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

Monday, February 12, 2018

Split This Rock Interview with Kazim Ali

by Domenica Ghanem

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 will close Wednesday, February 21, at midnight EST at Split This Rock's website. Visit the registration page to register now.

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Kazim Ali was born in the United Kingdom to Muslim parents of Indian, Iranian, and Egyptian descent. He received a BA and MA from the University of Albany-SUNY and an MFA from New York University. His books encompass several volumes of poetry, including Sky Ward, winner of the Ohioana Book Award in Poetry; The Far Mosque, winner of Alice James Books’ New England/New York Award; The Fortieth DayAll One’s Blue; and the cross-genre text Bright Felon. His novels include the recently published The Secret Room: A String Quartet. Among his books of essays is Fasting for Ramadan: Notes from a Spiritual Practice. Ali is an associate professor of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College. His new book of poems, Inquisition, and a new hybrid memoir, Silver Road: Essays, Maps & Calligraphies, will both be released in 2018. Learn more at his website. Photo by Tanya Rosen-Jones.

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Domenica Ghanem (DG):  What do you think is the relationship between your poetry or poetry in general and politics, especially in “Trump’s America?”

Kazim Ali (KA): Well, we have all of us always been "political," or functioned in a political and social context. To be given additional context or attention since the election due to the racism and prejudice slung my way does not make a better situation for me or other Muslim writers. Still, I am glad to see many younger Muslim voices in poetry--Tarfia Faizullah, Solmaz Sharif, Kaveh Akbar, Ruth Awad, Fatimah Asghar, Leila Chatti and Zeina Hashem Beck all come to immediate mind but there are so many others, so many I couldn't even count them.

Truly in the past ten years there has been a wave of young Muslim poets publishing and for this reason I feel very sure, very confident, not at all in crisis. I write about the body, I write about the spirit, I write about music, art and dance, but none of these things, none, are separate for me from one another or from this vague term "politics." Politics means how we live in the world. Unless you live with the privilege of being able to ignore that then you are political.

DG: Many people have become more aware of social issues because of the Trump administration’s open assault on many communities. But for many people, including us in the Muslim American community, we haven’t had the privilege of ignoring these issues. In what ways has the work you’re doing today in your writing and in your classes changed or been affected by today’s political environment, or are you working with the same themes you’ve been building on? What themes remain relevant?

KA: A little while ago I thought I ought to stop writing about God. The reason is that I was starting to have ideas. Ideas mean a system of ideas. Every idea you have may preclude another. I thought that it would be better to have a space of unknowing and that other poets would continue to make poems about God. I don't know if I have kept my promise or not, but by turning away from the task of trying to know the unknown and from the vocabulary of the spirit, which is necessarily the language of abstraction, I was able to come back into the world.

What occupies me now is physical landscape, the history of places, the ways human communities work in time and space -- maybe I have become a sociologist or a geographer -- but I still work in sound and gesture. At the moment it's contested places that interest me --the struggles of the Pimicikamak Cree of Northern Manitoba against the provincial government which dammed the river that gave them their livelihood and compromised their culture and their way of life; or perhaps the work I do in offering yoga teachings and trainings to Palestinian people in the West Bank. Or the "border" communities that exist in every American town and city, not just those on our southern border.

DG:  You’re described as an “American poet”, but I understand you have a layered ethnic and national background and do a lot of international travel -- how do you find your poetry is received differently in different countries? What themes seem to resonate on a universal level?

KA: I have traveled a fair amount, but it is (mostly) not to do poetry readings or participate in international literary communities. I have done some of that in India and was fortunate enough to publish a book of selected poems in India a couple of years back. But my travel in other places has been as a private citizen, a wanderer, an explorer, a writer (to be writing, not to have a public life as a "writer"), for international solidarity work or for my work as a (volunteer) yoga teacher. I have been strongly affected myself by the literary contexts of the places I visit. Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and Urguayan Cristina Peri Rossi have both been very important to me. Among French writers Ananda Devi and Marguerite Duras are both touchstone figures. In India I met many incredible poets and writers whose work nourishes me.

DG:  How do you use poetry as a tool to teach about subjects not necessarily having to do with poetry – like social issues, or general self-expression? Things you often learn about in college that aren’t necessarily dictated in the curriculum. In some of your work you talk about being both Muslim and queer. Do you find that there’s a lot of push and pull between those identities? Has poetry helped you reconcile them?

KA: On the one hand for me there isn't a push and pull between the identities because they each live inside of me. Also, the identities are fluid and I construct them and they construct me through my life. My relationship to each has changed. Certainly, of the poets I love, dearest are the ones who can reveal to me the internal life, the strange negotiation that we all have to make in a larger external world that does not include us. That's not unique to being Muslim or to being queer but to every person. Poetry too can give us a sense of how time works, how place/space and its construction by political and social forces govern our beings. 

DG:  I’ve often struggled with what it means to be a “good Muslim woman” and sometimes more importantly a “good Muslim daughter.” Have you had similar struggles of trying to be a “good Muslim son?” What level of support have you had from your parents?

KA: I can't talk too much about my family here, beyond what I've put in books. We are trying to find our ways and some times have been easier than others. But I will tell you this much, Islam is a religion of plurality and always has been. You must find what truth is in it for you and what place it has in your own life. That too has fluctuated and changed for me throughout my life. As I say in a poem called "OriginStory," "I have not been a good son." It's as ironic a statement as it is sincere. I have no answer.

DG:  There are so many prolific Indian, Iranian, and Egyptian poets -- do any of them in particular inspire your work?

KA: So many. I am working on editing a (very small compact) selection of contemporary Indian anglophone poets for POETRY; I'll say Eunice de Souza, who recently passed away, was a favorite for me. Sohrab Sepehri, the twentieth century Iranian poet, is a major touchstone figure. I've translated three of his books (published in one volume by BOA Editions). I find in his work a marrying of physical and spiritual, concrete and abstract, that I have found nowhere else.

DG:  In a recent interview about your poem “Checkpoint,” you said that sometimes you feel like a journalist and that “Checkpoint” is an interrogation of passport control at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Life in the occupied territories is certainly an under-reported story. What are some of your other poems that might offer us a glimpse into the stories you’d like to see reported in the news? 

KA: I worked on many poems from my experiences traveling that are in my two forthcoming books; I'm working on two current projects, both of them are nonfiction. The first is a short book about the Canadian dam I mentioned earlier. The part of the story I didn't tell you is that my dad was one of the engineers who helped to design the electrical systems of the dam. I don't think any of the workers back in 1976 knew what the impacts of the dam would be, but I grew up there, in a trailer-park town in the middle of the boreal forest, for four years while this dam was being built. Last year I went back up there to the reservation and stayed for a little while and researched and interviewed aboriginal elders, activists, and government officials.

I am trying to recount the simultaneous stories of my own personal journey and the story of the Pimicikamak. My second project is about teaching yoga and making connections between the ancient teachings and the current situation in the Middle East. What most people may not know is that yoga has been in the middle east for hundreds of years. In the 1500s one of the more enlightened princes of the Mughal empire, Dara Shikoh, commissioned Farsi translations of all the texts and yoga made its way across Persia and into the Arab world. It may be new to teach in the context of life in the contemporary West Bank, but it's not new at all.
DG: You have two new books coming out this year, what excites you about each?

KA: I have a book of essays called Silver Road: Essays, Maps, & Calligraphies. It intersperses short essays with diary fragments, short poems, and lyric "prose maps," that each try to tell the story of a place in movement. I like the braided form and the book has been a long time in the writing. In fact, all the braided strands were written separately and apart from each other-- there was no intention at the time of original writing that they would make a book together-- so it feels organic, an archive of my life and a pattern of my way of thinking.

In March, my new collection of poems is coming out. It is called Inquisition. I am excited about it because I feel like I have moved into different modes -- it includes lyrics, narrative poems, even two pieces that had their origins as spoken word pieces. With each new collection I want to turn a corner formally, but I also want to challenge myself as a poet in terms of subject matter, how honest I can be, how many risks I can take. So, this book has a couple of poems that worry me, that frighten me in terms of making me feel exposed by putting them out in the world. So that's thrilling and anxiety-inducing.

DG: If someone were exploring your work for the first time, which work or works would you suggest?

KA:I couldn't say. I have written in so many different genres and modes that they make a beautiful pattern for me. If I could suggest anything I would hope a reader would not just read one book but would try two or three or four.

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Additional Links

A reading of the essay "Poetry is Dangerous" by Kazim Ali from ORANGE ALERT: ESSAYS ON POETRY, ART AND THE ARCHITECTURE OF SILENCE (University of Michigan 2010).

Interview with Kazim Ali, by Kaveh Akbar (Divedapper).

Interview with Kazim Ali, by Britney Gulbrandsen (Superstition Review).

"Peach" by Kazim Ali (The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database).

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Domenica Ghanem is the media manager and co-manager of the communications team at the Institute for Policy Studies. She is an activist and writer on issues of the drug war, criminal justice, justice for Palestine, rape culture, and Islamophobia. She graduated from the University of Connecticut with degrees in journalism and political science in 2015.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Split This Rock Interview with Javier Zamora

by Erica Charis-Molling

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 will close Wednesday, February 21, at midnight at Split This Rock's website. Visit the registration page to register now.

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Image of Javier Zamora standing outdoors with a barbed wire fence and field behind him, with hills in the distance. He is wearing a white, v-neck t-shirt. He has short, dark hair and a light beard.
Javier Zamora was born in La Herradura, El Salvador, in 1990. He is the author of   Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon, 2017). He holds a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied and taught in June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program. Zamora earned an MFA from New York University and is currently a 2016-2018 Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and a 2017 Lannan Fellow. He is the recipient of scholarships to the Bread Loaf, Frost Place, Napa Valley, Squaw Valley, and VONA writers’ conferences and fellowships from CantoMundo, Colgate University (Olive B. O’Connor), MacDowell Colony, Macondo Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Saltonstall Foundation, and Yaddo. In 2016, Barnes & Noble granted him the Writer for Writers Award for his work with the Undocupoets Campaign. He was also the winner of the Ruth Lilly/Dorothy Sargent Fellowship and is a member of the Our Parents’ Bones Campaign, whose goal is to bring justice to the families of the ten thousand disappeared during El Salvador’s civil war. Learn more about Javier at his website. Photo by Ana Ruth Zamora.

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Erica Charis-Molling (ECM): I first encountered your poems in the ecojustice poetry anthology Ghost Fishing that’s launching this spring. So many of the poems in that book, yours very much included, embrace the personal as political, but also the land we inhabit as political. Can you say something about the connections you sense between landscape and the political, as it connects to your writing?

Javier Zamora (JZ): Landscape makes me think of Lorca and duende. I think like many writers, I’m very much intrigued by the idea of duende, this “dark force” that inspires amazing art. When I was at NYU, I was lucky enough to enroll in a craft course led by Yusef Komunyakaa that explored Lorca’s theory of duende. What I still remember from that course is the emphasis Yusef placed on the following excerpt from Lorca’s essay: “The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.”
What is important is the “surge,” where does it come from? It comes from the ground. It comes from a particular place. If we take this to be true, every place has its own individual duende. In different places it’s called something different but the idea is the same. You can call it feelin, blues, heart, soul, son, “it,” etc. If we write from a literal place, that landscape dictates the politics it has seen and experienced, the history of that physical place.

ECM: Unaccompanied is written in both English and Spanish. One of your poems says “I was ready to be gringo / speak English…” but the English in the poems is often broken or interrupted by Spanish punctuation (inverted question marks). It made me think of Paul Celan, whose fractured poems were, in part, a product of trying to write poems in German as a Jew during the Holocaust. He was trying to write about trauma in the language of those inflicting it, as in a similar vein you’ve noted “Unaccompanied is written in the enemy’s language.” Do you see your work as subverting/recreating English? And how is trying to help your readers to imagine the unimaginable/unspeakable something like the act of translating?

JZ: Reading Paul Celan’s work has certainly helped me with my trauma and there are poems that his work “unlocked” for me. Before reading Celan, I always felt like an imposter, a traitor, writing about what had happened to me and my family in the “enemy’s language.” Unlike Celan, I live in the country that helped displace me from my homeland. I think that also contributed to my self-immolating attitude towards my writing when I started off. I didn’t know whether to write in Spanish or English. Celan and other poets like Zurita, Darwish, Hikmet, made it OK for creativity to flourish amongst trauma/displacement.
By that I mean there was room for decisions like keeping the grammatical punctuations in Spanish. I do see these decisions (and the decision to include Spanish without translating it) as subversions towards a speaker that speaks English. I also see this decision, as you mention, as a way to recreate/revolutionize English to better accommodate for the languages it ingests via its vast colonization of the world. There is a reaction when a language interacts with another. One doesn’t completely swallow the other. I hoped to show some of this process.

ECM: It seems like there’s been a lot of dislocation in your life—leaving one home very young, going through traumas that dislocated many of your memories from you, arriving to another place that doesn’t feel like home either, all of this the impact of a war you were a generation removed from. I suppose in a way even higher education and success in the literary world could be a type of dislocation. If that rings true to your experiences (and please say so if not!), how have such experiences influenced your poetics?

I constantly feel like I’m walking in dissonance between all of the mentioned above. Like I’m juggling multiple things at once I shouldn’t be juggling. It’s a strange experience to be an immigrant in this and any nation. Dislocation, dissonance, any noun with the prefix dis- in front of it, gets at the heart of this feeling: negation, reversal/absence, separation, removal, “expressing completeness or intensification of an unpleasant or unattractive action.”
How this affects my poetics? I don’t exactly know. I can say that it’s strange to navigate the “world of poetry” (as it’s presented/sold to us in the United States) as a first-generation immigrant. I don’t know how that’s affecting me, but I know it is. We (People of Color) are constantly being asked to juggle more than we are capable to in the poetry world but also, and more importantly, in society as a whole. That demand or perceived demand has to have a not-so-pleasant result on us and what we highly value (for poets, that would be poetry).

You’ve spoken before about storytelling or silence as a means of control (or the perception of control) for those who have been through traumatic experiences. I actually have a budding theory that negation is particularly helpful in telling such stories—that when retelling trauma it’s sometimes more possible to write “I am not,” than to write “I am.” I noticed that you actually end Unaccompanied in negation with the line “nothing has changed.” What role do you think negation plays when writing from places of trauma? Could you speak about the empowerment of telling your story or its illusion? 

To backtrack to my previous answer, I think the prefix dis- is very much in tune with the realities of immigrants. Negation is part of this reality. I end the book with that sentence because nothing has really changed for immigrants/refugees in this country. On the contrary, this country is becoming even more anti-immigrant/refugee. There is power in telling my story. The appearance of control in the act of writing is what first drew me into poetry. I could shape how people were talking about people like me: Salvadoran immigrants. Now, more than ever, people want to learn about “the immigrant experience.” There is something very interesting that occurs when there’s a “want” of anything. Instead of humanizing, oftentimes the opposite occurs. It’s a very fine line. I’ve been getting a lot of requests for interviews/essays since the recent announcement to cut Temporary Protective Status (TPS). Why weren’t these requests made possible before? When shedding light into this immigration status would’ve/might’ve made a real difference?

Most of the time, there is a failure at humanization. Be it because of deadlines, word limits, etc. In a book, you dictate your own deadlines/word limits, etc. The private act is empowering. I’m seeing that the public aspect of having a book can sometimes be dehumanizing. There is more of an illusion at empowerment there. There is more room for tokenizing. The public vs. private. It’s a very complex line to navigate when writing about traumatic experiences. I’m still learning how to navigate it. How to guard my private space. How to stay human.

ECM: You’ve noted the rising chorus of voices as more immigration poems, written by those who are themselves immigrants, are published. But you also seem very interested in “pushing the boundaries” of those narratives and conversations.  Where do you see it going, in your own more recent work or in the work of others?

I hope that it is not only a fad. Immigrant voices seem to have the spotlight on them, for now. I hope this is not a negative effect of having 45 in the presidency. When he’s gone, which will happen, are we going to forget about immigrants? Are we going to think everything is fixed when a Democrat comes in? Are we going to be swayed into a “post-racial” mindset like we were with Obama? A complete denial and demonizing of 45, Trump as scapegoat for all the evils of the political system. Like there isn’t a little bit of Trump in Dems and Reps. I’m very worried.

I want to push the conversation toward writing immigrants without the backdrop of trauma. I’m a culprit of this, but I needed to write Unaccompanied for myself. I needed it to help me survive. In an ideal world, Unaccompanied is just the stepping-stone that will liberate me into writing something else. I’m now trying to push toward something more “complete.” I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like.

I think a more complete depiction of an immigrant has a lot more joy in it. I’m not saying that there isn’t joy in my book, there’s a lot of joy in survival and trauma. Now, I want to pull joy a layer above where it is now in my poetry. Again, this is the aim. We all have aims, and then, what comes out of us is completely different. I want to be more in-tune with the physical place I inhabit. Going back to duende, I want the ground to tell me where my writing should go. I want to be able to listen. I want to be happier in my real life (outside of poetry). I’m actively seeking it. I want that happiness to seep into the page.

Speaking of the next generation of writers, you’re an educator as well as a poet. Do the two careers/practices inform each other? What important lessons have you learned from your students? 

Writing and teaching go well together. They inform each other. What doesn’t fail to surprise me is the need for poetry in the students’ lives. It shouldn’t, but it still does. Poetry makes a difference, you can see it in the way students talk about poetry. Once the student finds a poet that resonates, life seems to have a lot more possibility, more magic. It’s a beautiful thing to notice.

I think because of the route I’ve been on, the fellowship route, the academic route, this feeling of possibility, of poetry as magic, has been slowly but surely taken out of me little by little. That sounds awful to say, but academia seems to shatter poetry for poets. At the same time that creative writing minors and majors are growing across US universities, there are not enough jobs for MFA/PhD’s being created. It’s like the deans of universities just want to profit from this boom via cheap labor from poets. All across academia, the people I talk to, seem to be disenchanted with their “positions” in XYZ University. There is a lot of unhappiness in academia. There must be another way to be a poet. I think we have to find new ways to be a poet without teaching in academia. And to find teaching that values us, pays us enough to exist. And/or to exist without teaching. To simply be poets.

It seems like much of what you're talking about has to do with the administration/bureaucracy of the academic environment.  If we could find another way to run these institutions, one that would allow poets to be poets, as you say, I wonder if poets would then rediscover some of the magic of sharing poetry with students? Perhaps a different environment might allow a more positive flow between the two? Or is it more of the tension between public (the classroom) and private again, do you think?

I think the bureaucracy of it has to do with it, but it's not the sole culprit of what I'm talking about. Yes, the administrations could be run better. I think this could happen if the funding didn't come from outside sources. Be it at private universities that have budgets paid by corporations, or at public universities where creative writing is constantly trying to be defunded, or made to run with less people getting paid less. But also, the culture of academia could be better. I think the entire idea of "producing" poets is off. Oftentimes our teachers are in a disconnect with the poetry world as is, and the world that they knew on their way to their professorships. (My world may be at a disconnect with what my students are going through as well). 

We have to question what it means to encourage publication at such a short age. Surely we can't all be geniuses. We can't all enter the job market and get a position that does not dehumanize us.  We can't all be the next hot new poet. Where does this come from? Who is it serving? What is being lost when we aspire to fulfill these roles? I'm worried when I see my students, undergrads, or when I hear high-schoolers ask about publishing. I think the ambition that I saw in MFAs when I was in them, is shifting to our undergrads, to high-schoolers, getting younger and younger. I'm worried that in this shift, the magic, or something, is being lost. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with ambition, but I'm worried if an entire generation is ambitious to a point that the magic is lost. 

What are your artistic influences outside of poetry? Who’s inspiring you right now?

I love watching things on the screen. Maybe too much. Films and anime always help me with my creative work, as well as helping me relax. The latest series that gave me a poem was Dragon Ball Super. Fiction and essays really tap into my creativity. Kiese Laymon’s How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America should be required reading. The new Alice James Books’ We’re On: A June Jordan Reader, is a necessary reminder that June is one of our most important voices. I always try to have an ear outside of the US, so I’m reading Valdivia by Chilean poet Galo Ghigliotto, translated by Daniel Bortzutzky.

What are you working on now, or hoping to work on next?

I don’t know what I’m working on. I’m trying to take it a page at a time. It’s a scary process, but one that reminds me of how I started writing, without any expectation of ever getting published. The act of writing is returning to me and me alone. Thinking of the public/private, I want to move towards the private more for quite some time. I hope that whatever is created rushes from the ground.

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Additional Links

"Cutting Saguaros," an essay by Javier Zamora (POETRY Magazine)

"Unaccompanied, an Interview with Javier Zamora" by Deborah Paredez (

from "The Book I Made with a Counselor My First Week of School" by Javier Zamora (The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database)

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Image of Erica with bookcases behind her. She wears a cream colored, scoop-necked sweater, and earrings made of small spoons. She has short, blond hair in a pixie cut, and blue eyes.

Erica Charis-Molling 
is a creative writing instructor for Berklee Online. Her writing has been published in Crab Fat, Broad!, FUSION, Anchor, Vinyl, Entropy, and Mezzo Cammin. She is currently the Eco-Justice Anthology Support Intern at Split This Rock's Eco-Justice Project supporting Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology. She’s an alum of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and is currently pursuing her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Antioch University.

Monday, December 4, 2017

2018 Pushcart Nominations from Split This Rock!

Split This Rock is very pleased to announce our nominations for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. We are inspired by these six poets and their poems of witness! 

These poems -- some which were published as part of a special Inauguration Day Poem of the Week collection -- offer fuel for truth-telling and protest, for beckoning a new world that celebrates us all, for the rally and comfort of solidarity. 

.......... Richard Blanco, Declaration of Inter-Dependence
              Aracelis Girmay, YOU ARE WHO I LOVE
.......... Minal Hajratwala, I am broken by the revolt exploding inside me...........
.......... Danez Smith, Our Moveable Mecca
.......... Vincent Toro, Vox Populi for the Marooned

              Sally Wen Mao, Aubade with Gravel and Gold

The selected poems, like the six we nominated for Best of the Net 2017, are poems we return to over and over to keep us refreshed, focused, and awake to possibility in these difficult times. We hope they nourish you as well!


You may visit these and over 475 other poems of provocation and witness in The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database -- a searchable collection of poems by a diverse array of contemporary socially engaged poets, published by Split This Rock since 2009. Like all of Split This Rock’s programs, The Quarry is designed to bring poetry fully to the center of public life.

Searchable by social justice theme, author’s identity, state, and geographic region, this database is a unique, rich resource. The Quarry offers poems that will inform and inspire you, your peers, and all with whom you work and collaborate. 

You might not only read these poems but use them to keep yourself grounded, to open meetings, to share among discussion groups, to email to representatives to encourage them to keep working for the general welfare, or to share with those who might benefit from perspectives different from their own. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Narrative and Counter-Narrative in the Streets of Charlottesville: #DefendCville #CvilleStrong

by M. F. Simone Roberts
Poetry & Social Justice Fellow
at Split This Rock

A deep nourishment comes from working daily with poets and their voices, especially the Splitista poets who contribute their work so generously to the world through Split This Rock. These poets are public storytellers, bearers of the cultural memory of America in the twenty-first century, writing the words that arc toward justice. We at Split This Rock are always humbled and grateful for the poetic and social courage of our sibling poets. We lift with you our voices against the fractious and dangerous forces stalking our country and our lives.

White supremacy claims, among other grabby delusions, that only white (nationalist) people have the right to tell the American story. Control over the story of  “who we are” and “what we do,” and the resources that go with that control, are the content of this “white” identity based in a mythical notion of some shared European culture -- as if Europe were not a nearly continual war between peoples who conquered and enslaved each other for 3000 years before globalizing the model in the form of colonialist imperialism.

Our counter-narratives, however, are witness to the deviousness and violence supremacists use to sustain a mediocre, white, racist, heteronormative, and male domination of our institutions and culture. The damage they do is part of what they call “victory” in the false logic of zero-sum identity and a culture of scarcity and deprivation.

But our exposure of their vulgarity is only one danger for them. Our counter-narratives of community, resilience, subversion, and even joy are threats to their insecure, narcissistic ideology.

The poems Split This Rock posted in solidarity with Charlottesville, VA and all who resist these fascist, racist terrorists are clear evidence that it’s our imagination - that one capacity they don’t seem to have -- that threatens them most. The narrative embedded in the name Emancipation Park is open ended, unpredictable. They’re left trembling by our creativity for both methods of subversion and for embodying more just ways of living together. After all, imagining a new reality is the first step in creating a world where we all can thrive, all are honored, all our histories are celebrated.

Our stories reach forward into a future we take pleasure in imagining together. The courage those narratives give us to build a world that loves us has spurred our peoples to a long history of demonstrating the physical courage required to succeed. We testify to our resolute claims to exist, to thrive, to love each other. And that -- our pursuit of genuine community-- drives them into a curated rage and calculated acts of violence.

Charlottesville, Virginia, became a symbolic and real battleground for these terrorist groups because the community dared to take back control of its narrative and write one that owned up to the evil of the Antebellum and Confederate culture and economy of enslavement, one that would create more space to honor all the city’s people.

Putting history in its place, the elected members of the city council renamed Lee Park to Emancipation Park, and proposed to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee, a symbol of confederate revolt against the Republic and of deliberate racist terror that continues, unabated from the founding of this nation to this violent and murderous weekend in August, 2017. For their vision, the people of Charlottesville were targeted for punishment.

The hate groups and the militias guarding them fully intend to continue their work, their “rallies,” and their plans “to take back” this country and punish all who oppose them. And for now, they have a president with a cabinet of advisers who openly support their hate, their violence, and their wholly fabricated reading of history and human nature. As of this weekend, thanks to a campaign ad and yet another violent tweet, the president has declared the majority of the American people his enemies.

This terrorist rally in Charlottesville is of a piece with police violence in communities of color, the school-to-prison pipeline, the logic of for-profit prisons, redlining and fraudulent lending practices, bans on refugee acceptance and immigration for Muslim people, threats to established rights of LGBTQ people, the hocus pocus of evolutionary psychology and legislative attacks on women’s physical autonomy, the droning refrain of their tired, but deadly serious, anti-Semitism. It is of a piece with the abuses demanded by neoliberal capitalism, and permissions given in rape culture.

The white supremacists at that rally were speaking specifically in favor of these practices, from the calls for the eradication of peoples to support for “a free market” to the disparagement of the activist Heather Heyer, murdered by one of their number, in some of sexism’s cruelest terms. There is no ideological gap here; these are gears that grind together to close borders, raise walls, and intimidate opposition.

But there are more of us than them, by tens of millions. Among our numbers are some of the most inventive and imaginative people in the world. We are poets, we are visionaries and advocates, we are certain of the justice of our causes. Let’s embolden each other through our poetry -- sublime and terrible as we must write it.

Let them shake.

My thanks to Sarah Browning and Camisha Jones for help editing and some excellent suggestions. We make each other better.


M. F. Simone Roberts is the Poetry & Social Justice Fellow for Split This Rock. Roberts is an independent scholar of poetics and feminist phenomenology, a poet, editor, and activist. She is co-editor of the anthology Iris Murdoch and the Moral Imagination: Essays and author of the critical monograph A Poetics of Being-Two: Irigaray's Ethics and Post-Symbolist  Poetics. Her poems are coming soon to a journal near you. Descendant of both aristocrats and serfs, she adventures this world with her consort, Adam Silverman.