Split This Rock Festival a Smashing Success—Inspires Hundreds of Poet-Activists
The four-day festival brought hundreds of poets of conscience and activists to Washington, D.C. from all over the United States for readings, panels, workshops, a film program, walking tours, open Mics, and inspiration. The turn-out and the quality of the events were spectacular, exceeding all expectations. The Washington Post covered the festival in a lengthy and poetic article by reporter David Montgomery entitled, "Averse to War: Split This Rock's Army of Poets Marches Into Town and Raises the Anti."
Reports from participants:
Many poets in attendance have written spectacular reports on their blogs. Here are excerpts with links to the full stories:
To start with, a poetic ode to Split This Rock, by Karen G. Johnston.
Karren LaLonde Alenier/The Dressing: “In case this is the first Split this Rock post that you, Dear Reader, are dipping into, the Dresser will assert her excitement and wonder about the holistic menu of choices that included sessions on yoga, disability lit, social action theater, teaching poetry in prisons, peer writing workshops, archiving poetic history, poetry that works through crisis whether it be domestic, international, natural disasters, medical, war.” Six entries on the opening night reading, the Harlem Renaissance Walking Tour, many workshops and panels, and the closing event in front of the White House. With photos.
Dan Vera/Wondermachine: “I got some video of Mark Doty's gorgeous reading on Saturday night. Doty read a number of poems including Walt Whitman's "Over the Carnage Rose Prophetic A Voice." But I was really stunned by his reading of an earlier poem of his titled "Charlie Howard's Descent" written after the killing of a gay boy in Maine.” With links to video of Mark Doty and Galway Kinnell.
Featured Poet Alix Olson: “As poets, in arguably the most wealthy and powerful country in the world, we are aware that we must embrace our responsibility to speak out. We understand that we owe this to the world, particularly to the Middle East: to verbalize loudly that we should have done more to stop the horrifying atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan, to pronounce that we are sorry, to declare that we are committed to stopping future actions against Iran and the other targets of our power-hungry administration, to say that we have not forgotten you.”
Old Man Summer’s extensive and lively reports on the whole weekend, including: the opening reception at Busboys and Poets with Sonia Sanchez; Thursday’s featured reading; Naomi Shihab Nye’s Friday morning children’s reading; the workshop, “Off the Page and Into the Streets;” the panel on “Poetry and Policy;” Friday’s open mic; the “Harlem Renaissance” Walking Tour; Saturday’s 5 pm reading with Coleman Barks, Pamela Uschuk, and Belle Waring; the evening’s 8 pm reading (including a long discussion of Dennis Brutus’ presentation) and film program; DC Poets Against the War’s Sunday morning panel discussion; the festival’s final reading; and Sunday’s march and cento.
Joseph Ross/Live Write: Personal, engaging reports from each day of the festival, with photos and commentary: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday (including the march to the White House and cento). An excerpt: “This workshop was sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies and was moderated by E. Ethelbert Miller. Ethelbert, who always moderates discussions beautifully, was joined by Marc Raskin, one of the founders of IPS and John Cavanaugh, a scholar there. This was a fantastic and layered discussion about the need for poetry in political discourse. We discussed the essential friendship between the scholar and the poet, the current administration's twisting of our language, and the poets' role in reclaiming it.” Also Video of Mark Doty reading “Charlie Howard’s Descent.”
Francisco Aragón/Letras Latinas: Powerful report on the panel of tributes to Sandy Taylor, Sekou Sundiata, and Grace Paley. “[Julie Enszer] was remarking how, throughout Grace Paley's life, it was often said that her literary reputation might have been enhanced if she had spent less time being an activist and more time being a writer. Paley's response to this view was always swift and unwavering (I'm paraphrasing here). In effect, she said that she saw no contradiction whatsoever in dedicating equal if not more time and energy to her activist pursuits as well as her literary ones; that she couldn't imagine doing one without the other.”
Arkansas Scribbler: Gorgeous 3-part telling of the tale, with lots of great photos. “We ate the body politic, passed the cup of sorrow, shared our many stories and walked away fortified, everyone with a hammer the size of their writing hand, knowing we would never have to split this rock alone again. People, we rocked the house!” http://arkansasscribbler.blogspot.com/2008/03/split-this-rock-with-me.html
Kate Middleton/Miss Kate Underground: Friday’s readings - “Patricia Smith’s work was new to me, and I’m so glad that I got to experience it: she finished with a poem written in response to Hurricane Katrina, and the 34 residents of a nursing home that were left behind and died. As she was introducing it she said “the poem is long—but the stanzas are short,” which for some reason was charming! The poem was in 34 sections, the voices of the dead: it was a beautiful elegy for these forgotten people.” And a long and thoughtful report on Saturday’s panels and readings.
Scribe Sky: A report that places Split This Rock nicely in the context of the week’s anti-war activities, with photos. “Sunday, being an artist, I marched with the poets, from George Washington University to the White House, watching the police watch us, following all the rules: walk on the sidewalk, no tripods or other stand-alone structures, bags must be no more than 3 feet from you at all times...a very different Amerika.”
Olssons Books: A blog entry from one of DC’s independently owned bookstores, on Split This Rock and Naomi Shihab Nye. “Shihab Nye's words are never bland or too chewy. The young reader in your life will enjoy the subtle flavors and images in this recently published work. As always, Shihab Nye's poetry is also sprinkled with food for thought, which will enliven your little reader's imagination.”
A Moroccan About the World Around Him: “Let’s not make the passing of those who perished believing they could change the world with words be vain. Stand against religious and political oppression. Stand for a culture that “values human rights and sanctifies human life.” http://cabalamuse.wordpress.com/2008/03/24/the-value-of-my-word/
Heather Davis: From Split This Rock organizer and webmistress: “Yes, I want to live every day in The Republic of Poetry.” http://inredlight.blogspot.com/2008/03/split-this-rock-festival-smashing.html
Michael Drayer/Writing Ecology, Literature and Environment: “I greatly liked that (for all the poets), the way the audience reacted to each poem differently. That is something you only get when you see a poetry performance live.” http://mdrayerfsem.umwblogs.org/
Melissa Lauber/And Ampersands: By the editor of UMConnection, the newsletter of the local United Methodist Convention. “I find myself wondering what would happen if the church listened to its poets? Could we make room among our Moseses and Aarons – prophets and priests – for a few poet Miriams? Is there space in our vision and our administrative council meetings for the singing of psalms?” http://andampersands.wordpress.com/2008/03/22/church-averse-to-poets/
Busboys and Poets: Sponsoring organization and home base Busboys and Poets feels the love: Yesterday Sonia Sanchez took center stage in the main dining room. “There were over 300 poets - artists - dreamers - activists and friends sharing their humanity - together.” http://busboysandpoets.com/blog/2008/03/poetry-is-much-more-important-than-food/
Sanshache: Saturday night’s reading, with a poem by Kenneth Carroll. “I need to find Carolyn Forche's poem about her struggle with cancer. She described the period of sickness as a type of limbo, similar to the space between one language and another.” http://sanshache.blogspot.com/2008/03/poetry-reading.html
Dan Wilcox/DWX: “There were the poetry friends from elsewhere, & the new friends who just happened to sit down at my table, or next to me at the bar, or those who just exchanged smiles, or notes, or advice or directions.” http://dwlcx.blogspot.com/2008/03/what-i-did-on-my-spring-break-split.html
Brian Langston/Mayhem Onward: “The event, which I hope to blog about in more detail, was incredible, beautiful, and inspiring.” With a link to a great slideshow of Sunday’s march and cento: http://www.mayhemonward.com/blog/index.cfm/2008/3/24/Split-This-Rock-Poetry-Festival--Easter-March-on-the-White-House
VidHardt: “The panels and the readings are everything I hoped. Alicia [Ostriker] reminds us the Bible calls for violence against infidels in much the same language as bin-Laden. Pacifica Radio assures us their audio archives are in good hands. Teen poets blow our minds with their passion and insight and felicitous facility with language.” http://toxicpop.com/index.php?s=76596f5637fcdca1a700ff9b776fbf4c&showtopic=3788
Rob Jewel: “I don’t know about you but I’m encouraged. Maybe the poets can help us get out of this mess. Doesn’t appear that anyone else — or any other group — has the interest or ability to shape public opinion against a war these days. Maybe when American Idol is over for the season.” http://prontherun.wordpress.com/2008/03/23/poets-and-public-relations/#comments
Reasons to be Cheerful: Pinings by a writer who didn’t make it: “I only wish I could have been at this thing, it sounds like the best time ever. Congratulations to all involved.”