Introduction: Split This Rock 2016
In the two years since the last Split This Rock issue of Poetry, climate change has accelerated at an unprecedented rate. Police have continued to murder black and brown people with impunity. Violence against transgender people is unabated. Radical inequality has worsened, so that now sixty-two people own as much wealth as half the world. Public figures in the United States baldly echo their fascist forebears, urging us to refuse those fleeing wars of our own making, while calling for the branding of our sisters and brothers based on their religious beliefs.
Split This Rock is a national organization based in Washington DC that cultivates, teaches, and celebrates poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes social change. We’ve been encouraged and emboldened by the activists demanding change: in the streets, the universities, the halls of power, and the literary world. Our programs integrate poetry into movements for social justice and support poets of all ages who write this work, such as those we present here.
You’ll find in these pages poets crying out in horror and mourning, as Reginald Dwayne Betts asks how to raise Black boys, given “all the colors of humanity / that we erase in this American dance around death” and Dominique Christina considers the historic chain gang, “The tender meat of palms / Pulped like plums.”
You’ll read of webs of exploitation and injustice that bind us together, that feed our American hunger with the labor and suffering of others, as in Craig Santos Perez’s “Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015.” Martha Collins’s long poem, “Leaving Behind,” is an elegy and reminder that historic tragedies are echoed in all our losses, as the heart breaks, day after day.
But you’ll also read of resistance and even celebration: “A human does throw off bonds if she can,” writes Linda Hogan. And Aracelis Girmay recommits us to the subversive act of giving life: “the beauty of it against these odds / ... / & so to tenderness I add my action.”
Every poem here, then, is a struggle for redemption, a voice of love against the howls of fear and hate. May you find comfort and challenge, both.
Sarah Browning is author of Killing Summer (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017), cofounder and executive director of Split This Rock, and associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.