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Program & Schedule: Friday, March 21, 2008

The Split This Rock Poetry Festival brought poets and writers to Washington, D.C. on the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, in the midst of the presidential election, for four days of collaboration, learning, and performance. The festival featured readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, activism, and walking tours—opportunities to build community and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for change. Hundreds joined us as we celebrated poetic diversity and the transformative power of the imagination.

The official bookseller of the festival is Busboys and Poets Books. Visit the store or website to find progressive books to activate your mind and community, run by Teaching for Change.

Thursday, March 20 Friday, March 21 Saturday, March 22 Sunday, March 23

8:30 a.m.         Late registration

10-11:00 a.m.  Poetry Reading for Children
                        (appropriate for children 5-12 years old)

Join Split This Rock featured poet Naomi Shihab Nye and poet organizers Regie Cabico and Sage Morgan-Hubbard for an intimate reading for kids in the Busboys and Poets Bookstore. Poems about the world, the city, the neighborhood, and the family, and you – all in a fun and relaxing environment.

9-10:30 a.m.    Panels & Workshops

Breaking Down Walls/Bridging Communities: Social Action Writing, Collaboration

Frances Payne Adler

What are the steps to bringing activist poetry into state and federal capitol buildings? What’s an activist creative writing program doing in a university setting? How do collaborations between community and university activists empower both groups? West coast activist poet Frances Payne Adler developed the Creative Writing and Social Action Program at CSU Monterey Bay, along with writer/activists Diana Garcia and Deb Busman. The program is now 12 years old. Adler describes their histories as community activists, their program’s social justice mandate, and students’ community activism. In a post-panel “brainstorm-of-the-whole,” come share your roadblocks and collaborate about possible next steps.                       

Sustaining Ourselves: Creating Peer Writing Workshops That Work

Tamiko Beyer, Danielle Feris, Jane Koh, Cory Schmanke Parrish, Daniel Lynn Rose

For over three years, the members of Agent 409 have been meeting weekly to write and workshop in a collaborative, non-hierarchical environment. This hands-on workshop will give participants tools to establish a sustainable writing workshop that meets their needs as both writers and as workers/organizers/activists for social justice. In this session we will share our workshop model– explaining what has worked for us, what challenges we have faced and how we have dealt with those challenges. This workshop will help writers set up their own creative community that support their work as poets and as activists/organizers/workers.                       

Write from the Source: Breath, Gesture, Word

Janet E. Aalfs

This workshop will combine breath awareness, movement and rhythm, writing, and spoken word in an exploration of internal and external sources of poetry, creativity, compassion, and cultural activism. Working with the figure-8, we will experience aspects of the "third thing" which is about balance, relationship, continuous motion, and paradox. Through individual, partner, and group exercises, participants of all skill levels and abilities will be encouraged to work at whatever level of interaction feels possible, and supported to take risks.                        

Yogic Path to Poetry and Conscious Action

Kazim Ali, Susan Brennan, Jeff Davis

The symbiotic relationships between yoga, poetry and conscious activism influences poets Kazim Ali, Susan Brennan and Jeff Davis. These poet-yogis will discuss how yoga has illuminated their poetic craft, informed their practice of conscious activism, and helped them manage a balance between the two. Panel members will delve into how yoga practice can be democratic, as well as a muse for language and a map for conscious action. Panelists will demonstrate their favorite yoga practice, and discuss how this feeds both body and imagination. Festival Participants will then be invited to become a part of the "Poet Mountains.”

11-12:30 p.m.     Panels & Workshops

Crip Poetry: A Culture of Disability, Justice and Art

Kathi Wolfe, Chris Bell, Petra Kuppers, Stephen Kuusisto

Nothing is more connected to poetry than the body–(with its limitations and joys) and the body politic–the intersection of the personal with social justice issues (from peace to race to LGBT).  This is especially true for disability culture (crip) poets who write out of their own experience of disability (in relation to their own bodies) and to the body politic (to disability as a social construct).  The panel will be a lively discussion, focused on these questions: How does disability intersect with other political issues? How do a passion for social justice and experience with disability help to create memorable, well-crafted poems?    

Personal and Political: The Difficult Art of Writing a Manuscript of Poems that Bear Witness   

Andrea Carter Brown, Ailish Hopper, Kim Roberts

Poetry that bears witness must honor two masters: faithfulness to the subject which inspires it and adherence to the highest standards of art. In this panel, three poets who have written poetry collections about difficult personal issues that have a wide impact on contemporary society—the insidiousness of racism in everyday life, the grueling experience of cancer and its treatment, the unrootedness which follows from infertility, the odyssey of a woman displaced from her home September 11—discuss the creative challenges they faced. Each poet will read briefly and discuss what prompted her to take on these projects.

Writing Down the Walls: Poetry in Prison

Shelley Savren, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Clarinda Harriss, Walter Lomax, John Mingo, Kyes Stevens

Poets who have conducted writing workshops in prisons (and/or in juvenile justice facilities) will discuss their experiences working with inmates – the challenges of the system, the successes of the workshops and the disappointments. They will examine the importance of reaching this population through poetry and whether or not writing empowered the participants or brought about change. Joining the panel will be inmates who participated in poetry writing workshops and/or wrote poetry while incarcerated. They will discuss the effects of writing poetry in a hostile environment and will explore how the act of writing poems enabled them to change their lives or at least survive behind prison walls. 

Off the Page and Into the Streets – Reports from the Field 

Susan Brennan, Jennifer Benka, Lynne Procope, Nathaniel Siegel

Jen Benka, Susan Brennan, Lynn Procope, and Nathaniel Siegel are four poets who created ways to express their desire to create political action. Street postering poems, public creations of art, and organizing poetry readings are the ways these NYC poets act locally. Panel members will discuss the impetus of their actions and the process of organizing, as well as provide a short list of helpful resources. They will also speculate on the impacts of their projects, an if-I-had-to-do-it-again response, and incite a "Hatching Session" with Festival Participants who are in the process of, or wish to manifest, an action of their own.                         

Writing in a Warrior Culture

Mary Hutchins Harris, Marcus Amaker, Ellie Davis, Matt Hampton Dennis Ward Stiles, Marjory Wentworth

The Southeast is the largest donor of military personnel, the gateway to Iraq and the number one destination for retired members of the military. So when war or peace is mentioned here, people have strong opinions. The military and its history is a living, breathing entity. As poets write from a sense of place – in time or space, culturally, psychologically and geographically – what happens if those converge and clash? Does where you live alter how and what you write in regards to war? If so, when, where, and how do you choose to share it? Is it possible to show respect, reverence, and disdain? How do you write of war living in a Warrior Culture?

1:30-3 p.m.     Panels & Workshops     

Outcry for Justice - The Lessons of Sacco and Vanzetti for the 21st Century

Paula Panzarella, Marlene Buchanan, Frank Panzarella, Sylvia Forges-Ryan

The twenty-minute excerpt from Outcry for Justice: Poetry in the Struggle for Freedom of Sacco and Vanzetti will present the issues of racism, immigration, the death penalty, prosecutorial misconduct, anarchism, and anti-war activism. The excerpt will be read by 5 or 6 members of the audience who are willing to present with the panel. Panelists will briefly discuss their history with Outcry and its importance to them. Then there will be audience members’ questions and a discussion on how performance theatre can be used to raise issues of injustice and help people think through the need for political activism.

An IPS Discussion on Poetry and Policy

Marcus Raskin, John Cavanagh, E. Ethelbert Miller

Come discuss war in Iraq, the election, the complexities of this moment in history, and our role as poets in larger movements for social change with policy analysts from the Institute for Policy Studies, the nation's oldest liberal multi-issue think tank, and poet Ethelbert Miller. Where are we in history? Split This Rock talks about calling poets to the center of public life, what might that look like?                                          

Bellessi, Ponge, and the Challenge to "Voice" in Poetry

Cathy Eisenhower, Tina Darragh, Frank Sherlock

We will discuss the works of the Brazilian poet Diana Bellessi and the French poet Francis Ponge, and their approaches to disrupting fascism’s appropriation of the “voice of the poet.”  Participants will collaboratively translate poems using alternative procedures such as homophonic substitution, and participate in group readings from various kinds of texts (for example, depleted uranium stock quotes alongside Gulf War Syndrome research reports).

The Healing Role of Poetry in Wartime                               

Elijah Imlay

It’s the role of the poet to both sing and lament, to speak out against injustice and to mend wounds.  This workshop is aimed at those who have served in war and for those who have experienced other traumas, such as a sexual assault, a divorce, or an accident. We will meditate together; we will read poetry written by soldiers; we will write to a prompt; and we will share our words.  This workshop is designed to find our inner voices and to express what we need to with our words in order to participate in the healing process.


3:00-5 p.m.     Downtime / informal meetups / unstructured time


5:00 p.m.       Featured Reading                                   

Grace Cavalieri
Stephen Kuusisto
Joel Dias Porter (DJ Renegade)
Ishle Yi Park
Winners of “The World & Me” Youth Poetry Contest

8:00 p.m.       Featured Reading

Jimmy Santiago Baca
Brian Gilmore
Semezhdin Mehmedinovic
Patricia Smith
Susan Tichy

10:00 p.m.     Open Mic

Hosted by Regie Cabico and featuring Princess of Controversy. Bring one 3-minute poem and sign up at the door.