Skip to Content
Zoom:  A  A  A

Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2016 - Program & Schedule

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.

Download the festival mobile app to stay updated - for Android and iOS. All venues are wheel chair accessible. 

Click the links below to view each day's program. Also, join us for this very special kick-off event:

Library of Congress Kick-Off Event with Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States. 7pm, Wednesday, April 13, 2016, Coolidge Auditorium, FREE & OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. Thomas Jefferson Building of Library of Congress, Ground Floor, 101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20540.
21st Poet Laureate Consultant Juan Felipe Herrera will celebrate the conclusion of his term of his laureateship. Book sales and signing will follow.  Co-sponsored by the Library of Congress Hispanic Division. Further event details are available on the Library of Congress' website.


Thursday, April 14


Human Rights Campaign, Equality Forum [Map]

11:30am – 1pm

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016: Solidarity in Action
Amal al-Jubouri, Sarah Browning, Helen Frederick
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Gallery [Map]

In the winter and early spring of 2016, Washington, DC was home to Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016, a unique book arts and cultural festival standing in solidarity with the people of Iraq and standing for free expression. Exhibits, programs, and events commemorated the 2007 bombing of Baghdad’s historic bookselling street. Split This Rock curated extensive literary programming, bringing 10 poets and translators from Arab America and the Arab and Muslim worlds to the DC area for readings, translation workshops, and public conversations about the impact of the US invasions in the region and the role that literature can play in building bridges and building justice. Organizers Browning and Frederick will be joined by Amal al-Jubouri, featured poet at both Split This Rock and Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 and founder of Arab Human Rights Academy, who splits her time between Baghdad and London.


Black Ladies Brunch Crew Presents "Not Without Laughter"
Saida Agostini, Anya Creightney, Teri Cross Davis, celeste doaks, Niki Herd
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Room 102 [Map]

Of late, racially charged controversy and violence has pervaded American media. From an attack on young children at a Texas pool party, to a race-bending NAACP president, to the massacre of nine churchgoers in Charleston, disheartening news seems ever-present. However, the African American community has always battled sorrow with laughter. This reading offers solace through humor during these difficult times. The Black Ladies Brunch Crew will share light-hearted work of their own or by others, with the attempt towards healing. As we work through tough issues of police brutality, gender biases and economic inequality, what offers us light and hope? What poetic words of levity provide inspiration for us and others? Some topics these women will explore include romantic relationships, family, work, and a celebration of female identity. This is an invitation for temporary shelter from the storm.


Celebrating the Poetry of Pat Parker
Kazim Ali, Cheryl Clarke, Julie Enszer, Bettina Judd
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Room 300 [Map]

Pat Parker (1944-1989) was an influential poet and activist in feminist publishing, whose work as a poet and activist reflects the intersection of a variety of feminist and alternative publishing practices during the 1970s and 1980s. Parker’s poetry grapples with the multiple, intersecting oppressions that she experienced as an African-American woman and lesbian who both experienced and witnessed violence. Her work lends powerful words to these experiences. For example, in “Progeny” Parker writes, “It is difficult/to teach my child/the beauty of flowers/in a field/at the same time/I warn her about/the dangers of/open spaces.” Plain-spoken, but rhythmic and musical, Parker’s verse brings humor and pathos to readers and listeners. During her lifetime, Parker’s work circulated as widely as the work of Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and Judy Grahn. Revered as poet, Parker also was a member of the Women’s Press Collective, the first lesbian-feminist publishing collective in the United States, founded in 1969. Today, Parker’s contributions as a publisher and a poet have fallen into obscurity, but a new edition of The Complete Works of Pat Parker will be released in April 2016.


Eco-Feminist Poetry, Intersectionality, & the End of the Earth
Jess X. Chen, Laura Brown-Lavoie, Cecilia Pineda, Hila Ratzabi
AFL-CIO Gompers Room [Map]

Solastalgia (n.): the pain experienced when the place that one lives is under immediate assault. Today, rapid ocean acidification and rising CO2 levels drive the Earth and its eight million species closer to collapse. As the colonial world expands, borders are being violently redrawn, further pushing what's left of the wild out of their homes. As climate change endangers our material, physical, and spiritual wellbeing, our response must be both intersectional and radical. As eco-feminist poets and environmental activists of diverse backgrounds, we respond to this crisis with fierce and visceral poems. The poets will each read and perform new work and then participate in a Q&A with the audience. A multimedia visual art presentation featuring interactive examples of eco-feminist art, music, and activism will accompany the reading. Through poetry and discussions of eco-feminist activism, we will explore the ways women, immigrants, indigenous peoples, and the Earth are entwined not only in the violence and silencing they face, but in their struggles and resilience.


Invisible Americans - Voices Without Papers
Stephanie Cork, Naliyah Kaya, Vishnupriya”Priya” Krishnan, Yvette Lerma
Human Rights Campaign Room 105 AB [Map]

This interactive workshop guides participants in exploring frequently unexamined notions about who is considered an “American” and why. In an effort to dispel myths and misconceptions around immigration, participants will discuss their own familial paths to citizenship and hear from undocumented individuals about their daily lived experiences, with special attention to the ways in which their various intersecting identities and cultures have shaped their lives and immigration experiences. Presenters and participants will then spend time imagining and discussing immigration reform strategies.


Moving Breath, Moving Justice – Yoga Writes the Body
Kazim Ali, Susan Brennan, Jeffrey Davis
Institute for Policy Studies Conference Room [Map]

How do you want your body to move?  Funky – High Octane – Sinuous?  How do you want your words to move?  Covert – Deliberate – Liberating?  While tapping into the pertinent issues that are roiling inside you, allow yoga to yoke you to your movements, both Social and physical.  Poets & Yogis, Kazim Ali, Susan Brennan, and Jeffrey Davis will guide you through a seamless sequence of delicious yoga postures spiced with reflective writing exercises and ancient texts. Wear clothing appropriate for movement, bring pen and paper; feel free to bring your mat and prepare to breath consciously, delve your impulses, and trip up your conventional language-ing.

2 – 3:30pm

Art n' Fact: The Intersection of Journalism and Poetry
Hodari Davis, Khalil Anthony Peebles
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Gallery [Map]

This interactive workshop will walk poets through the process of turning a long-form investigation into poetry. This section will briefly look at the work of the Off/Page Project (a collaboration between Youth Speaks and The Center for Investigative Reporting) and show how youth poets have worked with journalists to create groundbreaking work. In "This is Home," the project tackled subpar housing conditions of elderly residents in Richmond, CA. The short film "Locked [In]" explores the troubling reality of youth in solitary confinement. Participants will leave with a curriculum to help them recreate this experience in their communities and strategies to build the bridge between journalists and poets locally.


Migration and Identity: Interrogating Privilege Through Poetry
Benjamin Brezner, Marcos Martinez, Sean Pears, Susan Tichy
AFL-CIO Gompers Room [Map]

How do privileges stemming from race, ethnicity, class, gender, and migration intersect in our lives? Writers and activists of all backgrounds need to understand how overlapping regimes of privilege work, in order to dismantle them. Panelists will address how they write about privilege as they explore the relationships between migration and identity. Through hands-on writing activities, participants will have the opportunity to interrogate the sources of our uneven social structures and to write about their own experience. In this session, we hope to take one small step towards building a community in which we feel comfortable working together and exploring these topics through our poetry. Writers will leave with additional resources to spark the creation of new poems.


Poetry of Caregiving (of Children & Seniors) – A Writing Workshop
Sunu Chandy
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Room 101 [Map]

This workshop will allow parents and other caregivers to write and share poems focused on the challenges and joys of raising children or taking care of seniors in our world today filled with beauty and disaster. How do we engage with our children about hate crimes? How do we engage with a grandmother about homophobia? We will share a few poems concerning these themes and then write our own poems about moments related to taking care of our children and/or taking care of our own parents or grandparents or other elderly folks in our lives. We will also think through issues relating to making time for our poetry and some of the additional economic concerns one can have when raising children or having the role of a caregiver. Many of us are already caregivers and may struggle with varying feelings of resentment, joy, and gratitude. This workshop allows its participants to stay in touch as a sort of poetry-based support group for folks who are dealing with these sources of inspiration and obstacles to their poetic work.


The New Black Femininity
Elizabeth Acevedo, Tafisha Edwards, Katy Richey, Venus Thrash
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Room 300 [Map]

Borrowing its name from the 2014 festival session “The New Black Masculinity,” this session will discuss the redefinition of Black Femininity in a modern context. What is Black Femininity? How is it personified and by whom? How can Black women subvert monolithic archetypes of Black womanhood in mainstream imagery? If hetero-white constructs represent the standard of feminine persona, how do black women understand and illustrate their own feminine identity? How do innovation, multi-ethnicity, gender performance, and vulnerability influence these evolving identities? Panelists will share their work and discuss their own relationships to and identifications of Black femininity.


Whose World Is This?: Poetry, Equality, and the Earth
Teri Cross Davis, Brian Gilmore, Ailish Hopper, Ernesto Mercer
Institute for Policy Studies Conference Room [Map]

Four poets share poetry inspired by a question poet Haki Madhubuti uttered in 1987: "Who owns the earth?” In recent years, a movement called "Degrowth" has sought to seriously consider that question, as these poets will through poetry. We want a better world, cleaner, less pollution, a world of environmentally conscious people who realize the current path of growth and more growth is destructive. But what about equality in this new world we seek? Will the new world be one in which equality, especially along racial and ethnic lines, will also be a goal? Will the Global North share equitably with the Global South as the necessary changes are made? Will the West continue to exploit the Global South for the sake of endless economic growth that cannot possibly save the planet? This reading, the writings of four well known poets, and the writings of others, will explore these ideals.


Willow Books Showcase Reading
Elmaz Abinader, Mahogany Browne, Rachelle Escamilla, Yesenia Montilla, Rich Villar
University of California Washington Center (UCDC) Auditorium [Map]

Poets representing four publishing series by Willow Books will give a showcase reading. Founded in 2008, Willow Books specializes in the literary works of writers of color. The Willow Books Literature Awards, Established/Emerging Author Series, Editor’s Choice, and Innovator Series feature the diverse voices of poets of color from across the nation. Through publishing programs, national and international readings and partnerships with fellow organizations such as Cave Canem, Willow produces many of today’s top poets of color. The Literature Awards is a national competition for writers from diverse backgrounds; the Established/Emerging Series publishes distinguished and emerging poets; Editor’s Choice selects promising work from an annual open reading period; the Innovator Series recognizes the writings of leaders in the publishing industry who have committed themselves to advancing their fellow writers. Willow has created a national model for identifying emerging talent as well as providing established authors a much-needed platform for advancing their bodies of work. The format of the reading will involve 12-minute readings from five poets, followed by a 30-minute Q&A with the audience.

4 – 5:30pm

Cripping the Intersections: Readings Probing Disability and Identity
Jim Ferris, Jill Khoury, Mike Northen, L. Lamar Wilson, Kathi Wolfe
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Room 102 [Map]

Disability – the one identity category that cuts across all the other lines. This themed reading will use poetry to explore some of the ways that the range of human circumstances we call disability weave through many other facets of identity, including race, gender, class, religion and spirituality, sexual orientation, level of education, and age. Disability intersects in complex ways with all other identity categories. This reading promises to challenge and trouble a variety of identity categories, probing the sometimes startling ways that seemingly disparate vectors of identity can converge. Discussion will follow; challenges, provocations, and jokes encouraged.


Cypher Circle Wisdoms: Healing with Hip Hop & Spoken Word
Tish Jones, Sage Morgan-Hubbard, Moira Pirsch
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Gallery [Map]

Come join us in interactive praxis and play as we navigate cypher circles and honor our ancestors through critical pedagogy and healing for social justice. We examine spoken word and Hip Hop as methodologies for self and community love and healing. All peoples of all ages are invited to co-create and explore the spaces of healing, arts, and learning within the inclusive sphere of the circle/cypher. Starting with Indigenous healing exercises and ending with modern Hip Hop cypher practices we will explore the continuum from griots to MCs, the wisdom of oral traditions, and how these practices can be used as praxis in our various classrooms and communities. We will work with these questions: How would you define your community? What are your community’s needs? How can you use circles to educate and heal? What are the Indigenous knowledges and practices that already exist in your community? How can you utilize the spoken word and hip hop artists in your community? What ciphers are you willing/ able to create?


Environmental Justice Activism: Report from the Field
Janet Redman, Michele Roberts, Melissa Tuckey
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Room 300 [Map]

From grassroots action against polluting industries in communities of color and low income communities to climate negotiations in Paris, activist and policy analysts offer perspective on this particular moment in environmental history. What are the priorities? What are the stories that need to be heard?  Where are the sources for hope? Janet Redman, Director of the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies, joins Michele Roberts, Co-Director of the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, for a discussion about key issues in the environmental justice movement and a brainstorming session on how poets can contribute to these movements. Facilitated by Melissa Tuckey.


The Names We Carry: Poetry Inspired by Radical India
Vidhu Aggarwal, Minal Hajratwala, Tanuja Jagernauth, Ellen Kombiyil, Shikha Malaviya, Leeya Mehta
University of California Washington Center (UCDC) Auditorium [Map]

The Names We Carry is a companion reading to the workshop Revolt: Writing Poetry Inspired by Radical India, reflecting the many names, labels, and categories we use/discard/attach to ourselves and others, throughout our lives. In this reading, poets connected to India and the Indian diaspora will share poems exploring issues of exile, imperialism, identity, caste/color discrimination, sexuality, and more. Participants from the Revolt workshop will also be asked to share select work generated with prompts meant to explore these same themes. More specifically, through this reading, we want the audience to think more deeply about what the function of activist poetry is, how it not only informs and explores, but is also a call to action. In order to engage the audience and illustrate how powerful activist poetry is, we will encourage audience participation during the reading as well, asking them to fill in words and missing phrases, to help them create and think about the different kinds of dialogues we constantly must create and reinvent in order to highlight different causes.


Nuev@s Voces Poetics: A Dialogue About New Chican@ Identities
Christopher Carmona, Isaac Chavarria, Rossy Lima, Gabriel Sanchez
Institute for Policy Studies Conference Room [Map]

Over the past 14 years, Chican@ poetics has had a great resurgence in interest, political activism, and publication.  There is a growing number of poetry readings, chapbooks, magazine publications, and CDs of Latin@ writers who have begun to identify with the political aspirations of the Chican@ movement.  With the creation and popularity of Librotraficante and Poets Responding to SB 1070, along with Centro Victoria and its hijacking of the American Book Review, we have seen Chican@’s more politically active than they have been in years. We ask the questions: What has triggered such an interest in Chican@ in recent times? What types of poetry, writing, and art is being created and what are the social factors that have led to a new Chican@ poetics? This session addresses four different identities within the Chican@ identity such as xicanindio (Christopher Carmona), inmigrante (Rossy Lima), poch@ (Isaac Chavarria), & the fluid Chican@ (Gabriel Sanchez) as a jumping-off point to discuss all that is happening currently.


from this paradise into the next: Tributes to Poets Lost Since Split This Rock 2014
Hosted by Sarah Browning
Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives Room 101 [Map]

Join us as we pay tribute to the many poets who’ve left us over the past two years. Bring a poem by a poet who was important to you or a story about his or her impact. We’ll have a sign-up sheet and organize the session open mic style, with three-minute slots. We’ll remember such poets as Jack Agüeros, Francisco X. Alarcón, Maya Angelou, Henry Braun, Justin Chin, Eduardo Galeano, Jose “Joe” Gouveia, Galway Kinnell, Philip Levine, C.K. Williams, C.D. Wright, and others. We’ll also create a group poem with lines by each ancestor, to be posted on the blog during the festival, starting with these lines from Francisco X. Alarcón: mountains/will speak/for you//rain/will flesh/your bones.


Writing The Silence: Poetry of Witness
Jen Fitzgerald
Human Rights Campaign Room 105 AB [Map]

What we witness compels us to write, but what triggers this impulse in us? After closely reading some canonical poetry of witness, workshop participants will be given a “Mapping a Moment” chart the presenter has created and used successfully in workshops. This chart helps the writer become entirely, consciously, present and begin to understand where this moment fits in their personal narrative. The group will then follow the mind’s trajectory and create a vertical list of thoughts, impressions, ideas, and images. The list will allow for large synaptic leaps participants will interrogate; it is often in these leaps that we begin to understand how our past experiences inform our present lives. From this vertical list, poems emerge. We may get lucky and find the poem within the list or we may have to continue to mine our moment and think critically about the connections we “instinctively” make. Participants will leave the workshop with a “Mapping a Moment” chart that can be used throughout their writing careers, a packet of canonical poems of witness, a piece they have created and continue to work on, and a deeper understanding of how their personal narrative informs their poetry of witness.


Ross Gay, Aracelis Girmay, Craig Santos Perez

National Geographic, Grosvenor Auditorium
1145 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036  [Map]
Entrance on M Street
(Books will be available for sale by Upshur Street Books)

9:30 – 11pm - Open Mic

Busboys and Poets, Brookland, Pearl Bailey Room
625 Monroe St NE, Washington, DC 20017 [Map]

Open to the public. Free to festival registrants, $5 for all others.