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Program & Schedule - Thursday, April 19, 2018

Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2018 invites poets, writers, activists, and dreamers to Washington, DC for three 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.

Early bird rates available until Friday, February 23. Online registration ends March 28. On-site registration available during the festival (see schedule for specific times).

Keep watch for when the festival mobile app goes live! You'll be able to download it to stay updated!

Click the links below to view each day's program. All venues are wheelchair accessible.

NOTE: Schedule below is subject to slight changes. 


Thursday, April 19


National Housing Center

11 am - 12:30 pm

“Affirm, Ground & Heal, In that Order” (Workshop)
Presenter: Sequoya Hayes
American Association of University Women Room 2

A tenet of intergenerational trauma is silence. This workshop is a reflection on a project to collect and memorialize cultural and familial history through the storytelling of narrative poetry. The workshop leader will create and hold safe space for participants to: (1) understand the impact of daily trauma on each participant; (2) use a fusion of poetry, storytelling, oral history, and mindfulness to explore emotions such as anger, abandonment, and violence against our bodies; and (3) reflect on what the self needs. All of this draws from the tools that exist within and the generations of black women’s resilience, vulnerability, and power. We will leave with questions that elicit and transmit cultural and familial memory. Through selected poems by Gwendolyn Brooks and Cheryl Clarke—as well as original pieces—the workshop will explore the themes of anger, abandonment, and violence that are prevalent with black women. This workshop aims to use “storytelling as a regenerative gendered act of creation.”

Crossing Borders Before and After Now (Panel)
Presenters: Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Sonia Guiñansaca, Barbara Jane Reyes, Javier Zamora
American Association of University Women Room 1

Many say we need to write our witness now more than ever; these four poets have made a career of writing poetry focused on the border, immigration, and social justice issues long before the current administration. On this panel they will discuss what brought them to write about borders and how the new administration has shifted their focus—or fortified it. They will also share strategies for finding joy on the page amongst pain and practices for self-care. Time will be left at the end of the panel for an open discussion exploring how border poetry and witness poetry can seek wider audiences to influence real change.

Quitting History! Poets Penning Liberation (Reading)
Presenters: Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, Shauna M. Morgan, Enzo Silon Surin
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Room 102

In the wake of the 2016 elections, American History is once again being revised. People of color, Queer people, Muslims, immigrants (of color), and poor people are being pushed past the margins, off the pages of American History, while the powers that be harken back to a time when political, social, and economic power belonged to a selected group. This is a history poets writing from the African diaspora know all too well. In this reading, three poets from Haiti, Jamaica, and the United States read poems from their recent books that employ personal, familial, and social narratives to reflect those countries' often-neglected perspectives. Presenters will discuss individual and collective ways to quit imposed histories while penning one’s own history, with time set aside for dialogue with the audience.

Tributes to Poets Lost Since Split This Rock 2016 (Open Mic)
Hosted by Sarah Browning
National Housing Center Room C

Join us as we pay tribute to the many poets who’ve left us over the past two years. Bring a poem by a poet who was important to you or a story about his or her impact. We’ll have a sign-up sheet and organize the session open mic style. We’ll remember such poets as Claribel Alegría, Chana Bloch, Fay Chiang, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Mari Evans, Monica Hand, Zahara Heckscher, Delores Kendrick, Ursula K. Le Guin, Thomas Lux, Lucia Perillo, Max Ritvo, and others. We’ll also create a group poem with lines by each ancestor, to be posted on Split This Rock’s blog after the festival, starting with these lines from Monica Hand, We are like Lucille trouble in the waters can’t kill us.

Witnessing Your Own Work: Developing a Reading or Performance Style (Workshop)
Presenter: Rosamond S. King
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Memorial Hall

“Find your own voice—and use it!” – Jayne Cortez. You, the poet, are the most important witness for your own work. Reading in public is an opportunity to literally give voice to your writing. In the spirit of socially engaged poets such as Cortez, Regie Cabico, and Langston Hughes, this interactive workshop will introduce the basic elements of reading and performing poetry. We will try out a range of different performance styles—quiet and loud, lyrical, spoken word, and others—with the goal of helping you develop a unique style of reading or performing that will best communicate your work in these challenging times. We will begin with breathing exercises and address voice modulation, emphasis, and use of the body. While you will develop individual skills, we will work in community by listening to each other and providing constructive feedback.

Our silence will not protect us—but our voices can give us strength and can inspire others. Writers should bring one page of their own work (10-20 lines of poetry) and should be ready to use their voice and body. Open to writers of all levels interested in exploration; all abilities welcome.

1:30 - 3 pm

Arabic/English Poetry Game Workshop (Workshop)
Presenters: Zein El-Amine, Johnna Schmidt
American Association of University Women Room 2

The Poetry Game—a card game designed to make poetry writing fun while building community—is the brainchild of Zahara Hecksher, a teacher, writer, and activist who died last month at the age of 53. In her honor, we’ll play the Arabic/English Poetry Game, engaging in a subversive act against anti-immigrant xenophobia—while promoting love of neighbors through learning, celebrating the Arabic literary tradition, and building poetic community with each other. With Zein El-Amine, we'll explore the Zajal poetic tradition of the Arabic-speaking world and dive into a poem of provocation in Arabic and translation. Then we'll play the Poetry Game, which uses a special deck of cards that uses Arabic language poetry prompts. Everyone will write a poem that integrates Arabic words; sharing is encouraged but not required. At the end of the session, participants will have the chance to reflect on the experience and how they can incorporate the Poetry Game methodology into their personal journeys, teaching, and/or political work. Juicy handouts. Ages 11 and up are welcome; we'll have special support to integrate younger participants. No knowledge of Arabic needed, although students and fluent speakers are welcome.

Ghost Fishing Book Launch (Reading & Discussion)
Presenters: Melissa A. Tuckey and readers Hayes Davis, Camille T. Dungy, Everett Hoagland, Tiffany Higgins, Elizabeth Jacobson, Nancy K. Pearson, Gretchen Primack, Katy Richey, Purvi Shah, Danez Smith, Javier Zamora
National Housing Center Auditorium

Many good things come out of Split This Rock Festival interactions and panel discussions—we’re proud to celebrate the birth of one! Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology was conceived as a result of a panel Split This Rock Co-Founder Melissa Tuckey hosted on June Jordan and environmental justice poetry back in 2012. Many, many months later, this groundbreaking book is at last in print! Pushing back against colonizing ideas of nature as unpeopled wilderness, Ghost Fishing presents a rich terrain of culturally diverse perspectives on issues of environmental crisis and resistance. Grounded in social justice and the belief that all beings have the right to a healthy, safe environment and home, this culturally diverse collection engages with many of the most pressing issues of our time, while also offering hope around our shared future. Come celebrate this necessary and inspiring book and help us think about how to get it out in communities. Bring a copy and get it signed by poets and the editor!

Poetics of the Veteran Art Movement: Warrior Writers/Combat Paper (Panel)
Presenters: Kevin Basl, Lovella Calica, Anthony Torres
National Housing Center Room B

The emerging Veteran Art Movement (eVAM) is a decentralized collective of military veterans and service members who challenge militarism, stereotypes, and simplistic media narratives about war and its participants. We also raise awareness about the plight of those most affected by the War on Terror: Iraqi, Afghan, and Syrian civilians. Organizations and artists in eVAM have worked in arts for over a decade, and many were inspired by anti-war activist communities, especially Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace. In addition to presenting poetry from Warrior Writers and Combat Paper (two of the most active organizations in the eVAM network), panelists will discuss how to use writing workshops to build a community of resistance, train allies, and de-escalate conflict situations—especially before or after nonviolent direct actions. Panelists will discuss their projects, including: Radio Silence, a Mural Arts Philadelphia performance project curated by Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz that puts Iraqi refugees in dialogue with Iraq War veterans; creative activism education at the About Face Veterans Action Camp held at the Highlander Center in New Market, TN; and facilitation of art and writing workshops for active-duty service members on military posts near Washington, DC.

Seniors for Social Justice (Reading)
Presenters: Patsy Asuncion, John Guzlowski, Natalie Lobe, Amelia Williams
National Housing Center Room C

Elder poetic voices can offer perennial perspective, broader understanding, and diversity in solving chronic, universal issues. Four Virginia poets, seniors in their communities, share their writings and actions towards collaborative social justice among generations. Open mic host Patsy Asuncion’s Cut on the Bias depicts her world slant as a bi-racial child raised by an immigrant father and WWII veteran. John Guzlowski‘s Echoes of Tattered Tongues: Memory Unfolded, his fourth award-winning collection, shares his Polish family’s story of survival in Nazi Germany, from slave labor camps to Chicago’s immigrant neighborhoods. Educator Natalie Lobe’s Conversations with Abraham shares the Jewish experience—from immigrant and women's issues to the Holocaust. Climate-change activist Amelia Williams’ Walking Wildwood Trail: Poems and Photographs features eco-poetry art installations that celebrate landscapes threatened by the proposed fracked-gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The poets will read their work, followed by audience dialogue.

Sister Love: Celebrating the Letters between Pat Parker and Audre Lorde (Panel)
Presenters: Cheryl Clarke, Alexis De Veaux, Julie Enszer, Reginald Harris, JP Howard, Mecca Jamilah Sullivan
American Association of University Women Room 1

Pat Parker and Audre Lorde first met in 1969 when Lorde was on a book tour on the West Coast. Wendy Cadden, a graphic artist and member of the Women’s Press Collective, introduced the two women. Lorde was thirty-five years old (born February 18, 1934), and Parker was twenty-five (born January 20, 1944). Recently published, Sister Love: The Letters of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker, 1974-1989, is the collection of the 26 letters of their extant correspondence. The letters between Parker and Lorde began in 1974 after Lorde’s second visit with Parker on the West Coast and continued until Parker’s death from complications of cancer in 1989. Parker and Lorde write about the business of poetry, the contours of their lives, cancer, lovers, and travel. The letters cover the most productive years of their poetic and intellectual production and provide insight into both poets’ interior worlds, as well as the larger environment in which they produced their work. This panel will read selections from the letters and discuss Parker and Lorde’s enduring legacies.

Wordplay: Poetry & Self-Advocacy for Youth with Autism (Workshop)
Presenter: Donnie Welch
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Conference Room

This workshop introduces and showcases best practices for a sensory-based approach to teaching poetry in special education settings, specifically with students with autism and developmental disabilities. In this method, students find their rhythm through movement games that model poetic meter before working on collaborative poems that promote both academic skills and self-advocacy. Attendees will clap their hands and stomp their feet, learning firsthand how to offer new outlets for self-expression by loosening up and having fun with language.

3:30 - 5 pm

The Deaf Poets Society Reading (Reading)
Presenters: Deaf Poets Society editor Natalie Illum and readers Jay Besemer, Camisha Jones, Jill Khoury, Sari Krosinsky, Maria R. Palacios, Divya Persaud, and Naomi Thiers
National Housing Center Room C

The Deaf Poets Society, an online journal of D/deaf and disabled literature and art, is pleased to present a reading of work, some published in its sixth issue, in collaboration with Split This Rock. In line with Split This Rock's mission, the issue focuses on poems of provocation, activism, and witness as they relate to D/deaf and disabled experiences. Think: poems that split open “disability” and D/deaf life, exposing the complexity within; poems that stare down the forces that seek to diminish us; and poems that demand readers not just acknowledge us, but also value our bodies and lives, wherever they are at the intersections of gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, race, immigration status, religion, and other identities. For more information about The Deaf Poets Society, visit their website at

No More Masks! 45 Years of Women in Poetry (Panel)
Presenters: Elizabeth Acevedo, Ellen Bass, Sarah Browning, Solmaz Sharif
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Room 102

In 1973, Ellen Bass co-edited, with Florence Howe, the first major anthology of women’s poetry, No More Masks!. Howe began her introduction, “This is not the last word on women poets. Indeed, in some respects it is more like the first word, since so little has been written about them as a group.” How far we’ve come! But in the moment of #MeToo and our often still-paltry representation in the ranks of publishing, how far we still have to go! Join a mutigenerational discussion as we honor our history and those who’ve gone before, celebrate successes, and rededicate ourselves to knocking down doors and building inclusive spaces that welcome all our many, varied, and glorious voices.

The Poet as Parent: Inoculating For and Against the World (Reading)
Presenters: Mario Chard, Camille T. Dungy, Erika Meitner, David Thacker
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Memorial Hall

Does the poet-as-parent sometimes feel the joy and pain of a nation in turmoil more acutely than those without children? Whether that’s true, or even worth our time to debate in light of such great need, what is true is that some poets have children and some choose to speak to those children about the world through their poems. This themed reading explores the ways in which a diverse panel of contemporary poets speak to their children in their work. In a metaphor for vaccination--when a parent takes an infant to a clinic to receive a weakened virus in order to build immunity against it-- we sometimes use the word "inoculate," meaning to graft an "eye" (oculus) of one plant into another. Here "eye" stands in for "bud," the new leaf forming, and thus, through the act of inoculation, we figuratively "give sight" to our children. We graft in the new eye. These poems are the new eye. This is the world we teach them to see.

Shifting & Showing Cultures: A QTPOC Poetics Ritual (Panel)
Presenters: Kay Ulanday Barrett, Sonia Guiñansaca, Rajiv Mohabir, Alan Pelaez Lopez
American Association of University Women Room 1

This roundtable reading aims to explore the inner workings of Transgender, Queer, & Gender Non-Conforming Poets of Color. How do we create with our embodied experiences, and what are the poetics of loss, displacement, and home? How do we leverage poetry and culture to build power/awareness/change? In current U.S. empire, much of our communities struggle with basic access to resources and survival. What is our responsibility to our communities and ourselves? What does it mean to create and invest in intentional poetry? We will share work that uplifts poetics engaged in social reflection and celebration. We will honor the range of abilities, spirits, ancestors, locations, and legacies that have brought us to cultural poetics as a tool to uplift our communities. We examine the stories, acts, dreams, and creations that engage artistic impact beyond the aesthetic and enable craft, love, justice, compassion, and growth. We aim for our work and our lineages to incite spiritual and political lives that amplify a Transgender, Queer, and Gender Non-Conforming Black and Brown Future. After this session, we hope to center work that genuinely centers QTPOC perspectives.

Translators as Activists, Curators, and Cultural Interpreters (Panel)
Presenters: Francisco Aragón, Ilya Kaminsky, Aviya Kushner, Olga Livshin, Katherine Young
National Housing Center Room B

Although all translators to some degree advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves, translating poets whose lives/creations fall outside of accepted norms—in either their own or American culture—is different. How should we support poets who are marginalized in their own cultures? How can we effectively contextualize culture-specific ideas/issues that have been poorly understood or deliberately misrepresented here? How should we advocate for writers—political prisoners, say—for whom a careless comment in America could have serious repercussions in the writer’s home culture? Translators of deceased poets such as Rubén Darío and Anna Akhmatova face different challenges: how should we contextualize writers whose lives/works transgressed cultural norms in their time and were later suppressed? How can a translator be “true” to a long-dead queer author from a culture that didn’t recognize queerness? In a nutshell: how does our commitment to translating a poet’s truth require us to act in speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves? What do we learn from the process? How can translators employ what we’ve learned from poets working against the grain in other times/cultures—poets often wrestling with despair—to equip us for America’s current struggle?

Writing Climate Change: Environmental Justice & the Power of Storytelling (Workshop)
Presenter: Devi Lockwood
American Association of University Women Room 2

What is climate justice storytelling? What language can we use to draw people into stories of climate change, rather than pushing them away? While numerical data is important, it is only part of the story of climate change. Women and people of color are disproportionately impacted by climate change. We can use our voices to speak up—and speak out. Poetry can help to elevate and express human stories that need to be told. In this workshop, we'll cover basic techniques of deep listening. After a brief intro, we'll break into pairs to practice listening to each other's stories of lived change.

We'll be creating two poems: one individual story of lived change, and one collaborative climate change poem composed as a group.  Our president might erase swaths of climate data from government websites, but human stories can be even more powerful. We'll end with a discussion of the principles of environmental justice and ways to get involved with environmental activism in your community.

7 - 8:30 pm


Camille T. Dungy, Sharon Olds, Javier Zamora

National Housing Center Auditorium

National Housing Center
1201 15th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005 [Map]

ASL interpretation provided.

Reading followed by a book signing. Books will be available for sale by Split This Rock partner Busboys & Poets Books.

10 pm - 12 am


Speak your peace on the mic! Bring your poem, your song, your enthusiastic attention. Sign-up list available at the door. 

Busboys and Poets, 5th & K, Cullen Room
1025 5th St NW, Washington, DC 20001 [Map]

Open to the public. Free to festival registrants, $5 for all others.