sick. Nine months before I consulted a doctor. Shame is thicker than blood.

Let me go back. I was already ill. I’ve been ill much of my life. Though my illnesses are often regarded differently. I was misdiagnosed with depression as a teen. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my mid-twenties. In my late thirties, I was also diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety. I have bipolar disorder. Hypomania. Depression. PTSD. Chronic anxiety. I am, and have been, ill.

For more than three-quarters of my life, I have been on and off countless cocktails of medication in treatment of my illnesses. My medicines, manias, depressions, and bouts of anxiety do not prohibit a full and productive life, but are a daily consideration. Sometimes, hourly. I flinch. I shut down. I grow fangs. Each, with exacting efficiency. 

Now this—my body seemingly turning itself inside-out—an apparently rare and incurable disease. One that is prohibitive of a full and productive life. Little is known about its progression, treatment is radically hit-and-miss, and its cause is unknown. Many doctors suspect this disease is caused by long-term use of SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, more commonly known as antidepressants). Oh, irony.

Still, there are other experts who have drawn links to long-term use of more benign drugs, such as Ibuprofen and other over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. Still others suggest genetic links. Many speculate that it may be an autoimmune disease, likely triggered by bacterial infection. 

The answer is that there is no answer. Science doesn’t know the cause because science hasn’t studied it. More research needs to be done, they say. Very rare, they say. No one is researching because, like many systems in the U.S., this system is broken. Doctors are dismissing or best-guessing their way through diagnoses and treatments while my body consumes itself.

Many psychiatrists believe that autoimmune disorders are linked to psychological trauma. Most psychiatrists believe there is no distinction between body and mind. The line is not merely blurred—there is no line. My body-mind is testament to this. My body is not separate from my mind. I am conscious of both because I have a mind, but together, as one, my illnesses affect all of me. Through my writing, I have worked for years to dispel the stigma of “mental” illness, trying to underscore that illness is illness. That my illnesses are simple. Incurable. Treatable. Nothing to fear. Something to understand. Human.

And so, it is possible—even likely—that the traumas I have survived fractured my psyche which led to treatment with psychiatric medicine which led to my body devouring itself. Or—equally likely—traumas fractured my psyche AND led my body to devour itself, regardless of medicine. More research needs to be done, they say.

I am sick. Chronically. My whole body-mind. Every day. I cannot predict what each morning will bring, but I know it will be some assortment of varied levels of pain, nausea, numbness, swelling, cramping, discomfort, exhaustion—AND—fear, sadness, rage, anxiety, hypervigilance, and shame.

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After almost three years, five doctors, four clinics, and countless lab technicians, I was only officially diagnosed five weeks ago. Initially I was dismissed. Then misdiagnosed. Repeatedly. I refused to accept their amorphous answers. I tried again. And again. Each new clinic, each new set of doctors and staff, I was humiliated and mistreated and shamed. Dejected, I would give up for a time, then start over, refusing to be dismissed. I had to take my health into my own hands because medical professionals had simply thrown their hands in the air (one doctor did so quite literally).

I had to bully my way through. To be heard. To be seen. It took stamina. It took energy I often didn’t have. I spent countless nights sobbing, begging my body to stop hurting. Some nights I wanted to die. Many nights I thought I might be dying. Our system is broken. I had to do the work myself. Alone. I had to take the notes, keep the records. I had to repeatedly subject myself to the same tests, to endure the same humiliations, as each technician or doctor simply ticked off the same go-to list, Just to be sure.

Meanwhile, my body continues eating itself. Meanwhile, I am smaller and smaller and smaller. I have lost one quarter of my body mass, and I was already a fairly small person. My gums are receding, my hair is loosening from the root, my menstrual cycle is erratic, my skin is…you get the idea. Rattling changes. But this disease is not terminal and just knowing that has brought indescribable relief. Still, treatment has not improved my condition at all. I’m in a daily battle with my body-mind to avoid the host of ailments that come of malnutrition.

Unrelated—but not unrelated—during the throes of all this, a different doctor found a lump. Yes. In my left breast. Simultaneously, a painful cyst developed on my left ovary. It burst. It returned. It continues to grow. These other issues derailed my progress with new tests, sonograms, biopsies, prodding and groping in effort to determine any diagnosis and treatment for—well, everything else. My brain caught fire. Am I dying? After all this surviving? After fighting to stay? Why everything all at once? For now, we wait. To see if the lump changes. If the cysts change. I am being monitored. Just wait and see. Just wait.

Further to it all, though I am among those lucky enough to have medical insurance, mine is woefully insufficient. My annual deductible is so high, I never actually see the financial benefit of medical coverage. I have to pay out-of-pocket for everything (visits, tests, procedures, prescriptions) until I meet the improbable deductible, at which point coverage would begin and I would pay the more reasonable costs of tiered co-pays. 

However, I have never met that deductible. I pay out-of-pocket all year, and then suddenly it’s January and we start all over again. This out-of-pocket cost is in addition to the insurance fees deducted from my paycheck—in essence, I pay for the luxury of paying full-price for medical services. I am now in debt for medical expenses despite having medical insurance. Our system is broken.

It is through this demoralizing process that I have gained renewed respect for other individuals with chronic illnesses. While I’ve long imagined myself compassionate, I did not—could not—understand. I am beginning to understand. I have a long road ahead of me, but I have a road. I am here. I am sick. But I am here.

When Sarah Browning of Split This Rock queried if I had any ideas to share for the blog, I was at a loss. I don’t want to talk about any of this. I am not ready. I am not ready to write about this. I have not yet found a treatment that manages my pain and daily discomfort. I haven’t determined a reasonable method for financing medical costs. I have too much fear and there are too many unknowns to address the topic with any proficiency. But just last night, roused from sleep yet again, wrestling back tears in the desperate blur of 4 a.m., begging my body to stop hurting, I decided to give myself permission. To write—something, anything. This.

In the spirit of Split This Rock, I offer this prologue as introduction to some of the poems that have sustained me throughout this period—poems that yes, bear witness and provoke change. These poems address the numerous and complicated realities of the body-mind, from stigma to genetics to shame to resurrection to the immeasurable ways that we love—and are loved—through life, illness, survival, and loss. These writers are not only powerful artisans of language, but heroic livers of life. Writing with unflinching rigor and sight, challenging our many broken systems through voice and story. These are just some of the poems that have beckoned, shaped, healed, and held me—and I am immeasurably grateful.

·        Litany with Blood All Over by Danez Smith
·        Angel Nafis by Angel Nafis
·        my eyes in the time of apparition by Rachel McKibbens 
·        Post-Diagnosis by sam sax
·        Surgery Psalm by Liv Mammone
·        Let Me Handle My Business, Damn by Morgan Parker
·        As Around the Sun the Earth Knows She’s Revolving by Casey Rocheteau
·        Cleave by Ian Khadan
·        Someone Asked Me if My Hair Was Mine Today by Siaara Freeman
·        Ode to Lithium #75: Mind over Matter by Shira Erlichman

JEANANN VERLEE, a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow, is the author of Said the Manic to the Muse (Write Bloody Publishing, 2015) and Racing Hummingbirds (2010), which was awarded a silver medal in the Independent Publisher Awards. Her third book, prey, was first runner-up for the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award and will be published by Black Lawrence Press in 2018. She received the Third Coast Poetry Prize and the Sandy Crimmins National Prize, and her work appears in Adroit, BOAAT, Rattle, and BuzzFeed Reader, among others. 

Verlee has served as poetry editor for various publications, including Union Station Magazine and Winter Tangerine Review, in addition to a number of individual collections. The former director of Urbana Poetry Slam, where she served as writing and performance coach, Verlee performs and facilitates workshops at schools, theatres, libraries, bookstores, and dive bars across North America. She collects tattoos and kisses Rottweilers. She believes in you. Find her at

Monday, March 12, 2018

Split This Rock Interview with Elizabeth Acevedo

 By Lauren May

This conversation is one in a series of interviews with poets to be featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2018.

The festival is three days at the intersection of the imagination and social change: readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, activism, a book fair, and a party. Celebrating Split This Rock’s 10th anniversary! The poets to be featured are among the most significant and artistically vibrant writing and performing today: Elizabeth Acevedo, Kazim Ali, Ellen Bass, Sherwin Bitsui, Kwame Dawes, Camille Dungy, Ilya Kaminsky, Sharon Olds, Sonia Sanchez, Solmaz Sharif, Terisa Siagatonu, Paul Tran, Javier Zamora.

Online registration is available until midnight (EST) on March 28. Onsite registration will be offered during the festival. Group rates, scholarships, and sponsorship opportunities are available. Readings by featured poets are free and open to the public. More information at:

We are especially pleased be able to present this interview between Acevedo and May, as Acevedo coached May and the rest of the DC Youth Slam Team 2013-2015, including the 2014 team which took first place at Brave New Voices International Teen Poetry Festival.

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Elizabeth Acevedo was born and raised in New York City and her poetry is infused with Dominican bolero and her beloved city’s tough grit. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. Acevedo is a National Slam Champion and has performed for over 14 years at such nationally and internationally renowned venues as The Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, South Africa’s State Theatre, The Bozar in Brussels, and the National Library of Kosovo. She is also well known for poetry videos, which have gone viral and been picked up by PBS, Latina Magazine, and Cosmopolitan. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in POETRY, Puerto Del Sol, Callaloo, The Notre Dame Review, and others. Acevedo is a Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and former participant of the Callaloo Writer's Workshop. She is the author of Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016) and her debut novel, The Poet X (HarperCollins) was published March 6, 2018 . She served as coach of Split This Rock's DC Youth Slam Team from 2013 to 2015. Learn more at her website. Photo by Stephanie Ifendu.

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Lauren May (LM): Assuming you got asked the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" when you were younger, what was your response? Did you ever imagine that you would have the career that you have now?

Elizabeth Acevedo (EA): I always knew I wanted a career involving language: singer, politician, poet, but I didn’t have a road map on making any of those things possible. I’m glad that I allowed myself to be flexible in regards to how I used language and that I gave myself permission to write in many different genres, which ultimately led me to where I am today. And, I’m still open to complicating the lines of what kind of writer and speaker I need to be.

(LM): Was there ever a time when you didn't feel like a writer?

(EA): So much of being a writer seems like walking a tightrope of just enough ego to put your work into the world, and just enough humility to always remember you have yet to write your best or most precise work. That said, for me it’s hard to keep a balance between humility and insecurity. I continuously question whether or not the quality of my work is up to par, if I’m pushing the envelope enough, if the work is asking critical questions;  continuously moving through those doubts seems to be what keeps someone still writing vs. what stops them in their tracks.

(LM): Your poem titled “bittersweet love poem” is one of my favorites. I watch it on You Tube often, because the way you speak of love feels so honest. Love is a feeling that I believe only poetry/art seems to make any sense of. What did the process of writing that poem feel like?

(EA): That poem was written over the course of several years. Lines would come to me and I would write them down but never strung them together. I think at the time I wrote that poem I’d been writing a lot about the death of black people, and the ramifications of colonialism, and the need to pay an ode to joy and love felt pivotal. So, I went back to all these scattered lines and figured out a way to pull them into one piece.

(LM): What's the most beautiful place you've visited while touring, and why?

(EA): Beautiful is a difficult word to apply to some of the places I’ve traveled to since the definition of what is beautiful changes from geography to the people to the art scene, but I was able to participate in the International Poetry Festival of Nicaragua and I was very moved by the physical beauty of the country and how warm and lovely the people of the country were. It was an intensely vibrant and alive place and poetry was a part of the cultural structure of the country. They have poetry everywhere and truly revere their classical poets. There’s so much love for the written word in Nicaragua that it made me nostalgic for what I think is possible in the US.

(LM): What does the process of writing a book look like, for you?

(EA): Writing any kind of book has its unique challenges, but with a novel-in-verse it was difficult for me to learn that not every single piece had to be a self-contained poem; some of the pieces work as hinges or transitions to connect the more self-fulfilled poems. But because I was coming from a background in poetry, not fiction, I wanted all 368 pages to be publishable poems ... and that can be a lot of pressure.  Some of the poems need to be expository, need to be a small breath, or else the language itself will weigh down the narrtive arc. So, I had to learn to trust my process and also show up every day to keep an on-going relationship with my character! She told me where the story needed to go and what needed to be done to create a satisfying ending.

(LM): When I was your student, when you coached the DC Youth Slam Team, you gave my peers and me the advice to read just as much, if not more, than we write. Why is that important, in your opinion? What are you reading lately?

(EA): I tell students to read as much if not more than they write because the practice of reading as a writer is a study, it’s a craft. The goal of creating isn’t just to be masturbatory with your writing, but to continue pushing your artwork, continue exploring what your work can do, and to consider how you are contributing to the conversation in the literary landscape. We don’t make in silos, and I think it’s not only humility, but the point of artistry to engage with the work of your predecessors and peers.

I just finished reading Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing and I am currently rereading Jason Reynolds Long Way Down.

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Additional Links

Elizabeth Acevedo on her debut novel The Poet X (Bustle)

Interview with Elizabeth Acevedo (Teen Vogue)

Synopsis of The Poet X (Publisher’s Weekly)

How to Be a Poet, by Ellen Haile, on the work and career (Unruly)

Behind the Mic with Elizabeth Acevedo, by Tosin Oyekoya (Blavity)

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Lauren (Lo) May is a 21-year-old writer, artist, host, human rights advocate and french fry enthusiast born in DC, raised in Maryland. An alumna of the award-winning DC Youth Slam Team, Lauren is part of Split This Rock’s Ushindi Performance Group. She has featured as a guest speaker at MCASA’s 10th Annual Women of Color Network Conference, the National Conference on Health and Domestic Violence, and The White House United State of Women Summit.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Split This Rock at AWP in Tampa - March 7–10, 2018

Split This Rock will be at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference (AWP) taking place March 7-10 in Tampa! 

If you're attending, we hope you'll join us to celebrate Split This Rock's 10th anniversary as we rededicate ourselves to poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes social change. Check out all the details below! (See the AWP website for more on the conference.)

Visit Split This Rock at 
AWP Table #T603

Visit Split This Rock at Table #T603 in the AWP Conference Bookfair, where you can meet and hang out with Split This Rockers, write a haiku post card to elected officials demanding gun control, buy a T-shirt, mug, or notecards with beautiful artwork with Split This Rock co-chair Dan Vera, pictured above and excerpts from poems in The Quarry, and enter a drawing for a free registration to Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2018 featuring Elizabeth Acevedo, Kazim Ali, Ellen Bass, Sherwin Bitsui, Kwame Dawes, Camille Dungy, Ilya Kaminsky, Sharon Olds, Sonia Sanchez, Solmaz Sharif, Terisa Siagatonu, Paul Tran, and Javier Zamora. We look forward to seeing you! 

Split This Rock 10th Anniversary Reading at AWP!

Thursday, March 8 at 10:30 AM - 11:45 AM
Tampa Convention Center, First Floor, Room 20 & 21

In their last year of leadership, Split This Rock Executive Director Sarah Browning and long-time Board Chair Dan Vera will read with two poets whose work and spirit are central to Split This Rock, Franny Choi and Cornelius Eady. Also performing with Cornelius will be musicians from the Cornelius Eady trio.

Sarah Browning is co-founder and Executive Director of Split This Rock: Poetry of Provocation & Witness. Author of Killing Summer and Whiskey in the Garden of Eden, and co-editor of three special issues of Poetry magazine, she co-hosts Sunday Kind of Love at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC.

Franny Choi is the author of Floating, Brilliant, Gone. She has received awards and fellowships from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, and Kundiman. She is a Project VOICE teaching artist and a member of the Dark Noise Collective.

Cornelius Eady is the author of eight poetry collections including Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, winner of the 1985 Lamont Prize, and Brutal Imagination. He holds the Miller Chair at the University of Missouri and is co-founder of Cave Canem.

Dan Vera is co-editor of Imaniman: Poets Respond to Gloria Anzaldúa and author of two books of poetry, most recently Speaking Wiri Wiri. Winner of the 2017 Oscar Wilde Award and Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize, his poetry appears in various publications and university writing curricula. He now co-chairs the board of Split This Rock.

Learn more on Facebook

Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology Book Launch & 10th Anniversary Celebration

Friday, March 9 at 5:30 PM - 7:30 PM
The Attic Cafe
500 E Kennedy Blvd, Suite 400, Tampa, Florida 33602

Come celebrate the launch of Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology and Split This Rock’s 10th anniversary! Hosted by Melissa Tuckey, Editor, and Co-Founder of Split This Rock. This ground-breaking book of poems brings social justice to the forefront of eco-poetry and offers a rich terrain of culturally diverse perspectives. 

Readers include Jennifer Atkinson, Sarah Browning, Camille Dungy, Kathy Engel, Jennifer Foerster, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Allison Hedge Coke, Tiffany Higgins, Brenda Hillman, Philip Metres, Lenard Moore, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Emmy Pérez, Danez Smith, Pam Ushuck, Dan Vera, and Javier Zamora. 

This off-site event is free! Full cafe menu will be available for purchase, including beer and wine. Within walking distance of the convention center and conference hotel. Wheelchair accessible.

Learn more on Facebook

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Split This Rock Interview with Camille Dungy

By Melissa Tuckey

This conversation is one in a series of interviews with poets to be featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, 2018.

Early-bird registration IS EXTENDED to Friday, February 23, at midnight EST at Split This Rock's website. Visit the registration page to register now.

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Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths.
Camille T. Dungy is the author of four collections of poetry: Trophic Cascade (Wesleyan UP, 2017),  Smith Blue (Southern Illinois UP, 2011), Suck on the Marrow (Red Hen Press, 2010), and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen Press, 2006). Her debut collection of personal essays is Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History (W. W. Norton, 2017). She has also edited Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (UGA, 2009) and co-edited two other collections. Camille T. Dungy’s honors include an American Book Award, two NAACP Image Award nominations, Sustainable Arts Foundation fellowships, and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her poems and essays have been published in Best American Poetry, The 100 Best African American Poems, nearly thirty other anthologies, and over one hundred print and online journals. Dungy is currently a Professor in the English Department at Colorado State University.

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Melissa Tuckey (MT):  In both your memoir, Guidebook to Relative Strangers, and your most recent book of poems, Trophic Cascade, motherhood is central. In your poem “Trophic Cascade” with regards to the reintroduction of gray wolves, you write, “Don’t/ tell me this is not the same as my story. All this/ life born from one hungry animal, this whole/ new landscape, the course of the river changed,/ I know this. I reintroduced myself to myself, this time/ a mother. After which, nothing was ever the same.” I’m curious if and how the experience of being a mother has changed your art, or changed how you think about or approach your writing?   

Camille Dungy (CD):  I wrote two whole books — Trophic Cascade and Guidebook to Relative Strangers — trying to explore if and how the experience of being a mother might have changed my approach toward my writing, my communities, and the world at large. My brief response here would be that the introduction of my daughter into my life has expanded my sense of commitment to hope, to possibility, and to actively working to build strengthening connections between vulnerable communities. I am more aware than ever of our vulnerability. This awareness is partly due to the presence of my child in my life, certainly, but it is also due to the awareness cultivated as a result of living a politically, historically, and environmentally conscious life.

MT: The natural world has been a strong thread in your work. And in Trophic Cascade, many of your poems address the issue of environmental crisis, or loss. The last year has been incredibly harmful for both social justice and the environment. How do you deal with such overwhelm in your writing? What are the challenges in trying to find language in the crisis we are confronting?  What is your advice to writers who are trying to address the ills of the world?

CD: I had already finished the poems in Trophic Cascade before the election of November 2016. Which means that, though I do believe the poems are directly relevant to these times, they were not written in direct response to the immediate political and environmental moment you describe in your question.

Sadly, there is very little about this current state of affairs that surprises me. In fact, there is very little about this current state of affairs that is new. Our nation’s disregard for and violent treatment of people it would call different, would call inferior, would call unwelcome is not a new phenomenon. Though we certainly have seen an increase in the degree of devastation and rapaciousness openly sanctioned by our government, the ideas that this moment of environmental and social/political crisis began in January 2017 is folly. It is a misconception that prevents us from addressing the crises at their roots.

My advice to writers is to pay attention. To continue to pay attention. Look at the root causes of the crises you would address in your work. Every one of my books addresses political, historical and environmental topics similar to those I address in the two books published in 2017. I may come at the questions from different angles, but the questions that concern me, the crises that concern me, have remained consistent. This work we’re doing is constant.

You know those people who run what they call centenary races, or even more remarkably Deca Ironman races? They run ten marathons in a row or finish ten Ironmen. One after another. Day in and day out, they’re completing these demanding races. It’s exhausting, I’m sure, but they know what they’re getting into. That’s what it means to be a social activist, an environmental activist, a civil rights activist, in this country, in this world. You’ve got to do the work, recharge however you can, then put in more work. There will always be another challenge to complete.

MT: I sometimes think the most dangerous thing that can happen right now in this country is the loss of hope. It is such a cynical time. What feeds your sense of hope? Are there books you turn to that feed your spirit?

CD: You’re absolutely right. Part of the strategy of this administration is to force us out of hope. The barrage of new insults, the constant unanswered calls to my Senator’s office, the installation again and again of unsuitable judges and cabinet members, all of that is designed to make us give up, to make us think it will be impossible for us to effect the change we want to see in the world. Simply knowing that the entire point of it all is to make me lose hope is often enough fire up my will to maintain hope.

I read June Jordan (I’m so excited about the new collection of her work!), Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Lucille Clifton, Gwendolyn Brooks; and I read my peers, who are producing some of the best literature America has ever seen. Truly. Astounding work is coming from writers of color and politically and environmentally-engaged writers today. That gives me all kinds of hope. We have not been silenced.

And, my daughter gives me hope, and she ignites my determination not to allow my hope to be shattered. I will fight for her and for her dear sweet little friends and for the narwhals and the manatees and the snowy owls and the elephants. And I will cry sometimes for all of them, for all of us, and then I will wake up in the morning and find a new way to fight.

MT: You have a new book of prose and poetry, which seem to be written simultaneously. Did the experience of writing Guidebook to Relative Strangers inform your poetry in any way—I mean, do you have a sense that the two forms of writing are in conversation, as you are writing? 

CD: What I do is write one line and then write another and then another. Some of the lines came out as prose. Some came out as poetry. You’re right that they were written nearly simultaneously, but I wasn’t thinking about it that way. I was just trying to write, and sometimes one mode worked better than another. Sometimes, I was writing prose. Sometimes I was writing poetry. And then at some point one book called to be gathered, and it was not long before the other called to be gathered as well.

I don’t know that the two forms were in conversation for me anymore than night and day are in conversation. Which is to say, one is very different than the other, but they are also really not so different at all. They are both actually always taking place on the planet at the same time. If you take a larger view of the planet, you can see night and day existing at once. I am beginning to think that this hard separation we make between genres might be dangerous. We’re into categories and divisions in this country, often dangerously so. Since one of the things I am working to resist are categories and divisions that allow us to belittle and marginalize one group in favor of another, I’ve begun to interrogate my thinking about all sorts of divisions.

MT:  You are tremendously active, writing, reading, teaching, mothering. How do you make the most of the time you have for writing?

CD: I don’t feel like I DO make the most of the time I have for writing. I feel like I am always wanting to be writing more, reading more, and also mothering more.
I always wish there were more time in my days. I think that at one time in my life I didn’t have to sleep as much as I need to sleep now. Maybe I used to steal more time from myself, as the women poets used to suggest needed to be done for women, and mothers in particular, to find time to write. I think my daughter has changed the way my time and attention can be apportioned.

What I’m working on now is honoring the time I do have. When I’m with my daughter, I try to be fully with my daughter. Device-free time whenever possible. I try to be similarly focused when I have time to be with the page. I listen to a lot of novels and nonfiction on Audible—I’ll tell the world that little secret. It feels like cheating as a writer not to be reading everything from a book, but Audible has kept me in books over the last few busy years. Listening to Audible, I can “read” while gardening or washing dishes or walking to work. I don’t have much curl up and just read time in my life right now, but I’m not willing to give up books just because I don’t have leisure hours.

 I’m not as productive as I’d like to be, but rather than being down on myself about that, I am learning to honor the fact, and trying to be as productive as I can be with the tools I have at my disposal.

MT:  What’s next for you?

CD: It’s always one line and then another line and then another. That’s all I can pledge to myself and the world. One day, hopefully, those lines will add up to something, but at this point there’s no telling what or when that will be.

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Additional Links

On Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille Dungy. (National Public Radio)

Frequently Asked Questions: #7,” by Camille T. Dungy (The Quarry)

Visit also Dungy's poems “Arthritis is one thing, the hurting is another” and “Daisy Cutter” (The Quarry)

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Photo by Dave R. Phillips.
Melissa Tuckey is a poet and literary activist. Tenuous Chapel, her book of poems, was selected by Charles Simic for the ABZ First Book Award in 2013. Other honors include a Black Earth Institute fellowship and a winter fellowship at Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She's received grants in support of her work from DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and Ohio Arts Council. Tuckey's poems have been anthologized in DC Poets Against the War anthology, EcopoetryFire and Ink: Social Action Writing, and Truth to Power. Tuckey is a co-founder of Split This Rock where she currently serves as Eco-Justice Poetry Project Coordinator. She’s editor of Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology with University of Georgia Press. Melissa Tuckey lives in Ithaca, New York.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Quarry's Top 10 Most-Viewed Poems of 2017

In 2017, readers turned most often to ten poems that affirm our humanity, mourn our wounds and loss, and that speak to us of reunion and joyful rebellion.

We are delighted to present the ten most-viewed poems published in Split This Rock’s social justice poetry database, The Quarry, in 2017. They represent this country’s greatest strength – the variety of our residents' backgrounds and the clarifying views they offer on living this human and troubled American life. In 2017 the all-time most read poems changed to the top two poems of 2017. Previously the All Time Number 1 Poem was Ross Gay’s “A Small Needful Fact,”and still holds at Number 3 since The Quarry went online. You may read previous collections of most-viewed poems on Blog This Rock.

Many of these top ten poems also happen to connect to Split This Rock’s history and directly to our work in 2017. Amanda Gorman, the first US Youth Poet Laureate, offered her inaugural poem for Poem of the Week. Melissa Tuckey is a co-founder of the organization, and the poems by Keno Evol, Purvi Shah, and Keith Wilson all placed in the Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest in 2017.  Richard Blanco featured at Richard Blanco featured at Split This Rock’s fifth anniversary celebration, and Aracelis Girmay featured at the poetry festival in 2016. Both of their poems were part of a special portfolio edition of Poem of the Week published on inauguration day 2017.

Kazim Ali will feature at this year’s Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness in Washington, DC from April 19 through April 21, along with Elizabeth Acevedo, Kazim Ali, Ellen Bass, Sherwin Bitsui, Kwame Dawes, Camille Dungy, Ilya Kaminsky, Sharon Olds, Sonia Sanchez, Solmaz Sharif, Terisa Siagatonu, Paul Tran, Javier Zamora! We do hope you can join us. Early bird rates are available until February 23! Visit Split This Rock's website for details.

2017’s most-viewed poems run the gamut from mourning to celebration. These poems mourn our distance from the future world we deserve. These poems provoke us to embrace and behold each other. These poems witness the way to a future we know is possible. That future is a social world organized with our dignity at its center. That future ennobles us, lets us live in cooperation with nature, in our varied and glorious bodies, sustained by the many shapes and textures of our love. That future lets us share stories and languages and practices, lets us share all of them knowing they will be honored for the sacred inheritance they are.

In these ten poems, and all the poems of The Quarry, we can hear intimations of the future we mean to live, we can hear her warm breath singing full-throated and ready.
1   Declaration of Interdependence, by Richard Blanco
2   YOU ARE WHO I LOVE, by Aracelis Girmay
3   Do You Speak Persian, by Kaveh Akbar
4   Politics of an Elegy, by Hieu Mihn Nguyen
5   In This Place (An American Lyric), by Amanda Gorman
6   Shooting for the Sky, by Purvi Shah
7   Requiem, Melissa Tuckey
8   Peach, by Kazim Ali
9   Black Matters, by Keith Wilson

We invite readers to find these poem in The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database, along with their 475-plus kin, to find in these poems the sense of belonging that fuels the long work of resistance and imagination. The poems are searchable by social justice theme and indexed to encourage discovery.

We hear of the poems being used by teachers in classrooms, for writing workshops, in vigils, performances, worship services, and more! The poems are traveling the country and the world with their witness and their provocation. Everywhere these poems are read, they insist that the beloved community Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of is not a lost idea and that our path to a just and thriving world begins with seeing each other clearly, with generous vision.

In Split This Rock’s tenth anniversary year, we are firming up plans to expand The Quarry’s reach even further, so it continues to function not only as a repository of excellent poetry, but as an active tool for those who seek to make justice present in our time. We’re always open to innovative ideas from Splitistas– for organizing, teaching, worship, reflection. Email your story of using The Quarry to

M. F. Simone Roberts
Managing Editor of The Quarry
Split This Rock Poetry & Social Justice Fellow