Hear This Hammer Ring
by Sarah Browning
Don’t you hear this hammer ring?
I’m gonna split this rock
And split it wide!
When I split this rock,
Stand by my side.
– Langston Hughes
When we first began organizing the Split This Rock Poetry Festival about a year and a half ago, I told people that we’d chosen the date to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I can’t tell you how many asked us, “Oh, do you think the war will still be going on then?”
My first reaction was, “What are you smoking?”
But slowly it dawned on me that many people did not recognize what had happened in our country after September 11. Of the three wars the Bush administration is currently waging, the U.S. public is selectively aware of only the one that is devastating the country of Iraq, killing countless Iraqi civilians and thousands of U.S. service members. The public has a growing awareness of the administration’s second war – on U.S. foreign policy. The Bush administration and its neocon theorists have committed us to worldwide, perpetual, preemptive war. They have made the notion that we can bomb our way to “security” the main tenet our nation’s foreign policy.
The third war, however, has gone virtually unnoticed. The administration is at war with language.
Word War III
In this new paradigm the word is no longer valued for its power of negotiation, diplomacy, understanding, but only for its power to control, to pacify. It’s an age-old technique, to repeat the same flattened phrases over and over until they become accepted wisdom. But with a complicit mass media, propaganda is easier than ever to perpetuate. The latest “spin”: The surge is working. The surge is working. The surge is working. Repetition does not, however, change the facts on the ground.
Which is why we need poetry now, more than ever. We need poets to tell the complex human story. Poets cut through the fog of propaganda and remind us of the real consequences of our government’s actions. As the poet and essayist Martín Espada, who will be reading on the opening night of Split This Rock, says, we need poetry to give politics a human face. Poetry reminds us of what matters. It wakes us up. With its immediacy and idiosyncrasy and great heart, it shakes us from our despair.
Poets have taken up this challenge, uniting against the war in Iraq with unprecedented public action. Split This Rock originates in the Poets Against War movement, spurred by the leadership of Sam Hamill. Here in the capital city, DC Poets Against the War has been active for five years, reading at demonstrations, in schools, churches, libraries, community centers, night clubs, and cafes. We’ve published two anthologies and organized poets’ delegations to march in the national peace demonstrations, carrying lines of poetry through the streets of Washington.
As this election year approached and we were hearing more about the powerful activism of poets all over the country, we decided the time had come to step it up. Uniquely situated here in the nation’s capital, we felt it our obligation to provide a national forum that could bring poets together, celebrate and publicize their art and their activism, and build bonds across differences of geography, age, race and ethnicity, social class, gender, sexuality, physical ability, and poetic style. We hope to make Split This Rock a regular event – every other year, perhaps – and to nurture and support this nascent community that is just beginning to be born.
Read all of it here.