Friday, April 24, 2015

Poem of the Week: Ross Gay


A Small Needful Fact

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

Used with permission.

Ross Gay is a gardener and teacher living in Bloomington, Indiana. His book, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, is available from University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015.

Please feel free to share Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this post, including this request. Thanks! If you are interested in reading past poems of the week, feel free to visit the blog archive.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

Haiku Postcards to the President

At the 2015 Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference, Split This Rock asked people that stopped by our table to write a haiku to President Obama. Here are some of the standouts with the poems in text after each postcard.

from Virginia Gilbert


You don't know me
We are the same, yet different
Like leaves, related; strangers
from Victorio Reyes


"how peaceful can we
be," said earth to the humans.
it all depends on...
from Aimee Herman


blood flowing on stairs --
police officer insists
"It wasn't my fault!"
from Lyle Daggett


Michelle Obama
is the hero we all need.
Yay for vegetables!
from Jenna Scarbrough


Friday, April 17, 2015

Poem of the Week: Brian Gilmore

philadelphia (for d.j. renegade, 
ta-nehisi coatesdarrell stover from landover,
and the prison writers, lorton reformatory)

"history will absolve me ..."
--fidel castro

like fidel after raiding
moncada barracks

we face history like
seed removed from

no longer waiting on

our eyes open now
curtains on tropical
sunday mornings 

peering over horizons
around corners
desperately seeking road
that leads to
sierra maestra

until then
pens must move like

slice through layers of

challenge headlines
handed down through

that which forces us to gather
here, though even outside these
walls we are linked: gravity to earth
needle to thread, each of us
free beyond barbed wire
and bricks, spill our souls on
these floors, like scattered 
pieces of puzzles.

From We Didn't Know Any Gangsters (Cherry Castle Publishing, 2014).
Used with permission.

Brian Gilmore is a poet, writer, public interest attorney, and columnist with the Progressive Media Project. He is a Cave Canem Fellow (1997), Kimbilio Fellow (2014), Literature Fellow for the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities (1997), Pushcart Prize nominee (2007), and winner of the Maryland State Arts Council's Individual Artist Award (2001 and 2003). Gilmore has been a contributing writer for, and JazzTimes Magazine. He is the author of three collections of poetry: elvis presley is alive and well and living in harlemJungle Nights and Soda Fountain Rags: Poem for Duke Ellington & the Duke Ellington Orchestra and his latest We Didn't Know Any Gangsters. His poems and writings are widely published and have appeared in The Progressive, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, and many other publications. He teaches law at the Michigan State University College of Law, where he lectures and writes on contemporary issues relating to housing and economic inequality, dividing his time between Michigan and Washington, D.C. 

Please feel free to share Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this post, including this request. Thanks! If you are interested in reading past poems of the week, feel free to visit the blog archive.  

Monday, April 13, 2015

Reginald Dwayne Betts' Letter to Howard University on E. Ethelbert Miller's Termination After 40 Years

Dear Dr. Frederick:

A few days ago I was devastated to learn that Howard University is letting Ethelbert Miller go after a career and commitment to the institution that has lasted longer than the thirty-four years I’ve been alive. 

It would be simple to just recount the impact that Ethelbert has had on Howard University graduates. Many of my friends recall Ethelbert changing their lives. Friends who graduated from Howard as recently as five years ago and as long as twenty. But such a recitation of honors would not suffice. Instead I will tell you a story. When I got out of prison just over ten years ago, I met Yao Glover. I had just been hired at Karibu Books, an African-American institution that started as a book cart near Howard University. Yao knew that I was a poet. He also knew that prison is a troubling place and that coming home a young man like myself would need support. Yao would send me to a man who had a huge influence on his development as a poet and man of the community: Ethelbert Miller. 

I knew who Ethelbert Miller was. I’d been writing poetry for sometime and reading poetry for longer. Still, I did not know Ethelbert worked at Howard University. I’d been out of prison a little more than two months and had no sense of how the world of academia and arts worked. What I did know is the name Ethelbert. Years before he’d published my very first poem, a poem I typed on a prison type writer and mailed to Poet Lore with a stamp that bore the red mark of incarceration. I’ll never forget the day I received the acceptance letter and will never forget the day I went to meet Ethelbert.

Let me be frank, my affinity for Howard University as an institution begins with Ethelbert Miller. When I received a full tuition academic scholarship to attend Howard University, I wanted to go because I’d read Ethelbert’s memoir. And when the university rescinded my scholarship because I checked a box admitting that I have three felony convictions and spent time in prison, it crushed me. Not just because I wanted to be a Bison – but because the institution fundamentally seemed to respond to me in the exact opposite way that Ethelbert did. And I had always believed that Ethelbert represented all that was great about Howard University. In fact, in the face of that huge personal disappointment, it has only been Ethelbert’s connection to the institution that led to my continued support.

Probably, I should be able to think about this in a way that is not so personal. Probably, I should not think about the disservice that has been done to Ethelbert in a way that makes me talk about myself. But I can’t. At two very important moments of my life Ethelbert Miller was, in very real ways, the voice of the Black community that helped me understand and believe in my own worth. He did this with his presence. And I am fortunate that he did. Because as I have gone on to be accepted by a number largely white institutions, receiving a full tuition scholarship at the University of Maryland, a Radcliffe Fellowship at the Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, and being admitted into the Yale Law School – as I have gone on to do these things, I do them remembering Ethelbert’s voice asking me if I’ve talked to my dad lately. I remember Ethelbert’s voice talking to me about fatherhood. Helping me to develop myself in a way that I once believed Howard was dedicated to as an institution. 

Sadly, it seems that I was mistaken about Howard.  There is a bitter irony that I write this letter from the Yale Law School, a legal institution that accepted me with all of my past failures and flaws. Here, they value their icons. The walls are littered with their faces. It saddens me that Howard does not do the same. I cannot bring myself to believe that financial concerns justify such a disservice.  

Reginald Dwayne Betts
J.D. Candidate, 2016
Yale Law School 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Poem of the Week: Kim Roberts


Oysters may look to us
like wet floppy tongues,

but there’s no licking.
There’s no touching.

Oysters are protandric-
they can change sex at will.

All oysters are born male.
They change to female

the following season.
They seem to like being female

most of the time. The older the oyster,
the more likely he’ll be female.

And you thought
they were an aphrodisiac?

One male ejaculates
then every male in the colony

follows suit.  Soon the waves
look like milk.  The eggs

sway like belly dancers.  It’s spring!
Once again, it’s spring.

From Little Patuxent Review (Winter, 2014).
Used with permission.

Kim Roberts is the author of four books of poems, most recently Fortune’s Favor: Scott in the Antarctic, a series of blank verse sonnets based on the 1910-1913 journal of British explorer Robert Falcon Scott, whose team was the second to reach the South Pole (Poetry Mutual, 2015). Roberts is editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly and the anthology Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC (Plan B Press, 2010), and co-editor of the Delaware Poetry Review and the web exhibit DC Writers’ Homes. Her website is:

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

2015 Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism Honoring Mark Nowak

On April 2, Split This Rock presented the 2015 Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism, sponsored by the CrossCurrents Foundation, to Mark Nowak, for his extraordinary work fostering the voices of workers and bringing the stories and voices of workers to the center of poetry and public life.  

The ceremony was a resounding success, packing the house at the Arts Club of Washington. The three Finalists, Black Poets Speak Out/Mahogany L. Browne, Jonterri Gadson, Amanda Johnston; John Lee Clark; and Bob Holman, were also celebrated with a multimedia presentation during the ceremony, available below. 

Check out more photos, all by Kristin Adair, on Flickr here.

Split This Rock Executive Director Sarah Browning delivered opening remarks.

 Elexia "Lexi" Alleyne (top) and Milen Mehari (bottom), members of the 2015 DC Youth Slam Team, each performed a poem, impressing the entire audience with their talent. Check out Lexi's performance on Split This Rock's Youtube channel.

 Mahogany L. Browne (top), coordinator of Black Poets Speak Out, delivered a powerful performance of her poem "Black Girl Magic," to thunderous applause. Watch the video here.

A slideshow highlighted the work of the 2015 finalists: Black Poets Speak Out, John Lee Clark, and Bob Holman. Click on the video above to watch or go here.

CrossCurrents Foundation President Micheline Klagsbrun gave a short speech praising Split This Rock, the Freedom Plow Award, and Mark.

E. Ethelbert Miller, a judge for the 2015 Award, delivered the following judges' statement, written by one of his fellow judges, Sheila Black:

We know in our bones that poetry is not merely a luxury, an elite art, but a human force, necessary as bread, constant as air. Mark Nowak, a child of working class Buffalo, has been on a passionate, large, and determined mission to engage poetry with the hard troubles of our world, with lived experience. His work, documentary in nature, is composed of the testimony of workers, the parts of the machines they use, the history of their labors.  

He has said concerning his kind of poetry: “It needs to find its feet outside of AWP and art galleries and instead locate itself (or organize its potential location) on factory floors, on union halls…” He also said when asked whether what he wrote was more social history than poetry: “I am not a historian, I am a writer who would like to contribute to the rescue of the kidnapped memory of all America.”  

I ask us to pause and ponder this. We live in an era when the life of work—the miners, the factory workers, the retail clerks and fast food workers, the part-time security guards, and hotel maids—is often simply not spoken of in what we call poetry. We are urged by advertisers and the global multi-nationals they represent to forget that workers exist, to believe the goods they produce appear as if by magic. 

Mark Nowak provides an antidote to this amnesia. In his poetry, the community workshops he holds with workers nationally and transnationally, and his blog, Coal Mountain—which provides a running commentary on the extraction industry worldwide—he reminds us of the material and the material suffering these goods are actually composed of, the lives they swallow and ruin. 
And this effort is beautiful, not only because it is truth, but also because of Mark Nowak’s profound grasp of how language works and what it does and does not do. Words, he tells us, have weight and force—they can have the force of truth or beauty: they can have the force of lies. They are like the surface of an etching in which we can see the traces of lived experience, the hard facticity of our material conditions and also the elusive palimpsest of vision and dream. He is, further, a poet who is revolutionary in working to examine how the collective voice  “we,” and not simply “I” can forge a new space for poetry to breathe in. 

E. Ethelbert Miller, Martha Collins, and I have been proud to serve as judges for the second annual Freedom Plow Award for Poetry and Activism. Mark Nowak was chosen out of a remarkable field of finalists—Black Poets Speak Out/Amanda Johnston, Mahogany Browne, Jonterri Gadson; DeafBlind poet and activist, John Lee Clark, and Bob Holman and his world languages project. His work and theirs remind us in the words of Noel Prize winner, Herta Muller, “The more words we are allowed to take, the freer we become.”  

Last year, E. Ethelbert Miller said in his judges’ citation: “One poem strikes a match. One poem is a spark. One poet can push or pull us into tomorrow.”

This seems especially relevant tonight.

Please join me in welcoming the extraordinary poet and global activist Mark Nowak.

Sarah Browning and E. Ethelbert Miller presented the 2015 Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism to Mark Nowak.

Mark Nowak gave his remarks, shared a teaser from an upcoming documentary, and read from his book of poetry, Coal Mountain Elementary. He was both hilarious and poignant.

Mark signed copies of his books and spoke with enthusiastic attendees.

Special thanks to everyone who made this event the tremendous success it was, especially to the sponsor, the CrossCurrents Foundation, and the cosponsors, the Arts Club of Washington and FOLIO Magazine. Thank you to all the volunteers that helped out with the event, and to everyone who came out to celebrate! We hope you'll join us again in 2017!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Call for Proposals: 2016 Split This Rock Poetry Festival

Split This Rock Poetry Festival:
Poems of Provocation & Witness 2016

Workshops, Themed Readings, and Panel or Roundtable Discussions

DEADLINE: June 30, 2015

Submit online:


Split This Rock invites proposals for workshops, panel and roundtable discussions, and themed group readings for the fifth Split This Rock Poetry Festival, scheduled for April 14-17, 2016, in Washington, DC. 

More and more, we understand the ways that issue areas converge: earth justice requires economic and racial justice; LGBT rights and gender equality intertwine; freedom is indivisible. We're particularly interested this year in seeing proposals that address these intersections, examining the ways that poetry can help us understand the connections and build the alliances necessary to imagine and construct another world.

The festival prides itself on being a place for community building. Interactive proposals that open unique opportunities for participants to connect with one another are of particular interest. When proposing panel discussions and readings, we request that time be set aside for dialogue or a period of questions and answers. 

Split This Rock is not an academic conference, but a gathering of individuals from many backgrounds. Please, no academic papers and avoid jargon of all kinds. Thank you!

We invite you to visit the website to review the schedules of the first four festivals to get a sense of the broad range of topics and approaches that appeal to organizers. 


Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness

April 14-17, 2016, Washington, DC

Split This Rock cultivates, teaches, and celebrates poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes social change. Building the audience for poetry of provocation and witness from our home in the nation's capital, we call poets to a greater role in public life, foster a national network of socially engaged poets, and celebrate poetic diversity and the transformative power of the imagination.

Split This Rock Poetry Festival invites poets, writers, and activists to Washington, DC, for four days of poetry, community building, and creative transformation. The festival will feature readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, activism - opportunities to imagine a way forward, hone our activist skills, and explore the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for social change. Learn more about Split This Rock and the festival at the website


When submitting a proposal, you'll be asked for a description of 250 words or fewer, including information about format, themes, activities (if applicable), and topics or questions to be explored. We also want to know what makes the session timely and necessary and how participants will benefit both at the festival and afterwards. 

Tell us how your session aligns with Split This Rock's work, how the presenter(s) are uniquely qualified to lead the session, and how you will ensure that the session is interactive. There are 3 types of sessions you can propose:

Workshops - Workshops could offer opportunities for writing, themed activities that open discussion of writing or writers, space to explore ways to maintain personal balance, or any number of exercises to guide participants in thinking about the connections between contemporary issues and their writing life. Please tell us exactly what you have in mind for activities. A workshop may be led by one person or collaboratively. 

Themed Group Readings - Readings might showcase voices or perspectives that could otherwise be missing from the festival program. Please tell us if there is a coherent theme or organizing principle for your reading that makes it a natural fit for Split This Rock. Also, note how much time will be set aside for participants to dialogue with readers.

Panels/Roundtables - A panel or discussion may consist of 3-4 persons, with one person designated as facilitator. Please tell us what questions you wish to explore. We have a strong interest in interactive conversation and community building, so please be sure to describe how you will involve participants in the discussion and how much time will be set aside for participants to dialogue with one another and/or session leaders. 

All sessions are typically an hour and a half in length.


To submit your proposal, visit and click on the "2016 Split This Rock Poetry Festival - Call for Session Proposals" category.

Please title your proposed event. Titles should be 10 words or fewer (no more than 40 characters in length, including spaces). Include brief biographical information and full contact information for each participant. Provide a description of your event, using the online form. 

PLEASE NOTE: All selected presenters must register for Split This Rock Poetry Festival. Last year, festival registration for presenters was $85, with a student rate of $45. While the rates may increase, we are committed to keeping festival prices reasonable. Scholarships will be available so that all may participate.

There is no limit to the number of proposals you may send, but be sure all proposed presenters have agreed to be part of your session before you send it to us. Take time to develop your proposal and bear in mind that this is a very competitive process. (In the past we've had to turn away many strong proposals.) 

PRIORITY AREAS: We value diversity within the sessions, creative ways of interacting, ideas that are new to us. Special areas of interest this year are disability, environmental justice, and trans and working class identities. We also value history. Sessions that allow participants to connect with one another and session leaders are of particular interest to us.

One final note: Split This Rock has a small staff without a lot of time for double-checking information. Please follow these instructions carefully. Remember:
  • Give your proposed session a meaningful name of 10 words or fewer (no more than 40 characters in length).
  • Provide FULL contact information for all your session leaders.
  • Remind all session leaders that they will have to register. Generous scholarship funds will be available; we will post a simple scholarship application when festival registration opens.
  • Please note we are not interested in readings of academic papers. 
  • Regretfully, we have no funds to compensate session leaders or to help with travel. 
Questions? Email us at We look forward to reading your proposal! 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Rosa Chávez

Ri oj ab'aj xkoj qetal ruk'a k'atanalaj ch'ich'
Ri oj ab'aj xkoj qetal ruk'a k'atanalaj ch'ich'
Xk'at ri qab'aq'wach
Xojilon ruk' ri tzolq'ominaq qawach
Q'eq taq jul
Kqab'iq qib' ruk' pa ri najil
Ri kamikal kuyuq'uj qaj ri qak'axk'ol
Ri utz'i' kureq' ri qaqolotajik
Kuchub'aj ri k'otk'ob'naqalaj qak'u'x
Ri uk'ok'al ri ulew man junam ta chik
Ketzaq lo uwach taq che e ma'j k'u na
Xaq chi owal xoj k'iyik
Chi tz'uj chi tz'uj pa uk'u'x taq ri jul
Jeri' qapisik xub'an ri utz'ininem
Ri nimalaj majb'alil

Las piedras fuimos marcadas con hierro candente

Las piedras fuimos marcadas con hierro candente
quemados nuestros ojos
vimos con la mirada volteada
agujeros negros
tragándonos en la infinidad
la muerte chineaba nuestra desgracia
su perro lamia nuestras heridas
nuestra conciencia lacerada
ya el sabor de la tierra no era el mismo
los frutos caían antes de madurar
a escondidas fuimos creciendo
gota a gota en le profundo de las cuevas
así fue como nos envolovió el silencio
del gran comienzo.

We, stones, were branded by hot iron

We, stones, were branded by hot iron
our eyes scorched
we saw through an inverted gaze
black holes
swallowing us in infinity
death cuddling our misfortune
his dog licking our wounds
our lacerated conscience
already the flavor of the earth was not the same
fruits fell before they ripened
we were growing clandestinely
drop by drop within the caves
it was in this way that the silence of the great beginning engulfed us

From Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas (University of Arizona Press, 2011).
Translated from the Spanish by Gloria E. Cachón.
Used with permission.

Rosa Chávez is a member of the Maya K'iche tribe on her father's side and the Maya Kaquiquel on her mother's side. She was born in Guatemala in 1980. In addition to being a poet, she's an actress and cultural committee member. Rosa Chávez has been invited to share her work at various literary event and festivals in Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Argentina. Publications include Casa solitaria, published in Guatemala in 2009;PIEDRA, published in Costa Rica in 2009; and Los dos corazones de Elena Kame, published in Argentina in 2009.

* * * 
Please feel free to share Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this post, including this request. Thanks! If you are interested in reading past poems of the week, feel free to visit the blog archive.