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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Gold or Water? A Deadly Debate in El Salvador Mines

August 31, 2011 ·

We are inside a greenhouse, gazing at row after row of hydroponic tomatoes and green peppers, learning why people in this community in northern El Salvador are receiving death threats. We have been sent by The Nation magazine to chronicle the struggle by people here to protect their river from the toxic chemicals of global mining firms intent on realizing massive profits from El Salvador’s rich veins of gold.

Before going to the greenhouse, we spend the morning at the home of Carlos Bonilla, a farmer in his sixties whose handsome face is creased with the wisdom, suffering, and joy of decades of struggles for justice. Over a delicious meal of local tortillas, vegetables, and chicken, Carlos and a group of eight young people tell us their stories.

“We reject the image of us just as anti-mining. We are for water and a positive future. We want alternatives to feed us, to clothe us.”

These young people run a radio station, Radio Victoria, where they broadcast to a growing audience across this mountainous terrain. They tell us about giving air time to local leaders who, beginning seven years ago, found themselves facing a new threat: Mining firms, granted permits to explore for gold in the watershed of the great Lempa River (which supplies water to over half the country’s 6.2 million people), entered these communities with promises of jobs and prosperity.

Gold is now selling for more than $1500 an ounce. Local organizer Vidalina Morales tells us: “Initially, we thought mining was good and it was going to help us out of poverty…through jobs and development.”

But, then, a strange thing happened. A stream dried up near the exploration wells that a Canadian firm, Pacific Rim, was digging. Concerned, Vidalina and other activists traveled to nearby Honduras to meet with members of communities where large mining projects were already underway. They returned with grisly stories of cyanide poisoning the soil and water (cyanide is used to separate the gold from the surrounding rock), and people in mining areas suffering skin diseases and other ailments.

This wasn't what they wanted, especially near the Lempa River. Local people in northern El Salvador began to organize against the mining firms. First, they linked up with other groups across this province of Cabañas to coordinate opposition. Next, they found allies in other provinces and in the capital San Salvador, and they formed a National Roundtable on Mining. After discussion and debate, the Roundtable decided that the only way to save their vital water source was to organize for a national ban on gold and other metals mining. 

Then, they tell us, the death threats began. Some came as anonymous phone calls, some as untraceable text messages, some as people were stopped by men in cars. In June 2009, a dynamic local cultural leader, Marcelo Rivera, disappeared; his body was found in the bottom of a well, with signs of torture reminiscent of the bloody civil war that convulsed this region in the 1980s. 

Half a year later, two other people opposed to mining were gunned down. One was eight-months pregnant and held her two-year old in her arms when she was murdered. Then, two months ago, a college student volunteer with the Environmental Committee of Cabañas, Juan Francisco Duran, was found dead, two bullet holes to his head. He was last seen in Cabañas putting up anti-mining posters.

In this poor country, where mining firms have spread around a great deal of money and promises, people are getting threatened and killed.

As we travel the remote roads of Cabañas with Vidalina and others here, we are struck by how their aspirations are not unlike those of people we have met in the Philippines, Trinidad, and even the United States. They want healthy food and safe drinking water for their kids. They want a vibrant local economy that provides good jobs and livelihoods. They do not want giant firms, unaccountable to them, determining their futures.

Yet in this poor country, where mining firms have spread around a great deal of money and promises, people are getting threatened and killed. 

Carlos, Vidalina, Marcelo, Juan Francisco… ordinary people taking extraordinary actions as they protect their water and their democracy. And, in this case, there are simple things that people elsewhere can do to support this struggle for water over gold. To share just one: The Committee in Support of the People of El Salvador (CISPES) is asking people to write the Attorney General of El Salvador to demand a thorough investigation into the killings to find not only the killers but also the “intellectual authors” - the masterminds - behind their actions.    

Our next blog will offer another chapter in this story, the fight to get the national Salvadoran government to support the proposed mining ban. And, a subsequent blog will move to the global level of this fight, as U.S. and Canadian mining firms use “free trade” agreements to bring legal cases against El Salvador in international courts. 

As we leave Carlos’s house that day and visit the greenhouse and communal farm lands, Vidalina entreats us not to write about their struggle as simply a defensive one: “We reject the image of us just as anti-mining. We are for water and a positive future. We want alternatives to feed us, to clothe us.”

This article was originally published in Yes! Magazine

Pawlenty's Tax Proposal Caters to the Richest Americans

June 9, 2011 ·

GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty observed the 10th anniversary of the Bush tax cuts by proposing $2 trillion in additional tax cuts, primarily for millionaires and global corporations.

The former Minnesota governor wants to eliminate the federal estate tax, the nation's only levy on inherited wealth. He wants to lower top tax rates on the rich from 35 to 25 percent. He wants to only tax income from work, not wealth — by eliminating all capital gains taxes.

This makes Tim Pawlenty a billionaire's dream candidate.

He sure knows how to mark an anniversary. The 2001 Bush tax cuts were a $2.5 trillion mistake that put us on the road to fiscal instability. At the time, Congressional budget analysts projected a $5.6 trillion surplus that supposedly would mount up over this past decade.

But even after the rosy projections turned to red ink, the tax cut bonanza continued. Congress engaged in a "decade of magical tax cut thinking," responding to each economic challenge with a one-point program: cut taxes for the wealthy and expand tax loopholes for global corporations. Pawlenty's absurd proposal is the latest articulation of the Republican Party's math-defying magical thinking.

Bob McIntyre, the director of Citizens for Tax Justice argued in 2001 that the tax cut was a bad idea — that it was overly tilted to benefit the rich — and would eventually lead to deficits. Last week, His organization released a report projecting that another 10-year extension of the Bush tax cuts would cost $5.5 trillion. Add in Pawlenty's tax program and we can look forward to $7.5 trillion more in red ink.

An Economic Policy Institute report points out that the Bush tax cuts cost over $2.5 trillion over the last decade. An estimated 38 percent of those tax cuts — almost $1 trillion — went to households in the richest 1 percent, those Americans with annual incomes that exceed $645,000. Pawlenty's proposals are probably even more regressive in terms of who benefits.

Recent IRS data reveals that the richest 400 U.S. taxpayers have seen their effective tax rates fall to their lowest levels since prior to the 1930s Great Depression. Their effective tax rate has fallen from 51.2 percent in 1955 to 18.1 percent in 2008, the most recent year that we have data for. According to the Citizens for Tax Justice, Pawlenty's plan would cut taxes for this richest 400 by 73 percent.

 There is some good news, however. The 10th anniversary of the Bush tax cuts has focused new attention on the irresponsibility of cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations even more. Grassroots groups convened actions and press events around the country to dramatize the link between the tax cuts and local budget cuts that worsen unemployment.

 Their message is getting louder and clearer: No more budget cuts until millionaires and corporate tax dodgers pay their fair share. Raising taxes on the rich has to be on the table going forward.

 Activists are also coalescing around a number of revenue proposals that could raise trillions of dollars over the next decade. One initiative is the Fairness in Taxation Act, introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). Her legislation would add additional tax rates for millionaires and generate $74 billion a year. "Middle-class and low-income families didn't create these budget deficits or reap economic rewards over the last generation," Schakowsky wrote in a Chicago Tribune op-ed. "So our nation's plan to get our fiscal house in order should not sacrifice the vitality of our middle class and our commitments to address poverty."

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Yael Flusberg

December 7, 2010 ·

WAITING OUTSIDE THE U.S. CAPITOL WHERE SHE LIES IN STATE,
EVE OF ALL SOULS

The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.
-Rosa Parks

after the first three hours
the temperature dropped to visible breath.
my fall coat no longer protected and my toes
went numb so i tried to transcend time
by thumbing a rose quartz bracelet
each bead proof of my will to persist,
my mother always said standing appels*
for hours was a sentence of death
for the weak.  

in the muddy field where thousands of souls made solitary
by the cold snaked around a makeshift fence,
i found a handful of warmth, a single ruby glove.  

i practiced standing meditation following the ringing
in my ears to keep my mind from wondering why
i was on this line, not in my down-covered bed
when i’d see the coffin just as well in the newspaper
in the morning.  each time i lifted my sole i knew
i was one step closer to the dome with 108 windows
like a rosary i could pray with my eyes.

it was dawn when i finally circulated once around
the ceremonial space then down to the crypt below
where i begged that her being where she was
would bless where she was laying – and all of us
who’ll never have moments like hers on the bus
will still find something worth standing up for.

-Yael Flusberg

From The Last of My Village. Used by permission.  

* In the Nazi concentration camps, inmates had to stand appels – a protracted roll call – twice a day regardless of weather or exhaustion.  Some gave birth to babies buried on the spot.  Many others dropped dead during the hours-long appels or were killed if they couldn’t maintain an erect posture.

Yael Flusberg’s nineteen-poem collection The Last of My Village reveals how a legacy of familial and cultural sorrow can be shaped—much like a poem—into the capacity to begin again.  The Last of My Village won Poetica Magazine's 2010 Chapbook Contest, and is available at www.poeticamag.com.  When not writing, Yael integrates creative, somatic and reflective practices into her work with social change organizations and leaders.  Visit her blog at www.yaelflusberg.wordpress.com  

Flusberg serves on the Board of Split This Rock.  She co-ran the workshop “Yoga and Poetry in Changing Times” at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

Split This Rock's 2010 Holiday Shopping Guide

December 3, 2010 ·

It is the time of year when many of us are looking for meaningful ways to show our love and connection to each other. The following list contains books by many Split This Rock featured readers, panelists, participants, advisers, and supporters. Whether you are looking for a gift for the poet on your list, looking to share your love of poetry, or simply looking for a gift that conveys a sense of justice and action, you're sure to find something below.

This is by no means a comprehensive list.  To recommend other titles, visit Blog This Rock and post them in the comments section!

To buy any of these books, head down to your local independent bookstore or get them online at:

Teaching for Change's Busboys and Poets Bookstore
or
Powell's Books

 

Chris Abani   |   Sanctificum
| Copper Canyon Press, 95 pp. $15.00 |
Reading this collection is like standing in a cathedral on a sunny day, dazzled by the bright stained glass windows. Here is a book of connected poems linking politics, religion and human loss into a liturgy of images. Excellent.

 

Francisco Aragón   |   Glow of our Sweat
| Scapegoat Press, 72 pp. $12.95 |
Aragón  places the reader in a storm of voices: tender, confused, relieved, and passionate. These poems draw on the rich tradition of Latino poets Dario and Lorca, while voicing a purely modern longing for love and acceptance.

 

Elizabeth Alexander   |   Crave Radiance
|Graywolf Press, 240 pp., $28.00| 
The joy of Crave Radiance lies in watching the poems evolve over twenty years. Two decades of speaking to the African American cultural experience makes Alexander’s collection read like a powerful cultural memoir, reminding us at once of where we have been and where we are going.

 

R. Dwayne Betts   |   Shahid Reads His Own Palm
| Alice James Books, 80 pp. $15.95 |
Selected as the 2009 Beatrice Hawley Award winner and published by Alice James Books.  These poems have wings.  Resilient, lucid and attentive.  Poems about memory and survival, lock up and lock down.  As Marie Howe says, "this poet has entered the fire and walked out with the actual light inside him."  

 

Kyle Dargan   |   Logorrhea Dementia: A Self Diagnosis
| University of Georgia Press/VQR Imprint, 72 pp., $16.95| 
The language of these poems pushes and keeps pushing – through officialese to absurdity, through music and popular culture to an understanding, however complex and shifting, of how we live our lives. The poems can be dense and rich with allusion or stretching and stretched, a wonderful patchwork of form.

 

Camille Dungy   |   Suck on the Marrow
| Red Hen Press, 88 pp. $17.95 |
Suck on the Marrow is “a fiction based on fact,"  historical verse that follows the lives of six main characters in mid-19th century Virginia and Philadelphia; men and women who lived as slaves and free persons, some who escaped, others who were born free and taken captive, and the ways in which their lives intertwine.  This intimate collection of lyric and persona poems give voice to hunger, love, and survival of ordinary people living in extraordinary circumstances.  

 

Thomas Sayers Ellis   |   Skin, Inc.
| Graywolf Press, 176 pp. $23.00 |
Skin, Inc. offers the reader a rich, irreverent, and thoughtful walk through the battlefield that is race in America. In beautifully crafted poems and evocative photographs, Ellis lets us feel, laugh, and begin the process of repairing our identities.

 

Martín Espada   |   The Lover of a Subversive is Also a Subversive: Essays and Commentaries
| University of Michigan Press, 118 pp. $28.95 |
Provocative and passionate essays on poetry and advocacy. Topics include: the poet/ lawyer, the role of poets in the Puerto Rican independence movement, a celebration of poet Jack Agüeros, speaking the unspoken, the 150th anniversary of Leaves or Grass, poets of the Vietnam War, a rebuttal to the unacknowledged legislator, and more. Espada is as strong an essayist as he is a poet and these essays lays claim to the role of poet as truthteller, witness and advocate for justice, celebrating a lineage of poets who have shared this commitment in their work.

 

Yael Flusberg   |   The Last of My Village
| Poetica Publishing, 38 pp. $13.00 |
The Last of My Village is a book about history. More specifically, it is a book that celebrates and mourns family memory, which has shaped both the individual speaker and the culture. The Last of My Village weaves through time to blanket the reader in history as the poems operate like time lapse photographs, taking one place through time and change, all the while seeking truth in all the difference. Winner of the Poetica Chapbook Award for 2010.

 

Melody S. Gee   |   Each Crumbling House
| Perugia, 78 pp. $16.00 |
Gee takes the reader on a walk through memory, family, home and exile. These gentle poems accompany the reader through Chinese villages and relocated homes in California, always illuminating the real home in human relationships.

 

Terrance Hayes   |   Lighthead
| Penguin, 112 pp. $18.00 |
The 2010 National Book Award winner for poetry takes a fearless look at our urgings, hopes and fears. Hayes’ language always surprises the reader with its layers and beauty. Like the blues, this collection names pain and moves through it. Any reader who loves language will delight in this award-winning collection of poems.

 

Seamus Heaney   |   Human Chain
| Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 96 pp. $24.00 |
A collective of quiet, meditative poems. His layered images will capture the reader at the connection between personal history and the history of nations. These poems are accessible, rich, and elegant in their simplicity.

 

Niki Herd   |   The Language of Shedding Skin
| Main Street Rag, 61 pp. $14.00 |
Write a poem… with the memory of good / bone and blood the poet instructs us and she does: poems of brutality and tenderness, of the violence Black people have endured in this country and of their resistance through poetry, through music, and through love. Ranging through history, the poems situate themselves in our difficult, contradictory moment. Note: Niki Herd will be reading at Sunday Kind of Love, December 19, at Busboys and Poets, 14th and V Streets, NW, Washington, DC.

 

Lita Hooper   |   Thunder in Her Voice: The Narrative of Sojourner Truth  
|
Willow Books, 57 pp. $14.95 |
Hooper has woven a stunning tapestry made up of poems of Sojourner Truth’s inner life and biography juxtaposed with excerpts from The Narrative of Sojourner Truth. The poems expose the deep ache of families torn apart, the torture at the heart of slavery, and the spiritual strength required for resistance. “Freedom…” says Sojourner Truth’s father in “Bomefree’s Last Testimony,” “come like rain when you need it most, when we can / no longer stand the drought.”

 

Tahar Ben Jelloun | Cullen Goldblatt, Translator |   The Rising of the Ashes
| City Lights Books, 160 pp. $16.95 |
The Rising of the Ashes, written in French by Moroccan born poet, Tahar Ben Jelloun, continues two poetic sequences—one that gives voice to the dead and wounded in the Gulf War in 1991 and another that gives voice to Palestinians murdered in Lebanon and occupied territories during 1980s. These are a necessary remembering of crimes already turned to dust. As Jelloun writes in his preface, “To name the wound, to give a name again to the face voided by the flame, to tell, to make and remake the borders of silence, that is what the poet’s conscience dictates.” 

 

Patricia Spears Jones   |   Pain Killer  
|
Tia Chucha Press, 80 pp., $15.95 |
Eros stalks New York City in these poems, as does love and the ghosts of those lost to AIDS, poverty, time. The poet employs great stylistic variety – poems long and exceedingly brief, lamentations and celebrations, sometimes wrapped in one – at the service of a warm humanistic vision of her city and of our world. These are poems “despite / abandonment, despair, the world, the world, the world.”

 

Mahmoud Darwish | Fady Joudah , Translator  |   If I Were Another
| Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 201 pp. $28.00 |
The award winning translator of Mahmoud Darwish, Fady Joudah, has said of the process of translating the great Palestinian poet, “If I am able to sing Darwish’s poem as if it were another in English, then I have succeeded.” In his translations of five Darwish epics, Joudah truly sings the poems. In If I Were Another, ordinariness and the presence of nature  meld with the experience of war and exile. Cultural memory, grounded in personal loss, becomes global, as Darwish meditates on the experience of Native Americans. The poems understand what it is to long for home and peace, but mostly, they sing a vision of a possible justice.

 

Francesco Levato   |   Elegy for Dead Languages
|Marick Press, 84 pp., $14.95| 
A collection of four long documentary poems, War Rug; Elegy for Dead Languages; and Hood, Handgun, Power Drill. These poems read like the news would read if there were any such thing as news these days. Fusing language of autopsy reports, counterintelligence manuals, and other official reports with the language of poetry, these poems are inhabited, haunted, visceral poems that lay cold the language of war.

 

Michael Luis Medrano   |   Born in the Cavity of Sunsets
| Bilingual Press, 70 pp., $11.00 |
Michael Luis Medrano draws his poetic breath from the lives of the Latino community in Fresno, CA. Medrano’s poems in Born In the Cavity of Sunsets do not fear risk; they play with repetition and prose while firmly anchored in place and time. Street gangs and Gertrude Stein, priests and Bukowski, addicts and Ginsberg, Iowa and California appear next to each other on the page, creating a powerful and beautiful book.

 

John Murillo   |   Up Jump the Boogie
|Cypher Books, 112 pp., $12.95| 
Murillo tells the stories of fathers, sons, neighborhoods and mentors. Using the language of music, his poems beat out a rhythm that is young and wise at the same time. A particularly good book for young adults.

 

Barbara Jane Reyes   |   Diwata 
|BOA Editions, 82 pp., $16.00| 
Reyes creates a new mythology of lyrical beauty, grounded in Filipino tradition and ranging widely. The poems take on colonialism, war, the exploitation of women, often through the language of myth, creation, and the natural world; they are “poems to carry upon seawind and saltwind.” 

 

Susan Rich   |   The Alchemist’s Kitchen
|White Pine Press, 105 pp., $16.00| 
The poems here weave the personal and the political; they tell stories and lament. A strong middle section resurrects the early female photographer and painter of the American Northwest, Myra Albert Wiggins, with scenes from her life and work. Rich is in love with the music of poetry and many of the poems are in form, lilting through even the most difficult of subjects.

 

Myra Sklarew  |   Harmless
|Mayapple Press, 92 pp., $15.95|
Harmless will capture you from the first poem. Its delicate poems, often using Jewish Biblical characters and themes, explore memory, family, parenting, and conflict. The poems build an architecture of tenderness we could all live in.

 

Alice Walker   |   Hard Times Require Furious Dancing  
|
New World Library, 165 pp. $18.00 |
The first book of poems in several years by one of our leading literary lights and a scheduled feature for Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2012. Walker uses her characteristic short line to great effect in Hard Times, as in the poem, “Still,” here in its entirety: I have found / powerful / love / among / my sisters / I have / shredded / every / veil / and still / believe / in them.

 

ANTHOLOGIES

Frances Payne Adler, Debra Busman, Diana Garcia, Editors
Fire and Ink: An Anthology of Social Action Writing | 
| University of Arizona Press, 448 pp. $32.95 |
An anthology created by teachers at the California State University Monterey Bay who have taught a course in creative writing and social action for years within a diverse student population. The anthology is the culmination of poetry and prose they’ve found useful in the classroom and includes such writers and visionaries as Gloria Anzaldua, Dennis Brutus, Lorna De Cervantes, Kelly Norman Ellis, Martín Espada, Jamaica Kincaid, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Patricia Smith, Sekou Sundiata, and many others, including former students, on topics as various and essential as the Breaking Silence/ Politics and Voice; Where I Come From: Writing Race, Class, Gender and Resistance; Coming into Langauge; the Work We Do; Environment, Illness, and Health; Prisons; War; Waging Peace; and Talking, Teaching and Imagining. This book sets the table for some serious truth telling and courageous writing.

 

Neelanjana Banerjee, Summi Kaipa, and Pireeni Sundaralingam, Editors
| Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry | 
| University of Arkansas Press, 220 pp. $24.95 |
Indivisible is a collection of South Asian American poetry, which introduces readers to poets from a wide range of cultures, faiths, and languages who share the identity of living in the United States. These poems, written in the shadow of the attacks on the World Trade Center and subsequent wars, are a celebration of multiplicity and of poets who refuse to allow their allegiances to be divided. The collection includes both up and coming and established poets who bring a wide variety of style and subject matter to their works, including work from Homraj Acharya, Agha Shahid Ali, Kazim Ali, Minal Hajratwala, Ravi Shankar, and many others.  

 

Melissa Kwasny & M.L Smoker, Editors
| I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights | 
| Lost Horse Press, 168 pp. $18.00 |
Poems of witness against crimes of genocide, torture, war, rape, hate crimes, and more.  These poems bring dignity and humanity to the wounded, language to our deepest silences, voice to unspeakable crimes, with poems by such poets as Marvin Bell, Tamiko Beyer, Martha Collins, Lois Red Elk, Christopher Howell, Scott Hightower, Christi Kramer, Phillip Metres, Farnoosh Moshiri, Susan Rich, and others. A poignant and necessary book. 

 

Kim Roberts, Editor   |   Full Moon on K Street
|Plan B Press, 160 pp., $20| 
Roberts gathers 101 poems about Washington, D.C. These poems tell stories of change, beauty, decay, and hope as they trace the last 50 years of poems about our national capital. Anyone who loves Washington, D.C.-- or loves poems of place -- will love this book.

 

Kim Roberts, Editor   |   Lip Smack: A History of Spoken Word Poetry in DC
|Lulu, 24 pp., $10| 
This collection takes the reader on a fascinating journey from 1991 to 2010. Roberts captures, in both prose and photography, the fire, anger, joy, and beauty that make up spoken word poetry. She takes you inside the coffeehouses and open mic venues and introduces you to the personalities of the movement. 

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: E. Ethelbert Miller

November 17, 2010 ·

Leading up to Saturday's celebration...Happy Birthday Ethelbert!

Austerity

     (for Temo)

We will all lose our jobs
if not today then tomorrow.

A writer calls me asking about
how to get published. Writers are having
a difficult time. I start to explain
the journey we are on, the poet's path.
The writer interrupts me and says -

Cut the metaphysical bullshit! I want
a Mercedes Benz.

What do you want?

Today I returned my poems to my lover.
I filed for unemployment.
My heart stopped.

     - E. Ethelbert Miller

Used by permission.

Miller was a featured poet at the 2008 Split This Rock Poetry Festival and appeared on the panels "Reclamation, Celebration, Renewal, and Resistance: Black Poets Writing on the Natural World" and "What Makes Effective Political Poetry? Editors' Perspectives" at Split This Rock 2010.

E. Ethelbert Miller is the author of ten books of poems, two memoirs (most recently The 5th Inning ) and editor of four anthologies. He is Board Chair of the Institute for Policy Studies and the Director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University. He is also the editor of Poet Lore magazine.

Miller was a featured poet at the 2008 Split This Rock Poetry Festival and appeared on the panels "Reclamation, Celebration, Renewal, and Resistance: Black Poets Writing on the Natural World" and "What Makes Effective Political Poetry? Editors' Perspectives" at Split This Rock 2010.

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