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Archives: Activism

“For Not Lost Is the Hope”

My teen and I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum last week. Just a few days after a deadly white supremacist march in our neighboring state of Virginia, it was healing to see hundreds of people in the museum’s galleries, learning about how the politics of hate can infect and impact a society. (Read the USHMM’s response to Charlottesville.)

I was especially moved by the Yiddish poetry of resistance. Some of these poems survived the Nazi genocide of European Jews.

My own Jewish family left France, Romania, and Germany in the early 20th century and immigrated to the United States. Though they were all in the U.S. by the 1920s, I wonder about extended family — aunts, uncles, cousins, who stayed behind.

This poem is giving me hope today.

For Not Lost Is the Hope

By Yitshok Katsenelson
Yiddish to English translation by Dr. Sarah Moskovitz

For not lost is the hope of a tree,
even when already cut and felled
it grows again
and blooms
without an end—
The sprouting will not stop.

And when the root gets old amid the dust
and if
the root has ceased
to live deep in the earth—

it only has to sense a bit of water in the depths
to bloom again…

Read the rest at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.

For more poetry of the Holocaust, visit Poetry in Hell: Warsaw Ghetto Poems from the Ringelblum Archives.

Poetry Friday: #10FoundWords

Poetry Friday blogger and picture book author Penny Klosterman is hosting all of the poetry links today. Stop by A PENNY AND HER JOTS for more poetry posts from around the web and around the world.

Happy February, everyone. This week, we kicked off my annual poem project, which has moved over to Facebook.

This year’s theme is #10FoundWords. We have a daily news story, speech, or current event selected by a project member. That person chooses 10 words from the news source, which makes up our word bank for the day.

Because we’re all writing with the same daily prompts, my favorite part of the project is reading the response poems. I notice the ways our writing overlaps, and cheer people on when their poems are unexpected, when there’s an innovation. (You can still join the project. Leave a note in the comments if you’d like to give it a try.)

Speaking of news — scroll to the bottom of the page for two announcements: an event with me and YA author Heidi Heilig, and a book giveaway.

Here’s one of my own poems, written as a warm-up exercise.

Division
By Laura Shovan

Remember learning long division?
This was long ago, 20th Century math.
Historical stuff. We’re talking
a solid wall between two different numbers.
The smaller number makes its appeal.
“Let me inside. It’s cold.
I’m suffering out here.”
The wall stays up because
that’s how division has always
been calculated. But the big number
is overcome with a generous spirit.
It sneaks the shivering digits inside,
counts how many will fit.
Soon, there are numbers
climbing on the roof, thankful numbers
tunneling underneath.
It’s a kind of freedom,
the way they gather on all sides
of the wall, which looks thinner,
less substantial, surrounded
by the orderly many.

This was Warm-up #6: January 29, 2017. Kip Rechea was in charge of this day’s #10FoundWords and news source.

division
wall
freedom
20th Century
overcome
spirit
historical
thank
appeal
suffering

Source: An appeal from the mayor of Berlin not to build a wall across the U.S. border with Mexico.

Still here? Great! Thanks for sticking with me. I’ve got two announcements.

Announcement #1: On February 8, I’m hosting YA author Heidi Heilig (THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE) as part of the Master Storytellers series run by the Ivy Bookshop. Join me and Heidi as we discuss the broad appeal of young adult fiction. You can find details and RSVP here. If you’re in town for AWP, it’s a short trip up to Baltimore. Hope to see you there.

Announcement #2: Foundry Media is giving away four copies of THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY on Goodreads. Sign up here to join the giveaway.

Announcement #3: (When I said “two announcements,” I was simply stating an alternate fact.) I’m excited to share that THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is a finalist for a Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award!

Poetry Friday: #10FoundWords

Thanks to Carol Varsalona for hosting Poetry Friday this week. Carol’s blog is Beyond Literacy Link, always a great resource for writing and education. Stop by for more of this week’s Poetry Friday posts.

It’s the last Poetry Friday of January. That means I am gearing up for the annual February daily poem project.

This year, I’m encouraging participants to engage with current events, news articles, political speeches, and interviews. Each day, we’ll be using 10 Found Words from a news-related source and building our poems around those words.

The February poetry project grew so large last year that I can no longer host it here at my blog. Instead, we are writing together in a closed Facebook group.

Interested? Read the full introductory post here. If you’d like to join the group, leave me a note in the comments. I will add you ASAP.

We’ve been working on a few warm-up poems before the project officially starts on February 1. Here’s my draft of the day. Do you think it’s “Unfair!”?

Under the Rug
By Laura Shovan

The arc-shaped flow
of his solar-blonde hair
defies gravity. Fluid,
odd, its color scorched
as a drought-tossed field
of wheat. When the wind
rattles its dried-out stalks,
the whole plain shifts, lifts
as if the hidden door of Hell,
slammed shut for so long,
has swung wide open
in the middle of America.

10 Words — found by Heather Meloche:

scorching
oddities
arc-shaped
whipped
shift
solar
fluid
flow
slammed
gravity

Source: “Weird wave found in Venus’ wind-whipped atmosphere,” by Ashley Yeager, Science News, January 17, 2017.

Annual February Poetry Project Announcement

We’re coming up on the last Poetry Friday in January. You know what that means. It’s almost time for our annual daily writing workout!

For the past four years, my blog has hosted a community poetry project.

This year, the project has moved to a closed Facebook group to accommodate the number of people who want to participate. A group of us have been testing out the process with warm-up exercises. I’m excited to report that the Facebook platform is working well.

2017 Theme: 10 Words Found in the News

The theme of this year’s project combines current events and found poetry with an exercise borrowed from one of my mentors, poet Grace Cavalieri: 10 Little Words.

Beginning January 31, I will post 10 words in our project’s Facebook group for the next day. Along with the words, you’ll see a link to the source from which those words were drawn. Sources might include news articles, transcripts of political speeches, interviews of politicians and activists, the headlines of the day. Your daily task is to build a poem that includes those ten words.

Why this prompt?

Over the past several weeks I’ve resisted the urge to disengage from the language our government is using. Instead, I encourage everyone to look at that language as a poet. We can create found poems and word art to reflect what’s happening in our country and world.

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR PROJECT NEWBIES: As always, the point of this exercise is to practice the habit of writing regularly, even if it’s just for one month. Members of the project post response poems the same day so that we can focus on generating ideas and giving positive feedback, rather than polishing for publication.

Interested in joining us? You can request to join the closed 5th Annual February Daily Poem Project here.

Poetry Friday: #WritersResist

Violet Nesdoly is this week’s Poetry Friday host. Stop by Violet’s Blog for more poetry links, reviews, original poems, and sharing.

Well, here we are. It’s really happening.

First, I’d like to thank all of you for your comments on the press conference found poems. Several Poetry Friday regulars have been engaging with transcripts of the president-elect’s words. By paring away (or emphasizing) the fluff, these poems help us expose problems with the way language is used by our future president.

I’m glad my week began with a #WritersResist event in Baltimore. [Find out more about the Writers Resist movement at this website.]

There were so many powerful speakers: military veterans, high school-aged performance poets, an essayist who spoke about the history of neglect that led to Baltimore’s recent uprising, young women, elders, the city’s first youth poet laureate, academics, and activists.

I was invited to read as a representative of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change. I’ve written about the group before [read my interview with founder Michael Rothenberg here], and about my 2015 trip to the 100TPC World Conference in Italy.

The group is an earlier incarnation of the pulse that is driving #WritersResist now. 100TPC was born at the same time as the Occupy Wall Street movement, and has grown — with concurrent literary readings happening around the globe each September — ever since.

Being part of 100TPC has enriched my life with new and very dear friends, poets whose words take international stories out of the realm of newspapers and TV soundbites and into the real.

On Sunday, I shared poems by two of these poets, Michael Dickel of Israel and Menka Shivdasani of India. Both have been turning eye, pen, and heart to human rights issues in their home countries for many years. I am learning from them how to use my own eye, pen, and heart to speak truth to power.

Street art by Pino Green at the 100TPC World Conference in Salerno, Italy, 2015.

So thirsty…
by Michael Dickel

I am almost back perhaps. The long summer ordeal
of stress, rockets, war, death, killing has moved off
into Syria and Iraq and left us barren for a moment.
A bit of rain falling today hints at winter being
wet. We need water. We always need water. So thirsty.

The brown hills will green again, and the dry beds
recently run with blood water will wash thoroughly
so flowers may wave their red-yellow-white-purple
cacophony of emotions in winter’s permissive grace.
We need the water. We always need water. So thirsty.

Since between last summer’s war and the next,
whenever it might fall upon us, this brief moment
flickers—a satellite-pretense of being a star gliding
across black night—a mere reflection of sunlight.
We want water, we always need more water. So thirsty.

The desert will preserve these battles, mummify
the narratives, and wait as scorpions and seeds wait.
And to this I return. Almost. Maybe. Turned back
from the sea and step-by-step making my way to sweet
water. Always water. Like the night sky, I am so thirsty.

Michael Dickel reading at the 100 TPC World Conference, 2015.

Veils
By Menka Shivdasani

The first veil was when
the country split,
a woman held apart
and sliced,
crushed under the weight
of muscle, bone,
and the evil smile.

After that, the second veil
didn’t matter;
the countries hid
behind their nets and little webs.
We peeped out
from behind the
fraying thread.

Too much had already
been lost.
The skin had ripped,
and scarred
beneath stitched
exteriors. The third veil,
then, was just
impotent cloth.

But it mattered when
they held her down again,
this woman born
of country blood,

and they whipped her
on the streets
so no one dared
to take her by the hand.
Instead, they took
a video of the veiled
and battered face.

These veils have begun to bleed on me.
They bite
into my flesh
and blackened skin.
You cannot hide
behind veils much longer;
they will not survive
the grenade in your hand.

The marketplace is waiting;
hurry now.

Menka Shivdasani reading at the 100 TPC World Conference, 2015.

***

Michael Dickel, a poet, fiction writer, and photographer, has taught at various colleges and universities in Israel and the U.S. He co-edited Voices Israel Volume 36 (2010). He was managing editor for arc-23 and 24. Is a Rose Press released his new book, The Palm Reading after The Toad’s Garden in 2016. His previous books are War Surrounds Us, The World Behind It, Chaos… and Midwest / Mid-East. With producer / director David Fisher, he received an NEH grant to write a film script about Yiddish theatre. Dickel’s writing, art, and photographs have appeared in print and online.

Menka Shivdasani’s first book of poems, the critically acclaimed Nirvana at Ten Rupees, was published by Adil Jussawalla for XAL-Praxis in 1990. Her second collection Stet first appeared in 2001, and her third collection, Safe House, was published recently by Paperwall Media & Publishing Pvt Ltd. Menka is also co-translator of Freedom and Fissures, an anthology of Sindhi Partition poetry, published by Sahitya Akademi in 1998 and editor of If the Roof Leaks, Let it Leak, an anthology of women’s writing that forms part of a series being brought out by Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women (SPARROW). She has edited two online anthologies of contemporary Indian poetry for the American e-zine​ www.bigbridge.org​.

Menka’s poems have appeared in several publications, both in India and elsewhere. These include Poetry Review (London), Poetry Wales, Fulcrum (USA), Seminary Ridge Review (Gettysburg), the Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets, 60 Indian Poets (Penguin Books India), and the Harper Collins Book of English Poetry. She is also represented in Indian Literature in English: An Anthology, a textbook of the University of Mumbai.

Menka is joint coordinator of the Culture Beat initiative at the Press Club in Mumbai and has been a member of Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Association since its inception. As Mumbai coordinator for the global movement, 100 Thousand Poets for Change, she organises an annual poetry festival at the Kitab Khana book store. Menka’s career as a journalist includes a stint with South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, and the publication of ​eleven books as co-author/ editor, three of which were released by the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In 1986, she played a key role in setting up the Poetry Circle in Mumbai.

Hello from Salerno, Italy!

Press Conference Found Poem #2

I’m still mining this week’s pre-inaugural press conference for found poetry. Today’s poem is pulled word for word, unabridged from an exchange between the president-elect and a reporter. In addition to the repetitiveness of Trump’s speech (repetition *is* a poetic technique, after all), the contrast between the two speakers, and the irony of Trump’s use of the word “rude” are what interests me.

Source material: NY Times transcript of January 11, 2017 press conference.

It’s a Disgrace What Took Place
Trump Press Conference Found Poem

By Laura Shovan

Since you’re attacking us,
can you give us a question?
Mr. President-elect —

                                                Go ahead.

Mr. President-elect,
since you are attacking
our news organization —

                                                Not you.

Can you give us a chance?

                                                Your organization
                                                is terrible.

You are attacking
our news organization.
Can you give us a chance
to ask a question, Sir?
Sir, can you —

                                                Quiet.

Mr. President-elect,
can you say –

                                                He’s asking a question.
                                                Don’t be rude.
                                                Don’t be rude.

Can you give us a question
since you’re attacking us?
Can you give us a question?

                                                Don’t be rude. No.
                                                I’m not going to
                                                give you a question
                                                I’m not
                                                going to give you
                                                a question.

Can you state…

                                                You are fake news.
                                                Go ahead.

Sir, can you categorically
state that nobody –

No, Mr. President-elect,
that’s not appropriate.

                                                Go ahead.
                                                (APPLAUSE.)

For those of you involved in activism right now, the January 21 Women’s March organizers posted an important video here.

If you can’t march, but you are a crafter, the Pussyhat Project is taking donations of pink hats for the March.