Monday, September 17, 2018

Announcing Best of the Net 2018 Nominations from Split This Rock!

A minimalist style image of a woman looking over her shoulder to her right. The background and her shirt are a warm purple, and her collar is yellow. Her hair and eyebrows are black, and her eyes reflect stars. Her skin is a pattern of stars in the galaxy. In the foreground and background are circles indicating abstract figures of planets.
Best of the Net
Cover Image

by Rhonda Lott.

Split This Rock is delighted to announce our nominations for the 2018 Best of the Net Anthology! These six poems thrilled us with their craft and broke our hearts open with their witness. We hope you will find a moment to discover or revisit these poems at The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

2 fat black women are making love,” by Saida Agostini

"Customer Service Is," by Sandra Beasley

To the Black Virgin Mary on a Steeple in Greensburg, PA,” by Destiny Birdsong

This Is What Makes Us Worlds,” by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza

"Loving the Enemy," by Caits Meissner

The Santa Ana,” by Paul Tran 

It is always a pleasure for the staff and guest curators at Split This Rock to discover fresh poems, and an honor to be their first home. From June of 2017 through July of 2018, twenty-nine Poems of the Week came to us as first publications. During that period, poems were curated by special guest curator, Teri Cross Davis, and staff members Sarah Browning, Camisha L. Jones, and M.F. Simone Roberts.

The nominated poems are among over 500 poems published in The Quarry. Poems featured in The Quarry were originally published in Split This Rock’s Poem of the Week series or were winners of Split This Rock’s Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest; winners of the Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism, co-sponsored by the CrossCurrents Foundation; or the Abortion Rights Poetry Contest (until 2017, sponsored by the Abortion Care Network). Some of the poets have featured at Split This Rock’s biennial poetry festival and/or Sunday Kind of Love reading and open mic series. Other poems arrive via open calls and/or are by members of the national Split This Rock community, Split This Rock teaching artists, members of the DC Youth Slam Team, and more.

Of their contest and anthology, Sundress Publications says the, “Best of the Net Anthology continues to promote the diverse and growing collection of voices who are publishing their work online, a venue that continues to see less respect from such yearly anthologies as the Pushcart and Best American series. This anthology serves to bring greater respect to an innovative and continually expanding medium in the same medium in which it is published.”

Split This Rock is grateful for their work! We wish the poetry judge and all the staff happy reading!

A screen shot of the The Quarry's landing page.
The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

Monday, September 10, 2018

Split This Rock Interview with Franny Choi, Judge for the 2019 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest

by Neveen Shawish
The Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest serves to raise the visibility and prestige of poetry of provocation and witness.  

PRIZES: First place $500; 2nd and 3rd place, $250 each. Winning poems will be published on Split This Rock's website and in The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database. All prize winners will receive free festival registration to Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2020 and the 1st place recipient will be invited to read the winning poem on the main stage at the festival.

READING FEE: $20. Benefits Split This Rock, helping to sustain its work to bring poetry to the center of public life.

The contest is open for submissions until November 1, 2018. To submit, please visit the contest page on the website.

About the Contest Judge
Photo of Franny Choi. Franny has long hair that is dark brown at the top and becomes lighter, eventually blonde at the bottom. She stand against a white backdrop, looking off into the distance. She wears glasses and a black tank top, and has bright red lipstick.
Photo by Tarfia Faizullah.
Franny Choi is the author of Floating, Brilliant, Gone (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014) and the forthcoming Soft Science (Alice James Books, 2019), as well as a chapbook, Death by Sex Machine (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017). She has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, and the Helen Zell Writers Program. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, American Poetry Review, the New England Review, and elsewhere. She is a Kundiman fellow, an Editor of News and Politics at Hyphen Magazine, co-host of the podcast VS, and member of the Dark Noise Collective. Franny was a Featured Poet at the Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2014. Learn more at Franny Choi's website.
Franny will serve as a final judge for the contest, selecting the winning poems from up to 20 top poems chosen by first readers. As she desires, she may also select poems as honorable mentions.

* * *

Neveen Shawish: Your cultural identity is prevalent in your work in such a vulnerable and beautiful way. The cultural divide between your family and where you live now really resonates with me, particularly in your poems “Split Mouth” and “Choi Jeong Min." How has your upbringing impacted your work? What have you found out about your own cultural identity through the world of poetry?
Franny Choi: You know, I get some version of this question almost every time I’m interviewed, and I never know how to answer it. If you’re asking how being the queer, femme child of Korean immigrants has impacted my experience of language, the best answers I have for you are my poems—that’s exactly the question I’m trying to answer in nearly everything I write. So: yes, exactly! How does it affect a voice to begin in uprooting? What can I learn about what it means to come from a forcefully divided, postcolonial country through the world of words? What does it mean to write like a person whose body has been objectified, fetishized, scapegoated, made fantasy, made tool, etc.? Yes, those are exactly the questions I’m trying to answer, too.
Shawish: From Floating, Brilliant, Gone to Death by Sex Machine, or even from before your publications, how do you think your poetry has evolved over time and how do you believe that you, as a poet, have evolved?
Choi: I think the content of my work hasn’t changed that much over time; the questions that drove me to the page five or ten years ago are still the most important ones in my writing today. But when I look back at Floating, Brilliant, Gone, what I feel most strongly is a kind of shock at its openness, at how forthcoming those poems are about both their content and their mechanisms. I love the vulnerability of that book (in the same way I love the 23 year old who wrote it), but I’m also glad at the ways I’ve grown in my ability to modulate between clarity and difficulty. I know more often now, that my moments of intense vulnerability are intentional, that they’re openings I can stand fully behind. And I know that my moments of difficulty aren’t just there to sound smart, but are intended to vibrate—to create a particular kind of tension that I want the reader to grapple with, or stand in the midst of. I think gaining more fluency in openness/difficulty has been not just an important point of growth on a craft level, but also part of forming a healthier personal relationship to my poems.
Shawish: In what ways do you hope poetry will contribute to ongoing resistance efforts? Do you carry a sense of responsibility for particular causes that you write about?  
Choi: I think poetry that is meant to witness, educate, and incite is so vitally important. Poetry as a strategic vehicle for disseminating knowledge about injustices; poetry that serves as documentary and memorial; poetry that sparks the kind of anger that’s necessary for real change—these are particular and crucial modes of writing, but I think it’s not exactly the work I’m tasking my poems with at the moment. 

At the moment, I think the impulse that’s driving my writing is the impulse to understand and imagine deeply. That is, to go microscopic on the terrain of human tenderness in the context of this world wrecked by the violences of empire; and to imagine new ways of feeling, new ways of living. 

As far as responsibility in that work, I always want to ask myself: Am I making something that’s already here? Is this redundant to the ways we already know how to think about the world, whether by reinscribing its violences or recycling the horror stories already available to our imaginations? Or: does it make some attempt to break through to something else? I think being armed with this question, along with an ethics of care and a good crew of people to tell you when you’re screwing up, will get a person pretty far.
Shawish: As Split This Rock’s 2019 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest judge, is there anything that you will be looking for in poetry submissions? What moves you most when reading a poem?
Choi: There’s certainly no particular style or form of poetry that I’m looking for. I feel moved by reading poets who seem to truly be writing like themselves. I feel moved by new ways of making language, by political and conceptual bravery, by rigorous vulnerability, by humor, by meter, by a well-crafted lie. Judging contests is weird; please just know that I’ll consider every poem I read a real-life, breathing gift. 

* * *

Image of Neveen Shawish standing in front of a large orchid with salmon colored blossoms. She looks at the flowers, and is wearing a black, mock turtle neck top with a jean jacket, and a large gold pendant necklace. She has long, wavy chestnut brown hair and brown eyes.
Photo by Elizabeth Khatib.

Neveen Shawish is a 20-year-old Palestinian American, based in the Washington DC area. She is a full-time student at George Mason University where she studies Communication with a concentration in Journalism. Neveen spent the summer as Split This Rock’s Communication and Social Media Intern (and loved every second of it!). She is passionate about progressive social change, volunteering, American Sign Language, and of course, poetry.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Begging a Memory — Bringing Poetry to the Doctors

A guest editorial on the balm of poetry in medical and health care contexts, this essay is followed by two poems by the author.

by Lauren Camp

It’s often said that only poets appreciate poetry.

This spring I had the chance to read some of my poems to an audience of physicians and researchers at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Imagine reading work about disease to experts who specialize in treating it, to those who are seeking ways to solve the ever-growing prevalence.

I’ve been writing about my father’s dementia for the two and a half years it has been apparent. In fact, I’ve been writing about my father for many years before that, as a way to deal with his complicated character. When the Alzheimer’s symptoms became undeniable, I added those to my journal, my language, my coping, my poetry.

Dad was living far from his children. That first year — financially uncertain, emotionally exhausting — held such burden and mourning as we tried to get him settled safely. We could no longer ignore what was happening.

Daily, I handled details (mostly like a pro, sometimes cursing out banks and other obstacles). Manifesting poems out of the reality provided some comfort. I could move words around, even when I could not save my father from this spiraling path. I could hold compassion. I could grieve. Poetry became my way to collect the beautiful and difficult bits. I built a ritual of writing.

The Mayo Clinic Behavioral Health Research Program, Department of Psychiatry and Psychology sponsored my visit to share this work. It was a packed schedule: nine events in four days, including readings and workshops with The University of Minnesota Rochester and the Southeastern Minnesota Poets.

But the centerpiece of it all was a talk I gave to Mayo’s research and medical community. The Grand Rounds talk was held in a traditional medical school classroom in the heart of the Mayo Medical School and the Mayo Basic Research labs.

It was an honor to stand at that podium and look up toward a full house representing a cross-section of the Mayo community—physicians, researchers, medical students, fellows, and study coordinators. I told them, through poetry, my personal story of endurance and action. The room was so quiet, everyone listening to the little achievements and sufferings of my father and my family. How often do doctors hear information through the emotionally resonant medium of poetry? I gave them that. The talk was intimate; sharing always is.

When I was finished, I asked for questions. In the far back corner of the top row, a man in a blue suit (Mayo’s dress code for physician-clinicians) asked what helps caregivers. He asked if poetry helps me. Yes, it helps, I said, then clarified. No, nothing helps, but yes, this is a way through, a way to hold the danger.

A caregiver in the audience explained that she is taking care of her father who has Parkinson’s Disease. She said my poems aligned with her experience and gave her comfort. Like mine, her days are made up of a series of crises. Her days are no longer her own.

I was asked if my family finds comfort in my poems and if they are supportive of how open I am in my writing, questions I tackled haltingly, because I honestly don’t know. My siblings are proud (and most likely confused) by my choice to write unflinchingly about my life.

Someone asked if it felt risky to share. My voice had caught a few times as I read the poems, which surprised me. I told the audience I had nearly wanted to cry. It felt good to come clean about that—though they might have already heard it. As persistent and pervasive and slow-brewing as my father’s disease is, it continually makes me emotional.

When you begin a poem, you don’t always know who your audience will be. We write for ourselves, certainly, whether we are exploring a personal issue, a historical event, or something else. But when that writing is shared, it gives another person an alternate way to see and understand. It brings the human level, the individual perspective, and it is there that listeners and readers may locate a different sort of empathy, a sense of belonging.

The researchers and physicians in that room spend their work time immersed in the disease and its complications. And though they “treat” the illness, they rarely come in contact with the enduring potency it holds for patient and family. Who treats that?

As much I hope for the attention of poet friends and peers, I continue to search for ways to bring my poems into conversation with unexpected audiences.

That spring day, still snowy and cold, the doctors were actively engaged in hearing this variation, this response. I felt lucky to bring that forth. To voice this experience, to distinguish one patient, one family from another, and therefore, give credence to all of us. 

* * * 
This, My Father (An Aside)             

Again the brain drags the thought. His vowels are full
of inseparable regret, then empty pulses. Let this be enough
of a compromise. My father keeps chanting the first half
of his life. We sometimes forget the narrow strip of street
that was his best day and how it bends to his corners. Let us
not depend on his list of old resignations. Please, I request
each year using my dry mouth. Such is the matter of fact:
to embrace what is not yet missing. He’ll live to 91.
He knows this from a sign on a bus. My father rides buses
past fragmented Philadelphia brick. The sun only bothers
the back of his neck. He never finishes his journey, just leaves
it behind. Again, let us wander the whole, or at least
the sloping wall of his heart. I listen with one finely
shaped ear, hear ghosts get off and on at his laments.

           Published in Knot Magazine. Used with permission. 

Father to Narrow then Stranger

I said, Fix
your buttons.
He said, We have to see

if it is Saturday.
A man with the weight
of belief

in one of his pockets,
and these fill up
fast. He said, We have to move

the bodies, and since he was not
by such talk, I endured

his broad
deviance. He said
he would have to —

and when he said it
again, then left it
at that, I smiled

with terrible tangles
in my love. We were told
to expect such

knots. He wanted
it to be
Saturday. He could go empty

those hidden days
in between. I watched his fingers
scan his glossy picture

on his door. This was all
of him. His fingers formed
his own double

collars, ecstatic
exhausted cheeks. Lost,
you might say,

but we didn’t. I said, The sun
has again become
rain. I said Dad, and he tried

to arrive
with a new sentence. He said, Out
in the earth, time moves

like an angel.
His watch swept

the hours. I said, Let us
take what’s not
even there. He listened.

          Published in Beloit Poetry Journal. Used with permission.

* * * 
Lauren Camp is the author of three books, including One Hundred Hungers (Tupelo Press), finalist for the Arab American Book Award and winner of the Dorset Prize. Her poems have appeared in the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, Boston Review, The Adroit Journal, Diode, Nashville Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. A 2018 Visiting Scholar/Poet for the Mayo Clinic (MN) and the recipient of a Black Earth Institute Fellowship, she lives and teaches in New Mexico. Please visit her website.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Voices Forward: Adrienne Rich’s Statement to the 2008 Split This Rock Poetry Festival

Ten years ago, in 2008, poets convened for the first Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness. Every poet invited to feature at the first gathering agreed and most participated at no cost to the festival—so strong was their commitment to this gathering dedicated to poetry that engages the real textures and troubles of our lives. Only
A black and white image of Adrienne Rich looking directly at the camera with a warm expression. She has short salt-and-pepper hair, dark eyes, and freckles. She wears a black top and small, silver, hoop earrings.
Adrienne Rich, 1929-2012
one poet declined, and that with deep regret due to intensifying illness.

In lieu of her nourishing presence, Adrienne Rich sent the following statement to the founders. They read it to those gathered at that first festival. It is our honor and pleasure to share it with our community now, ten years on, to inspire us all for the next ten years and the years beyond.
* * *
WASHINGTON D.C., MARCH 20-23, 2008

By Adrienne Rich

Over the weekend preceding “Split This Rock,” I have been watching video clips of the “Winter Soldier” panels conducted by Iraq Veterans Against the War. I have been listening to the hard-earned, factual, understated yet intensely charged words of testimony from these men and women.

War and injustice are not “themes” for some poets to pick up or put down by choice. Let’s be clear about this from the outset: Even when we taste the sweetness of life, love, greet a new child, pay decent homage to lost comrades and elders, our work, our access to time and space, our pulse and breath are subject to the structures of inequality, exclusion, cruelty and violence. We read and write poetry to sense through expressive language what the discourse of power has numbed or silenced; to search out truth in our own souls and with other souls.
We don’t write poetry to speak truth to power, as if it will change the minds of the powerful.

Illegitimate power does not want truth. It depends on manufactured ignorance, manipulation, secrecy and force. We in the United States who have written dissident poetry for much of our lives have done so because, like it or not, politics have saturated the air we breathe, the pores of our skin, the waters we drink, where and how and with whom—and whether—we sleep at night. Recognizing this we crave, and try to create, language equal to our time and needs, our location in a greater humanity. We begin to question easy, cynical formulations and accept the responsibility of our artistic task.

Dissident art realizes itself, finds its voice in collective activity. There is no contradiction here, only challenge. May “Split This Rock,” like “Winter Soldier,” become one conversation, one event among the many that, for the long future, must confront our national, our human, emergency.

* * *
This is the essential work to which the founders, board, staff, and community of Split This Rock are committed, to poetry on the side of life. We thank every poet and reader who joins us, shares this work forward, and supports us. As we affirmed one to another at the closing of the 2018 festival, WE ARE WITH YOU. To invest in the long future of dissident poetry, consider a gift to Split This Rock. Visit the website for details. #10YearsofPoWeR

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Split This Rock 2018 Festival Press Coverage Round-Up!

It’s hard to believe that it’s been just a few weeks since Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2018. We are so moved by the outpouring of love, unity, and meaningful conversation that occurred at the festival and has continued in the weeks after. Split This Rock is grateful to stay in conversation with you all as we work toward liberation together.

Have you written about Split This Rock Poetry Festival? Let us know by emailing

Below is what attendees, presenters, and media are saying about this year’s Festival. All photos by Kristin Adair.

Special features from Festival sponsor Poetry Magazine

Festival Preview Coverage

The Festival led the Washington City Paper’s Critic’s Pick for the weekend, with Alexa Mills encouraging DC residents to check out the Festival: “If you’re looking for some clarity in the chaos, turn to the poets.” Features a great photo of D.C. poet and 2018 Festival feature Elizabeth Acevedo!

In anticipation of the festival, Kathi Wolfe from The Washington Blade underscored the event’s importance to communities speaking truth to power. The article declares, “Poetry isn’t an elite, ethereal art form. It’s as essential as food, water or having enough air to breathe." Then goes on to quote Split This Rock Executive Director Sarah Browning, "Poets have always challenged the powerful and told the suppressed stories of those with little power, which is why our words are on the lips of revolutionaries and why tyrants don’t much like us.” The Poetry Foundation later picked up The Blade’s story on The Harriet Blog, congratulating Split This Rock on our 10th anniversary!

Over on Sputnik’s By Any Means Necessary, Executive Director Sarah Browning and 2018 DC Youth Slam Team Member who performed a poem on the festival main stage Mary Kamara joined hosts Eugene Puryear and Sean Blackmon to discuss Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2018 as well as the power of poetry to bring hope in times of despair.
Leading up to the festival, Split This Rock’s Sarah Browning joined local radio station WPFW for interviews with David Rabin (April 10) and David Whetstone (April 18) to talk about Split This Rock’s mission and the 2018 Poetry Festival.

Festival Reflections

From Deborah A Miranda reflections in a blog post: "Split This Rock! is not just a place, nor just a literary festival. It is a crucible, an awakening, a cracking open of the heart that has been hardened by oppression, grief, fear, exhaustion. Poetry is the hammer. My heart was the rock." Deborah charges Split This Rock to do better, as well, to build community with Indigenous poets and communities, as we "rebuild the foundations of this nation." Read the full post, Split This Rock! 2018: Three Days in a Poet's (almost) Utopia on Deborah’s blog Bad NDNS.

Dan Wilcox offered reflective recaps of the Thursday workshops, Friday workshops, Thursday Featured Readings, and Friday’s Public Action: “It’s like returning home. Split This Rock Poetry Festival happens every other year & I look forward to it, but this year it fell exactly during Albany’s WordFest, including the Third Thursday Poetry Night that I host, but I had to be here. It was the 10th year of this festival of “provocation & witness,” & I’ve been to all of them.” Read all of the recaps on his blog.

From Karren LaLonde Alenier’s blog The Dresser: “The Split This Rock panels this season make the Dresser groan with pleasure because it is hard to decide which ones to attend. For example, this afternoon April 19 at the 1:30 session, she has to decide between ‘Arabic/English Poetry Game Workshop,’ ‘Seniors for Social Justice,’ or ‘WordPlay: Poetry a self-advocacy for Youth with Autism.’ This is not to mention the panel on the Warrior Writers and two book oriented sessions--one on the letters of Audre Lorde and the other Eco-Justice poetry.” Read Report #1, Report #2, Report #3, Report #4, and Report #5 on Karren’s blog.

Over on the Ms. Magazine blog, Emily Sernaker provides an in-depth discussion of Thursday afternoon's No More Masks! 45 Years of Women in Poetry panel, featuring Elizabeth Acevedo, Ellen Bass, Sarah Browning, and Solmaz Sharif as speakers. The panel centered around the No More Masks! anthology, co-edited by Florence Howe and Ellen Bass. In addition to a history of the anthology, Sernaker documents one of the topics that came out of the panel: tokenism. Quoting Acevedo: “I think folks are realizing there are writers that have been previously marginalized and disenfranchised who are writing the best work in the country right now. But I also get reached out to like, ‘because you’re a writer of color who’s writing some of the most exciting work in the country right now, can we just have a poem?'”

Book Riot’s Christina M. Rau highlighted several must-read voices that she felt inspired by after attending the fest: “In the tumultuous socio-political landscape of the United States today, poetry filled the air in DC. Voices rang out, speaking to a vast array of issues...Be on the lookout for Jonathan Mendoza. This young poet is the First Place Winner of the 2018 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest. He read a poem entitled ‘Osmosis’ that brought the entire room to silence and then cheers. The poem weaves its way through water and land, singling out instances of injustice regarding immigration and violence.”

Public Action Coverage

At Think Progress, Alejandro Alvarez reported on the festival’s Public Action, in which attendees each brought 12 words each to contribute to a group poem, called a cento, on the topic of gun violence, to join the voices of students for the National School Walkout DC. The article shared: “The White House sidewalk is no stranger to protest. But where you might normally find signs, flags, and hearty chanting, Friday’s activist lineup featured something a bit different: poetry… By gathering socially active poets directly before the National School Walkout, [Sarah] Browning said she hoped to “add voices of witness and imagination” to the conversation for gun control. With roots in the anti-Iraq War movement, she described Split This Rock as a creative force injecting a human perspective into a national push against war, greed, and violence.”

Abby Zimet of Common Dreams also covered the Public Action: “...About two dozen members of Split the Rock climbed a makeshift stage to each add a line to a piece titled “Louder than a Gun.” Their ensuing "tapestry of voices" included the lines, “My country ’tis a quivering child’s breath, held in a closet....Our hearts are less fragile than the nothingness that pulls the trigger...What is it worth? Building graveyards on the backs of our children?” and, from longtime activist Joanne Rocky, “They will beat their guns into poems, and sing out love.”

Read the full poem and see more photos of the public action at Split This Rock's website.

From Festival 2018 Presenters and Readers

On the Kenyon Review Podcast, Featured Poet Javier Zamora spoke with Kenyon English faculty member Andrew Grace about immigration, advocating for undocumented poets, and what Salvadoran poets Americans should be reading. At PRI’s The World, Carol Hills discussed issues of race in America with Featured Poet Kwame Dawes.

Here’s a special treat: Presenters from Brick City Collective filmed and posted their session titled, "Witness and Experience: Luso/ Latinx Poets Voicing Brick City Life." The panel features 7 poets & writers who make up the Brick City Collective, a multimedia arts group whose roots are in Newark, NJ. Take this amazing chance to catch the session if you missed it or want to share it with friends!

Donnie Welch, presenter from the "Wordplay: Poetry & Self-Advocacy for Youth with Autism" workshop, wrote an enthusiastic blog post detailing his experience as a presenter, volunteer, and participant at the festival.

Finally, stay tuned in the next weeks as we prepare video highlights from the featured readings to post on Split This Rock’s YouTube channel. Meanwhile, you can watch videos of past festivals and dream of 2020!