Thursday, November 30, 2006


Arlington Reads Online

I was privileged to be one of the judges for a poetry contest, sponsored by the Arlington, VA, library, on the themes of change, life, and identity. You can listen to the reading given by the 10 finalists, including DC Poets Against the War members Mike Maggio and Richard Peabody, here.


Fables of the Deconstruction

from New Orleans:

Federal policy allows government cleanup funds to be used when a building is bulldozed and the remains are hauled off to the local dump. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local officials should also give homeowners the option of “deconstructing” their houses — that is, taking them apart piece by piece and then selling or salvaging the reusable building materials, such as floorboards, roof beams and fireplace mantles.

Deconstruction preserves our cultural heritage because historic building materials are reused and helps the environment because less debris is tossed into landfills. It also creates jobs by putting locals to work dismantling houses and marketing the salvaged materials.

Read the New York Times op-ed by Chris Beck and Preston Browning here.

And yes, Preston is not only the coolest deconstructionist on the planet, he's also my brother.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Please consider giving to Split This Rock

As I wrote in an earlier post, D.C. Poets Against the War is embarking on our most ambitious project to date: Split This Rock Poetry Festival – Poems of Provocation & Witness. This event, still in its planning phase, will take place on March 20-23, 2008 and will draw poets from across the nation. I am writing now to ask for your support.

Wait until you hear our plans! Split This Rock* will feature a range of readings, workshops, panels, films, walking tours, activism, parties, and publications. Poets who have already committed include: Jimmy Santiago Baca, Lucille Clifton, Mark Doty, Martín Espada, Carolyn Forché, Sam Hamill, Joy Harjo, Galway Kinnell, E. Ethelbert Miller, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Alix Olson, Alicia Ostriker, Patricia Smith, and Pamela Uschuk. These poets will be matched by an equally impressive list of local poets. Save the date!

I’m excited to tell you that cosponsoring Split This Rock with us are the arts and social change organization Sol & Soul and Busboys & Poets, the restaurant and performance space.

The place and time are important to our mission: to gather voices of strength and conscience in the capital during a Presidential election year, on the 5th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The festival will be anchored at Busboys & Poets; other events will take place along the Historic U Street Corridor, once known as the Black Broadway, home to such poets as Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Jean Toomer, musicians such as Duke Ellington and Pearl Bailey, and scholars such as Carter G. Woodson and Alain Locke. The festival will culminate with a reading at a symbolically important spot such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, or the White House.

Please consider getting in at the ground floor and supporting Split This Rock now. A basic contribution of $25 will help us meet our goals. If you can afford to give more, we'd be very grateful – $50 will keep the phone plugged in, $100 will pay for a mailing, $500 will pay airfare for one poet. All contributions of $100 or more will be acknowledged in the festival program brochure. Your donation is tax deductible through Sol & Soul, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.

To donate, go to the Sol & Soul website at: and click on “Click here to give to Sol & Soul through the Catalogue for Philanthropy.” You’ll be directed to a secure site for giving via credit card. Be sure to designate “Split This Rock” when it asks for a designation. Or, send a check made out to “Sol & Soul/Split This Rock” to:
Sol & Soul
916 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

We’d love your help in other ways, too. There are loads of ways to get involved, starting today. Please contact me at: if you want to volunteer.

Stay tuned for more details. We’ll have a Split This Rock website up and running by the new year, plus a blog and a list serv to keep you up to date on plans. In the meantime, you can check for updates.

Many thanks!

Sarah Browning, D.C. Poets Against the War

P.S. Your donation helps support poets who work hard to voice alternatives to mainstream political and cultural views. Help us get heard!

*The name is from a poem by Langston Hughes:

Don’t you hear this hammer ring?
I’m gonna split this rock
And split it wide!
When I split this rock,
Stand by my side.


Mary Oliver on Grief

Check out Kathi Wolfe's review of Oliver's latest collection, Thirst, in the Washington Blade. Oliver lost her long-time partner last year and many of the poems meditate on the crippling experience of grief. Although Oliver's early work was incredibly important to me, I had begun to lose interest; it seemed she recycled the same poem over and over. Kathi's review highly recommends this collection and gives me hope.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Merwin on the how to give thanks


with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you

we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you

in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you

with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is.

- W. S. Merwin
(with thanks to Yael)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Defense Department: If you're reading this, I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving

The following story documents Defense Department surveillance of peace organizations in the United States, including Veterans for Peace. (Thanks to Kathi Wolfe for sending it my way.)

I marched with my daddy against the Vietnam War with VFP - let me ask you? Who has a greater history of violence, the U.S. Defense Department or these gentle, determined vets?

New York Times
November 21, 2006

Military Documents Hold Tips on Antiwar Activities


WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 — An antiterrorist database used by the Defense Department in an effort to prevent attacks against military installations included intelligence tips about antiwar planning meetings held at churches, libraries, college campuses and other locations, newly disclosed documents show.

One tip in the database in February 2005, for instance, noted that “a church service for peace” would be held in the New York City area the next month. Another entry noted that antiwar protesters would be holding “nonviolence training” sessions at unidentified churches in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The Defense Department tightened its procedures earlier this year to ensure that only material related to actual terrorist threats — and not peaceable First Amendment activity — was included in the database.

The head of the office that runs the military database, which is known as Talon, said Monday that material on antiwar protests should not have been collected in the first place.
“I don’t want it, we shouldn’t have had it, not interested in it,” said Daniel J. Baur, the acting director of the counterintelligence field activity unit, which runs the Talon program at the Defense Department. “I don’t want to deal with it.”

Mr. Baur said that those operating the database had misinterpreted their mandate and that what was intended as an antiterrorist database became, in some respects, a catch-all for leads on possible disruptions and threats against military installations in the United States, including protests against the military presence in Iraq.

“I don’t think the policy was as clear as it could have been,” he said. Once the problem was discovered, he said, “we fixed it,” and more than 180 entries in the database related to war protests were deleted from the system last year. Out of 13,000 entries in the database, many of them uncorroborated leads on possible terrorist threats, several thousand others were also purged because he said they had “no continuing relevance.”

Amid public controversy over the database, leads from so-called neighborhood watch programs and other tips about possible threats are down significantly this year, Mr. Baur said. While the system had been tightened, he said he was concerned that the public scrutiny had created “a huge chilling effect” that could lead the military to miss legitimate terrorist threats.

Mr. Baur was responding to the latest batch of documents produced by the military under a Freedom of Information Act request brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups. The A.C.L.U. planned to release the documents publicly on Tuesday, and officials with the group said they would push for Democrats, newly empowered in Congress, to hold formal hearings about the Talon database.

Ben Wizner, a lawyer for the A.C.L.U. in New York, said the new documents suggested that the military’s efforts to glean intelligence on protesters went beyond what was previously known. If intelligence officials “are going to be doing investigations or monitoring in a place where people gather to worship or to study, they should have a pretty clear indication that a crime has occurred,” Mr. Wizner added.

The leader of one antiwar group mentioned repeatedly in the latest military documents provided to the A.C.L.U. said he was skeptical that the military had ended its collection of material on war protests.

“I don’t believe it,” said the leader, Michael T. McPhearson, a former Army captain who is the executive director of Veterans for Peace, a group in St. Louis.

Mr. McPhearson said he found the references to his group in the Talon database disappointing but not altogether surprising, and he said the group continued to use public settings and the Internet to plan its protests.

“We don’t have anything to hide,” he said. “We’re not doing anything illegal.”

The latest Talon documents showed that the military used a variety of sources to collect intelligence leads on antiwar protests, including an agent in the Department of Homeland Security, Google searches on the Internet and e-mail messages forwarded by apparent informants with ties to protest groups.

In most cases, entries in the Talon database acknowledged that there was no specific evidence indicating the possibility of terrorism or disruptions at the antiwar events, but they warned of the potential for violence.

One entry on Mr. McPhearson’s group from April 2005, for instance, described a protest at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces at which members handed out antimilitary literature and set up hundreds of white crosses to symbolize soldiers killed in Iraq.

“Veterans for Peace is a peaceful organization,” the entry said, but added there was potential that future protests “could become violent.”

Monday, November 20, 2006


Kyi May Kaung on Burma and Iraq

Read the poem Burmese poet in exile Kyi May Kaung wrote for the D.C. Poets Against the War reading at the Shepherd Park Library on November 8 here: How all war is inseparable from all other wars and dictatorships.

I'll be reading some poems by refugees and exiles at a conference on refugees and internally displaced persons at American University next week, November 27 at 4 pm. See the whole schedule here: The conference will include the screening of a short film by Lisa DiLillo called “Tongues Don't Have Bones” featuring poetry by Kyi May Kaung.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


A Little Essex Hemphill to Start the Day

I dance
in the search light
of a police cruiser.
I know I don't live here anymore
but I remain in this body
to witness....

Who will save
our sweet world?

- Essex Hemphill, from "Heavy Breathing"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Split This Rock

DC Poets Against the War is planning Split This Rock Poetry Festival, a national festival of poetry of witness, here in DC in March 2008. We've lined up spectacular poets: Lucille Clifton, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Joy Harjo, Patricia Smith, Galway Kinnell, Sam Hamill, Naomi Shihab Nye, Martin Espada, Carolyn Forche. And more.

It's really exciting - but - we are making it up from scratch, almost. We're needing to raise all the money, put together the infrastructure - right now, from volunteers - dream the event into existence. Just coming up with a name has been a struggle (read about it on the guest blog I wrote for Ethelbert Miller's E-Notes then scroll down to Sunday, November 12).

Now that we have the name, the fun begins: we're launching our publicity at the AWP conference in February/March '07 in Atlanta. (Huge writers' conference - 4,000 poets and fiction writers in one hotel, all competing to see who has the coolest glasses.) We're taking out a "Save the Date" ad in the program book, working with a volunteer designer - Nancy Bratton - who's doing a marvelous job on an incredibly tight timeline; we're deciding whether to throw a late-night party and whether to give a reading at a local bookstore; we've got a table at the book fair and we'll need brochures and giveaways - bookmarks, pens, fridge magnets, silly hats - what have you.

Meanwhile, we are trying to raise money, recruit volunteers, develop our website (with Michael Heroux - all praises), and the like. Stay tuned - we'll launch a festival blog along with the website and you'll be able to follow our progress. In the meantime, save the date: March 20-23, 2008. Workshops, readings, panels, activism, walking tours, parties, and more readings. If you'd like to get involved, drop me an email at Split This Rock!

Monday, November 13, 2006


Cross-blogging: My post on E. Ethelbert Miller's blog

Poet and literary activist par excellence E. Ethelbert Miller invites writers to guest blog on his E-Notes blog every Sunday. This week I am honored to be featured. Check it out: Go to and scroll down to Sunday, November 12. Other writers this week: Michael O'Keefe, Chenjerai Hove, and Ed Ochester. Great company.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Oliver Cromwell's 1653 address dissolving the Rump Parliament

Without comment, I bring you Oliver Cromwell:

It is high time for Me to put an End to your Sitting in this Place, which you have dishonoured by your Contempt of all Virtue, and defiled by your Practice of every Vice;

Ye are a factious Crew and Enemies of all good Government; Ye are a Pack of mercenary Wretches and would, like Esau, Sell your Country for a Mess of Pottage; and like Judas, betray your God for a few Pieces of Money; Is there a single Virtue now remaining amongst you?

Is there one Vice that you do not possess? Ye have no more Religion than my horse! Gold is your God: Which of you have not bartered your Conscience for Bribes?

Is there a Man amongst you that has the least care for the Good of the Commonwealth?

Ye sordid prostitutes! Have you not defiled this Sacred Place, and turned the Lord's Temple into a Den of Thieves by your immoral Principles and wicked Practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole Nation.

Your Country therefore calls upon me to cleanse the Augean Stable, by putting a final Period to your Iniquitous Proceedings in this House, and which by God's Help, and the strength He has given Me, I now come to do.

I command ye, therefore, upon the Peril of your Lives, to depart immediately out of this Place; Go! Get out! Make haste, ye Venal Slaves, begone!

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Poems for this new tomorrow

Don’t you hear this hammer ring?
I’m gonna split this rock
And split it wide!
When I split this rock,
Stand by my side.

- Langston Hughes, “Big Buddy”

A long time ago
An enslaved people heading toward freedom
Made up a song:
Keep your hand on the plow! Hold on!
That plow plowed a new furrow
Across the field of history.
Into that furrow the freedom seed was dropped.
From that seed a tree grew, is growing, will ever grow.
That tree is for everybody,
For all America, for all the world.
May its branches spread and its shelter grow
Until all races and all people know its shade

- Langston Hughes, “Freedom Plow”

I want strong peace, and delight,
the wild good.
I want to make my touch poems:
to find my morning, to find you entire
alive moving among the anti-touch people

- Muriel Rukeyser, “Waking This Morning”

Deep under protest, make.
For we are makers more.

But touching teaching going
the young and the old
they reach they break they are moving
to make the world.

- Muriel Rukeyser, “Breaking Open”

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