Friday, March 30, 2007


Finalists for Arts Club Award Announced

The Arts Club of Washington Announces National Award for Arts Writing 2006 Finalists

Books on literature, music, painting finalists for inaugural prize of $15,000

The Arts Club of Washington, a non-profit organization in the nation’s capital dedicated to generating public appreciation for and participation in the arts, is pleased to announced the finalists for the inaugural National Award for Arts Writing. The Award of $15,000 is the only one of its kind dedicated to writing about the arts for a general reader. James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips (St. Martin’s Press), The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism by Ross King (Walker & Company), and Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry: The Untold Story of an American Legend by Scott Reynolds Nelson (Oxford University Press) have been forwarded to judges Alan Cheuse, Rita Dove, and Joyce Carol Oates for consideration for the $15,000 prize. The Arts Club expects to announce the winning title by mid-April and will present the Award at a dinner at the Club on Friday, May 18, 2007.

Mark W. Ohnmacht, Chair of the Award Committee of the Arts Club of Washington, said, “We are excited to be presenting these three exemplary books to the judges for consideration for the inaugural year of the National Award in Arts Writing. These very different books are vividly written, engaging, and informative explorations of the arts and artists. They accomplish beautifully our goals for the Award: To increase access to the arts and artists for a general audience. The Arts Club of Washington commends both the authors and the publishers of these important books for helping us gain a greater understanding of the arts and thereby immeasurably enriching our lives.”

The National Award in Arts Writing is given annually by the Arts Club of Washington in recognition of excellence in writing about the arts for a broad audience. The Award is given to the author of a book about any artistic discipline published in the previous year. The Club is inaugurating the Award by considering books published in 2006.

The Award is intended to help increase access to the arts. It celebrates prose that is lucid, luminous, clear and inspiring – writing that creates a strong connection with arts and artists. In general, anthologies and books for children are outside the scope of this award.

The Award of $15,000, established by long-time Arts Club member Jeannie S. Marfield in honor of Florence Berryman and Helen Wharton, is given out at an Awards Dinner, to be held at the Arts Club in the spring of each year. This year’s Award Dinner is scheduled for Friday, May 18, 2007.

About the finalists:

James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips
An exemplary biography of Alice B. Sheldon, who disguised her identity and wrote popular science fiction as James Tiptree, Jr. (St. Martin’s Press)

The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism by Ross King
A gripping account of the critical decade of 1863 to 1874, focusing on two very different artists: the conservative Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier and the controversial Edouard Manet. (Walker & Co.)

Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry: The Untold Story of an American Legend by Scott Reynolds Nelson
A fascinating social and musical history of the American work song, told through an investigation of one of its best-known songs, “John Henry.” (Oxford University Press)

About the judges:

The three judges are distinguished literary professionals. Alan Cheuse is the author of three novels, three collections of short fiction, a memoir, a pair of novellas, and a collection of essays. He is the editor of several anthologies. Cheuse serves as book commentator for NPR's evening news-magazine All Things Considered and as a member of the writing faculty at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. He is a professor of creative writing at George Mason University.

Rita Dove served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995 and as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. She has received numerous literary and academic honors, among them the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, the Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award, and the National Humanities Medal. She is the author of numerous collections of poetry, a novel, a collection of short fiction, a collection of essays, and a play.

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award. She is the author of more than 70 books including novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, plays, and essays. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and since 1978 has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2003 she received the Commonwealth Award for Distinguished Service in Literature.

About the Arts Club of Washington:

The mission of the Arts Club of Washington is to generate public appreciation for and participation in the arts in the nation’s capital, through ongoing educational programs that include seminars, literary events, art exhibitions, and musical and theatrical performances. The club, founded in 1916, also is dedicated to promoting the appreciation of historic preservation through study, restoration, and the preservation of the historic James Monroe House. The Award is administered by Sarah Browning,, 202-331-7282 x 15.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Cloudy Day Art Video of Poets Protesting January 27

Will Brown, of Cloudy Day Art, has created a short film about the surge of poets in the streets of D.C. at the United for Peace & Justice march on January 27. Interviewed are students and teachers from Archbishop Carroll High School as well as the organizers of the poets, Melissa Tuckey and myself. Watch the 15-minute here.


Voices of Conflict: Poetry of the Middle East on Lehrer News March 22

This just in:

Copper Canyon Press is pleased to announce that Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali will appear on the Lehrer NewsHour feature “Voices of Conflict: Poetry of the Middle East,” which is scheduled to air on PBS this Thursday, March 22, 2007. (Check local listings for airtime and channel.)

Senior NewsHour correspondent Jeffrey Brown recently traveled to the Middle East to interview Palestinian and Israeli poets; a blog of his travels is currently posted at the PBS website. (Click here for story on Taha Muhammad Ali.)

Taha Muhammad Ali was an international headliner at the 2006 Dodge Poetry Festival, and his debut American publication, So What: New and Selected Poems, was the first Arabic translation ever published by Copper Canyon Press.

To order So What, or read poem samples and review excerpts, visit: So What, by Taha Muhammad Ali.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Why I Fight for Peace - A poem by Iraq War Veteran Cloy Richards

Last night, D.C. Poets Against the War was privileged to participate in a panel on artists' response to the war at Busboys & Poets. Organized by the Institute for Policy Studies, the panel to mark the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq was chaired by DC PAW's Melissa Tuckey and featured soldier-poet Cloy Richards. Family demands meant I couldn't stay for the open mic, so I went on line to find Cloy's poetry and post one here. Prepare to have your heart broken.

by Cloy Richards USMC

Because I can’t forget no matter how hard I try.
They told us we were taking out advancing Iraqi forces,
But when we went to check out the bodies
they were nothing but women and children
desperately fleeing their homes because
they wanted to get out of the city
before we attacked in the morning.

Because my little brother, who is my job to protect,
decided to join the California National Guard
to get some money for college and
they promised he wouldn’t go to Iraq.
instead three months after enlisting
he was sent to Iraq for one year.

Since he has been home for the last six months,
he refuses to talk to anyone, he lives by himself.
the only person he associates with is a friend of his,
the one other man out of his squad of thirteen men
who made it home alive.

He called me a few weeks ago for the first time
And told me he’s having nightmares.
I asked what they were about and
He said they’re about picking up the pieces
Of his fellow soldiers after a car bomb hit them.

Because every single one of the Marines I served with,
the really brave warriors, even when some friends
and people
they looked up to got killed or lost an arm or leg,
they wouldn’t cry, they just kept fighting.
They completed their mission.

Every one of them I have spoken to since we got
has broken down crying in front of me,
saying all they can do since they got back
is bounce from job to job, drink and do drugs,
And contemplate suicide to end the pain.

Because I’m tired of drinking, bouncing from job to job
and contemplating suicide to end the pain.

Because every time I see a child,
I think of the thousands I’ve slaughtered.
Because every time I see a young soldier,
I think of the thousands Bush has slaughtered.
Because every time I look in the mirror
I see a casualty of the war.

Because I have a lot of lives I have to make up for,
the lives I have taken and
Because it’s right.
That’s why I fight.
Because of soldiers with wounds you can’t see.

Read more of Cloy's poems here: You can read the moving words of his mother, Tina Richards, at this site as well.

Monday, March 19, 2007


On this fourth anniversary of the war, a poem

The War Works Hard

How magnificent the war is!
How eager
and efficient!
Early in the morning,
it wakes up the sirens
and dispatches ambulances
to various places,
swings corpses through the air,
rolls stretchers to the wounded,
summons rain
from the eyes of mothers,
digs into the earth
dislodging many things
from under the ruins...
some are lifeless and glistening,
others are pale and still throbbing...
it produces the most questions
in the minds of children,
entertains the gods
by shooting fireworks and missiles
into the sky,
sows mines in the fields
and reaps punctures and blisters,
urges families to emigrate,
stands beside the clergymen
as they curse the devil
(poor devil, he remains
with one hand in the searing fire)...
The war continues working, day and night.
It inspires tyrants
to deliver long speeches,
awards medals to generals
and themes to poets.
it contributes to the industry
of artificial limbs,
provides food for flies,
adds pages to the history books,
achieves equality
between killer and killed,
teaches lovers to write letters,
accustoms young women to waiting,
fills the newspapers
with articles and pictures,
builds new houses
for the orphans,
invigorates the coffin makers
and gives grave diggers
a pat on the back
and paints a smile on the leader's face.
It works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it
a word of praise.

By Dunya Mikhail
Translated by Elizabeth Winslow and Saadi A. Simawe
(with thanks to Carmen Calatayud)

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Rhythm is always revolutionary ground

"Because rhythm has direct access to the unconscious, because it can hypnotize us, enter our bodies and make us move, it is a power. And power is always political. That is why rhythm is always revolutionary ground."

-- Robert Hass, in his essay, "Listening and Making," quoted by Natasha Saje in her essay, Rhythm and Repetition in Free Verse, or the Poet as Witch," the current issue of The Writer's Chronicle

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Mass destruction or 1,165 units of affordable housing? You make the call!

According to the good folks at the National Priorities Project, D.C. taxpayers have spent $2 billion on the war in Iraq (including our share of the $100 billion the president is requesting now.) With those funds, NPP calculates, we could have built 1,165 units of affordable housing.

This leaves me speechless. No need to pontificate, given all the low and moderate income folks being pushed out of D.C. by rising housing costs. See your state's calculus here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Archbishop Carroll High School Students March for Peace

"Imagine a world without war. A group of Carroll students and teachers sought to do just that. On Saturday, January 27th, twenty Archbishop Carroll students and four teachers participated in a uniquely democratic process. We participated in the United for Peace and Justice “March to End the War." We were thrilled to be on the National Mall which was jammed with tens of thousands of people who eventually filled the streets and circled the entire Capitol Building."

Read the full report of the student group that marched in January with D.C. Poets Against the War. Banish your cynicism! Celebrate youth!

Read the report here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Tim Seibles: Why Not a Rambunctious and Reckless Poetry? Why Not Risk Everything?

Tim Seibles, who will be reading in the Sunday Kind of Love Series at Busboys & Poets on March 18 at 4 pm, has given me permission to post here the introduction to his latest collection of poems, Buffalo Head Solos. It's a manifesto, a call to poets to care enough for our world that we try for poems that "return each reader to that deeper sense of things, to that commonly muzzled vitality that can’t be bought off or shushed."

I hope you can join us on the 18th. It's sure to blow your socks off.


I want to talk about some of the things I’m after when I write, my sense of the American predicament, and what I hope for poetry and for people in relation to words. I know I’m also talking to myself here, and I can’t speak to the success or failure of what transpires in the poems that follow. I simply hope that this short rant can provide a clarifying context, a brief look at what confounds and compels my efforts. I realize, of course, that this could be bone-headedly presumptuous, but there are things far worse than speaking out of turn.

In fact, part of what energizes me is all the nay-saying I hear about what poets and poetry can do. Poetry will never reach the general public. Poetry shouldn’t be political or argumentative. Poetry will not succeed if it’s excessively imaginative. Poetry can’t change anything. Because the first people I heard saying such things were poets, I used to believe these notions were born of thoughtful consideration and humility, but now I see them as a kind of preemptive apology, a small-hearted justification for the writing of a hobbled poetry– a poetry that doesn’t want to be too conspicuous, a poetry that knows its place, that doesn’t mean to trouble the water, that is always decorous and never stomps in with bad breath and muddy boots.

But why not? Why not a rambunctious and reckless poetry, when the ascendent social order permits nearly every type of corruption and related hypocrisy? Why not risk everything, at least more often if not always? So much is at stake. This culture, deranged by both spoken and unspoken imperatives, mocks the complexity of our loneliness, our spiritual hunger for dynamic meanings, our thirst for genuine human community, for good magic and good sense. And, given the growing heap of human wreckage, why not approach language and its transforming potential with the most tenacious eye, with a ferocity bordering on the psychotic? What the hell happened to the notion of poet as town crier, rabble rouser, shaman, court jester, priestess, visionary, madman?

Given the way things have gone, it’s almost impossible not to be overtaken by despair. Writing poems in SUV-America can feel like fiddling amidst catastrophe, but if one must fiddle shouldn’t one play that thing till it smokes? And in stirring the words with our tongues, our paws, our long nights, and the simmering tangle of our brains, maybe we could move our general kin to listen.

The mainstream discourse is dominated by pop muzak, murderously repetitive police dramas, spineless newscasts, insipid movies, and simple-minded talk-shows. Even if we, as poets, do find ourselves regularly locked in the attic, we assist in our own erasure if we accept this gag without a fight, without trying to make poems whose clarity and relevance can’t be denied. I have grown sick to death of meeting people who say they don’t like poetry, can’t understand poetry, when they probably haven’t read any since high school when they were offered a few leaden standards whose anemic music was further muted by a number of teachers who taught the poems lovelessly in a “unit,” then gave a test. And it goes on and on. Why act as if this were just the way it is, as if there were little we– as poets– could do to renovate the house of living words. Maybe we could measure more critically the distance that separates us from, say, a non-academic audience. Maybe we can speak more irresistibly, more often, and to more people, unless the prevailing lack of essential speech has so defeated us that we’ve simply decided to die quietly at our desks. I can’t believe this is the case, and I can’t stop thinking that good poems– in a kind of chorus on the loose– could comprise a general invitation to a much needed wakefulness.

A lot of people are starving for better light to see by, searching as they are in the well-worn shadows. At the very least, poetry could be one tasty dish in a much needed feast: we should serenade those who don’t know poems, who fear poems, who don’t trust words that ask them to step into new sensations and unsanctioned territories. We should pursue them as though we are love-struck and cannot help it. I’m only half-kidding. How else can people enlarge their grasp of what being alive means? And why else are we here? The alternative– stoically scratching our heads while the world burns down– is simply too degrading to the helpful purpose of language and to our lives as people who work to illuminate the possibilities of consciousness.

I think about being in America, being a citizen and poet living in the American Empire, home of truly virulent strains of racism, sexism, moneyism– and now, a wildly aggressive nationalism which may force us to live with war and its omnivorous machinery for far longer than the Bush Regime holds sway. Why write as if the socio-political atmosphere doesn’t have direct bearing on how everyone makes it through each day? Isn’t bad news a kind of weather, a surging storm we lean into every time we open our eyes? The intricacies of our various travels between optimism and cynicism are utterly shaped by the society we inhabit– and the delight or rage each of us lives with hour by hour defines our style of travel, the tenor of our lives. The growing presence of the zombie must be a sign that for many it’s simply better to be blind than to see and respond to the world that surrounds us.

Doesn’t a working Democracy require a full-hearted willingness to voice everything, to insist upon a chance for the most hopeful outcomes? Isn’t the current prevalence of smiling apathy and timid speech an emblem of a whelming fascism? Whether this is driven by The State, The Church, The General Opinion, or all of these in concert doesn’t matter. I don’t want to be a member of a society famous for its massive yet poorly distributed wealth, its high-tech fire-power, its environmental stupidity, and its somnambulant, sports-loving population. And, if I must be a citizen in such a place, I certainly don’t want my poems to be in cahoots with the nightmare. Why should poems merely add quirky spice to a cultural medley that affirms a plague of perpetual consumption and really loud cheering?

I believe poetry can be proof that dynamic awareness is alive and kicking, a constant reminder to ourselves and to our fellow citizens that being alert, both inwardly and outwardly, rewards each person with more life? Doesn’t a good poem return each reader to that deeper sense of things, to that commonly muzzled vitality that can’t be bought off or shushed? I think being fully human demands this, demands poetry.

I say let the poems move in all ways; at least, then, we’ll have a chance to reach the bridge– and if we go mad let it be because we believed too much in the heart’s voice. Where else will we find the most cataclysmic wing of the imagination revealed in words? The dim-witted drowsiness that remains so pervasive is a sign of the gradual asphyxiation of the sweetest human yearnings, a kind of spiritual anorexia. Consider how much of our story we’ve already conceded to science and its robotic objectivism. Consider how the big religions seal our lips and drive the herd with that locked-down, self-congratulatory, God-says-what-we-say-He-says language. Perhaps even the realm of The Sacred might be rescued from dogma and returned to all of us in its broadest expanse– through poetry– if the poets dare to sing wilder hymns.

How else can we begin to free ourselves from the entrenched muck that is currently up to our necks? How can we learn how to live if the words don’t live with us? (A country that chatters with outrage over Janet Jackson’s breast, but remains all but silent about repeated displays of Saddam Hussein’s killed sons is a country to fear, indeed.) What strange, anesthetic winds have scoured the streets of this nation?

In a free society there is a central place for acute attentiveness, for uncompromising honesty and feeling– and for whatever inspires and sustains them. Enough tittering. Enough clever ballooning. Enough. There has to be a way to stop this dying, a way to make a literature that does more, a poetry with the kiss of a shark and the feet of a sparrow, a poetry at intervals beautiful then ruthless, friendly but full of useful delusions. If I lack the vision or if my own fear proves insurmountable I pray that those with the necessary instruments will soon bring the right noise.

– Tim Seibles
February 28, 2004

I believe in the great day
Which will make our paths meet:
I shall wake then from the desert
Seeing you approach with pots filled with water.

– Mazisi Kunene
from Zulu Poems

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Split This Rock Launches at AWP – and a Movement is Born!

Just as the news of the shameful treatment of our injured service members was exploding nationwide last week, a group of seven intrepid poet-activists from D.C. Poets Against the War and Sol & Soul headed to the Atlanta conference of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs to launch publicity for Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, to be held here in D.C. March 20-23, 2008.

What a launch it was! It is clear from the response Split This Rock inspired that we are doing something very essential, at exactly the right time. We had reserved a table in the immense book fair and placed an ad in the conference program book, listing our table number and inviting writers to come visit us. And visit us they did! Poets and writers from Stone Mountain, Georgia and Fargo, North Dakota, and Saskatoon, Canada and our own hometown of Washington, D.C. approached us, wanting to be involved, offering help, donating their gifts and their money and their time. The need is obviously great. Clearly, poets have just been waiting to be invited to come together here in D.C., at this time, to speak out, to provoke and bear witness, to tell the truth, to demand a change.

Friday night at 10 pm saw us crazed with sleeplessness and exhilaration, hosting a Split This Rock kick-off party in one of the awful meeting rooms in the conference hotel. But we made the most of the airless space, thanks to music and flowers and bartenders – and the overflowing crowd. Regie Cabico welcomed everyone, I presented our vision for the festival with a brief call to arms, and then: Mark Doty, Alicia Ostriker, Patricia Smith, and Pamela Uschuk, four of the Split This Rock featured poets, astonished us with their words about the importance of poetry in these times and one stunning, powerful poem each. After weeks of organizing and planning and running around to get us there, I was struck dumb and moved to tears by what it’s all about, at last – the power of poetry to remind us that our beautiful, broken world is worth fighting for with everything we have. Melissa Tuckey capped the evening with a great plea for help, such that we raised funds and made a ton of connections and were energized for the hard work ahead.

Among the many developments from the weekend: Beloit Poetry Journal, one of the oldest and most esteemed journals in the country, approached us with the idea of a special Split This Rock issue, to be published in conjunction with the festival. It’s happening! Magazines and reviews and literary journals offered free advertising space. Seasoned fundraisers offered help. Mark Doty offered to give a benefit reading in New York City. Alicia Ostriker sold copies of the political issue of Nightsun she had edited and is sending a check.

We are off to an incredible start. Special ENORMOUS thanks to the Split This Rock AWP crew for their high energy, commitment, and good humor throughout four crazy days: Naomi Ayala, Regie Cabico, Teri Ellen Cross Davis, Hayes Davis, Kim Roberts, and Melissa Tuckey were marvels of hard work and even tempers. Christi Kramer was an incredible stalwart of a volunteer at the party and Sandra Beasley, Andrea Carter Brown, Bernadette Geyer, Richard Peabody, and Carly Sachs helped keep our spirits up with their visits to the table and frequent administrations of chocolate and love.

We are deeply grateful to the four poets who shared their dedication and strong voices with us at the party: Mark Doty, Alicia Ostriker, Patricia Smith, and Pamela Uschuk. Go out and buy their books, read them on the web, be inspired.

PRAISES to the many others who gave Split This Rock such a marvelous launch into the world, donating their professional skills and services: Nancy Bratton of Nancy Bratton Design designed our marvelous logo and business cards. Michael Heroux set up the website at Sarah Massey of Sarah Massey Media donated the flyer. Lindsey Tharp of Reingold gave us a discounted price on the sticky-note pads we handed out and helped us navigate the complex, new-to-us world of “swag.” Tanya Snyder designed the forms that helped us collect names and funds. E. Ethelbert Miller was our inspiration and guide. Andy Shallal of Busboys & Poets provided financial support and constant encouragement.

Join us! Contact me at or by leaving a comment here to get involved. It’s going to be an incredible year!

Many thanks and fierce hopes for peace,
Sarah Browning

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