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Program & Schedule: Saturday, March 29, 2014

Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness invites poets, writers, activists, and dreamers to Washington, DC for four days of poetry, community building, and creative transformation. The festival features readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, parties, activism—opportunities to speak out for justice, build connection and community, and celebrate the many ways poetry can act as an agent for social change.

All venues are accessible. Please let us know what your needs are.

Click the links below to view each day's program.

Saturday, March 29


Human Rights Campaign, Equality Forum [Map]

8:30am - 2:00pm

Vigilante Coffee Shop at Split This Rock!

Human Rights Campaign, Equality Forum [Map]
Christopher Vigilante, of DC-based Vigilante Coffee, will provide locally roasted fair-trade gourmet espresso, coffee, tea and goodies for sale.

10:30am - 4:00pm

Split This Rock Social Justice BOOK FAIR

Human Rights Campaign, Equality Forum [Map]

We invite you to the Social Change Book Fair, featuring the critical work of socially engaged poets, writers, organizations, progressive presses, literary magazines, and independent newspapers, many of whom are also festival participants.


  • Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here-DC 2016
  • The Center for Book Arts
  • Chapters Literary Bookstore
  • Do the Write Thing Foundation of DC
  • The MFA Program in Poetry at Drew University
  • Flying Guillotine Press
  • Kim Jensen, US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
  • Life Success Center for Children, Youth, and Families
  • Plan B Press
  • The Poetry Game: Benefits Split This Rock's Youth Programs
  • Quiddity Literary Journal
  • Quill Sedge Press
  • RedBone Press
  • Settlement House
  • Split This Rock
  • SRPR (Spoon River Poetry Review)
  • Turning the Page & Carpe Librum
  • The Writer’s Center / Poet Lore
  • Zozobra Publishing

9:30am – 11:00am

Learning Race Through Writing Race: A Workshop for White Poets and Others
Martha Collins, Susan Tichy
Wilderness Society Conference Room [Map]

This workshop will give poets who have just begun to write about race (or just begun to think about it) a chance to consider ways of approaching racial subjects in poems. Facilitated by two white poets who have themselves written a great deal about race, the workshop is open to everyone. We will examine published poems that deal with racial subjects from a variety of perspectives (including the personal and the historical), and use a variety of poetic strategies; we will also consider some poems by white poets that are “unintentionally” racial. We will then invite participants to write down responses to a series of questions that will help them to see themselves and their experiences in racialized terms and to suggest ways of approaching those experiences in writing. In the time that remains, participants will share these answers, which we hope might become starting points for poems.

Making it Work: Creating & Sustaining Poetry Development Programs
Kadija George, Dorothea Smartt
Human Rights Campaign, Room 105C

The workshop will incorporate a short reading from facilitators’ own work, highlighting Black British poets whose voices thunder against the mainstream British poetry establishment to proclaim and define a marginalized and often unacknowledged experience of British society and the diasporic heritage of many of its citizens. Participants will bring their project ideas for discussion and issues for problem-solving. Participants will be asked to be actively involved, listening to each other and sharing ideas, experiences, and resources. This workshop will offer an opportunity to network locally, nationally, and internationally. Participants will be encouraged and enabled to support each other and problem-solve after the workshop.

May All Beings Be Happy and Free: Jivamukti Yoga as a Personal, Artistic & Political Practice
Kazim Ali, Susan Brennan
Human Rights Campaign, Room 105B

The wisdom of our individual bodies is the root to understanding the necessity and vital importance of collective action. In this workshop we will introduce students to Jivamukti Yoga, which highlights the power of activism by focusing on the original goal of yoga—liberation of the self from selfishness and separation and a unification of the self with all beings. Cultivating a yoga practice can rejuvenate the body and increase our capacities for creativity and activism. The practice of yoga can lead poets to clearer thought and action in their writing skills and their commitment to social awareness. Please wear loose fitting and/or comfortable clothes that allow a range of motion. The workshop will incorporate physical practice; it is appropriate for all levels of physical condition. The facilitators are trained Jivamukti teachers and will offer physical adjustments and assists to those who wish to receive them.

Poet’s Forum: How Political Engagement Affects the Writing Process
Eduardo C. Corral, Yusef Komunyakaa, Dunya Mikhail, Claudia Rankine, Dan Vera
Beacon Hotel, Beacon Room

Festival poets Eduardo C. Corral, Yusef Komunyakaa, Dunya Mikhail, and Claudia Rankine will each read a poem of theirs from the Split This Rock section of the current issue of Poetry magazine and discuss the considerations they brought as writers and politically engaged individuals to composing. Split This Rock board chair Dan Vera will then moderate a conversation and invite everyone to join a discussion both about those texts and about how writers’ political engagement affects their writing process. What is at stake for us when we write as “political poets”? In a gathering focused for the most part on the finished poem, this session will bring attention to the process by which the poem is created by making featured poets available as working artists to festival participants.

Speaking the Unspeakable: Finding Voice for Trauma through Formal Poetry
Marilyn Nelson, Idra Novey, Pireeni Sundaralingam
Institute for Policy Studies Conference Room

Three award-winning poets share their work and discuss how the constraints imposed by formal poetic structures help free the creative writer in finding fresh ways to articulate trauma. The poets’ work grapples with the complexities of slavery, genocide, and imprisonment across multiple countries, using diverse structures from formal poetry. The panel will explore the poets’ personal experiences of how traditional verse forms can be used to challenge and remodel histories of violence and oppression.

To Tell One’s Story is a Human Right: Voices from the Afghan Women’s Writing Project
Alaha Ahrar, Richelle McClain, Mahnaz R., Stacy Parker Le Melle
Human Rights Campaign, Room 105A

Afghan women’s writing is often done in secret, in isolation, and is kept in the realm of the unknown. Since 2009 the Afghan Women’s Writing Project has opened an online doorway and provided laptops, internet, workshops, and even a safe salon in-country, for Afghan women writers to share their voices and words with each other and the world. Essays about the March 2014 elections, violence, sexual exploitation, love poems, odes to family, nature, pleasure of work–these are some of the topics writers explore in online workshops with American women writers. Representative pieces from several Afghan writers will be presented in an experience-based format, with audience members assigned to read the pieces aloud. We’ll listen to Afghan women’s words and have a conversation about voice, collaboration, culture, media, and the practical realities and rewards of the AWWP partnership.

11:30am – 1:00pm

A Bridge Across Our Fears: Poetry in Service of Racial Solidarity
Franny Choi, Danez Smith
Human Rights Campaign, Room 105A

Throughout history, communities of color have been pitted, intentionally, against one another. True change can only begin when our communities stand in solidarity, meeting these divisive forces with the same intentionality and mindfulness. Poetry, as the site of radical reimagining as well as deep introspection, offers a particularly rich space to discover and build points of racial solidarity. Members of the multi/inter-racial Dark Noise Collective lead participants through writing exercises that aim to uncover common ground, finding strength in the differences among our lived experiences of oppression. Workshop leaders will also speak on their experience constructing a cross-cultural poetry cooperative whose goal is to leverage our shared language(s) to challenge dominant structures of power. Though our focus will primarily be racial solidarity, we invite participants to speak and write on their experiences creating solidarity across other points of difference.

Extending the Circle of Compassion: Including Non-human Animals in Social Justice Poetry
Kazim Ali, Ross Gay, Gabriel Gudding, Gretchen Primack
Wilderness Society Conference Room

Philanthropist and philosopher Albert Schweitzer encouraged people to “extend (their) circle of compassion” to include animals, and fellow activists from Coretta Scott King to Cesar Chavez to Ghandi to Dick Gregory to Breeze Harper have done the same. This panel’s poets will discuss how and why to include themes of non-human animals in poetry of provocation and witness, and also read work – their own and others’ – on this theme. All participants have thought deeply about and written extensively on these topics, and the choices they have made in their lives reflect these values.

From Transgressive to Divine Feminine: Female Poets as Rebels and Miscreants
Wendy Babiak, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Hila Ratzabi, Seema Reza, Metta Sáma, Arisa White
Human Rights Campaign, Room 105C

Six female poets explore the interrelated problems faced by humankind: climate change, xenophobia, misogyny, and war. From Islamophobia to the trafficking of women in Mexican border towns, we explore what it means to write as women caught between a “divine feminine”—whether lyrical or sacred—and a harsh reality in which she is outsider, rebel, miscreant. A Q&A session will follow, engaging the audience with their own experiences and definitions of what it means to be a woman poet in the 21st century, and which issues they believe most critical in confronting their own work.

March to Equality: How Poetry Can Connect Youth To History
Kelly Di Giacinto, Neosha Hampton, Ryan Hurley, Maria Peeples, Margaret Rozga
Human Rights Campaign, Room 105B

Poets and activists will present the March to Equality gallery exhibit, a project that utilizes student-written poetry to bring Milwaukee’s rich Civil Rights history to life— developing a social justice curriculum that bridges disciplines, teaches 21st century research skills, builds community, and ignites a passion for change beyond the project’s original goals. The project chronicles the Milwaukee Fair Housing struggle of the 1960’s, focusing on the role of poetry in giving contemporary meaning and context to a struggle that happened decades ago. In the last half hour of the presentation, the audience will be invited to engage in a powerful dialogue on how the written and spoken word, imbued with local history, can awaken the next generation of change-makers.

New Vietnamese Poetry: A Group Reading & Discussion
Cathy Linh Che, Paul Tran, Ocean Vuong
Beacon Hotel, Beacon Room

The Vietnam War continues to inform public discourse, scholarship, and national policies on race, empire, and the struggle for human rights. This layered roundtable and reading will excavate voices from the diaspora’s exiled. Three Vietnamese American poets will share their work and lead a discussion on the Vietnam War and its legacies in new Vietnamese poetry, exploring death, ghosts, belonging, displacement, memory, debt, intergenerational trauma, and sexual assault. It will examine how poetry and spoken word recover the history of marginalized peoples and the war’s connection to US colonialism throughout the world. Sponsored by Kundiman, an organization dedicated to the creation and cultivation of Asian American poetry.

Witnessing New Political Poetries: Documentation, Intertextuality & Hybridity
Michael Broek, Michelle Chan Brown, Jehanne Dubrow, Suzanne Parker
Institute for Policy Studies Conference Room

What are the politically-minded poetries of the 21st century, how are they crafted, and what kind of “work” can they do? This panel explores poetry that utilizes multiple voices, historical texts, characterization, interviews, and/or traditional lyric forms to witness socio-cultural-political events in the U.S. and around the world. The panelists’ work spans the globe and directly addresses political events – female victims of trauma in Honduras, a gay Rutgers University student who commits suicide, the Bush Administration “Torture Memos,” global economic decay – borders both personal and political. As editors, they can speak directly to what is and is not being published today and why. This panel will raise moral and aesthetic questions, encouraging attendees to form their own answers and to go write!

2:00pm – 3:30pm

Between the Sheets With Your Readers: The Challenges of Writing Poems About Sex
Richard Jeffrey Newman
Human Rights Campaign, Room 105C [Map]

To write about sex and sexuality (which cannot help but also be to write about gender, race, and everything else that makes up who we are as human beings) is by definition to articulate a politics of the body, to assert the terms of one’s claim to a physical presence in the world. For those of us who write what James Scully calls “dissident poetry,” the challenge of writing about sex and sexuality is not just to avoid cliché but also not to descend into gratuitousness or unintentional exploitation. We will read poems from different perspectives and discuss how the poem’s sexual politics inhere in, give shape to, and sometimes resist its language. We will then write our own poems about sex, focusing on strategies of craft that can help us meet the challenges discussed above. Participants will leave this workshop with a framework for thinking through how writing about sex does (or does not) fit into their own work and with an extensive bibliography for further reading.

The Logic of Yoo: A Dramatic Reading
Abdul Ali, Michael Broek, Martha Collins, Fred Marchant, John Rosenwald, Lee Sharkey
Institute for Policy Studies Conference Room

In Michael Broek’s “The Logic of Yoo,” published as the Fall 2011 issue of the Beloit Poetry Journal, an ethically compromised narrator probes the life and thought of John C. Yoo, the author of the Justice Department’s 2002 ruling that waterboarding is not torture. We will perform a dramatization of “Yoo,” then open a discussion of the work, which charts new territory for poetry that engages the complexities of the political moment.

Poetry & the New Black Masculinity
Tim Seibles, Pages Matam, Ross Gay, Danez Smith, Kevin Simmonds
Human Rights Campaign, Room 105A

Black masculinity in America is expressed variously and its range encompasses assertions and disruptions often missing from mainstream imagery and reportage. The work of contemporary black male poets--traditional and radical, genre-defiant, funny, sobering and bracingly inclusive--reflects this fluid and multitudinous range. Panelists will share their poetry and discuss themes and conventions emanating from their own social, artistic, and political narratives.

The Scars of History: Luso Poetry of Witness
Millicent Borges Accardi, PaulA Neves, Nancy Vieira Couto, Amy Sayre Baptista
Wilderness Society Conference Room

Although often misunderstood and marginalized Portuguese (Luso) culture still bears the scars of history: from the Inquisition’s forced migration of Sephardic Jews and subsequent persecution of crypto-Jews and New Christians, to the reign of Salazar, to the 1974 Carnation Revolution. Portugal faces the threat of erasure by dominant Western culture that reduces it to a non-place, which in turn is reflected in the reduced portrayal on maps, or the complete elimination of Portuguese Islands. This round table will accordingly present poetry of witness by Portuguese and Portuguese-American writers and a discussion of the legacy of these cultural ruptures.

Struggle, Resilience & Transformation: Queer Arabs in the Diaspora
Andrea Assaf, Amirah Mizrahi, Janine Mogannam, Amir Rabiyah
Human Rights Campaign, Room 105B

As queer Arabs / Arab Americans, many people and institutions attempt to speak for us. The act of sharing our stories, as they are and as our full selves, becomes provocative. When your identity itself is provocative (not necessarily intending to create political work, but by simply being a politicized body), what does it mean to write poetry and “witness” from that position? As people with a broad spectrum of identities within the Arab community, including different religions, nationalities, and migration stories, we often move through society with parts of ourselves made hyper-visible, and others invisible. What happens to us when we compartmentalize aspects of our identities in order to gain acceptance? How do we continue to create transformative work in the context of intersecting systemic oppressions? Join us as we share our poetry and invite the audience to engage these questions and more, through creative writing and dialogue.

Spit Dat: A Youth Open Mic
Dwayne Lawson-Brown, Drew Anderson, Gayle Danley, and the DC Youth Slam Team
Beacon Hotel, Beacon Room

In partnership with the Kennedy Center’s One Mic Global Hip-Hop Festival, young poets and emcees (20 and under) are invited to share their poetry in a lively and supportive atmosphere. Hosted by “The Crochet Kingpin” and “Droopy the Broke Baller,” co-hosts of DC’s longest-running open mic, the Legendary Spit Dat, this youth open mic will feature slam champ Gayle Danley, the teens of the 2013 DC Youth Slam Team who ranked 2nd-in-the-nation at the 2013 Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival, as well as other young poets who sign up to perform. Each artist can perform one piece, 3 minutes or less.

4:30pm – 6:30pm FEATURED READING


National Geographic, Grosvenor Auditorium
1145 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036  [Map]
Entrance on M Street

8:30pm – 10:00pm FEATURED READING


National Geographic, Grosvenor Auditorium
1145 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036  [Map]
Entrance on M Street

10:00pm - 12:00am


Beacon Hotel Bar [Map]