Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I Love Poems on the Radio - Thank You Elizabeth Austen and KUOW

The Wall or Al Baraq - to the left is the Dome of The Rock
Last night I arrived back in town and this morning my poem, "The Wall" was featured on Morning Edition on our NPR Seattle affiliate, KUOW. Within minutes, three friends emailed me to tell me they had heard the poem while driving to work or making their morning coffee.

Here in Western Washington we are extremely lucky to have Washington State Poet Laureate  Elizabeth Austen producing interviews and readings with local poets for different news and art-based shows.

Maybe it's just me but the idea that an award winning news show is willing to include poetry seems a testament to Elizabeth's consistent ability to match serious poets with news headlines. I love that my poem becomes part of the conversation on what is happening in Israel and Gaza --- a poem I wrote long before this current crisis. A poem which gives a brief historical window into what is happening now.

A little background. The Wall or Al Buraq is a sacred space for people of both Jewish and Muslim faiths. It is the outside wall of the Temple Mount. The area was "won" by Israel from Jordan (who for 19 years had control) in the Six Day War in 1967. Within three days Israel had bulldozed the 770 year old Moroccan quarter --- all mosques and homes destroyed. I hope the poem makes sense without that information but I always like having some context.


Of all the ways that poems come to me: in books, at readings, through the voice of a friend, it is via radio that I love best. I still remember being in graduate school and buying a book of Adrienne Rich's poetry - Midnight Salvage - which was packaged with a cassette tape (!) that included Rich's reading of the poems. I drove around Eugene, Oregon listening to the poet as I drove down Alder and 13th. The interior of my Toyota became a chapel for poetry and Adrienne Rich, my close friend as she spoke to me through the speakers. We traveled together frequently.

Twelve or more years ago when Elizabeth started producing poetry segments for KUOW, I was thrilled. I can still remember hearing poems by Kathleen Flenniken and John Marshall on a weekday afternoon, joining me as I left work.

I am so thankful that she is still committed to bringing poetry to the airwaves.

The Wall

                   What superstition and fanaticism on every side.

                                             ~Theodore Herzl

We Jews slip secrets inside cracked mortar
the flap of an envelope
half a postcard from home.

Call them prayers or wishes,
reasons why one must travel continents
to ask in-person
for advice or apology.

Here is the mailbox of God
where a woman walks backwards
after praying, never turning
her back to the wall.

Above her head tiny airplanes
originate explosions
scuttle across orchid blue sky
intent on their military exercise.

A hard light binds weathered stone
bleaches the guard-studded square
where a neighborhood was razed in a night.
Mosques and homes. Mosques and homes.

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