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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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IPS Blog

Entries tagged "poetry"

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A "Boy Afraid of Being a Boy" as Inaugural Poet?

January 17, 2013 ·

The United States “contains multitudes,” as Walt Whitman said. We’re a nation made of millions of stories. It’s one way we understand ourselves as a people, through the story we tell of ourselves. For too long there’s been just one official story and it has been blandly monochromatic: straight, white, and overwhelmingly male.

Richard Blanco Inaugural Poet

On Monday January 21, though, the narrative shifts. I invite you to listen closely as Richard Blanco, the poet President Barack Obama chose to read an original poem at his second inauguration, steps to the podium. Because Richard Blanco isn't just a fine poet. He's also Latino. He's also gay.

In three masterful collections Blanco has been telling his own story — of growing up queer in a conservative Cuban exile family, in love with American popular culture, “the boy afraid of being a boy” — with affection and careful, close attention to the story’s richness.

Lest we think the choice only symbolic, the National Book Critics Circle reminded us this week that there are still gatekeepers policing the cultural commons: They chose only white poets as finalists for their annual award, despite many fine poets of color (including Blanco) having released new collections in 2012.

By choosing Richard Blanco, by contrast, the president celebrates our variety: We are queer, we are straight, we are Black, white, Latino, Asian, Native, multi-racial…We are America. Martín Espada, the groundbreaking poet and essayist, reminds us of the broader political context in which this choice is made: “There are Latino writers (myself included) who are banned in Tucson as part of the Mexican-American Studies program outlawed by the state of Arizona, part of the backlash against Latino immigrants in this country. There are gay writers who are accomplished, even brilliant, yet cannot marry and are denied basic civil rights in many states, since discrimination does not recognize accomplishment.”

It’s not an easy task to write a poem for the inauguration, broadcast to millions, and I don’t envy Richard Blanco even one bit. But I love that he is the one taking on the challenge. With so many trying every day to deny our country’s diversity and to drive us apart, President Obama has done something bold: He's chosen a queer Cuban American to bring us together.

Order Blanco’s latest collection, Looking for the Gulf Motel, here.

Read the title poem in the collection here.

Read a queer perspective on Obama’s choice here.

Sarah Browning is Executive Director of Split This Rock, author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden, and an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow.

The Nail-Biter that Wasn't

November 7, 2012 ·

Obama wins






 It was the nail-biter that wasn't
...not even close.
By just after 11,
the GOP gave up the ghost. 

Turns out voters are smart —
they knew just what to do.
They knew who was for many
and who was for few.

The tea party is over,
the real work is at hand.
And we all gotta push
whoever's in command.

You can get high,
you can marry your mate,
you can get an education,
we can overcome hate. 

But the job's just beginning
to transform how we live.
What we do to the planet,
what we take, what we give. 

Don't make a grand bargain,
that slashes and burns
a safety net that we need,
so our kids eat, thrive and learn. 

Tax Wall Street, cut waste,
end wars, tax the rich.
Turn green with great haste,
Frankenstorms are a bitch. 

The people have spoken,
we've chosen our path.
Now get to work Mr. President,
look at the math.

America's not broke,
the resources are there.
We've gotta be bold,
and create for all a fair share.


Among other things, Karen Dolan is the Institute for Policy Studies' deadline poet. IPS-dc.org

Blog for Choice 2012: To Sever the Stitch of Shame

January 22, 2012 ·

To say I am not sad is to say I am a monster.
And in this world is a village of women
whose houses are full and fragrant They grieve

in private and carry a sack of ashes to their graves

Twice a year I have the privilege of choosing poems for the online feminist quarterly, On The Issues Magazine. Each issue has a theme, to which the poems should also adhere, at least in the way that poems do, which is to say, in all sorts of ways.

Susan Bee artwork, via On The Issues Magazine. This winter, the theme is abortion rights. When I heard, I was anxious. I wondered if my sister poets could contain it all, the history of women’s struggles; the personal stories of women who’ve had abortions; the complex feelings some women carry; the resistance to the Right’s attempts to control women’s bodies through intimidation, legislation, and outright violence.

And then I wondered why I thought that the poems needed to carry it all, when they’d be surrounded by insightful essays and analyses by some of the sharpest thinkers on this issue we have.

Oh me of little faith. I put out the word and the poems that came in response do it all.

In “Women’s Liberation, 1971,” Judith Arcana brings us right into the underground circle of activists who counseled women needing abortions before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing them: The next card is/Terrelle, who’s thirty-two and angry. Her/doctor gave her an IUD that didn’t work;/he says there’s nothing he can do/they lived far away, had no one but us,/no one to tell, no one to help, no money.

The language is simple, the story less so: true stories of scared women, angry women, hurting women. And of the determined women who quietly helped them when no one else would.

Sonya Renee Taylor speaks from the other side of the equation, from the experience of having an abortion. Her piece, “Why We Held Our Tongues,” is a manifesto to sever the stitch of shame. First she names the names that others give to women who’ve made the decision to end their pregnancies: monsters, liars (if they say they are not sad), lepers, heartless as tile.

Then, with a propulsive rhythm that does not quit, the piece takes us through the abortion itself and out the other side, celebrating the decision, the choice, not as a regret, not as a shame, but as the exact right thing:

To say, the doctor's face was a blur of soft cotton, 
his voice a crisp steel speculum is to free the pigeon of truth
from its cage so it might return dove. To say,
in the recovery room I smelled twenty shades of crimson escape 
fleeing down all the women's thighs is to say, I am seer and historian, 
conqueror and scared teenage girl 13 credits shy of statistic.
To say, I have never spent $350 dollars more wisely

Johnna Schmidt’s “Red Rover” reminds us that abortion rights can be about the question of not whether, but when, to have children, as the speaker laments the mess of her life when she was pregnant at 25. How then later, motherhood bounces back,/catches me in its shining snare.

Poetry dwells in contradiction and complexity, too. Melissa Tuckey’s poem, “Abortion,” resides at the nexus of gratitude and sorrow:

And somewhere in this world is a village of women
who wear only black They confess their joy
in private and carry a sack of ashes to their graves

Finally, the poems came full circle, as they came to my inbox. Katherine Anderson Howell, who works as a clinic defense volunteer outside a Planned Parenthood clinic, shows us in her poem, “Things to Know When Walking to the Abortion Clinic,” that abortion rights are still under attack, 40 years after Judith Arcana’s women gathered in clandestine solidarity.

Thanks to the speaker in Howell’s poem, however, and to so many other activists, health care workers, and volunteers – female and male – the clinic is still open.

Sarah Browning is the director of Split This Rock, poetry co-editor of On The Issues Magazine, and an associate fellow of The Institute for Policy Studies.

Poem: Before Grey Filtered Light

October 17, 2011 ·

I have begun to
Slip into that night
Good dark dying light
I call upon euphemisms

To disguise the senses
Dismiss the morning ache
I carry them to
Breakfast and to court

Racketball where shadows judge
The game not wooing
Of the ladies when
Shrinkage defines the day

Prolonged Summer heat an
Excuse for sleepless hours
Fears of fragile bladders
Victims of lazy prostates

A whiskey soaked poet
Pleaded for rage rage
Watching love memory blood
Against fading falling twilight

I call up visions
Snow on glacial streets
Winds curling under my
Trousers climbing my spine

Thrills chills challenges mutate
To dread sloth shrugs
Of shoulders to tackle
Sexy stimulants glorious ordeals

The known dead outnumber
The living that newspaper
Page beckons with morning tea
Habitual coffee long faded

With greasy dishes batting
Balls eye feasts before
cataracts filtered light sapped
fury lowered beams – Night

This poem by IPS fellow Saul Landau originally appeard in Counterpunch.

The Undocumented Poet

October 4, 2011 ·

Nostalgia for the LightOne of my earliest inspirations in the undocumented youth movement was Mario Angel Escobar, a former child soldier from El Salvador who was among the first to publicly share his story and tell the world he was indocumentado. Mario took to legislative allies, and leveraged the power of media, to advocate through a complex immigration case and earn asylum. Mario, now a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, took to poetry to share the story of the pain that undocumented young people, and he will be reading a piece during Thursday's special screening of Nostalgia for the Light.

Here's an excerpt of a poem that appeared on the publication Underground Undergrads: UCLA Undocumented Immigrant Students Speak Out:

I am the backbone
An equal to any
The chant at the end of the day

I am the caresser of voluptuous earth
Her and I become one
The hands that pluck and pick
to satisfy your hunger

I am the tender callus
The naked wind
The new tongue

Flesh seeking peace

I am the silent lip
The gaze that shouts

Click HERE to purchase a ticket to the special screening of "Nostalgia for the Light," a prelude to the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award. Pre-screening features include a special reception and light fare, with music from Son Cosita Seria and poetry from Mario Escobar.

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