Category Archives: Pulse

Poets Who Will Not Remain Silent: Dispatch from Split This Rock! Poetry Festival 2016

“silence / from our imagination / in wave upon
wave / in a shipping container & I love you
in a box of shock you love me / in a cemented
dream / we’re a happy family /
with a great big hug and chains that leave no mark
Won’t you say you love me too?

-Philip Metres, Sand Opera

With these lines, Philip Metres juxtaposes U.S. military language from an interrogation conducted at Guantanamo with lyrics from the children’s show theme song “Barney is a Dinosaur,” and we read in the collection notes that this seemingly innocuous jingle was used in the interrogation. Political commentary forms a key element in the aesthetics and range of language registers which form and inform the collection Sand Opera. This interweaving of poetry and social justice characterizes the spirit of the Split This Rock Poetry Festival, during which Metres led the poetry reading “Writing Beneath War: The Middle East,” and co-facilitated the panel discussion “Now What? Everyday Experience and Resistance in the Middle East,” drawing on his experience teaching Israeli and Palestinian literatures. Split This Rock holds poetry festivals in even numbered years, promising poems of provocation and witness, from poetic action and young voices of slam poetry to documentary poetry and eco-justice. Four days of panels, roundtables, readings, and community building around themes of social justice took place in Washington D.C. from April 14–17, 2016. Offerings ranged from the local to the international, from educational and academic to leadership and activism, and everything in between. Featured readings included sign language interpreters as well as work by disability activist poets, queer poets, and poets from diverse activist communities.

Each featured reading began by introducing a young poet and remembering the work of pioneering activist poets. Members of the DC Youth Slam Team shared their work, and Split This Rock made available poetry chapbooks by team members as well. In the collection Learning to Forgive Gravity, poet Hannah Smallwood offers thoughtful meditations on navigating chronic illness and queer identity. In the poem “9 Things No One Ever Told Me About Coming Out” she asserts,

Bisexuals, asexuals, and pansexuals have closets too.
But ours are more like wardrobes to Narnia
Because no one ever believes us
When we come out.

With these few lines, we gain a sense of the frustrations of being mislabeled and having our experiences erased, as well as a powerful voice reclaiming the human right to self-determination.

These same themes found a unique and empowering vehicle in the poems of Lauren K. Alleyne, first place winner of the 2016 Split This Rock Annual Poetry Award. In the elegiac “The Hoodie Stands Witness” from the collection Difficult Fruit, Alleyne imagines the perspective of the hoodie worn by slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin:

That day, he was thinking
of nothing in particular.
He was quiet in his skin;
tucked into the shade of me,
he was an easy embrace
until an old ancestral fear
lay its white shadow
across us like an omen.

The poem offers a striking access point into the realm where the personal intersects with political events and institutions. The lyricism of the lines and the sense of calm belie the warning of the last few lines. Alleyne’s economy of words works to situate the horror present in everyday situations. In the poem “John White Defends,” the title character, based on a non-fiction account, attempts to protect his home from racist teens on a delusionary revenge mission, as he worries for his son who is their target:

I wanted
to spare him the burning
the dangerous
the needle
the bullet
the shackles
the whip of a merciless law
I wanted to spare him

The terse lines and tight line breaks create a sense of tension that builds until the final line, when we know exactly the terrible meaning of “this,” from which White wishes to spare his son.

A similarly careful arranging of lines emerges in the work of Mahogany L. Browne, #BlackPoetsSpeakOut activist who led a panel discussion and reading with an open mike session with co-organizer Amanda Johnston. #BlackPoetsSpeakOut invited Black poets to read poems of social justice, and to assert, in the words of poet Jericho Brown, “I am a black poet who will not remain silent while this nation murders black people. I have a right to be angry.” Black poets and allies were invited to learn the history of the movement and allies were encouraged to support the right of Black poets to be angry and embrace the value of speaking up for justice. Poet Amanda Johnston spoke about and demonstrated the power of community building, as well as emphasizing the importance of self-care for activists, and the value of basic life skills like sleeping, eating, and resting as strategies for maintaining energy for activism.

Mahogany L. Browne’s linguistic acrobatics and language registers assert themselves in the collection RedBone, which also foregrounds self-care and forms of resilience, as well as methods of surviving difficult family, social, and societal situations. In the poem “RedBone in Greek,” the narrator’s mother, RedBone, takes on the role of a Greek gorgon in defense against an ex-husband:

First Husband walk in
Let the light vanish
Whole room close like fist
Squeeze air from throat
Redbone legs shake
But Redbone eyes ain’t move
Redbone whisper
“I make him stone He can’t hurt me, I make him stone”
Her eyes become graveyards
Redbone’s First Husband ain’t but a man to Medusa

We see the incantatory effect of the whispered words and the way in which Redbone takes power through recourse to the legend of Medusa and the ability to turn men to stone. Browne offers a variety of registers of language and subtle shifts so that we register several different aspects of the scene — identifying with Redbone, hearing her voice, seeing her from her daughter’s viewpoint — hovering somewhere between first person, second person, and third person narrative.

While Browne presents views on the relationships between identity and family, featured poet Linda Hogan, who was unable to attend the festival, but very much there in spirit, offers a broad view of family in her recent collected works, Dark. Sweet. Poems from the collection were recited by featured poets Rigoberto González, Zeina Hashem Beck. In the poem “The Petrified Steps,” Hogan’s narrator illustrates generational and locational ties:

I am the translator of old trees.
You ask how I earn this job.
It is because my ancestors carried the bones of our dead
such distances on our backs
in bundles and bags.
I come from those who read the past, carry it with us,
and just now I abandon the future
because I also read the faces of people
and not just trees, not just histories
or the bones of the gone.

Hogan’s narrators concern themselves with the discourse between people and animals and the interconnections between human generations and those of natural spaces.

The event “Farm to Table to Poem: A Food Justice Poetry Workshop,” led by Craig Santos Perez and Aiko Yamashiro also located social justice at the intersection of people, social ties, and the natural world, with a focus on food and meal preparation as communal and ecological events. The organizers discussed activism and poetry based in Hawai’i centered on the Pacific food justice and sovereignty movement, including activism at the boundaries between traditional food and healthy food preparation, with one example being an effort to prepare homemade spam from scratch as a community building activity centered on healthier and more community centered food preparation. The workshop leaders invited participants to write about their relationship between food and family, eating and kinship.

Another locationally oriented event, “Writing Beneath War: The Middle East,” featured readings by poets Zeina Hashem Beck, Philip Metres, and Solmaz Sharif on the theme of struggle against Orientalist approaches to reading and writing the Middle East. Metres and Sharif presented work at the boundaries of United States military documents and the ways in which these documents attempt erasures of personal narratives from the region and its diaspora communities. Hashem Beck, who recently won the first Rattle chapbook contest, read from her collection To Live in Autumn, a series of love poems for an ever changing Beirut. In a particularly memorable passage on the pleasures and struggles of living in and away from the city, the narrator of the poem “Dance: Dubai 2012” relates,

I re-member you, Beirut,
the heat the traffic the craziness the cigarettes
the melting mascara the smeared rooftops
the garbage the godless god-full sky the rain,
and I dance as you explode again today
and I dance as I explode again today
(let it rain let it rain let it rain)
I dance on your balconies
here in this desert until
a faint female voice calls out
a question, says turn
we carry cities, instead of angels,
on our shoulders, we trail them
behind us like old hurts.

The city appears as explosion, rain, dance, a shawl of memories and old wounds, a puzzle to be reconfigured in memory, put back together after falling apart. The narrator performs an uneasy dance with an imperfect, but much loved city from a far country.

In the work of Solmaz Sharif, distance takes on a different hue of meaning. Watching from a distance implicates the viewer in military surveillance and cognitive dissonances. In the poem “LOOK,” we feel the dangerous juxtaposition of the personal and the political:

Whereas the lover made my heat rise, rise so that if heat
sensors were trained on me, they could read
my THERMAL SHADOW through the roof and through
the wardrobe;

As Hannah Smallwood invites us into a world in which the story of a wardrobe stands for layers of personal identity and self-assertion in the face of erasure, here a wardrobe offers no resistance against military invasion of privacy in both the theoretical and very real senses. Split This Rock Poetry Festival provides attendees with just this kind of range in terms of the aesthetics and social justice elements of poetry. It serves as a welcome respite from a poetry world in which formal and artistic concerns often seem far removed from the role of the social justice activist. The festival provides a brief but thorough opportunity for self-care and community support for those of us at the crossroads between poetry and activism.

Originally posted May 11, 2016 on by LynleyShimat Lys.

Lineas hacia un texto de Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21

por Ricardo Alberto Maldonado

Ricardo Alberto Maldonado was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He is the translator of Dinapiera Di Donato’s Collateral and a recipient of fellowships from Queer/Arts/Mentorship and the New York Foundation for the Arts. He is managing director at the 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center.

Originally posted June 30, 2016 on by Drunken Boat.

Queer Latinx Spaces

by Samantha Martinez

Me in the middle. In the middle of everyone who is not me.
Me in front of a squiggle mirror, catch my reflection.
There I stand, brown, Puerto Rican…
Has no defined reflection.
There is no state sanctioned visual markers for queerness
Sometimes my queerness is erased because I only stand in straight places
It is assumed I am like everyone else because I have children
Because sometimes I wear mom jeans.
Because I have not held the hand of another woman in so long
In public that my hands reflexively hold me, as I am the only one
Who can.

Yet the cliché is the eyes are the windows to the soul
And if you wonder what you see when you look into mine
There lies my queerness,
There lies the intangible light of attraction to others like me
There lies the memories of club nights for queer Latinas,
Where we learned to erase the gendered movements of Latin dance steps
And merengued and salsa’d and cumbia’d to the syrupy infectious
And syncopated songs replete with Latinidad and pride.

There are no queer Latino songs of pride. We must appropriate the songs
We sing to lovers dancing, grinding, spinning, mouthing or singing out loud
Marc Anthony, La India, Carlos Vives, Pimpinella, Daddy Yankee
We crowd ourselves so tight
into these clandestine queer Latino spaces
Because here the shroud of otherness dissipates and we just are
And two queens can kiss their goatee’d mouths, and two femmes can spin
Their hairs into our faces and touch hand to ass to breast to cheek.

We were always aware of the irony of the space, a boxed club on a corner
Of a place called Queens, and how crossing the threshold either in or out
Released you from the bonds of repression or handed you back to
The world of insecurity. Yet we dared and we danced and it was our sanctuary.

Here is my marker of my queerness to the world.
Here are my words that acknowledge I am.
I am bearing witness to my queer Latina soul
The one that loves women and men who love men
And anyone in-between and is every shade of brown.

Here is my proof that I exist. Do not tolerate me. Love me.
Love me. Love me. Love me

About Samantha Martinez:

I’m a Queer Latinx mother of two children, and am in graduate school obtaining my master’s in social work. I’ve been politically active since my early twenties although diverted after having children but going back for my graduate degree has sparked that in me again. I’m also a writer of poetry and creative non fiction and a photographer. I currently live in a small town in Southern NJ where my queerness has not been an issue. And lastly, I’m a proud Newyorican!

Originally posted June 23, 2016 on by Drunken Boat.


by Jessica Vega Gonzalez


June 13th, 33 years ago
She gave up her life to fight
against poverty, injustice, oppression.
I don’t know if she knew the cost
nor the kind of ripples it would
June 3rd, 10 days ago
I stand up against it too,
in a sleeveless gray shirt and naked feet.

A glass jar in the corner of the closet
filled with sage, smoke, and secrets.
Two poems from mother and friend.
A congested throat trying to release
the locked voice.

I feel his face in mine.
I lay down and feel his body on mine.
Body remembers what the mind must
lock away safely.
A sore jaw and tight IT-bands
I am safe, she says.
Does this mean what I think it means?
A long, intentional pause.
A gentle, clear, and honest answer.
Yes, it does.
What does it change?

Put it on a paper in a glass jar with sage smoke in the corner of
the closet contained.
Next to flowers and pictures and
drawings and pain.
You look like her, Jessica.
Eyes rimmed red, feet on the ground
Practice the roots.
You know, she died.
Along with 30 other young people
Bombed from above and bulldozed
over by soldier trained and endorsed
in the land I now live.
They can’t even pronounce her name.
Abuelito found her head a month
later because she was one of only
two women and the only with short
He carried her head and a limb from
Managua to Esteli to be buried
with family.

You may rape me, America.
You may yell in my face and threaten
You may even kill me like you killed
my Tia Nhordia.
No punishment you might inflict on me is worse than the punishment I put on myself by conspiring in my own diminishment. [-Parker Palmer]

I stand with much deeper roots.
With wind in my screams and
fire in my gut.
Kuan Yin in my hand and
Guadalupe on my back.
Rosaries around my neck
Prayers from black angels binding
and casting out all evil in
the Holy name of Jesus.
Fingers digging in my back ribs.
Salt and Holy Water and a circle
of candles.
Singing in tongues.
Drumming and swinging with big hair.
Borrowed sweat pants.
Stacks of court orders and pictures.
Stolen white board lists changing
each day demanding.
The first time I call this place

I am bringing it all,
Surrounded in light blue light.

Jessica Vega Gonzalez: A joyful mess. Mayan Death Dragon. Bridge. Her mother’s daughter. A little abrasive. Not a very “nice” person. Nicaraguan. Spanish. Spanglish. A Woman. Brown. A lot of Fire. Piano, ukulele, singing and swinging. Peace, Gratitude, Courage. Come, sit for a while.

And for more info on my music, check out

Originally posted June 20, 2016 on by Drunken Boat.


by Marco Antonio Huerta

I decided that from this day on
I will only translate poetry
Written by queer poets of color
No exceptions made

Especially after what happened in Orlando
Especially after what happened in Xalapa
And what has happened before
What keeps on happening

Perhaps it was just a matter of time
For me to realize
That it makes no sense
For a queer Mexican translator
To keep on bringing more poetry
By white cis straight poets
Into Spanish

I think we’ve had enough of that
You’ve been at the center
For far too long now

It’s way past time for that to change

This is my way of helping to make that happen
This is my way to mourn and to honor the fallen
It doesn’t matter if you laugh at my decision
Because you don’t think it’s politically charged
Or you think it just isn’t good enough

It’s something I want to dedicate my life to
And I don’t need your permission

Así que este traductor se acaba de decidir

Marco Antonio Huerta

Decidí que a partir de ese día
Sólo traduciré poemas
Escritos por poetas queer de color
Sin excepción alguna

Especialmente después de lo que pasó en Orlando
Especialmente después de lo que pasó en Xalapa
Y lo que ha pasado antes
Lo que sigue ocurriendo

Tal vez sólo era cuestión de tiempo
Para que yo me diera cuenta
Que es un sinsentido
Que un traductor mexicano queer
Siga trayendo más poesía
de poetas blancxs bugas cis
Al español

Pienso que ya hemos tenido bastante de eso
has estado en el centro
Por demasiado tiempo ya

Hace mucho que es hora de cambiarlo

Esta es mi manera de ayudar a que suceda
Esta es mi manera de honrar y de llorar a lxs caídxs.
No importa si te burlas de mi decisión
Porque creas que no está políticamente cargada
O pienses que esto no sea suficientemente bueno

Es algo a lo que le dedicaré mi vida
Y no necesito tu permiso

Originally posted June 17, 2016 on by Drunken Boat.


by Wendy C. Ortiz

Y̶e̶s̶t̶e̶r̶d̶a̶y̶ ̶I̶ ̶a̶w̶o̶k̶e̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶c̶o̶c̶o̶o̶n̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶l̶o̶v̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶m̶y̶ ̶f̶r̶i̶e̶n̶d̶’̶s̶ ̶h̶o̶u̶s̶e̶.̶

Yesterday I awoke in the cocoon of queer love that is my friend’s house. We had read the news reports trickling in via social media. She made poached eggs with avocado and hot sauce, pink salt, pepper, over thick slices of oven-toasted bread. We rejoiced that we’ll see each other again in less than a month when she dropped me off at the airport.

The airport: where cnn drones on & on & no one has power to change the channel. I went from my cocoon of queer love to a place where a bunch of humans sat or stood, chill, waiting to board a sophisticated piece of metal machinery that would fly some of us home as talking heads broadcast that this was the worst gun massacre in the nation’s history. I wanted to scream my face off.

It’s one thing to feel vulnerable with your loved ones vs. feeling vulnerable out in the world.

I think of my gay nephews. I think of people who want queer bodies dead. People who want brown bodies dead.

I sifted through social media reading expressions of grief and rage. My friend Sylvia Rodemeyer wrote a Facebook post and in it she said, “If you are anti-LGBTQ I want you out of my life.” It was a sentence couched in other sentences of sorrow, anger, and lament. That sentence stood out to me. Its simplicity is sharp and direct. And I could hear our collective wails encapsulated inside of it.

I came home to my queer cocoon called home and managed to be with my family and not lose my shit completely, though after a few episodes of sputtering sobs with my child sitting near, her other mother suggested I might not look at social media for a while.

This morning we returned to our routines and I went off to hike.

I read Myriam Gurba’s instagram on the trail and soon I wasn’t just sweating but also crying. That trail, over the years, has absorbed so much of my sweat and tears.

I thought of all the times in which people have wanted me or those like me, dead.

People have wanted me dead because I am a woman. Wanted me dead because I am of Mexican heritage. Wanted me dead because I had an abortion. Wanted me dead because I fell in love with a woman, wanted me dead because I have sex with a woman.

And there have been times when I wanted me dead, too.

I think of all the people murdered at Pulse nightclub in Orlando and wonder what their stories are. I wonder how many times they escaped the death pull before this–all of us humans have it, but some of us are encouraged by the culture to succumb. They hadn’t. They were in the club. They were dancing. Maybe they were laughing. Maybe they were piss drunk, maybe they were angry, maybe they were tired, maybe they were looking forward to sleeping in the next morning.

All the ways in which my basic humanity, the humanity of those like me, has been, to someone, a threat.

I am dangerous because I’m a woman. Dangerous because my family of origin’s roots are in Mexico. Dangerous because I can control my fertility. Dangerous because I birthed a baby. Dangerous because I am educated. Dangerous because I have had sex with women and men.

Dangerous because my main creative drive is to write.

I think of all the places in which I personally have derived power. I have derived power from being a woman. I have derived power knowing that my family’s roots are in Mexico. Derived power from choosing to end an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy. Derived power from my education both in the streets and in institutions. Derived power from my body as it moves in the world. Derived power with every move my muscles make as I run the trail. Derived power from pushing against the woman whose hand is fucking me. Derived power from her cock as I closed myself around it. Derived power from having a mouth and a brain. Derived power from reading, from taking in art and music and the brilliance of my fellow humans.

Derived power from writing.

All the ways in which I am dangerous/derive power, the ways in which the existence of me and others like me are considered by some, “a threat.”

My kid has two mothers and her biological father is gay. This is my life. Brown, queer, here. Never going back. If you see me or others like me as a threat, I want you out of my life. It’s that simple.

All my outrage, all my love, all my grief and danger, all my power to those who were senselessly murdered in Orlando, to those who were injured, to their families, and to all the young queers watching this shitshow unfold. I love you.

Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A Memoir (Future Tense Books, 2014), Hollywood Notebook (Writ Large Press, 2015) and the forthcoming Bruja (CCM, Oct. 2016). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Hazlitt, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and The Nervous Breakdown, among other places. Wendy lives in Los Angeles.

Find her: Web: | Twitter: @WendyCOrtiz
Instagram: Wendy.C.Ortiz | tumblr:

Originally posted June 17, 2016 on by Drunken Boat.

3 Poems for Orlando


by Joe Gutierrez


whose job is it

blueberry brushing the void
blueberry avoiding the void
self-portrait with void
it doesn’t matter lips said
how you touch it but where
at the party who is in attendance
the void the moonbounce
if by some means it is on fire
whose job is to put it out
if a cow decides to lie down
in the middle of the street
that is its decision
drive around or don’t
it is completely natural
wanting to kill back

Joe Gutierrez lives in Long Beach, CA. Find them on Twitter @gojibrry.

Originally posted June 17, 2016 on by Drunken Boat.