Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness invites poets, writers, activists, and dreamers to Washington, DC for four days of poetry, community building, and creative transformation. The festival features readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, parties, activism—opportunities to speak out for justice, build connection and community, and celebrate the many ways poetry can act as an agent for social change.
All venues are accessible. Please let us know what your needs are.
June Jordan-themed events are denoted with three asterisks (***).
Friday, March 23
9 am - 4:30 pm REGISTRATION/CHECK-IN (Thurgood Marshall Center)
9:30-11 am PANELS, WORKSHOPS, AND THEMED READINGS
Writing the Disaster
Patricia Smith and Mark Nowak, authors of recent books that deal with some of the most tragic events in recent U.S. history (Hurricane Katrina, the Sago and Sunjiawan mine disasters), will engage in a public conversation on “writing the disaster.” They will discuss the processes (and limits) of writing about global calamities and how the articulation of investigative research and lyric composition is capable of producing new ways of thinking about the word and the world. The dialogue will be moderated by radio host Marc Steiner of the Marc Steiner Show (WEAA, 88.3 FM, Baltimore) and recorded for future broadcast on the show.
Splitting the Language Barrier: A Conversation about Translation
Venezuelan poet María Teresa Ogliastri and her English co-translators will discuss the experience of translating her work into English and of being translated. Two books will be discussed: South Pole/Polo Sur, recently published by Settlement House, and The Diary of Madame Mao, Ogliastri’s latest manuscript which the translators are currently working on. South Pole/Polo Sur is a book-length sequence of poems tracing an imaginary journey—in the voice of the poet’s father—in the early 20th century from the Colombian jungle, down the waterways of South America, to reach the South Pole and “forgiveness” for a mother’s abandonment. In The Diary of Madame Mao, also a book-length sequence, Ogliastri employs the voice of Mao Zedung’s fourth wife to meditate on an incredible life story, relationships to power, the role of women in society, and more.
Starting, Maintaining, and Growing a Youth Poetry Program
From teen slam teams competing nationally to after-school poetry clubs and writing circles, young people around the world are dedicating themselves to organizations and programs that harness and develop the power of poetry. Does your community need a poetry program for young people? Jonathan B. Tucker, Split This Rock's youth programs coordinator, will facilitate a dialogue about the needs for and benefits of youth poetry programs, and how to go about building such a program in your community. Using the popular education model, participants will share their experiences and together learn techniques for overcoming common challenges youth workers face. All ages and experience levels are welcome.
Telling their Words to the World: Poetry as Storyteller and Witness for Human and Immigrant Rights in and beyond the Classroom
This workshop will showcase how poetry has provided the immigrant and refugee high school students with whom I work a frame for giving voice to their struggles and to an exploration of their shifting identities. I’ll provide text and recordings of poems written and performed by young refugees from Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ethiopia, Burma, Nepal, and Bhutan to illustrate how poetry has allowed them to tell their stories of forced migration due to violence and war. Participants will work with poetry and visual prompts to explore their own experiences with crossing borders (metaphorical and real), disenfranchisement and stereotyping, and their images and concepts of “the other.”
Poetry of Resistance: Poets Take on Reasonable Suspicion (Arizona SB 1070) and Xenophobia
In response to a controversial law in Arizona, a Facebook page, "Poets Responding to SB 1070," was created. It is now, literally, a public forum with 600,000 visits and more than 1,300 poems posted. The poets/moderators will discuss the lively mixing of poetics and politics and will read works posted on their Facebook page. This panel will focus on the building of a community of writers as empowered poets taking action and will discuss how historically poets (like June Jordan) have been at the forefront of many liberation struggles in the Americas and how poetry has sustained others in their pursuit of social justice. Cosponsored by Letras Latinas, The Literary Program of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
Gender/Race/Sexuality: Undressing the Contemporary Poem
There are many ways to undress in a poem: lust, longing, and body meeting body, yes. But unveiling also comes in the form of the aesthetic risk, the social politic revealed, the stereotype-busters that disrobe and complicate the content of a poem. Four poets will read their work as a way to “undress,” to expose the racism, sexism, homophobia in contemporary poetry. This reading will embody the necessity of sandblasting boundaries by exploring the aesthetic, personal, and political challenges inherent in writing risk.
Conversations with June***
Alexis De Veaux and Kathy Engel will engage in a conversation that weaves together some of their most alive and challenging exchanges with June Jordan, focusing also on the conversation that the writers would be having with June today, or in some sense, are having. They will share stories, revelations, and some of the journeys they traveled with Jordan, whether in a living room, on the streets, or in an auditorium. This conversation will open up these two writers’ conversations with June to a larger audience, inviting the audience into their experiences with her, and reflecting together on the language, forms, struggles, and imaginings that have defined their connection with this extraordinary writer, thinker, and catalyst.
11:30 am - 1 pm PANELS, WORKSHOPS, AND THEMED READINGS
Should We Traverse from White-Out to Brown-Out, or Land Somewhere In Between? Female Teachers Rewriting the Literary Canon in the Classroom
“When will a legitimately American language, a language including Nebraska, Harlem, New Mexico, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Alabama and working-class life and freeways and Pac-Man become the language studied and written and glorified in the classroom?” June Jordan posed this question in her 2002 essay “Problems of Language in a Democratic State,” and it is still valid today. Are we, as women, still attempting to legitimize our language—the language of dialect, the language of home and mothering and the innately personal—even though it has already been validated in academia? How do we, as women, or men who align themselves with activist/feminist/womanist agendas, strive to create a more diverse literary landscape when teaching creative writing and critical writing to university students? This panel will discuss, debate, and provide solutions for this question.
Off the Page And On Your Feet: Moving To The Rhythms of June Jordan***
Activism and activists thrive in a community of kindred spirits. It takes courage to speak truth to power. Like laughter, courage is contagious, and can and should be cultivated, nurtured and passed along. Poetry is a potent form of truth telling and June Jordan was a powerful messenger. In this workshop, we will back up her words with the power of our breath, volume and timbre of voice, gesture, expression, and shared movement. When we stand, move and speak mighty truths using the medium of poetry, we embody courage and become its transmitter.
Many Rivers to Cross; Poetics of Border Crossing: When the Way is Deep and Wide
This is an interactive (dramatic) performance of poetry, which anticipates audience participation and tells story of the activity of border crossing, where border crossing, as a notion may be understood in any number of ways. Taking our cue from June Jordan’s essay, Many Rivers to Cross, and asking ourselves just where it is we happen to stand, and how, we hope to offer an experience where borders are blurred in such a way that we stand in the middle of what it means to be truthfully with ourselves/others in the world. Stories of crossings: which do we make? How? Which ones of us do we leave behind? Borders and limitations of human compassion/will/the heart: Where do we draw these lines, and why?
The Legacy of 9/11: Poetry Ten Years Later
The events of 9/11 and its aftermath have left a lasting influence on our culture. Subsequent historical events, including war, natural and man-made disasters and our response to them, and political upheavals can be traced back to this day. How do we write about large-scale human events responsibly? Is it ethical to do so? In this panel, four poets whose work has been directly influenced by that day read from work prompted or inspired by it, discuss the difficulties they faced in writing about it, the creative decisions they made, the ethical issues they needed to confront, and how the passage of time and subsequent events have influenced their perspective on it.
Two Poets of Witness (and Provocation) Explore Death and Dying
Two poets, one Buddhist, and one activist, come “face-to-face” with each other and with the primal questions of death and mortality: What if we looked at life and death as one continuous whole? What if we really understood that taking the life of one person was taking one’s own life? What if looking at the self as a witness—to war—even from afar—brought us “face-to-face” not with an enemy, but with one’s self? And the ageless question: How do we, as artists, bear witness to the vast suffering in the world? This reading/discussion will offer poetry that will provoke reflection on death and dying, war and peace—and will share the base and the transcendent, the spiritual and the political, and finally, ask that most difficult question: What is it to be human?
A Carnival of Stars: A Public Conversation with Sonia Sanchez & Venus Thrash
The mayor of Philadelphia, on appointing Sonia Sanchez that city’s first Poet Laureate, called her “the conscience of the city.” Poets have known all along that “Sister Sonia,” as she is affectionately known, is the conscience of our community, forging language and love together in a powerful alchemy of commitment. Following Sanchez’s opening night festival reading, DC literary light and Friday night featured poet Venus Thrash will carry on a wide-ranging discussion with Sanchez on poetry, activism, the Black Arts Movement, and more. Join the conversation in a rare intimate forum.
2-3:30 pm PANELS, WORKSHOPS, AND THEMED READINGS
From Sea to Shining Sea***
In June Jordan’s Reagan era collection, “Living Room,” the poem, “From Sea to Shining Sea,” appears. It is an unsung poem but a poem for the ages. It challenges all of the hateful and hurtful ideas that became more stark and real during the initial rise of Ronald Reagan. 30 years after the appearance of the poem, these poets offer the festival not only their own rendition of the poem, but also their own works that intersect with the vast ideas in Jordan’s famous work. Each poet will read one or two poems and at the end, the poets will convene and perform a group rendition of June Jordan’s famous protest poem.
Why Not a Rambunctious and Reckless Poetry? The Reverberations of Tim Seibles’ Open Letter
How do we, as artists, create beauty and affirmation in the face of political subjugation? Tim Seibles wrote the Open Letter that begins his book Buffalo Head Solos (2008) in direct response to the Bush administration’s policies, but the issues it raises are still as pressing as ever. The letter encourages us to fight against the “small-hearted justification for the writing of a hobbled poetry—a poetry that doesn’t want to be too conspicuous, a poetry that knows its place, that doesn’t mean to trouble the water, that is always decorus and never stomps in with bad breath and plaid boots.” This panel will explore Seibles’ impulse to write this political and artistic call to action and then investigate the Open Letter’s impact on poets of a variety of backgrounds as he calls them “to renovate the house of living words.”
Poet’s Forum: How Political Engagement Affects the Writing Process
Festival poets Douglas Kearney, Khaled Mattawa, and Minnie Bruce Pratt will each read a poem of theirs from the Beloit Poetry Journal’s 2012 Split This Rock Chapbook and discuss the considerations they brought as writers and politically engaged individuals to composing. BPJ editors John Rosenwald and Lee Sharkey will then invite everyone to join a discussion both about those texts and about how writers’ political engagement affects their writing process. What is at stake for us when we write as “political poets”? In a gathering focused for the most part on the finished poem, this session will bring attention to the process by which the poem is created by making featured poets available as working artists to festival participants.
Writing from the News, Writing Our Lives
How do we write about a war we haven’t witnessed first-hand, or from a third-world perspective we may not understand? In today’s society, oversaturated with social media and agenda-based news outlets, much of the information we learn about the world comes second-hand—how do we, as politically engaged American poets, even begin write poems that witness the world? In this workshop, we will explore how poets have written from the news, taking global events and reinterpreting them through their personal lenses. Looking at works of Bob Hicok, Aracelis Girmay, Claudia Rankine, among others, the workshop will look at how one writes from, represents, and critiques media representations of political events. Through exercises and activities, the facilitators will lead participants in writing poems about politically and socially-relevant topics. By the end of the workshop, everyone will have written new work and will have learned new techniques for writing honest, politically engaged, and impactful poems.
DC Youth Slam Team Writing Workshop
When was the last time you've been to a class or workshop lead by young people? Why are the adults always running the workshops? Can teenagers facilitate an engaging and effective poetry workshop? Yes they can! See for yourself as the students of the DC Youth Slam Team lead this interactive writing workshop open to poets of all ages. Bring your writing materials and be prepared to open up and have fun.
In Search of Glory: How Vets Heal through Writing
This is a group reading of veteran writers who utilize the exercise of writing as a therapeutic resource, as well as a way to become self-empowered through the act of self-expression and inform the public at large about the issues that face many veterans, especially returning veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq era. The reading hopes to encourage the reshaping of the image of veterans, allowing the public to view them as people who although have experienced a great deal but who can still contribute to society in a positive and constructive manner.
Continuous Fire: A Panel on the Work Sonia Sanchez
Although her protest efforts and activism began as an architect and central figure in the Black Arts Movement, Sonia Sanchez’s poetry is not limited to that historical context. Over the last fifty years, her work has shaped and been in dialogue with several social movements: multiracial and third wave feminism, anti-militarism, the lesbian and gay movement, and the global peace movement. As an elder, her work spans several genres: poetry, drama, children’s books, eulogies of key national and world leaders/artists, articles, and essays. This panel allows the participants to illustrate Sanchez’s influence on a wide range of contemporary artists and activist initiatives.
4:30-5:30 pm Occupy the Supreme Court with Poetry Money is Not Speech! Poetry is Speech!
7:30-9:30 pm FEATURED READING: Homero Aridjis, Carlos Andrés Gómez, and Venus Thrash
10:30 pm - 12:30 am OPEN MIC - Hosted by Regie Cabico (Busboys and Poets)