Friday, December 30, 2016

January Resistance Events - Add Your Voice!

Dear Friend in Struggle,

Poetry will continue to be an essential voice of resistance in the years ahead. Poets will speak out in solidarity, united against hatred, systemic oppression, and violence and for justice, beauty, and community.

Split This Rock will be active in this poetic resistance and we invite you to add your voice. Or join us as a reader or audience member, experiencing the challenge and comfort that poetry can provide.

We plan two major events in DC in January, as well as an online platform.

First, we're proud to present a special Writers Resist Sunday Kind of Love featuring Annie Kim and Samantha Thornhill! Writers Resist is a national network of writers driven to #WriteOurDemocracy by defending the ideals of a free, just, and compassionate democratic society. Join us on January 15, 2017at 5pm at Busboys and Poets, 14th & V. Details at the Facebook event page.

Then, on Saturday, January 21, 2017, at 7 pm, we plan an open mic Poetic Speak Out to complement the anti-inaugural marches and protests taking place that weekend, including the Festival of Resistance and the Women's March. Stay tuned for location details and information on how to sign up to read a poem at this historic event.

Won't be in the DC area that weekend? We'll also be opening this blog, Blog This Rock, as a virtual open mic for poems of resistance and power. Check back in the new year with details on how to submit. And to see a past virtual open mic, go to Blog This Rock, where we posted poems against gun violence and for embrace.

If you believe this work is essential, that poetry is the language of transformation, power, and vision, Split This Rock needs your help. Please invest. Learn what your donation can do at our website. Gifts from first-time donors and increased gifts from existing donors will be matched by the Cafritz Foundation!

With our fists in the air and poetry on our lips,

Split This Rock

Thursday, December 8, 2016


1. Gathering Together Socially Engaged Poets of All Ages
Photo of audience at a 2016 Split This Rock Poetry Festival reading. A woman with tan skin and wavy gray hair smiles warmly. Her hands are held together in mid clap. Three people behind her are also clapping.
2016 Festival | Photo by Kristin Adair
Through Split This Rock, poets, activists, and dreamers come together in our nation’s capital to connect, share, learn, and gain inspiration to fuel efforts for justice. In addition to Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, we engage hundreds of youth at annual gatherings: Louder Than a Bomb-DMV Teen Poetry Slam Festival, modeled after the nationally acclaimed program in Chicago, and Hyper Bole Slam Festival.

2. Raising the Platform for Poetry of Provocation & Witness
Split This Rock’s website, online poetry database, Poem of the Week series, annual poetry contests, awards, and events champion poetry and poets engaging with the world, bearing witness to the beauty of our diversity, and calling for change. Because of Split This Rock, poets are read, and heard far and wide.

image of demonstration outside Department of Justice office. A woman wearing a coat and scarf with long braids, brown skin, and glasses holds a mic and a clip board in front of 3 people holding protest signs.
Delivering Black Lives Matter poems to Dept of Justice (DOJ)
Photo by Jonathan Tucker
3. Integrating Poetry into Movements for Social Change
From its beginning as an outgrowth of DC Poets Against the War, Split This Rock has mobilized poets to take action, pressing our society to fulfill its promise as a place of welcome, peace, equity, and embrace.

4. Creating Community by Embracing Difference
Whether it’s through poetry readings, open mics, workshops, or slams, Split This Rock brings us together across our many divides, creating safe spaces to share our narratives, name injustices, and embolden us to act collectively.

5. Connecting DC Area Students with Poets as Mentors

Split This Rock places exceptional poets serving as teaching artists in DC metro
area schools to introduce youth to socially engaged poetry and help them hone
their writing and public speaking skills. There’s more demand now than ever.
Imagine a teaching artist in every DC school!

6. Providing Dynamic Resources for Teachers
What if all teachers had access to poetry lesson plans that awaken their students to the relevance of literature in their lives? Split This Rock offers DC-area teachers a curriculum designed to inspire young people to speak their truths.

7. Developing the Next Generation of Poets of Witness
Photo of the 2016 DC Youth Slam Team on stage at the 2016 Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival in DC. The four young women are smiling with one hand raised in a fist as they share their team chant. The Youth Programs coordinator, Joseph Green, is in the background with his hand up too.
2016 DC Youth Slam Team at Brave New Voices
Photo by Outlier Imagery

Split This Rock programs are cultivating a generation of young people who love the written word, perform evocatively, and imagine a world free of hatred and bias. Through the DC Youth Slam Team, the Youth Writers’ Guild, the Ushindi Performance Troupe, open mics, slams, writing workshops, and
other ongoing activities, youth learn the social and political context of their lives, turn their struggles and triumphs into powerful art, find a sense of community, and gain confidence through poetry.

8. Making Poetry More Accessible
Accessibility is one of Split This Rock’s core values, so we continually strive to
remove barriers that keep people with disabilities from being full participants
in our programming. With your help, we can offer more events with ASL
interpreters, caption more videos, maintain and improve features on our
website, and more!
Photo of Kathi Wolfe and L. Lamar Wilson. They sit at a table side by side and Lamar is speaking. Kathi has short gray hair, wears a red sweater and glasses She is listening intently. Lamar has on a grey jacket, a light mustache and well trimmed beard. He is wearing his hair in long locks. There is a yellow wall behind them.
2014 Festival Session | Photo by Kristin Adair

9. Breaking the Silence on Hard Issues
Whether it’s through the annual Abortion Rights Poetry Contest, the Eco-Justice Project, or calls for poems in response to violence in our society, Split This Rock aligns itself in solidarity with - and brings poetry into - efforts to build awareness, destroy stigma, demand justice, and make our world a place where we all can thrive.

10. Celebrating a Decade of Elevating Poetry of Conscience
So many anniversaries to mark! Ten years of Sunday Kind of Love Reading
and Open Mic series as of 2016, ten years of awarding stunning poems
through Split This Rock’s Annual Poetry Contest in 2017, and, coming up in
2018, ten years since the very first Split This Rock Poetry Festival! All sustained by people like you! With your support, we are excited to see what’s ahead for the next 10!


Donate Online Today at Split This Rock's website.
DOJ Poem Demonstration | Photo by Jonathan Tucker
Or send a check made out to “Split This Rock” to:
Split This Rock
1301 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036

Your gift is fully tax-deductible. THANK YOU!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Give the Gift of Poetry!

November 2016

Dear Splitistas,

We are writing to you toward the end of this truly wrenching and difficult year, still unfolding. We struggle even to write this letter. How to innumerate the injustices and violences of 2016? How indeed to speak of money in the face of shared terror of the future?

The only way is to say it plain: If, in the grip of anxiety and despair, you have turned to poems published by Split This Rock; if you have been moved to action by conversations you had at the festival; if you had your hope in the future restored at a youth slam; if you have felt emboldened in your own writing or activism, we ask that you make a donation to Split This Rock.

Statistics and lectures are necessary to educate us but they rarely reach us in our most elemental places, where we hold fear, grief, hope. That’s poetry’s role – to split us open, to help us imagine the unimaginable, to return us to our core humanity, to give us the gift of love. You can give that gift with a donation to Split This Rock.

Over and over we ourselves turned to poetry this year, as we sought understanding and a way forward. Here are some of the ways Split This Rock brought poetry into public life:
  • Poetry as Action: After the Pulse shooting, we invited poets to send us poems in solidarity with marginalized communities targeted by gun violence. We published the outpouring on Split This Rock’s blog and sent the poems, accompanied by demands for gun control, to the leadership of the NRA and to members of Congress.
  • Poetry as Embrace: To counter the increasingly nasty xenophobia, misogyny, and racism in our public life, poets at Split This Rock Poetry Festival fanned out across downtown DC and read poems of love and welcome – to passersby and to one another, building Dr. King’s Beloved Community street corner by street corner.
  • Poetry as Power: Through Split This Rock’s youth programs, young poets learned the social and political contexts of their lives, spoke power in their poems, and spoke truth to power countless times throughout the year. They were fierce voices for fundamental change at gatherings of philanthropists, policy makers, and other young activists and dreamers. 
  • Poetry as Witness & Memory: At the 9th anniversary of the bombing of Iraq’s historic bookselling street, Split This Rock played a lead role in Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016. We brought 10 poets and translators to DC for readings, workshops, and dialogue that dispelled stereotypes, celebrated the rich cultures of the Arab and Muslim worlds, and stood in solidarity with the people of Iraq.
  • Poetry as Love Made Manifest: Poetry reminds us that we are all one and one with the earth. The poems gathered in the anthology Ghost Fishing, forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press as part of Split This Rock’s Eco-Justice Poetry Project, show that earth justice is not possible without racial justice, without economic and gender justice. 
  • Poetry as Truth-Telling: At the first anniversary of The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database, we looked up the top 20 most-viewed poems and offered them again as inspiration and fire in efforts building a better world. Those 20 poems are exemplary of all the poems we’ve published and presented throughout the years; they are cries of mourning and pleas for peace and reconciliation; they speak to our history of brokenness, our spirit of resistance.
And there’s been so much more: readings, performances, workshops, open mics, contests, awards, after-school poetry clubs, world-changing festivals – all engaging poetry’s unique ability to provoke change. All year round Split This Rock’s staff and board work tirelessly to raise funds so that poetry can do this essential work in the world.

But we can’t do it alone. We need you, the Split This Rock community. In 2017, we’ll be marking nine years of building this home for poets and poetry of conscience. The year ahead will be challenging. We’ll need poetry of provocation and witness more than ever: to answer hate, to take advantage of the many opportunities to engage poetry with movements for social change, to build the world we want to see.

The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation has given Split This Rock a tremendous vote of confidence: They will match every donation from a new supporter or increased gift from an existing donor, up to $5,000. Double your donation!

We began this letter expressing dismay at speaking of money at a time such as this. And it’s true, it’s hard to talk about money. But in our society, money is power. And we’ve seen the super-wealthy wield it to distort our democracy and embolden the most hate-filled and violent among us. Help Split This Rock wield it to bring poetry and its challenge and comfort to all who crave its defiant, necessary beauty. Please give generously today.

Donate online at Split This Rock's website or send a check 
for any amount made out to “Split This Rock” to: Split This Rock, 1301 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Suite 600, Washington, DC 20171. Thank you.

With poetry on our lips and our fists in the air,

Sarah Browning          Camisha L. Jones          Dan Vera
Executive Director       Managing Director        Board Chair

PS – Don’t forget! Increase your gift and Split This Rock receives double the new amount!

PSS – All donations are fully tax-deductible.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Letter to the National Rifle Association Against Gun Violence

In July of 2016, Split This Rock opened its blog to poets writing against violence and for embraceIn solidarity with all those targeted by violence at home and abroad -- from the LGBTQ and Black communities in the United States to devastated families of Baghdad -- Split This Rock requested poems in response to and against violence toward marginalized communities.

As we had hoped to do, we have sent these poems, in print, to the National Rifle Association and to members of Congress who represent the states most affected by gun violence. We invite you to do so as well!

To the National Rifle Association,

More and more rapid fire assault weapons are used in this country not in any defense, but for mass shootings in places of enjoyment and sanctuary and commerce -- colleges, high schools, malls, homes, grade schools, places of employment, churches, mosques, temples, and nightclubs -- to assault people for who they are and what they believe.
These are attacks of the most un-American kind, though perpetrated by Americans. People killed because of their faith, their class, their gender, their ethnicity, their sexuality, their ideas. People killed for every reason in the world, except self-defense. Mass shootings, hate crimes, domestic violence, domestic terrorism -- the attack on LGBTQ people at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, the attack on children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the attack on women at a movie theater in Lafayette, LA, the attack on people of faith at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, the attack on people of color at church in Charleston, SC -- these are not acts of self-defense. These attacks are personal and political in nature, built out of resentment, fear, and access to military-style assault weapons.

Split This Rock invites the leadership at the NRA to read the enclosed poems. They are from the pens of poets both nationally famous and yet unknown. They are poets who know what it means to live with gun violence, domestic violence, fear of their own society’s hatred of them. They are the kinds of people often killed by angry men or angry boys with access to assault weapons.

We appeal to your conscience. We ask that the NRA stop imagining that all these lives are worth less than the lives of their membership or the profits of the weapons manufacturers. We ask that the NRA, as an organization, come to understand its mission as vital to more than one American value. We call for the NRA to support, to actively demand the following:
  • a total ban on assault rifles (both sale and purchase);
  • mandatory background checks and a "no buy" list for all weapons for violent felons, domestic abusers, stalkers;
  • weapon liability insurance so that citizens who want to own guns for safety, sport, and collection can insure them the way we insure cars against liability;
  • weapons licensing in a manner similar to the training and licensing of drivers to own and operate a personal vehicle.

Offering these poems to you, we hope that you will be moved, perhaps at long last, to consider the deep social and personal costs of your positions and influence. Split This Rock cultivates, teaches, and celebrates poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes social change. It calls poets to a greater role in public life and fosters a national network of socially engaged poets. In the name of this mission, we offer you these voices from the nation you love.

You may read the poems at Split This Rock's blog.

For love of the people,
Split This Rock

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Intersection of Peril & Joy: Sarah Browning introduces Sharon Olds

Sarah Browning moderates conversation with Sharon Olds
From Split This Rock Executive Director Sarah Browning:

I was fortunate to be invited by Teri Cross Davis, Poetry Coordinator at the Folger Shakespeare Library, to introduce and moderate a conversation with the poet Sharon Olds on Monday, October 17. Below is my introduction. If you're in DC, check out the rest of the season of poetry at the Folger here. Especially next week's reading by Irish poet Eavan Boland and Austin Allen, winner of the Anthony Hecht Prize!

When I first began writing seriously, in the early 1990s, I felt an immense terror at my own vulnerability. I had routinely heard women’s poetry disparaged as sentimental, confessional, domestic, self-indulgent – and political poetry dismissed as propaganda. I could not free myself from these internal voices and wrote only self-defended dense little nuggets of poems. Shame had my tongue tied in knots.
          Until my friend the novelist Dori Ostermiller introduced me to the work of Sharon Olds, by then already a dozen years in print but brand new to me. I found within these finely crafted poems a wild freedom, a female speaker who owned her own body, who spoke frankly of its sexual desire, who told the sorry tales of its violation.
          This courage struck me then as a radical political act. Today, when hundreds of thousands of women have taken to social media to tell of the men who’ve assaulted them in just the way a presidential candidate brags about doing, this courage is revolutionary.
          Which may be why some critics have been so venomous in their attacks, calling Olds’ work sensationalist, just as some are dismissing the true stories of women’s lived experience as hype cooked up for political gain. But women know better – we have lived at the intersection of peril and joy our entire lives. Olds is our chronicler.
          Sharon Olds is the author of 13 books of poems, which have won her – among other recognition – the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Wallace Stevens Award, and Britain's T.S. Eliot prize; she is the first American woman to win. She has been the state poet laureate of New York, received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She teaches in New York University’s Graduate Creative Writing Program as well as at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York City.
          Olds’ most recent book is Odes, which critic Alexandra Schwartz in The New York Times called, “perhaps the funniest book I’ve read this year, and also among the most moving and philosophical, charged with the kind of metaphysical self-interrogation that is a central, though often overlooked, aspect of her work.” The work is playful – Olds makes up delicious words: valentinaceous, starvacious, arroyoing… and even includes a few little sketches. I hope you’ll take it home tonight and enjoy its sheer, daring beauty and striking truth telling.
          Olds’ first book, Satan Says, includes a tribute to the poet Muriel Rukeyser, of whom, I’m ashamed to say, I had never heard until those early 90s days when I was devouring Olds’ work. It’s a short poem and I’d like to read it to you now, as it has become a talisman for my own work, both as a poet and in the creation and growth of Split This Rock, now grown to thousands of poets performing the essential task of witnessing that Sharon Olds pays testament to in this poem:

                    for Muriel Rukeyser

I keep thinking of you standing in Korea, in the courtyard
of the prison where the poet is in solitary.
Someone asked you why not in the street
where you could be seen. You said you wanted
to be as close to him as you could.
You stood in the empty courtyard. You thought
it was probably doing no good. You have written
a poem about it. This is not that poem.
This is another – there may be details
wrong, the way variations come in
when you pass on a story. This is a poem
about a woman, a poet, standing in a courtyard,
feeling she is probably doing no good.
Pass it on: a poet, a woman,
a witness, standing
in a prison
in Korea.

I am immensely proud to introduce to you a poet, a woman, a witness: Sharon Olds.
Photo by Chloe Miller.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Split This Rock Interviews Sheila Black, 10th Annual Poetry Contest Judge

Split This Rock's Program and Administrative Associate Tiana Trutna recently interviewed Sheila Black, judge for the 2017 Split This Rock Annual Poetry Contest. In the exchange, the two cover topics such as disability, intersectionality, what Sheila looks for in a poem, and joy. We invite you to get to know Sheila Black and be sure to send in your poems for the Annual Poetry Contest by November 1.


Sheila Black is the author of House of BoneLove/Iraq (both CW Press), Wen Kroy (Dream Horse Press), and IronArdent, forthcoming from Educe Press in 2017. She is a co-editor with Jennifer Bartlett and Michael Northen of Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability (Cinco Puntos Press), named a 2012 Notable Book for Adults by the American Library Association.  A 2012 Witter Bynner Fellow, selected by Philip Levine, she lives in San Antonio, Texas where she directs Gemini Ink, a literary arts center.


You co-edited the phenomenal Beauty is a Verb, The New Poetry of Disability with Jennifer Bartlett and Michael Northen. What surprised you the most about this anthology’s impact?

I think what surprised me most was the fact that BIAV (Beauty is a Verb, The New Poetry of Disability) even came into existence and then that it was noticed. I should explain—at the time Jen and I and Mike began this, we had nothing more than a glimmer of an idea behind us.  None of us had jobs in academia or many publishing contacts at that point. I had just left the university where I’d been an adjunct and then a contract instructor for many years, and had no job, and no clear sense of job direction. Jen was trying to eke out a living as a poet and adjunct instructor, and Mike had just retired from his work as educational coordinator for Inglis House, a facility that serves people with disabilities in Philadelphia. In a way, our lack of sustained employment was good, because we devoted ourselves entirely and wholeheartedly to putting together Beauty is a Verb. But to be honest I think we had very modest expectations of what would become of it.  We imagined years of sending the book to small presses—some sort of small quiet publication—and just the satisfaction we’d done good work.

What actually happened was a little more miraculous. On New Year’s Eve, when we’d been working on the project for about nine months, I went to a New Year’s Eve Party and happened to be seated next to Bobby Byrd, poet and publisher of Cinco Puntos Press.  He asked me what I’d been up to. I told him—and I must have sounded excited, because he asked to see the manuscript. I sent it to him New Year’s Day. Two days later he called me and said Cinco Puntos wanted to publish it. I suppose I am telling this story for all the writers and thinkers out there with a project like ours in their minds—a project born out of sheer faith, love. An amateur project, if you will. I think BIAV taught me anyway that if you really go with what you believe, and you do your very best to make the work strong, bigger things can happen than you expect. 

What makes you proud about the book’s accomplishments?

I am proud that Beauty is a Verb  helped move non-disability communities away from a purely tragic conception  of disability, or disability as simply a condition of being “less than.” I’m glad we were able to trace through the wonderful writers who contributed some of ways in which disability is a socially constructed phenomenon and how that construction occurs.  And—I have to add—it still shocks me how dominant the idea of being “less than”: is—not only for people with disabilities, but for communities of color, communities of immigrants, LGTBQIA communities. We know it is wrong, but even so that idea persists and gets reproduced. I’m proud that BIAV is one of the many books of poetry, cultural artifacts we are seeing now that are exposing that idea for the fraudulent construct it is.

You’ve said in past interviews that while editing the anthology, Beauty is a Verb, The New Poetry of Disability your ideas about disability expanded. Could you share a bit about that?

By expanded my ideas of disability I think I meant I did not fully appreciate the creative aspects of most disability experiences—by that I mean the multiple ways in which alternative embodiment or what is often called “disordered thinking” often lead to experiences and insights that simply wouldn’t be available otherwise. To give some specifics—the way Larry Eigner describes space from the perspective  of one who does not move freely within it; what ASL brings to the language of a poet like John Lee Clark—a kind of filmic quality or way of charting action; or how C.S. Giscombe conceives of transportation systems or “settling land” in a completely unique way that arises both out of his experience as an African-American man and a person with a disability; what Norma Coles’ work post-stroke tell us about the relationship between the word and what lies before the word. I became more appreciative of everyone’s—and I really do mean everyone’s—possession of a unique set of experiential information that can add to the body of all our knowledge; I think empathy, when it is really empathy, is less sympathy or pity than a bare recognition of that fact—realizing that expanded my sense of value and made me question the hierarchies, I had always lived within, which in most cases were historically established. What was it Elizabeth Bishop said in “To the Fishouses?”—“our knowledge is historical, flowing and flown.” When I was editing Beauty is a Verb I thought a lot about history—both as resource and burden. 

You’re helping to launch a new literary organization for poets with disabilities called Zoeglassia. Can you tell us more about the organization and its aspirations?

Zoeglossia is an idea still, but soon to be implemented. I am very excited about it. The founders, Jennifer Bartlett, Connie Voisine and I were very indebted to forbearers like Canto Mundo, Kundiman, Cave Canem, and Lambda Literary—organizations that pioneered the idea of creating open spaces and supportive communities for African American, Asian-American, Latino, and LGTB poets. We were talking about these organizations, and how important they had been, and started to think that writers with disabilities really needed a similar space. In fact, this need seemed particularly urgent to us because people with disabilities are often isolated—in pure economic terms they also often don’t have significant resources to travel, to engage in mainstream writers conferences, educational opportunities, etc. 
The goal of Zoeglossia is to create an annual retreat that would involve professional development of attendees by prominent, established writers with disabilities. This would include writing workshops, lectures, panel discussions and literary readings. The emerging writers will be selected competitively based on their writing and their expenses at the retreat will be covered in order to facilitate participation. Writers will attend the retreat three times over a five-year period to attain the credential of “fellow.” While people with disabilities are among the largest minority group in America, writers with disabilities are vastly underrepresented in academia in general, and specifically in publishing, creative writing programs and the organizations that govern the field. We look to Zoeglossia to be an advocate for more representation of people with disabilities, but also a space for nurturing writers with disabilities to produce their own best works—a shared creative community with all that this implies.
With Vilissa Thompson starting the #DisabilityTooWhite conversation on Twitter, there’s been some critique lately about disability being portrayed as overwhelmingly white in the media and disability community. How do you negotiate your whiteness as a disabled person and what are your thoughts on intersectionality?

Vilissa Thompson is telling an important truth. I am not on Twitter—I am such a technology Luddite—so I missed this when it first happened, but she is so right. The media does portray disability as overwhelmingly white. It is also true that within disability communities we have a long way to go in terms of being fully multi-cultural in our organizations and movements. The sad irony is that this is exactly not the experience of disability itself. One of the powers of disability—if I can use such a word—is the way it cuts across differences of race, class, and nation.

I was stopped a little by the second part of this question…I tried to figure out why I was having a hard time answering, and I realized it was the word “negotiate,” which I perhaps wrongly tend to associate with business dealings or work conflicts. I don’t know that my whiteness is negotiable. What I mean by that is that it is the weight of history…To be white in this country is to have a history of enforced privilege—to have been part of a story that is terrible and raw and involves genocide, and slavery, and colonization, and a pattern of oppression that has not yet ended.  I may long to disavow that personally, but I really can’t, and I think—if I could be so bold—that to “negotiate” it feels wrong to me.  I am not sure what to do about it, but it feels more like something I just have to sit with, live with, mourn and try to address—but not in a way that is controlling, because control, or the control implied for me by a word like negotiation, feels all wrong for the scale of the thing. That historical weight feels rather like something I should hold in the darkest silence of myself, try to breathe through, and try to really contemplate hard. I guess I am trying to say my personal negotiation feels a lot less important to me than being vulnerable to it. 

Intersectionality seems to me the way we have to move to move forward, particularly as the tools, especially the psychological modes of oppression, often function in remarkably similar ways—no matter what group they are used against…I hope that the movement toward greater justice for people with disabilities, people of color, LGTB people leads to a different sense of social order, a different way to understand and value our communities. A movement, in other words, that creates an order that is not quite so much like our current one, which is a little more like a pyramid scheme than I would like—a few lucky souls at the top and everyone else struggling to rise. I don’t think it has to be that way, but the alternatives are not easily arrived at. I think intersectionality, if considered as a dialogue between, could be a real space for forging something new. I try to push that in my work as an activist. In my writing, to be honest, I hold myself much more tightly—I think the real work I do is simply to try to tell the truth of my consciousness in as openhearted, vulnerable and ruthless way I can.

A successful poet in your own right, can you tell us more about your writing process?

Zadie Smith, who—as well as being a wonderful novelist—writes for me are what are perhaps some of the best personal and critical essays of our times, said something about writing or being a writer that I loved. “Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.” That was from a list she made—a great list—of advice to writers. 
I think that is pretty much my writing process. I try to tell the truth. I resign myself to being disappointed, because of course to convey the truth you can’t simply tell it, you have to eke it out of yourself through all kinds of indirection and necessary discretion, tempered, I think, by a willingness to be ruthless, and mostly with yourself, which involves a lot of failure—moments when you don’t get it right or just aren’t up to the task. 
I still find the production of a poem mysterious. I draft quickly and write a lot of drafts very quickly, but I revise very slowly. I have friends who are the other way around, but whichever way you choose, I think you have to work hard in the end. I also read a lot because nothing inspires me to want to write more than someone else’s beautiful poem. Yet that only helps to some degree,  because to be good—though you never entirely know if you are good—you have to be willing to listen and nurture that small stubborn self that knows something—what? That’s the hard part, pinning down that “what” that no one else knows.
As Split This Rock’s 10th Annual Poetry Contest Judge, tell us what you look for in a poem.

What I look for in a poem?  I have no idea until I find it. I like to be surprised. I like writers who weigh words in their own unique way. I think the work of a poet happens in much the same way as pearls are said to be made—something irritates or upsets you, or you just don’t understand it, and you spend a long time playing words, language until you find a way to get at that thing, maybe in part by suppressing it or not directly stating it, or only expressing it, in a way that also transforms it into an experience that contains something ineffable, a sense of the mystery of being. I like works that reframe ideas or experiences for me in ways that make me reconsider or renter that experience. I like poets who are vulnerable and also in complete authority. I like to hear a voice, a particular voice in a poem. Maybe that’s what I like most of all, the sense of a voice speaking as if through me in a way I have never heard something spoken before.

Outside of the world of poetry, what brings you joy?

I think writing a good poem—rare as a butterfly on your hand—well, that is still one of my great joys. My others—in no particular order:

  • I like to go sit in a dark bar with a good friend and one delicious cocktail
  • I like to cook. I read once that Hanif Kureishi (the author of “My Beautiful Laundrette”) complained in his divorce from his second or third wife that she read cookbooks in bed, and I thought, “But that’s me, I read cookbooks in bed!” Reading cookbooks in bed makes me happy.
  • I like to go to movies alone in the middle of the afternoon.
  • I like to read.
  • I like to hang out in the kitchen with my children.
  • I like to go to museums and look at one painting for half an hour and then leave.
  • I like to travel almost anywhere.  I think most, if not all, of the happiest times of my life have been when I was on the road or in a motel or hotel room or a borrowed house in a city I didn’t know.
All these things do give me joy—even if it is sometimes a slightly melancholic joy. 

What would you like to be known for and how would you like to be described?

I am fifty-five, and I am feeling that pressure of age—a pressure to know who I am and what I’m about, which I don’t entirely, except, maybe I would like to be more fun as I go on. I’d love to be described one day as  a wild and reckless old woman, who people visit just because she is good fun—someone capable of joy. That and a good friend, a decent mother, an activist, a poet who tries,

All things considered that is probably more than enough.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Patrick Rosal Poetry Workshop and Readings

in collaboration with
Fall for the Book logo, includes the words "Fall for the Book" and an image to the left of them of a book with a leaf resting on top of it. All words & images are in burgundy.

Split This Rock is excited to partner with George Mason University's Fall for the Book Festival to present three special events with Patrick Rosal: a poetry
workshop and readings in both DC and Virginia. 

Photo of Patrick Rosal. Image of a bald Asian man with a neutral expression standing in front of a beige wall. He wears a cream colored long sleeve button up shirt with light blue embroidery down the front.Patrick Rosal is the author of four full-length poetry collections. His newest book, Brooklyn Antediluvian, was called by Publisher's Weekly "an earth-shattering performance." Patricia Smith says of the collection, "The poet's wide-aloud love song to New York's most boisterous borough is a deftly-crafted tour-de-force, a sleek melding of lyric and unflinching light." He also is the author of Boneshepherds, My American Kundiman, and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive. His collections have been honored with the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award, Global Filipino Literary Award and the Asian American Writers Workshop Members' Choice Award.


Fall for the Book Reading (VA) | Sept. 30 | 4-5:15 pm | FREE
GMU - Fairfax, VA, Sandy Spring Bank Tent, Johnson Ctr. Plaza
Don't miss Patrick Rosal at this week-long regional festival for all ages! Read more about the event and the festival at the Fall for the Book website.

Argument with the Self and the World: A Poetry Workshop 
Oct. 1 | 1-3:30 pm | $20 
1301 Connecticut St, NW, Suite #600, Washington, DC 
In this workshop, participants will read poems for their argument-not intellectual or legal arguments exactly, but poetic arguments. What kinds of arguments can a poem make that litigation or ad copy can't? How does a poem make an argument in images? Can a poet make beauty of dissent, not just with "the world," but with "the self"? Workshop will include a combination of reading, discussion, and writing. Light refreshments will be served. All are welcomed! No experience necessary. Space is limited and scholarships available. Register online by September 29! 

Reading at Upshur Street Books | Oct. 1 | 6-7:30 pm | FREE
827 Upshur St. NW, Washington, DC
Join us for poetry, community, and light refreshments as Patrick Rosal shares his work. Special guest Holly Bass, Poet & Multidisciplinary Artist! Learn more on the Facebook event page.

Friday, August 19, 2016

THE QUARRY Turns One: Reflections & Top 20 Poems

A poem moves through a constant cycle of renewal. Each time a reader flips to it in the pages of an anthology, each time an artist shares it to her social media feed, it is born again, as new eyes, new pasts, and new souls imbue it with a new life.

A little over a year ago, Split This Rock took a major step in answering a pressing question. Since 2009, we had collected poems from our festivals, our contests, and our Poem of the Week series. These poems, in particular, demanded attention; they bore witness to injustice and, in doing so, were written to provoke transformative change within our society. How to ensure that they did not lie fallow? How to move their artists’ messages into disparate settings and different struggles, yielding dynamic interpretations that would inspire others to resist oppression?

photo of The Quarry website featuring collage of 6 poets included in poetry database
The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database was our response. An ever-expanding central hub of over 350 poems, searchable not only by name, but by theme, language, geography, and poet identity. Designed to bring poetry fully to the center of public life, we had high hopes for how The Quarry would be used. A church group struggling with community poverty, a Black Lives Matter organizer seeking strength, a transitioning adolescent wrestling with isolation, could utilize the poems collected in The Quarry for inspiration, for solidarity, for solace. 

The Quarry’s launch received a warm reception. Split This Rock held an amazing party! An article by The Washington Post highlighted ways to use the The Quarry as a tool. The Poetry Foundation directed readers to the site. Tweetspeaks named The Quarry one of its top ten poetry picks. integrated poems from The Quarry into their website, pointing their readers back to Split This Rock’s website for the original. Still today, new people tweet love to us having just discovered the database or a new poem they adore. And if that weren’t enough, we’ve had the pleasure of nominating poems from The Quarry for awards with the happy result of Rachel Eliza Griffith’s Elegy being selected for the 2015 Best of the Net Anthology.

As we head into The Quarry’s second year, we checked to see what poems have been viewed most. And after falling in love with them all over again, we decided to post them below. Of the 34,728 views to all the poems in The Quarry since it went live on June 24, 2015, these 20 poems have garnered a combined 10,049 page views (and counting)!

Of the top 20, two poems have not only been viewed most in The Quarry, but are also the top two poems viewed at Split This Rock’s blog, Blog This Rock, where we posted poems before the birth of The Quarry. Ross Gay’s A Small Needful Fact, the most viewed poem on both the blog and in The Quarry, has been viewed 21,640 times combined! Danez Smith’s not an elegy for Mike Brown, the 2nd most visited poem on the blog, has had a total of 19,980 views! Written in response to the killings of Eric Garner and Mike Brown, respectively, both allow us room for grief, for rage, for reason to act. This is the work poems can do and we return to them because mournfully these are the times we need them most.

We look forward to expanding The Quarry’s reach, introducing new ways in which it can continue to function not only as a repository of excellent poetry, but as an active tool for those who seek to make justice present in our time. Towards that end, we’d love to hear ways you’ve used The Quarry – for organizing, teaching, worship, reflection. Email your story to us at

And now, we proudly introduce the Top 20 Poems in The Quarry! We hope that the poems below serve as a gateway to hundreds more, that you become lost for hours (or days!) in The Quarry, searching by title, author, identity, and theme, and that you pass on to your friends in struggle those poems that mean the most to you. And most importantly, may these poems offer you inspiration and fire in your efforts building a better world. Happy reading!

Top 20 Poems Viewed Most at The Quarry
As of August 18, 2016

  1. A Small Needful Fact by Ross Gay
  2. america by Fatimah Asghar
  3. Your Rapist is on Paid Administrative Leave by Tafisha A. Edwards
  4. Ode to the Chronically Ill Body by Camisha Jones
  5. What I Mean When I Say Truck Driver by Geffrey Davis
  6. The Transkid Explains Gentrification, Explains Themselves by Taylor Johnson
  7. For the City that Nearly Broke Me by Reginald Dwayne Betts 
  8. Photo Albums by Fatimah Asghar
  9. The Last New Year's Resolution by Kazumi Chin
  10. The Newer Colossus by Karen Finneyfrock
  11. The Opposite of Holding in Breath-- by Hari Alluri
  12. not an elegy for Mike Brown by Danez Smith
  13. Leaving My Childhood Home by Zeina Azzam
  14. Dear American Poetry, by Jan Beatty
  15. Too Pretty by Sunu P. Chandy
  16. dear America by Rachel Eliza Griffiths
  17. WITNESS by Ariana Brown
  18. #flyingwhileblack by Imani Cezanne
  19. Faith by Tim Seibles
  20. Pomegranate Means Grenade by Jamaal May

Gratitude to Eric Eikenberry, Split This Rock Poetry Database Intern, as lead writer for this article. Continued gratitude as well to Split This Rock's Poetry & Social Justice Fellow Simone Roberts for her constant care & effort setting up and maintaining "The Quarry."