Organizer: Scott Owens
100 THOUSAND POETS FOR CHANGE AT WORKING TITLE FARM
On a late Saturday afternoon last year an estimated 20,000 poets gathered in more than 500 cities and 90 countries to read poems about peace and sustainability, teach workshops, and strengthen their voices through unity. This internationally coordinated effort to focus the largest poetry reading ever on socially-conscious themes was the brainchild of California poets, Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion of Big Bridge Press.
In North Carolina, more than 100 poets participated in events in nearly two dozen different cities. Hickory’s event drew 23 poets and another 2 dozen listeners. Selected poems from NC’s events were published in Wild Goose Poetry Review, and documents from the more than 700 events worldwide were archived at Stanford University.
On September 29, we’re going to do it all again. This time there are even more events scheduled in more than 700 cities and 115 countries. The Catawba County event will be hosted by Claremont writer and arts advocate Shari Smith from 2:00 to 4:00 at her Working Title Farm (4694 S. Depot Street).
The focus of the poems will be peace, sustainability, tolerance, and diversity. All work will again be archived at Stanford University, and selected poems will again be published in the fall issue of Wild Goose Poetry Review.
Scheduled participants this year will include NC Poet Laureate Nominees Tony Abbott and Scott Owens, award-winning Gastonia poet David Poston, Dead Mule Poetry Editor Helen Losse, Caldwell Community College Professor Nancy Posey, and at least a dozen others, including students from CVCC and Lenoir Rhyne.
Anyone is welcome to attend. Anyone interested in reading should contact Scott Owens at 828-234-4266 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information on the 100 Thousand Poets for Change initiative is available at http://www.bigbridge.org/100thousandpoetsforchange/.
Contemporary Poetry, Reviews, and Commentary
Wild Goose Poetry Review
100 Thousand Poets for Change 2012 Special Issue
On September 24, 2011, more than 700 poetry events centered on the theme of “change” were held in 95 countries. On September 29, 2012, they did it again. This time more than 800 events were held in 115 countries: Iran, France, Italy, Korea, Brazil, Nigeria, Trinidad & Tobago, Egypt, Jamaica, Mexico, India, Ireland, Canada, Greece, and more, as well as 45 of the 50 states of the U.S.
The purpose behind 100 Thousand Poets for Change is to promote meaningful social and political change through a sharing of poetry, music, and ideas. The exact definition of change is left to the discretion of local organizers. This year’s event in my own area (western Piedmont NC) was an intimate gathering of about twenty poets, friends, and interested listeners in the home of Claremont author, Shari Smith, to share poems on tolerance, diversity, peace, and sustainability.
To help these important poems and this vital initiative reach an even broader audience, the fall issue of Wild Goose Poetry Review last year consisted entirely of poems read at some of the 25 events in NC. Again, this year, the fall issue includes only poems read at the various 100 Thousand Poets for Change events held across the state, including the Claremont reading as well as events in Wilmington, Hayesville, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, and many other NC cities.
These poems are published without the usual bios and commentaries so that readers can focus entirely on the poems and their social and political contexts. As always, of course, comments from readers are welcome. In fact, in the interest of political dialogue, they are encouraged more for this issue than for any other. You are also encouraged to subscribe to the comments or to check back frequently to fully participate in the continuing discussion.
Wild Goose will return to its usual format with the Winter 2013 issue, due out in mid-February. Submissions for that issue are being read now and will continue until the end of January. Follow-up 100 Thousand Poets for Change events have already been scheduled for September 2012 with the official date for next year set for September 28. More information on upcoming and past events can be found at http://www.100thousandpoetsforchange.com/.
Scott Owens, Defining Wrong
Scott Owens, At the OUTright Youth Meeting
Scott Owens, History Lesson
Anthony Abbott, What Do Men Want
Brenda Smith, The Offering Plate
Brenda Smith, What the Gardener Knows
Brenda Smith, 195
Maren Mitchell, Breath
Helen Losse, Product of War
Addy Robinson McCulloch, Benghazi, September 11, 2012
Janice Townley Moore, Indian Museum
Marsha Mathews, The Giraffe Women
Marsha Mathews, Beaching
Douglas McHargue, Earth Talk
Douglas McHargue, Generic People
Brenda Kay Ledford, Progress
Mary Ricketson, Escape at Fires Creek
Mary Ricketson, Touched by Suicide
Ann Chandonnet, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Lucy Cole Gratton, Questions
Tony Ricciardelli, The Same
Anthony J. Rankine, Operation Enduring Freedom
So I’ve had this argument before
at 10 when I was told
I was being hit so I would understand,
at 13 when my friends tried
to beat into me
that the only thing worse than a nigger
was a nigger lover,
at 17 when my father said
if they didn’t want to be raped
they wouldn’t go into places like that,
last year when my mother’s new husband
told me god hates fags.
I don’t care what anyone’s god
believes is wrong.
I know what is wrong.
What causes harm is wrong.
What takes away freedom is wrong.
What makes another feel small is wrong.
And silence is wrong.
It’s easy to keep your mouth shut.
You keep your job that way.
You keep peace in the home.
It’s easy just to go along.
It’s easy, but it’s wrong.
They ask me if I am,
and I say, No,
but I have a son
and if he is,
I want him to know
that nothing changes
in my love for him.
And I have a daughter,
and if she is,
I want her to feel
the same free unashamed
passion I have felt
for the women I’ve loved.
And this morning a lovely girl
with green eyes and red hair
served me coffee,
and if she is,
I want her to have
cheaper insurance, lower taxes,
all the benefits and privileges
committing myself to one person
has bestowed upon me.
It all started with the Star-Spangled Banner
my daughter’s teacher was trying to teach her at school.
She asked me whose bombs were bursting in air
and why they wanted to fight with America.
So I told her about 1492
and how the white people didn’t see the red people
as people and how the Arawak were slaughtered
for gold, and the Cherokee, and the Creek, and the Kiowa,
and how in time the whites who stayed in America
didn’t want to pay taxes to the whites who stayed overseas
and so they went to war to be their own country
and she asked if that was how the Civil War started
so I told her about 1452
and how the white people didn’t see the black people
as people and how the Ashanti were enslaved
and the Yoruba and the Mendi and the Gbandi
and how in time the whites who stayed enslaved
in their minds didn’t want to pay taxes to the whites
who had become free in their minds and so
they went to war to be their own country
and I knew from the silence in the back seat
that she was thinking, but as she opened the door
and stepped out toward the school
of the Star-Spangled Banner, of proud hailing
and gallant streaming, of the free and brave
a clear understanding came to her and she shouted back
in her limited, disappearing 7-year-old vocabulary,
White people suck.
“Drums, sweat, and tears,” says Newsweek
Magazine, telling of wild-man weekends
in the woods and tales of missing fathers
in the sweat-house. It’s not so simple.
In my fifteenth year my mother died.
Embarrassed not to cry, I tucked my head
under the sheets and feigned tears
for my older sister’s eyes and ears.
In my thirtieth year on the Monday
after Easter my daughter went to bed
and never woke. Strong men carried her out.
Her arm hung down below the stretcher’s
side. Dry-eyed I picked it up and put
it back. At thirty-five I struck
a boy for stealing from my son.
I spun and spun, darkly off balance,
hearing my voice, as if a stranger’s,
ringing in distant ears. By forty
I learned the stepping stones of grief
and how the smallest things are joined.
Bach and the Beatles and ”Amazing Grace,”
the quaking aspen leaves and sugar maples
in the fall could set me off on cue.
At fifty I fake colds instead of tears,
blowing my nose at “Thelma and Louise.”
What do men want? I don’t know.
The right to grieve and not be mocked,
to touch and be touched, to walk
beyond the porch steps of the soul,
to have dreams and speak them without fear.
To lie under the willow tree of love.
To seek truth in whispers not in shouts.
I like that better than drumming.
The collection plate passes
On down the pew row
“I know this guy named Pete.
A black guy. A really nice guy.
In downtown Greensboro—homeless.
I give to him whenever I can.”
And the plate travels farther
And which is more pure a gift?
Five dollars in the plate
Or one dollar in the hand?
The five goes farther, further
All around the world
To the poorest of the poor
Or so we hope, by faith
But the dollar goes deeper
A brown hand reaching out
Not to beg, but accept an offering
A kind word passed between two humans
A gift of dignity, more precious than the dollar
To be treated like a human being again
Like someone with a name and face
To accept what a young white boy
Not the dollar
Although it will do some good
But a smile and a look
The gardener snips the border hedge
As the owner has instructed
The frame of green now uniform
As he stands and stares
At the geometric path
He is not a lover of precision
Still, he smiles to himself
For he knows that already
On yesterday’s path, blossoms,
A profusion of pink and draping blue
Escape over the flat top
Of the border hedge
He leaves the formal paths
Descends the hill on ancient
Each footfall echoing tradition
Approaches the wilder beds
Whose borders are only
The taller, unruly flowering stalks
Here he pauses for a think
A stalk of hollyhock blossoms
The pale pink of an eggshell
Arrests his gaze
The thick stem leans out
At an angle that would never be allowed
In the formal garden
The flower begs to be noticed
A rebel among its obedient sisters
And he smiles broadly now
As he passes by without trimming
The gardener knows
He is the shaper of order from chaos
That he takes his instructions from the owner
But his spirit feels the deeper truth
That no matter how diligent his shears
The plants take their instructions
From nature herself
And the natural will always
Win over the geometric.
And the natural order
Will always outrank
The instructions of man.
The gardener knows
That no matter how powerful
Is the owner of the garden
His hedges and flowers
Will do as nature bids them
Once he and his clippers move on
The gardener saves his admiration
For the power of nature
Over the power of any man.
195 countries on this earth
195 potentials for cultural prejudice
195 possibilities of national pride
195 opportunities for oppression
in the name of patriotism
or the greater good
Perhaps there can be 195 paths
to heal all differences
195 ways to come together
195 threads to connect with the past
195 views to understand the present
195 dreams to create a future
an endless number of roads to reach Nirvana
Since storms and fear affect us each alike,
no count of limbs can measure depth of pain.
With two or four or feathers, hearts maintain
the same innate, intense desire to spike
all hours of need and hope, also the right
to loll in light and warmth—not live in vain.
Could we, confirmed as carnivores, still sane,
decide to change, not kill to eat, but hike
the trail of true equality, yet not
fall prey to further motives to dispatch—
stretch fields for food, obliterate, not learn,
for power and wealth, possession, down with shot?
And would the war against our mortal hatch,
the killing just for killing’s sake, still burn?
I am a product of war:
a product made large
largely from passion
grown strong in England
Long before egg and sperm united,
Elsie, who became my mother,
used her tiny arms
to move a capstan lathe
as part of the war effort.
in days of brown outs, long walks
when Earl, an American soldier
stationed in Europe—
came courting….They married in England,
and in America, worked long hours
to make home,(he back home,
she on this continent for the first time).
I was the growing child,
running in quiet evening, chasing fireflies,
tasting raspberries, while they
let love make me the person I am.
(first published in Iodine Poetry Journal)
Like mothers everywhere, she worries
when her son doesn’t come home on time.
Lately he’s been out all night,
won’t say where he’s been or with whom.
She works as a maid in a hotel, her daughter in another,
but for her son there is no work.
Still, he does come home.
By morning he is passed out on his pallet
outside the one bedroom she shares with her daughter.
Until tonight. Just after midnight he returns,
his face black with soot, his shirt torn.
She watches him fall to the floor, sobbing.
She hears yelling in the street, goes to the door.
In the distance, flames leap in the sky.
Calmly she closes and locks the door.
Go and wash, she says. Give me your clothes.
If she’s careful, she can burn his clothes
in the hotel incinerator.
One fire to hide another.
Living on the site of Fort Hembree,
we hear the moan of wind
circling our house.
We show guests the greenest spot
on the lawn where the sunken well
now yields a weeping cherry.
Our son finds stones in the garden,
declaring them arrowheads,
and disks of granite
where he says Indians once ground corn.
Today he brings for my belief
two jagged triangles, says
This little Indian was just starting
to make arrowheads
and that’s as good as he could carve.
These with a dozen tomahawk heads
smoothed by the creek
line our carport for all to admire.
We bruise our toes upon them in the dark.
Because their moms
and their mom’s mom’s
and their moms centuries before them
wore heavy gold bands on their necks,
the girls of the Padang hill tribe wear them, too.
Though they bruise the flesh and push
their spines till their shoulders slope.
Once on, at five years old, they’re on for life,
no reprieve, even at night.
Myanmar outlawed neck-banding,
in 1990, women fled
and settled in a Thai forest,
where tourists now pay big bucks to snap
photos of their lovely
poor things,” the American says, unable to cry
because the eyelash growth hormone
applied that morning
has robbed her dry.
lSome call whales who beach themselves
a mystery, but I don’t know why.
White sand glows, iridescent.
Gulls toss weightless shadows against it.
Waves lap it,
leave wriggles of wine-colored sea weed strewn
sparks of cowries, whelk shells.
Sandpipers dart into foam
billowing like veils, glistening.
Every morning the beach meets
a new spectacle as the sun pushes
color into sky: orange,
pink, teal, blue, so many shades
of blue; and goes out trailing
lavender like kite tails.
He comes down the hill
head held high, toughened
cheekbones, eyes searching
horizon like some Mayan warrior
emerging from lost cities
long slipped into vine-laced fog
leaving altars, stone work
Crossing the road, he slings
post hole digger weapon-like
across his shoulder
ready for spilled blood,
but lines up with bronze men
slicing red clay, laying it open
for wire talk so we can
all go on and on about
airline peanuts’ shocking cost,
cellulite ruining our lives,
end of world football lockouts.
Ground gutted, cable goes in
and he remembers
how his grandfathers
laid hands on the earth,
Gold circling their wrists
clink like forty carats
and you wonder why they marvel
over Cascade, Palmolive,
oohing at Big Box prices
when their clipped accents
and proper nouns,
designer sweaters scream
We Own the Franchise.
Why don’t they leave stuff
for people like you
mortgaged to infinity,
duct taped car,
that pasty pallor
people mistake you
for the wall
always bumping into you
startled when you
blink and breathe.
You know the old logging road,
the one behind the red house,
the one winding past Mama’s garden
where morning glories climb the corn;
and you know the path reeks
with trash and broken pines weep
where the loggers butchered trees.
And a mourning dove moans
from the spring where you drew
water for tea and light oozes
through the black gum like bile
as the shadow of a crow passes
over trillium that will soon fade
away like all of us.
You know the Shewbird Mountain
quivers beneath the Thunder Moon
as the mining company
creeps up the mountain
to grind her bones into dust.
(first published in American Society: What Poets See)
Welcome to the wilds
hemlocks and river birch
where trout lily, trillium,
and dwarf iris
take my breath away,
where I hop across
mossy creek bed rocks,
then lie down
on a cold boulder
and watch Leatherwood Falls
race down the mountain
all evening long.
Tearful nodding heads
hope for harmony,
almost start the music.
Hands across the silence
grip the current void,
helplessly hooked by one
man’s painful exit.
We pay our respects,
droplets of painful love,
speak words of deepest knowing.
My heart beats one refrain:
If he had known this love,
on eve of yesterday, then
he would be alive today.
You’ve topped three hundred pounds,
and wear an oxygen mask to sleep.
But you don’t care.
You couldn’t possibly change.
It goes back to those Saturday nights
and Sunday mornings.
There’s no food in the house,
and your little sister is hungry.
You push a chair to the cabinets,
and climb up to reach the crackers.
They are the only edibles in the house.
Arranged in quartets,
the crackers smell almost like cake.
You are afraid to eat them all,
so you carefully break off three squares
from each quartet,
putting the fourth back in the box.
You lick the salt before you bite,
cautioning Becky about crumbs.
You wait for the sound of the garage door.
You are not to go outside,
talk to neighbors,
use the phone or touch the thermostat.
You sit on the couch with Becky,
sharing an Army surplus blanket that smells of dog and diesel.
When you turn to check the picture window
behind you, it is the same picture as Saturday afternoon.
Solemn drivers skid wildly past, out of control on ice,
throwing dirty slush onto the white lawn.
You wait for the sound of the garage door.
You huddle on the threadbare couch,
Becky whimpering , covertly wiping her nose on the blanket,
the room growing colder and colder.
You dream of a refrigerator
stuffed with pizza and cheese,
roasts and corn salad,
of a carton of licorice and potato chips
open on the kitchen table.
At three, the sun slinks below the white horizon ,
and the cold room grows dark.
You wait for the garage door.
Time for a glass of hot water.
Were we divided at birth
in that water of creation?
In those violent beginnings of earth
were we marked for separation,
neither part whole?
What else could explain the deep divide,
the bitter disparity of diversification,
the widening gulf of opposite sides,
the threat to our foundation
that will inevitably take its toll?
Why are ones blessed with prosperity
so blind to those mired in poverty?
When did they stop seeing the desperate?
How did the powerful turn on the weak, separate
themselves, use others for gain or control?
Why must we always criticize?
How do we approach the other side?
Where do we find the will to compromise?
When will we learn to put vanity aside?
When … will we seek humanness for all souls?
One man follows
the retreating surf.
One man welcomes
One man looks east,
One man looks west.
One imagines beyond the horizon,
the other listens for a clue.
They are the same.
Miles separate souls,
that gaze upon stars,
and sky and mountains.
Miles separate minds
that grow to understand
how easy it is
to upset the balance.
The stranger is your mirror.
Look into his eyes,
You are the same.
Afghanistan can be summed up in five words:
Child slavery enforced by starvation.
I never grew up under the threat of starvation.
I never grew up with narco-corruption,
Addiction all about me.
I also never grew up in an Islamic republic,
Where all intoxicants are banned.
I never grew up feeling vexed
Because children do not vote.
I never grew up in a country
Occupied by military forces
Occupied by Hitler,
Occupied by Tojo,
Occupied by Bush,
Occupied by Obama.
A corn crop failing,
Starvation an act of nature.
Planting no corn seed,
rather opium poppy seed,
That’s not a world,
Occupied by acts of nature.
Fascism shows its demoncratic face.
Occupied by corporate-state Banksheviks.
Occupied by acts of the Overlord.
Occupied by deliberate zero-food agriculture.
Occupied by premeditated starvation.
Occupied by humans who don’t vote.
Occupied by starvation enforced poppy-ninny slavery.
Bush and Obama.
Enduring Freedom then.
Enduring Freedom now.