After the Fire, Flood: Announcing Poetry451 and #CDCpoetryflood

It’s been a wild autumn. I was picking up speed here, posting about Barbuda and Puerto Rico, and a poem in response to Las Vegas, and then…silence.

The reason for my silence was fire. I live in Santa Rosa, which was the city hardest hit by the Northern California fires in October. I was rendered incapable of paying attention to much beyond my ravaged county, though my own home survived.

I am still trying to understand the fire.

But now, I feel myself becoming awake and alert again, a strange feeling in the middle of the darkest time of year. The rhythm of the year has been thrown off for us, but I am doing my best to ride what energy appears. Th energy that woke me up last week was equal parts outrage and inspiration. And what I did was a little bit crazy and a little bit wonderful – I started a new project. I hope you’ll join me.

Announcing Poetry451 and #CDCpoetryflood

is a project of poetic resistance to censorship. Not just literary censorship, but censorship and silencing in their multiple forms. Its home is currently on Facebook, but it will hopefully change and  grow over time, as we respond to ongoing events.

Our first call to action is #CDCpoetryflood. It was born in immediate response to a Washington Post report of the banning (or silencing, if you prefer)* of seven words from the official budgetary documents of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): vulnerable, diversity, transgender, entitlement, fetus, science-based, and evidence-based. This silencing cuts across the spectrum of constituencies that the Trump administration would like to disappear: the LGBTQ community, reproductive rights defenders, scientific climate change professionals and activists, not to mention the poor and working class.

As a writer, my first response was to start writing. The form this writing took was a poem, using six of these words. And right after that, I decided to ask people to join me. As of right now, over 150 people have committed to write poems using at least three of the CDC “dirty words”  and to SEND THEM TO THE CDC and WHITE HOUSE!  The latter part is important. Writing converts your frustration and anger into creativity, but getting the work in the mail converts your creativity into DIRECT ACTION.

If you are on Facebook, go to our #CDCpoetryflood event page and RSVP, both so we can roughly tally how many people participate, and so that you can post a photo of your poem on the Discussion board. The point of doing this is to get you that much closer to getting it in the mail.  And for your convenience, on or off of Facebook, here are the basic instructions and mailing addresses you can use:

We are flooding the CDC with art and language and truth, in hard copy and solidarity. This is all you have to do:

1) Write a poem – any poem! – using AT LEAST THREE of these seven words: vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, science-based.

It does not have to be a fabulous poem. It just has to be your voice, used freely

2) Print out your poem. Highlight the banned words.

3) Take a PHOTO of your poem and post it to the event page, using the hashtag #CDCpoetryflood:

4) (THIS IS THE REALLY IMPORTANT PART! Do you still own stamps?!) Put your poem in an envelope and mail it to:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30333

Include a note explaining why you are participating. e.g. “I am sending you this to show you that the people have your back! I support freedom of speech!” Something like that.

OPTIONAL: If you feel like protesting more (please do!), here is another very obvious place to send a hard copy of your poem:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Or flood the White House contact form with poetry!
If you like, you can also honor the oral tradition by calling the Department of Health and Human Services (which oversees the CDC) at 1-877-696-6775RECITE YOUR POEM to them. This is vocal resistance!
Again, in the future, Poetry451 will take on new projects. Baby-steps.Thank you so much. – Amy

*There has been a lot of news swirling about the terms of this ban. I suggest you read this piece by Jared Keller at Pacific Standard Magazine.


A redacted work collage, with lines and words and phrases from the following writers and poets, living and dead: Rae Slager, John Ashbery, Stephen Greenblatt, George Washington, Valerie Berry, Miller Oberman, Lucie Brock-Broido, Walt Whitman, Yusef Komunyakaa, Johnny Weir, Linda Gregerson, Kazim Ali, Prageeta Sharma, Tracy K. Smith, Alexandra Ann Carlin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Solmaz Sharif, and Carolyn Kizer.

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