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Welcome to Words without Border’s tenth annual Queer issue.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

From Broken Hands to Broken Lands ;Celebrating the Legacy of Victor Jara

The Bronx-based political rap duo of Chilean brothers Rodrigo Venegas and Gonzalo Venegas-Rebel Diaz- is another example of politically engaged and socially conscious young artists.  I thank them because I learned something from them today.  I learned of Victor Jara.  You can, too.  Click here:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mona Eltahawy, Human Rights Activist, Arrested for Defacing Racist Ad in New York Subway- You Go Girl !

Mona Eltahawy, writer and human rights activist, was arrested on charges including criminal mischief and making graffiti after she used a can of pink spray paint to cover the words, “In a war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. ” The under text of the ad says, “Support Israel” and “Defeat Jihad” in red letters. The lone protester maintains her direct action was a form of “non-violent freedom of expression,” not vandalism.

Strangely, a lone counter-protester appeared to protect the racist ad by placing her body between it at the can of spray paint.

Mona, do you think you have the right to do this?” said Pamela Hall, as she began to position her self in front of the ad.

I do actually, I think this is freedom of expression, just as this is freedom of expression,” Eltahawy responded in a non-confrontational manner as she continued to spray over the woman’s shoulders.

The two person stand off continued for nearly three minutes before police arrived to instantly make their arrest. While one hand was already cuffed, Eltahawy repeatedly asked what she is being charged with, with out ever getting a response from the arresting officers.

For what? Tell me what I’m under arrest for! I need to know what you’re arresting me for! It’s my right to know what you’re arresting me for, it is my right as a US citizen to know what you’re arresting me for,” Eltahawy voiced to the muted officers. “I’m expressing myself freely and I’ve hurt no one,” the protester says to a small applause by the growing crowd of on lookers.

Eltahawy continued to speak her mind as police walked her out of the area.

See this America? This is non-violent protest! This is what happens to non-violent protesters in America in 2012,” as some in the crowd audibly agree. “I’m Egyptian American, and I refuse hate and I will continue to non-violently protest hate and that is hate and racism,” she continued as the video ends.

The ads were approved by a federal court ruling on first amendment grounds after Pamela Geller, a leader of the group ’Stop Islamization of America‘ was denied her first request to post the ads by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Geller reportedly paid $6,000 to have the anti-Arab ads up for one month.

Though Eltahawy acted alone in this attempt to erase racist propaganda, she was not alone over all. Since the ads debuted in 10 Manhattan stations on Monday, several have been defaced by like minded protesters. Multiple photos have been spread around social networking sites of similar actions.

The internet collective of activists known as ‘Anonymous’ has called for actions like this to occur where ever the racist ads pop up. @YourAnonNews, who has over 640,000 followers on Twitter tweeted, “#NYCsubway welcome to #OpSavage” with an image of a defaced ad early Tuesday morning.

Here is raw video of this incident:

*Source- Neo-Griot

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Walt Whitman and Alessandro Cosmelli; A Love Note to Brooklyn

Photograph by Alessandro Cosmelli

"I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd..."

An excerpt from "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"  by Walt Whitman

Check out Photographer Alessandro Cosmelli's Brooklyn project, where he captures this singualr borough from a bus.  Here's the link:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tattooed Man by Billy Morrow Jackson; Remembering Our Girls

Billy Morrow Jackson, artist

This piece of artwork is arresting and bold and so thoughtful.  The following is a description of this piece written for the Archives of American Art:

“The Tattooed Man of course is Uncle Sam (the U.S. of A.). The tattoos are events and symbols indelibly pressed on the conscience of all the Americans so that even when or if these ills are remedied, the stigma, the history cannot be removed; stamped there as much by apathy as by atrocity. The children are the little girls killed in Birmingham; Nacirema (American spelled backwards) on the raised forearm of Uncle Sam is the name of the bomber society in the South.”

Birmingham Sunday By Joan Baez; Remembering Our Girls

King leads a group of African-American children to their newly integrated school in Grenada, Mississippi, escorted by folk singer Joan Baez and two aides. Bettmann/CORBIS

Joan Baez has forever been one of my role models of a socially and politically engaged artist.  She has been front and center in campaigns for human rights. Here is a link to Joan singing Richard Farina’s song Birmingham Sunday;  a song in commemoration of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, September 15, 1963

BIRMINGHAM SUNDAY by Langston Hughes

(September 15, 1963)

By Langston Hughes

Four little girls
Who went to Sunday School that day
And never came back home at all--
     But left instead
     Their blood upon the wall
     With spattered flesh
     And bloodied Sunday dresses
     Scorched by dynamite that
     China made eons ago
     Did not know what China made
     Before China was ever Red at all
     Would ever redden with their blood
     This Birmingham-on-Sunday wall.
Four tiny little girls
Who left their blood upon that wall,
In little graves today await:
     The dynamite that might ignite
     The ancient fuse of Dragon Kings
     Whose tomorrow sings a hymn
     The missionaries never taught
     In Christian Sunday School
     To implement the Golden Rule.
Four little girls
Might be awakened someday soon
By songs upon the breeze
     As yet unfelt among
     Magnolia trees.

Remembering Four Little Girls

Do we remember this Act of Terrorism?   …The bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, September 15, 1963

Here’s a link to Spike Lee’s Documentary 4 Little Girls:

Monday, September 10, 2012

To Dwell in Possibilities-Back to School with the Coursera

Art by Penelope Dullaghan for the Emily Dickinson Museum.
To Dwell in Possibility-Back to School with the Coursera
 “N., thank you so much for your recommendations of the two Mahmoud Darwish poems. I am looking forward to discovering them. You mentioned how I might so appreciate Darwish without speaking Arabic. I love writers who emanate from everywhere and I have to rely on translators and I have developed equal passion for both the writers I love and the translators of their work. For example, I adore translator Edith Grossman as much as I adore Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes. For Darwish, I like the translator Fady Joudah.

This class, even before it has started, is proving to be quite amazing.”

So begins an exchange into my first odyssey into one virtual classroom of over 30,000 students who dare to dwell in the possibilities that a modern and contemporary American poetry course might offer.  

Led by University of Pennsylvania professor Al Filreis and his enthusiastic cohort of teaching assistants, this course of American poetry, now known affectionately to its takers as ModPo, is part of a grand and equalitarian experiment powered by the social entrepreneurship company   Coursera.   And I am smack in the middle of it and on fire.

Coursera provides the conduit for universities like Penn, Princeton, Stanford, John Hopkins, University of Michigan, and the University of California at Berkley-, to name a few, to offer an array of courses online to anyone in the world, with access to a computer and the courses are absolutely free.  Courses range from An Introduction to Mathematical Thinking, Securing Digital Democracy, A History of the World since 1300,  Greek and Roman Mythology,  Community Change in Public Health, Neuroethics,  Calculus,  Philosophy and more than 100 other courses.

Though I am a practicing poet and I am, like I tell my elementary students, on a constant journey of learning.  Each year I infuse my classroom with the likes of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton and so many others.  I am overjoyed to be a member of Coursera’s Modern and Contemporary American Poetry class because it means I will bring something new and enlightening to both my students and myself.

My course officially opened today,  though  ModPo students had earlier created a Facebook page and the exchanges there tell the real power of this experiment; of when the world is invited to come together to explore a topic and share ideas.  Already, I have read the comments from ModPo classmates from Egypt, South Africa, Brazil, Ukraine, Thailand, Canada, Chile, Australia, Russia, India, Germany and from across the Ben Franklin Bridge.   

Though the focus ModPo will be American poets, starting with the Belle from Amherst, Emily Dickinson, I have already been introduced to poetry from around the world starting with a suggestion to read two poems by Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish, as well as the work of Nicaraguan, Czech and Canadian poets.

I think it goes without saying that the majority of those who are able to avail themselves of this experiment are privileged just by the fact they have internet access.  So, the real test of
such a project like Coursera is how we, the advantaged, campaign and lobby and involve ourselves in undertakings with a mission to narrow the digital divide.

As Emily Dickinson said, The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience. I believe my ModPo course will be just that.

To learn more about Coursera and its courses click this link:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Philadelphia Art Museum Will Feature the Work of Barbara Chase-Riboud

Barbara Chase-Riboud- Photo by Erica Freudenstein

Barbara Chase-Riboud- Sculptor – Author-Historian-

I just learned from my Philadelphia High School for Girls Alumni newsletter that in the Spring/ Summer of 2013, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will gather and display more than 40 art works by our world-renowned alumna- Barbara Chase-Riboud.

 The exhibit will focus on Ms. Chase-Riboud's career in art. The special show will feature her Malcolm X sculptures but will also have examples of her works in other art media. In addition to being a brilliant and creative artist, Ms. Chase-Riboud has gained great fame as a writer of historical novels.

Here is a link to an older, short documentary about Chase-Riboud:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

We Are The Things of Dry Hours

Photograph- Rosary Higgins, from the the project: Illinois’ Hidden Poverty by Kini Takahasi

On the eve of  Labor Day, I share with you Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem Kitchenette Building.

How labor is organized and protected and dignified is directly linked to how we dream; to how those dreams lead us to a quality life.  There is an unrelenting assault on labor in our country now and there is an orchestrated effort to strip any semblance of dignity and security our labor once gave us.  These are dark times.

Kitchenette Building
By Gwendolyn Brooks

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. "Dream" mate, a giddy sound, not strong
Like "rent", "feeding a wife", "satisfying a man".

But could a dream sent up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday's garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms,

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.

ImageNations; A Literary Blog from Ghana

*Photograph by Myles Kwesi Hutchful

Check out ImageNations; a blog from Ghana devoted to promoting African Literature:

Crazy Horse Speaks by Sherman Alexie

Crazy Horse Memorial is located in South Dakota’s Black Hills

Crazy Horse Speaks
by Sherman Alexie

I discovered the evidence
in a vault of the Mormon Church
3,000 skeletons of my cousins
in a silence so great
I built four walls around it
and gave it a name.
I called it Custer
and he came to me
again in a dream.
He forgave all my sins.

Little Big Horn.
Little Big Horn does not belong to me.
I was there
my horse exploded beneath me.
I searched for Long Hair
the man you call Custer
the man I call My Father.
But it wasn't me who killed him
it was _____________
who poked holes in Custer's ears
and left the body for proof.
I dream of him
and search doorways and alleys
for his grave.
General George Armstrong Custer
my heart is beating

I wear the color of my skin
like a brown paper bag
wrapped around a bottle.
Sleeping between
the pages of dictionaries
your language cuts
tears holes in my tongue

until I do not have strength
to use the word "Love".
What could it mean
in this city where everyone is

There are places I cannot leave.
Rooms without doors or windows
the eternal ribcage.
I sat across the fire
from Sitting Bull
shared smoke and eyes.
We both saw the same thing
our future tight and small
an 8X10 dream
called the reservation.
We had no alternatives
but to fight again and again
live our lives on horseback.
After the Civil War
the number of Indian warriors
in the West doubled
tripled the number of soldiers
but Indians never have shared
the exact skin
never the same home.

I am the mirror
practicing masks
and definitions.
I have always wanted to be anonymous
instead of the crazy skin
who rode his horse backward
and laid down alone.
It was never easy
to be frightened
by the sound of a color.
I can still hear white
it is the sound
of glass shattering.

I hear the verdict
in the museum in New York
where five Eskimo were flown in
to be a living exhibit.
Three died within days
lacking natural immunity
their hearts miles
and miles of thin ice.
Three dead Eskimo
were stuffed and mounted
hunched over a fishing hole
next to the two living
who held their thin hands
close to their chests
mortal and sinless.

Whenever it all begins again
I will be waiting.