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2008 Split This Rock Poetry Festival


The inaugural Split This Rock Poetry Festival was a tremendous success. We continue to hear from participants about the incredible poetry they heard, the challenging and thought-provoking discussions and workshops they attended, and the powerful sense of community they felt was built over the course of the four days. You--and others who couldn't join us this year--have asked us to make the festival a regular event and to build Split This Rock into a permanent home for progressive poets.

Check out these photos of the festival!


Split This Rock events took place at a number of venues around the city, and culminated with a march to The White House.

Known as the “Black Broadway,” U Street is the historic center of African-American cultural life in Washington, DC. It was home to many clubs and theatres that featured such jazz superstars at Duke Ellington and Pearl Bailey. In the 1920s, DC poets such as Angelina Weld Grimke, Jean Toomer, and Langston Hughes wrote essential works on the African-American experience while living in the area. Recently, U Street has become the focal point for DC’s vibrant poetry and spoken word community; one can attend a reading or open mic almost any night of the week at restaurants, cafes, and nightclubs there.

Welcome Statement from the 2008 Festival's Program Book 

Welcome to the birthplace of Duke Ellington and Marvin Gaye. City where Walt Whitman wrote Drum Taps. Birthplace of the “Harlem” Renaissance. Home to Paul Laurence Dunbar, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Sterling Brown, Essex Hemphill, and so many others. City of barricades, city of contradictions, city of poets.

Split This Rock builds upon our city’s legacy by calling poets to a greater role in public life and fostering a national network of activist poets. Building the audience for poetry of provocation and witness from our home in the nation’s capital, we celebrate poetic diversity and the transformative power of the imagination.

Our goal is to build a lasting network, to establish Split This Rock as an organization that will serve activist poets here in Washington, DC, and nationwide. With your involvement and support, Split This Rock Poetry Festival will be not just the culmination of years of dreaming and hard work, but the beginning of something greater than all of us—a network, an advocate, a platform, a home.

The most inspiring aspect of this festival for the organizers is the knowledge that yes, poets are writing necessary poems, breaking silences, keeping us alive and awake. But just as importantly, in a time of war and at a time when the majority of our population fears poetry and can’t find the words for truth, poets are serving their communities.

As celebrated at this festival: poets are doing the work of poetry, teaching in prisons, in community centers, in public schools and universities; offering poetry as a means of healing for veterans, for victims of domestic abuse and other kind of violence, for patients with chronic and terminal illness; preserving culture and history through poetry; resisting the dehumanizing language of war through poetry; organizing across the fault lines of race and gender and class to imagine, as Martín Espada does in his poem by the same name, a “republic of poetry.”

We are part of a living, breathing community. The helplessness we felt that first day of the war (pick any war), or the day after the election (pick any election), began to ease as soon as we found one another.

In peace,

Sarah Browning, Melissa Tuckey, Regie Cabico, Jaime Jarvis
on behalf of Split This Rock organizers and volunteers

“Poetry, in its own way is the carrier of sparks, because it too comes out of silence, seeking connection with unseen others.
Adrienne Rich, from What is Found There: Notebooks on Politics and Poetry”