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2020 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest

Each year, Split This Rock sponsors a national poetry contest which serves to raise the visibility and prestige of poetry of provocation and witness. Formerly known as Split This Rock's Annual Poetry Contest, the contest was renamed in 2017 the Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest. The new name honors two poets significant to Split This Rock: Langston Hughes who penned the poem "Big Buddy" from which Split This Rock takes its name and Sonia Sanchez who opened the very first Split This Rock Poetry Festival in 2008.

Contest winning poems are published in The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database. Additionally, the 1st place winner receives $500 and the 2nd and 3rd place winners receive $250 each. All prize winners receive free registration to Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems ol Provocation & Witness 2020, and the 1st place recipient is invited to read the winning poem on the main stage at the festival.

We're excited to announce, below, the results of Split This Rock's 2020 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest. We are grateful to the contest judge, Richard Blanco, to the preliminary readers, and to all who entered poems in this, our 13th annual contest. We are honored to present these urgent, tender, and innovative works. To all the poets who have trusted us with your writing: Thank you, you are tending the field of socially engaged poetry.

Selected Poems:

Diana Tokaji with silver hair in front of wine-colored leaves.


Post-Assault Prescription When I Fear My Spirit Dying

by Diana Tokaji, Silver Spring, MD

Diana receives $500, free festival registration to Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2020, and an invitation to read the winning poem on the mainstage at the 2020 festival.

Excerpt from "Post-Assault Prescription When I Fear My Spirit Dying":

"Here in the mud / of my history / beneath the rage / is counsel. // Where grace / expands like the air / under a bird’s wings / all day it seems..."

Read the full poem on The Quarry.

Diana Tokaji is the author of the resource book, SURVIVING ASSAULT: Words that Rock & Quiet & Tell the Truth. Her activist memoir, Six Women in a Cell: Survival and Sisterhood After Police Assault is forthcoming, as are Book of Essays Before I Die and a collection of poems spanning forty years. She was a finalist in the 2019 Knightville Poetry Contest with The New Guard.

Tokaji’s performance art blending spoken word and choreography has been featured in London, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, where her Fringe Festival productions won Pick of the Fringe. A certified yoga therapist since 1997, she trains professionals in unique strength-focused protocols for acute trauma care, work recognized by Maryland University of Integrative Health for “service and dedication to the community…and the larger world.” Photo by Maddie Brennan. 

M Soledad Caballero in front of a red painted wall.


Immigrant Confession

By M. Soledad Caballero, Pittsburgh, PA

Soledad receives $250 and free registration to Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2020.

Excerpt from "Immigrant Confession": 

The Cherokee are not originally from Oklahoma. Settlers forced / them to disappear west, into air and sky, beyond buildings, / beyond concrete, beyond the rabid land hunger."

Read the full poem on The Quarry.

M. Soledad Caballero is Professor of English at Allegheny College. Her scholarly work focuses on British Romanticism, travel writing, post-colonial literatures, WGSS, and interdisciplinarity. She is a 2017 CantoMundo fellow, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, a New Poet's Prize, has been a finalist for the Missouri Review's Jeffry E. Smith poetry prize, the Mississippi Review's annual editor's prize, and a finalist for the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award sponsored by the Poetry Society of America. Her poems have appeared in the Missouri Review, the Mississippi Review, the Iron Horse Literary Review, Memorius, the Crab Orchard Review, Anomaly, and other venues.

M stands in a courtyard turned slightly right of the camera. She wears her


Robert E. Lee and I Have a Staring Contest

By M. Kamara, Richmond, VA

M. receives $250 and free registration to Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2020.

Excerpt from "Robert E. Lee and I Have a Staring Contest":

"And a white person says racism is dead / and a white person jokes about slavery / and a white person lives unbothered"

Read the full poem on The Quarry.

M Kamara is a 21 year old poet, playwright, screenwriter, and woman of the world. She grew up in Raleigh, Atlanta, London, San Francisco, and Northern Virginia. Each place has opened her up to new experiences and different people. She strongly believes that she’s only good at what she does because of all the people she’s met. M began writing in fifth grade and hasn’t stopped since! She won both her 11th and 12th grade talent shows with her original written poetry. She was a member of the 2018 DC Youth Slam Team and the 2019 VCU CUPSI Team. She self-published her first collection of poetry, Somewhere Among the Trees, during the Summer of 2019, designing, printing, and binding the books herself.


  • "Undocumented American" by Maricielo Ampudia Gutierrez
  • "ma’am i’m sorry to tell you, your son is d-" by Darius Simpson

Judge: Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco appears outdoors in autumn. He looks away from the camera and smiles.

"When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people…

            to fulfill the promise of being one people, necessary to abolish any government
            that becomes destructive of these ends, necessary to dissolve the political
            bans that keep us from speaking to each other, necessary to avow our

                   --from “Declaration of Inter-Dependence” by Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco is the fifth presidential inaugural poet in U.S. history—the youngest, first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve in such a role. Born in Madrid to Cuban exile parents and raised in Miami, the negotiation of cultural identity and place characterize his body of work. He is the author of the poetry collections Looking for the Gulf Motel, Directions to the Beach of the Dead, and City of a Hundred Fires; the poetry chapbooks Matters of the Sea, One Today, and Boston Strong; a children’s book of his inaugural poem, "One Today,” illustrated by Dav Pilkey; and Boundaries, a collaboration with photographer Jacob Hessler. His latest book of poems, How to Love a Country (Beacon Press, 2019), both interrogates the American narrative, past and present, and celebrates the still unkept promise of its ideals. He has also authored the memoirs The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood and For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey.

Blanco’s many honors include the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press, the PEN/Beyond Margins Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, a Lambda Literary Award, and two Maine Literary Awards. He has been a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow and received honorary doctorates from Macalester College, Colby College, and the University of Rhode Island. He has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s Fresh Air. The Academy of American Poets named him its first Education Ambassador in 2015. Blanco has continued to write occasional poems for organizations and events such as the re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana. He lives with his partner in Bethel, ME.

Richard Blanco has travelled many paths with Split This Rock over the years. He has been a featured poet at Sunday Kind of Love Reading & Open Mic, at Split This Rock's 5th Anniversary Celebration, and twice in our Poem of the Week Series. After the 2016 election, he offered his poem "Declaration of Inter-Dependence" to Split This Rock as part of a series of counter-inaugural poems published on January 20, 2017. His poem was the most viewed poem in The Quarry that year.