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Panel & Roundtable Discussions

There's so much to look forward to at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2016 (April 14-17, 2016)! The festival gathers poets, activists, and dreamers every two years in our nation’s capital for four days of readings, workshops, discussions, youth voices & activism. And for 2016, the festival kicks off with a special event at the Library of Congress on April 13 featuring Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States!

We're excited to share the list sessions below. We're still crafting the full festival schedule -- so stay tuned for more updates! Visit the main page for Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2016 to see a list of featured poets.

ONLINE REGISTRATION FOR SPLIT THIS ROCK POETRY FESTIVAL 2016 IS OPEN UNTIL MARCH 31. Sign up on our mailing list to stay informed!


Panel Discussions   |   Roundtable Discussions   |   Workshops & Readings


Anne Spencer's Legacy: Home, Community, and the Poetry of Resistance
Presenters: Jaki Shelton Green, Shaun Spencer-Hester, kynita stringer-stanback, Rashida James-Saadiya, Claire Hermann
Description: This session considers how homes, both physical and embodied in community, shape the poetry and activism of marginalized writers. In 1903 in Lynchburg, VA, black poet, librarian, gardener, and activist Anne Spencer’s husband built her a two-story home featuring scavenged materials. In the tumultuous decades that followed, poets, artists, and activists came to stay, write, and recharge in the house and its gardens and writing cottage. Guests included James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Marian Anderson, Zora Neal Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, the Rev. Martin Luther King, and other luminaries. Spencer's granddaughter will offer an intimate description of her grandmother's home and legacy. Panelists will offer short readings and reflections on the theme of home in poetry and change-making. Attendees will then complete and discuss a triggered writing exploring the following questions: How do we understand and honor the stories of our forebears as they are embodied in journeys, landscapes, and homes? How can these stories strengthen us to face challenges as marginalized writers in this society? What does it mean to invite other writers and change-makers into our very personal realm? And how can we use Anne Spencer's model to foster a new paradigm of creative community building?

Apocalyptic Thinking: How the Poet Constructs a New World
Presenters: Juan Morales, Lisa D. Chavez, Israel Wasserstein
Description: In a recent article in The Atlantic, the authors remind us of the consequences that come with apocalyptic films, shows, books, and media. The fatalistic lens of apocalyptic thinking that can create “[an] Over-reliance on the apocalyptic narrative [that] causes us to fear the wrong things and to mistakenly equate potential future events with current and observable trends.” However, the despair and anxieties of these times can open up dialogue on environmental, political, and social issues today. In this panel, three poets from the states of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico read and discuss how apocalyptic thinking can impact, challenge, and strengthen the poet’s role as an activist on the page and in their communities, when tackling probable scenarios and preventable events and facing fears.

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut: From Hashtag to Social Justice Movement - A Panel Discussion
Presenters: Amanda Johnston, Mahogany L. Browne, Derrick Weston Brown, Steven Leyva
Description: In the wake of a grand jury failing to indict Darren Wilson in the murder of Mike Brown, Black Poets Speak Out was launched as a way to rally poets and allies to respond against police violence. In a short time, hundreds of poetry videos were posted and shared internationally across social media outlets and live readings, forums, and action events were produced. BPSO organizers Amanda Johnston and Mahogany L. Browne and regional coordinators Derrick Weston Brown and Steven Levya will discuss how the online campaign was developed and progressed to a community action-based movement.

Celebrating the Poetry of Pat Parker
Presenters: Julie Enszer, Cheryl Clarke, Kazim Ali, Bettina Judd
Description: Pat Parker (1944-1989) was an influential poet and activist in feminist publishing, whose work as a poet and activist reflects the intersection of a variety of feminist and alternative publishing practices during the 1970s and 1980s. Parker’s poetry grapples with the multiple, intersecting oppressions that she experienced as an African-American woman and lesbian who both experienced and witnessed violence. Her work lends powerful words to these experiences. For example, in “Progeny” Parker writes, “It is difficult/to teach my child/the beauty of flowers/in a field/at the same time/I warn her about/the dangers of/open spaces.” Plain-spoken, but rhythmic and musical, Parker’s verse brings humor and pathos to readers and listeners. During her lifetime, Parker’s work circulated as widely as the work of Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and Judy Grahn. Revered as poet, Parker also was a member of the Women’s Press Collective, the first lesbian-feminist publishing collective in the United States, founded in 1969. Today, Parker’s contributions as a publisher and a poet have fallen into obscurity, but a new edition of The Complete Works of Pat Parker will be released in April 2016.

Environmental Justice Activism: Report from the Field
Presenters: Janet Redman, Michele Roberts, Melissa Tuckey
Description: From grassroots action against polluting industries in communities of color and low income communities to climate negotiations in Paris, activist and policy analysts offer perspective on this particular moment in environmental history. What are the priorities? What are the stories that need to be heard?  Where are the sources for hope? Janet Redman, Director of the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies, joins Michele Roberts, Co-Director of the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, for a discussion about key issues in the environmental justice movement and a brainstorming session on how poets can contribute to these movements. Facilitated by Melissa Tuckey.

Fracture: Reading & Discussion by Contemporary Korean American Female Poets
Presenters: EJ Koh, Marci Calabretta, Anna Maria Hong, Arlene Kim
Description: Muriel Rukeyeser asked, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Award-winning poets discuss difficult truths about struggling with the complexities and responsibilities of identifying themselves as Korean American female poets, seeking to answer practical and political issues that arise from living on the hyphen between “Asian” and “American.” Presenters also examine how their work is situated in the fractured identities they claim.

Hybrid Poetics: Igniting the Living Text
Presenters:  K. Bradford, Ching-In Chen, Angel Dominguez, Janice Sapigao
Description: This panel will investigate and activate the cross-hatchings between hybrid bodies and hybridized poetic forms. The core question: how do our bodies, which are marked by multiplicity — mixed race, mixed class, gender variant, queer, polyamorous — call forward unique poetic forms? As poets of radical embodiment, what we do to the sentence, to forms of writing on the page — and how we test the borders of the page itself — are acts of aesthetic and cultural subversion. Our cultural and political hybridity, our refusal to occupy or assimilate to states of singularity, infuses and drives our textual inventiveness. We see the page as a living text that speaks from and to our cultural bodies and collective experiences. Our poetics preach our daily walk, as writers and as community-builders who trace our lineages forward and back across time. Exploring cultural embodiments of text such as choral structures, call & response, field notes, polyvocal assemblages, sonic scores, community ritual & more, the poets on this panel will 1) perform samplings of such work; 2) discuss these techniques/expressions and how they reflect and activate hybrid, halfbreed cultures and politics; 3) engage participants in exercises and community dialogue.

Migration and Identity: Interrogating Privilege Through Poetry
Presenters: Marcos Martinez, Benjamin Brezner, Sean Pears, Susan Tichy
Description: How do privileges stemming from race, ethnicity, class, gender, and migration intersect in our lives? Writers and activists of all backgrounds need to understand how overlapping regimes of privilege work, in order to dismantle them. Panelists will address how they write about privilege as they explore the relationships between migration and identity. Through hands-on writing activities, participants will have the opportunity to interrogate the sources of our uneven social structures and to write about their own experience. In this session, we hope to take one small step towards building a community in which we feel comfortable working together and exploring these topics through our poetry. Writers will leave with additional resources to spark the creation of new poems.

The New Black Femininity
Presenters: Katy Richey, Tafisha Edwards, Elizabeth Acevedo, Venus Thrash
Description: Borrowing its name from the 2014 festival session “The New Black Masculinity,” this session will discuss the redefinition of Black Femininity in a modern context. What is Black Femininity? How is it personified and by whom? How can Black women subvert monolithic archetypes of Black womanhood in mainstream imagery? If hetero-white constructs represent the standard of feminine persona, how do black women understand and illustrate their own feminine identity? How do innovation, multi-ethnicity, gender performance, and vulnerability influence these evolving identities? Panelists will share their work and discuss their own relationships to and identifications of Black femininity.

On the Move: Engaging New Poets - Four Milwaukee Social Justice Poetry Projects
Presenters: Margaret Rozga, Portia Cobb, Angela Trudell Vasquez, Freesia McKee
Description: Four Milwaukee social justice poet-activists create projects that move, literally and metaphorically. They will engage the audience in discussing and practicing strategies for generating poetry in prisons, community-based workshops, even a bus road trip, and for keeping poetry experiences alive through print, performance, and video projects. Milwaukee’s Freedom Summer 50 project involved students in a semester-long multi-arts study of voter registration struggles and culminated in a bus trip to Mississippi’s Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary conference. Students wrote and read poems in open mics on the bus. At the ACLU of Wisconsin’s annual Youth Social Justice Forum, students learn the importance of free speech and telling their stories. Students hear poets present socially-conscious poetry, write their own pieces, and have the option to perform in this supportive environment. To address Milwaukee’s mass incarceration problem, a community-university partnership heeds Jimmy Santiago Baca’s advice: “If they won’t let our young brothers out, YOU GO IN.” Poets do readings with Prose & Cons in Racine, offer workshops at a men’s work-release prison, and collect books for a women’s prison. UW-Milwaukee’s cream city review’s fall 2015 issue is incarceration themed.

Physical Bodies and Poetic Bones
Presenters: Diana Smith Bolton, Marlena Chertock, Leeya Mehta, Sarah Sansolo, Tyler Vile
Description: This panel will discuss body image and bodily integrity through the lens of female experience. Poetry carves a space that is inclusive and experimental, while still acknowledging and respecting poetic tradition and heritage. As poets, we contain multitudes beyond the straight, white, male experience. This panel will attempt to address the complex realities of the female body and identification (or rejection) of it as lived through poetry. Further, there are social and political implications for individuals whose bodies do not conform to the dominant media standard, such as through disability, racial identity, and gender identity. In recognition of emerging social justice for LGBT individuals and the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, this panel will explore how poets can channel the physical body into their poems to explore the physical and non-physical. This panel includes group discussion, poetry readings, and take-home workshop materials.

Successful Teen Poetry Programs
Presenters: Elizabeth Acevedo, Hodari Davis, Deirdre Love, Michael Bolds, Jonathan B. Tucker
Description: Across the world, schools and organizations are developing new and innovative ways to create engaging, exciting, and educational poetry programs for teenage students. Spoken word and performance poetry are driving an increase in poetry’s popularity among younger generations. Join in conversation with some of the leading practitioners of this important youth work from across the country, as they discuss the challenges and joys of using poetry to change lives and school communities.

Unchained Voices: Giving Incarcerated Writers a Voice
Presenters: Wendy Brown-Baez, Nell Morningstar Ubbelohde
Description: Incarcerated writers are a forgotten and invisible voice in the literary world, as well as in the public, and yet the goal of most writers is to have readers. The challenges they face include: lack of access to the internet, inability to create journals, restrictions on ability to form writing groups, and few opportunities to have their work read in public. Wendy and Nell are members of the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, which offers writing workshops for beginners to experienced writers already publishing. MPWW coordinates readings inside prisons and for the public, publishes an annual in-house literary journal, holds literary forums, and created a mail mentoring program to support writer development. Our panel will share ideas and practical advice from our own experience for teaching artists to become conduits for incarcerated writers to have a voice, followed by Q & A.

Won’t You Come Celebrate: A Meditation on Violence(s) in Poetry
Presenters: Franny Choi, Danez Smith, Fatimah Asghar, Nate Marshall, Jamila Woods, Aaron Samuels
Description: Borrowing its name from the iconic Lucille Clifton poem, this panel will bring together poets to discuss how they deal with the portrayal and exploration of violence in their work. Urban violence, sexual violence, genocide, and other forms of traumatic conflict will be explored as source material and inspiration for poetry. The poets will present how these conflicts figure into their work and influence both content and form. As artists, educators, and young poets of color, the members of the Dark Noise Collective will engage with questions of ownership, resistance, healing, and the white gaze.

Writing about Animals in the Anthropocene
Presenters: Gretchen Primack, Ross Gay, Kazim Ali, Allison Pitinii Davis, Gabriel Gudding
Description: Graceful deer, loyal dogs, the white chickens by that red wheelbarrow--we poets love our animal poems. But the way we look at animals has changed so much over the years as we learn about their consciousness and their treatment in our age. As those of us concerned about environmental justice look more deeply into the dynamics between humans and (other) animals, how has our writing changed? How can we write environmental justice into our animal poems? What is a "progressive" animal poem? The writers on this panel will share poems and ideas about these very questions and ask participants to share theirs. We will participate in freewriting and listen to each other's work.

Writing Race: Poets on the Complexity and Contradictions of Race
Presenters: Richard Michelson, Martin Espada, Nikky Finney, Solmaz Sharif
Description: In the "post-racial" Obama era, most nations remain racially polarized, as the tragedy and protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere amply demonstrate. How can a poet write truthfully about the complexity and contradictions of race? How can a poet balance the message in the poem with the demands of poetry? How can a poet speak on behalf of his or her community, and yet empathize with other communities? How can a poet channel anger into art, risking the alienation of the audience for the sake of honesty?

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Attention! Women At Work: Madwomen in the Attic
Presenters: Celeste Gainey, Tess Barry, Sheila Carter-Jones, Maritza Mosquera, Emily Mohn-Slate
Description: In an era when women still struggle to find open and diverse spaces to write and share their work, the fostering of grassroots poetry communities for women has never been more necessary. Four diverse poets from Pittsburgh’s Madwomen in the Attic writing community, directed by Jan Beatty at Carlow University, will speak to the importance of Madwomen in their lives personally and politically. We will discuss the ways Madwomen acts as an inclusive community for women writers, and as a force for empowerment in the larger community, and how we continually strive to improve in this area. Through its creative writing workshops, annual print anthology, local and national reading series, and mentorship program — Madwomen has built an inclusive community in which words are channeled into challenging and powerful art. This roundtable will be interactive. Each presenter will speak briefly about her experience as a member of the Madwomen in the Attic, while highlighting dynamic and essential aspects of the program. Using Madwomen as a model, we will involve participants in a discussion about how to enact, in their own localities, artistic and grassroots community-building, by and for women of all ages, ethnicities, and classes, through the medium of poetry.

Decolonizing the Archive: Poetry as a Practice of Historical Memory
Presenters: Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes, Kenji Liu, J Mase III, Mónica Teresa Ortíz
Description: This discussion will explore poetry as a tool for social documentation, mental archaeology, and historical record in work with diverse communities. Poetry is often not considered a legitimate form of knowledge. We contest this, by underlining its capacity to function “against empire” through dismantling and shifting the shape of power, creating community, and being used in efforts at psycho-social healing. Questions that we seek to examine are: what role does poetry play in decolonizing what in mainstream culture and history constitutes the archive and its texts? How do subjugated voices produce counter-narratives through poetry? How can experimentation with language and form challenge oppression, and in what ways does poetry as a medium of bearing witness allow communities to access forms of memory that may otherwise be silenced through individual and collective historical trauma? Our panel will reflect on how these questions alter our understandings of history, event, time, and justice. Using our experiences as civic poet-activists in the incorporation of the craft of poetry into different social movement organizing, we will consider what possibilities poetry provides in social and political resistance and dissent.

Language of the Unheard: Rural Children of Color and Literature
Presenters: Rosalyn Spencer, Alex "PoeticSoul" Johnson, Patrice Melnick, Latasha Weatherspoon
Description: In rural America, there are close to four million children of color: full of power, promise, possibility, and potential. Unfortunately, because they are in rural communities, they do not receive the media attention afforded to children of color in more urban areas, and they are often under-prioritized by charitable or benevolent organizations. Educators Patrice Melnick and Rosalyn Spencer will join poets-cum-spoken-word-artists Latasha Weatherspoon and Alex “PoeticSoul” Johnson to explore the art of working with marginalized youth groups. Through active discussion, they will lead the roundtable in finding ways that literary artists can engage with youth, such as: Mentorship, volunteering at youth facilities, and organizing and actualizing artists’ presentations in schools, detention centers, and other facilities. Presenters and participants will consider the ways that literary artists act as youth activists, and how they can maximize their efficiency with methods like community grant programs and collaboration  with other activists and community and religious organizations. Together, we –as poets, spoken word performers, and literary artists– will help our communities’ children thrive, succeed, and take the artistic and cultural future that is rightfully theirs.

Now What? Everyday Experience and Resistance in the Middle East
Presenters: LynleyShimat (Lynley) Lys, Nomi Stone, Philip Metres, Hala Alyan
Description: This roundtable includes poets and translators of Middle Eastern poetry, focusing on Palestine, Iraq, and US military worlds, and the everyday experience and poetics of the spaces between war and peace, resistance and occupation. The group will present examples of Middle Eastern poetry in its relationship(s) to activism, resistance, and social justice in everyday spaces governed by war, occupation, and post-war considerations. It will provide attendees with background and discussion space to consider concepts of local and everyday resistance in the Middle East and its poetry.

Nuev@s Voces Poetics: A Dialogue About New Chican@ Identities
Presenters: Christopher Carmona, Rossy Lima, Gabriel Sanchez, Isaac Chavarria
Description: Over the past 14 years, Chican@ poetics has had a great resurgence in interest, political activism, and publication.  There is a growing number of poetry readings, chapbooks, magazine publications, and CDs of Latin@ writers who have begun to identify with the political aspirations of the Chican@ movement.  With the creation and popularity of Librotraficante and Poets Responding to SB 1070, along with Centro Victoria and its hijacking of the American Book Review, we have seen Chican@’s more politically active than they have been in years. We ask the questions: What has triggered such an interest in Chican@ in recent times? What types of poetry, writing, and art is being created and what are the social factors that have led to a new Chican@ poetics? This session addresses four different identities within the Chican@ identity such as xicanindio (Christopher Carmona), inmigrante (Rossy Lima), poch@ (Isaac Chavarria), & the fluid Chican@ (Gabriel Sanchez) as a jumping-off point to discuss all that is happening currently.

Research as Inspiration and Muse
Presenters: Kim Roberts, Dan Vera, Frank X Walker, Reginald Harris, A. Van Jordan
Description: This roundtable will explore how primary sources, such as historical archives, oral histories, diaries, and newspapers, can be the starting point of poems. We will discuss how we incorporate factual information, how public and personal histories intersect, and how poems can serve as a corrective for stories of forgotten people and events that might not otherwise enter the cultural memory. We will address specific issues of craft: how can we remain true to the facts and not impede our imagination? How do we keep our poems from becoming too didactic? Panelists will give examples from their own work and the poems of others that have inspired them, and talk about their experience as researchers.

Translation Ethics in the Digital World
Presenters: Katherine E. Young, Patricia Davis, Tanya Paperny
Description: Translators speak for those who cannot express themselves in a given language. For practical reasons, previous generations of translators tended to work with politically powerful, wealthy, and literate elites in source language communities. Thanks to the digital revolution, however, translators can now easily access communities beyond those elites; they also now possess the means to publish and disseminate translated work, including materials subject to censorship in the source language community. What is the proper role of the translator in the digital universe? What are our responsibilities to ourselves, to those we translate, and to the larger communities seeking to transmit and receive information across language, social, and political barriers? Translators also increasingly serve as de facto online publishers and gatekeepers: what ethical questions should we consider in making translated materials public? The presenters – all of whom have translated materials that speak for politically oppressed peoples – will offer three specific, diverse models (activist, curator, and cultural interpreter) as a basis for thinking about the ethics of what translators do. This conversation is ongoing in the translation community: the presenters are actively seeking participant input to help better define an ethical translation practice in the digital world.


Photos by Kristin Adair

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