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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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Entries since December 2010

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Cancun: More Exclusion of Civil Society, More Bad News from Governments

December 8, 2010 ·

I'm commuting to the Cancun climate talks on a bus packed with the Friends of the Earth International delegation and hanger-onners like myself. This morning, when our bus arrived at gigantic Cancun warehouse where climate civil society groups are convening — along with our personal police escort — we were stopped again. This time, the federal police said that the bus that we arrived on didn’t match the license plate of the bus we had arrived on yesterday. In fact, that bus had broken down, so this was a different bus.

But the fact was that we arrive with a police escort, so the fact that the police then didn’t let us into the venue was just over the fine line of what many of us could handle at 8 a.m. after two weeks of sleep deprivation.

Then, when we were finally allowed into the building complex, people who had been standing where an action had taken place yesterday and had had their pictures taken were barred from entering even the civil society space.

Meanwhile, the deteriorating state of negotiations inside the UN climate talks is pushing people further toward the edge.

Yesterday, the prime minister of Kenya’s announcement that they were fine with rich countries abandoning a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol was met with gasps of horror from the developing countries assembled in a high level plenary.

He later retracted the statement saying that he had read an early draft — not the correct final intervention. As it turns out, a Japanese bureaucrat had written that draft — revealing Japan’s attempt to bring developing countries into their campaign to kill the Kyoto Protocol.

A second blow to climate justice was struck when Ethiopian president Meles Zenawi proclaimed that the Cancun talks must result in adoption of the Copenhagen Accord — a deal that would lead to a “pledge & review” process instead of a global greenhouse gas target with equitable effort in reducing emissions among developed countries. A recent UNEP report shows that the pledges under Copenhagen Accord would lead to a worldwide average temperature inccrease of 2.5-5 degrees Celsius — which scientists say would push us part the tipping point of climate chaos.

What's worse is that if the Copenhagen Accord is the model for a new deal here in Cancun, governments have locked the world into dangerously warm planet.

The ALBA countries — notably Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Paraguay — are still standing strong, but are coming under increasing fire for resisting a pledge and review process, and climate finance without first making concessions on being legally bound to mitigate their own emissions — even while the true climate criminals responsible for the vast majority of emissions remain free.

The game now is to support African countries in resisting Meles’ attempts to ram support for a bad deal through the Africa Group, call bullies like the United States and Japan out for attempting to tank a fair process, and hold up those countries like Bolivia who are willing to speak truth to power.

We’ll see what happens today as we race closer to the wrap up of the UN climate talks here in Mexico this Friday.

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Yael Flusberg

December 7, 2010 ·


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.

Shielding Climate Talks from Public Scrutiny

December 7, 2010 ·

It’s the beginning of the second week of the climate summit here in Cancun and everyone — from NGOs, to governments, to the policy wonks — is starting to get jumpy as it becomes clear that a battle is brewing between those who want a climate deal at any cost, and those who only want one that is just, equitable and effective.

It started yesterday before we even left the hotel zone.

I’ve been hitching a ride on the Friends of the Earth bus to the negotiating venue — an "all-inclusive" resort called the Moon Palace. Actually, it's quite exclusive. It’s located an hour from the hotel zone and only accessible after passing through multiple security screening points and additional bus trips.

Holding talks at the Moon Palace srategically discourages participation from all but the most dedicated climate wonks. The Mexican government and the UN climate convention secretariat have said they don’t want a repeat of last year’s talks in Copenhagen where people who weren't officials (oooohhh scary) participated in a creative diversity of actions to get government delegations’ attention on key issues.

Last year, the secretariat went so far as to kick Friends of the Earth out, claiming that flash mobs (spontaneous gatherings in the hallway usually accompanied by a stunning visual and catchy chant) put delegates at risk.


I guess that the secretariat was concerned that by being exposed to regular people’s ideas and demands government officials would be on the hook for having to respond. Being seen as uninterested in whether your negotiating positions doom small island states to inundation or African communities to drought and starvation can certainly be risky — especially if the press catches you.

So instead, this year, the secretariat worked with the Mexican government to assemble a temporary warehouse — which they’ve decorated with posters, potted plants and “ethnic” baskets to make a bit homier — as a civil society holding pen.

To get to the actual negotiations at the Moon Palace you have to get on a second bus. Last week, traffic flowed freely between these two spaces. But now, anyone going to the Moon Palace has to pass through an additional checkpoint before boarding the shuttle bus. And if last year is any indication, you can bet that civil society will be stopped from even getting on the bus.

Access to the actual negotiating hall is already restricted for Tuesday to a total of just 100 non-governmental observers from all of civil society around the world.

It’s astonishing to think that we — the members of the public here in Cancun — are allowing the secretariat t get away with this. But we are.

I think it’s mostly because of the threat of being locked out of climate negotiations forever if you make a fuss. And for many of the people who came here, attending these global conferences is their life’s work.

Climate justice activists, however, are a bit more averse to flying low under the radar. But before even getting anywhere near the venue our bus was pulled over by the federal police.

Most of us were busy reading the latest negotiating text or checking our BlackBerries and didn’t notice until an officer in full swat gear and touting an automatic rifle boarded the bus.

It turns out that as we passed the first check-point on the road to the Moon Palace the police noticed that our bus was registered in Chiapas. Not only is Chiapas home to the Zapatista movement — which has taken on the Mexican government with gusto in the past two decades — it’s also the state from where a caravan of peasant farmers had come from over the weekend.

So we sat in the bus for about an hour while the bus driver smoked a cigarette on the grass and the police tried to figure out if we were an uprising of militant campesinos.

We were finally allowed to move ahead, but under the condition that the federal police escort our bus to the negotiations. There was one black Hummer in back, and another one in front, each with four heavily armed soldiers training machine guns on our coach.

I have to admit that I think we all took the police harassment as a kind of a badge of honor. But it's becoming crystal clear and making me increasingly uncomfortable that the Mexican government, as the climate talks' host, and the countries and institutions that control the UN climate convention, don't want public scrutiny of the kind they received in Copenhagen. They have made careful arrangements to castrate any possibility of a potent climate movement impacting their conversations. And they’ve got a contingency plan that includes very heavily armed security forces if that should fail.

Given the lack of direct action in the halls, and a dearth of interventions to call attention to a general lack of climate justice, it seems — disappointingly — that the pacification plan at the climate talks has worked. I hope to be proven wrong in the next four days. In the meantime, I'm marching in the street with Via Campesina between plenary sessions.

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
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.



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. 

The Bush Tax Cuts and The U.S. Nuclear Arsenal

December 3, 2010 ·

It's come to this.  Preserving tax breaks for the wealthy has become essential to our national security, at the expense of some 2 million Americans who stand to have their unemployment benefits cut-off for Christmas.  Recently, Senator John Kyle (R-AZ) the Republican's point man on nuclear weapons, indicated that the New START Treaty reducing U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons won't stand a chance of ratification this year if the Senate allows the Bush era tax cuts for the rich to expire.

At the same time, a stiff dose of "Dikensian" economics is being doled out by Senate Republicans, led by Scott Brown, as they threaten to cut off unemployment funds for two-million before Christmas. New jobless claims last month still remain above 400,000.

The $700 billion in tax breaks for the wealthy must be preserved, even though there are some 15 million Americans out of work. At the same time, the U.S. will have to borrow huge sums from China to maintain a grossly oversized nuclear arsenal and to refurbish its nuclear weapons complex to make more.

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