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Program & Schedule: Saturday, March 22, 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.      Registration, Thurgood Marshall Center Foyer

9:00 a.m.      Concurrent Poetry Walking Tours

Explore a city infused with the poetry of witness. Three walking tours will lead participants to explore the city’s rich literary and activist history. The walking tours’ themes are:

  • The "Harlem" Renaissance in Washington, DC, centered in the U Street neighborhood (Meet at the NW corner of 14th and U Streets NW, in front of the Reeves Center. Nearest Metro: U Street/Civil War Memorial/Cardozo-green or yellow line).
  • Walt Whitman's DC, centered downtown (Meet at NE corner of 15th & Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, next to Hotel Washington. Nearest Metro: Metro Center-red, blue, or orange line).
  • GLBT Literary History, centered in Dupont Circle (Meet where Connecticut Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue intersect with the northern part of Dupont Circle, outside Starbucks Coffee. Nearest Metro: Dupont Circle-red line).

9-10:30 a.m.    Panels & Workshops

Iraqi Children Speak: Story Telling, Poetry and Traditions Of Peace - Reading and Dialogue

Hero Anwar Brzw, Kakahama Askary, Christi Kramer, Iraqi (Kurdish) Children’s Writing Group

In Arabic, Kurdish and English, we will read poems and speak first person about: experience in war, occupation, sanctions, identity and about living between worlds linguistically and physically in exile. We will discuss the importance of poetry in Iraq through history. Looking at storytelling, we will consider the form and container of poetry: The body/voice as the container/structure for poetry. We ask: What happens when the human body is destroyed?  What happens when the social body is destroyed? We will consider Iraqi traditions for creating peace and telling story through poetry. With participants, we hope to build community and peace through storytelling and collaborative creation. 

Yoga & Poetry:  Tools for Trying Times                           

Yael Flusberg

“At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet." -Plato

Yoga is a lifelong study of both the small, individual self, and the broader self that inspires many to sustain activist and creative practices, especially in troubling times. Like poetry, yoga uses description, metaphor, and other figurative vehicles to discover hidden or dormant parts of ourselves, inviting them out to play. Both yoga and poetry can illuminate pathways to feelings, memories, images and stories embedded within our tissues and help us reflect, heal, and build community. 

Note:  In this experiential workshop, expect periods of actual yoga practice interspersed with time for writing. Please dress accordingly, and bring a mat, your favorite notebook and pen, and an open attitude. Neophytes and seasoned practitioners of both yoga and writing are most welcome, but if you have doubts because of a injury or disability, please contact Yael at <> before the workshop.                        

Once Spoken, No Longer Unspeakable

Kriti Sharma, Emily Chavez, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Tema Okun, Serena Sebring

This panel/workshop, inspired by a women of color survivor led coalition to end gendered violence, will give participants a chance to sit with the power of poetry to say that which cannot and yet must be said. Together, we will seek the possibilities of the poetic voice to help us know our joy, rage, delight, pain, anger, frustration, disbelief, wonder about our world, to mark a space where justice lives. Our method is based on a collaborative process that we have found builds and transforms, one that participants can use in their own communities.

11-12:30 p.m.    Panels & Workshops          

Writing Isn't Lonely: Collaborative Writing Workshop

Susan Tichy, Eleanor Graves, Danika Myers

If our politics are communal, why do so many poems celebrate the individual voice? If poetry is about discovery, not certainty, what happens when we have "a message"? How can we write politically while preserving complexity in our language and thought? Techniques of collage can move "the message" away
from content and into the poem's process. We become makers of our poems, not their sole speaker, and the whole world of language becomes our material. This workshop will take you through collaborative exercises focused on speaking truth where truth is not evident.

Note: PLEASE BRING paper & pens, and one copy of one page of nonfiction prose, advertising, or news about anything—except politics or writing.                     

Poet as Oracle

Patricia Monaghan, Coleman Barks, Allison Hedge Coke, Richard Cambridge

For most of human history, the poet was not defined in commercial terms but served as mediator between the human and the greater-than-human worlds. Poetry of witness has a long and distinguished history in traditional societies. African griots, Native American orators, Celtic bards—all put words and images at the service of their communities. Within the canon of western literature, poets of witness can be found who expand the oracular traditions: William Blake, William Butler Yeats, Walt Whitman, HD, and others. This panel introduces the history of oracular poetry and provides examples of contemporary poets working within that tradition.

Poetry, Politics, and the Rant

José Gouveia, Corey Cokes, Martín Espada, Alicia Ostriker, Colorado T. Sky

We hear much about activism, poetry & politics and the political rants of dissent. The rant is one of the most popular “genres” of protest poetry. But how effective is the rant today? When does the rant work and when doesn’t it?  Are other forms of political poetry more effective in reaching their political and activist goals? As poets and activists, a focused strategy is needed to take down oppressive political forces. We will look at what voices have had the most socio-political success and explore their trends to better strategize for America’s future.         

The Poet as Political Appointee - an Oxymoron or Opportunity?

Marjory Wentworth, Lucille Clifton, Michael Glaser, Lisa Starr, Maxwell Wheat

This panel will explore ways to re-claim the power of the precise word, the accurate metaphor and the human connections that transcend political, religious and language barriers so that we can emerge out of the shadowed silence of our times to speak clearly our common names. What has been the experience of some state poets wearing the mantel of a political appointee within a governmental structure that seems not to value the things that poetry values? How does one walk the line between public and private roles? How does one define that line? Is there such a line?            

1:30-3 p.m.      Panels & Workshops

Word Warriors-Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution

Alix Olson, Theresa Davis, Karen Garrabrant, Natalie E. Illum

Often women in art and activism debate the need for women’s spaces as well as the definition of “woman” for an inclusive poetic activism. We will be open to discussing these representations in our panel. Female poets are some of the spokeswomen for a new generation. This demanding oral poetry produces a vanguard of women who think and act to create distinctive and earned realities. The combinations of the eminent slam, performance poetry and direct action arts movements with bold underground feminisms created a unique pool of women who verbally challenge society on all fronts. We seek to discuss what this movement is and more importantly, where it is going and how participants in it are, or can be, ambassadors for activism and change.

Writing Out (of) Crisis

Rosemary Winslow, Davi Walders, Laura Madeline Wiseman

Three poets experienced in writing and teaching out (of) crisis, Davi Walders, Laura Madeline Wiseman, and Rosemary Winslow, will lead a workshop in how to work with people in crisis.  Their experience includes sexual and domestic trauma, terminal illness, writing about such trauma, and more than ten years of working with assisting women in hospitals, shelters, and crisis centers to write for expression and recovery.

Begin Again: A Tribute to Grace Paley, Sekou Sundiata, and Sandy Taylor

Naomi Ayala, Sarah Browning, Lucille Clifton, Julie Enszer, Martín Espada, Gwyn Kirk, Katea Stitt, and others

In 2007, we lost three of the most visionary activist poets of our times: Grace Paley, Sekou Sundiata, and Sandy Taylor, cofounder and coeditor of Curbstone Press.  All wrote poetry that told the beautiful, complex human story. They were tireless advocates for poetry and art that spoke for the voiceless and united us across our differences. Join us as we pay tribute to Grace, Sekou, and Sandy, and remember their art, their activism, and their enormous hearts. Friends will present remembrances and favorite poems, then you'll be invited to add your voice, as well, as we celebrate the lives of these three greats.

Vaulting History

Grace Cavalieri, Brian De Shazor, Jennifer King

We must preserve our memories of the world to bring language art into the future. Broadcasting becomes archiving which becomes preservation. Grace Cavalieri of the Poet and the Poem, Brian De Shazor, Director of Pacifica Radio Archives, and Jennifer King of GWU Special Collections discuss poetry and its permanence, and what programs are in place at their institutions. It will be a 3-way conversation punctuated with audio samples from the Pacifica Radio Archives, and commentaries on the poetry heard in context of 20th century social movements. Brian will play audio samples of great writers. Jennifer King, Special Collections Librarian, GWU will discuss a new endeavor that GWU is involved with that will offer those who publish online journals a way to preserve those journals in an online system. 

Media Skills Training

Sarah Massey

While poetry is the language of expression, media messages are the language of the press. Join experienced media activist Sarah Massey for a session on how to access the media and earn coverage for your creative activist events. Sarah will lead workshop participants through brainstorming and planning how to work with media to broadcast your message to greater audiences.

3-5 p.m.           Teen Open Mic

Hosted by Regie Cabico.

5:00 p.m.         Featured Reading

Coleman Barks
Lucille Clifton
Pamela Uschuk
Belle Waring

8:00 p.m.         Featured Reading

Dennis Brutus
Kenneth Carroll
Mark Doty
Carolyn Forché
Alicia Ostriker
Jeffrey Thomson reads “Achilles in Jasper, Texas”

10:00 p.m.       Split This Rock Film Program

Francesco Levato

A screening of cutting-edge short films that showcase how poets, writers, and activists are collaborating with visual media artists to explore critical social issues. Featured films include work by Jimmy Santiago Baca, Francesco Levato, Antonello Faretta, Taatske Pieterson, Katja Esson, Frey Hoffman, D J Kadagian, Sadie Wilcox & Petra Kuppers, Jay Rosenblatt & Jeanne Marie Beaumont, and Liz Rodda.   


11:00 p.m.       Open Mic

Hosted by Regie Cabico and featuring Chris August.