Armed with the Split This Rock event app (which I found out about from Yasmine’s blog post) I stalked the presenters, performers and event leaders, scrolled through a list of panels all scheduled at the same time making Sophie’s choice each time I selected one over the other and discussed which panels I wanted to attend with my classmates. Of course, pre-planning is simple—nothing ever pans out quite as you’d expect.
Case-in-point: a breakdown of the day-of:
7:00 AM: It Begins (also the caption of my first Snapchat of the day)
“I missed the bus.” Hopkins has a lovely air about it in the early hours of the weekend morning, when no student wakes up with the intention to walk on to campus at 6:45AM. I, of course, having woken up late, ran (walked at a rapid pace) to campus only to find the East Gate of campus completely deserted. Of course, rather than consult any emails or memory of what The Plan was for the day, I convinced myself of the only natural truth: I missed the bus.
Very soon after this thought, familiar faces began to trickle in and approach me (or the gate). However, rather than feeling a sense of comfort, I wondered how I would tell them my newfound discovery: We’ve missed the bus.
9:00 AM: Arrival at Festival and Adventures to the Middle East [Panel]
Upon arriving at the festival, I realized what had been in the back of my mind while looking at the map I’d been handed on the bus: each panel was in a different building—not just a different room. Panels were set up in different spaces within a three-block radius or so. We would have to walk to each one.
Now I’ve heard conflicting opinions on the dispersed panels, however I was personally a big fan of it. We got to walk out into the lovely weather between each panel and see the tiny stretch of D.C. before us that looked all the more beautiful for it. But one issue became glaringly obvious to me within moments of looking at the map: what they fail to check post 4th grade Social Studies is whether you can still read a map after you ace the test. Short answer based on life experience: no. There were no gridlines showing how far Sally’s house was from the elementary school: just a combination of two star shaped intersections and their off-shooting sparks—streets. Even though they were very helpfully up marked map. My only problem was not knowing which way I was on the map. Which led to some very interesting early morning adventures.
I must admit now that I am not a coffee drinker, therefore to play up my tired antics as caffeine withdrawal would be disingenuous. However, given my early morning and short nap on the bus ride, my first intended destination was a lucky chance upon Starbucks. This Starbucks, according to the map meant we were very close to the location of the first panel: Now What? Everyday Experience and Resistance in the Middle East, which my early morning astuteness led me to search for based on the building numbers around me rather than by consulting a map on my phone. Across the street from the Starbucks was a building numbered 1300 Connecticut Avenue, making me certain 1301 (the Institute for Policy Studies new office) was nearby. After crossing Connecticut Ave and immediately crossing back, then crossing N St, and again immediately crossing back, we found that 1301 Connecticut Ave. was right next to the Starbucks in the only direction we hadn’t tried: down the street.
9:30 AM Panel 1: Now What? Everyday Experience and Resistance in the Middle East
As the first panel I attended at the festival, this panel on the Middle East largely shaped my expectations for the rest of the day. As a panel consisting of academic/poets, there was a collegiate feel of a lecture, paired with panelists unique and informed readings into the works of the Middle East. For the subject matter, I found the format beneficial, however I did feel there was limited Middle Eastern representation. This was not a great concern however, as each of the panelists seemed to be aware of their own distance despite their own positions as translators or burgeoning experts in the field.
The panelists’ grappled with the question of how creativity occupies a space on the political stage by exploring the resistance of poetry through subtle language. In fact their emphasis on the intricacies of the Arabic language ushered the audience members and other panelists to seeing images of resistance in the everyday images of family, nature, etc.
I was particularly interested in the take of the panelists, Nomi Stone, and her fieldwork as an Anthropology PhD. candidate researching practices of the US military alongside her study of Iraqi poets and short story writers. As she read a selection from Hassan Blasim’s The Corpse Exhibition and Dunya Mikhail’s “Iraqis and Other Monsters,” she drew emphasis on Arabic works of resistance as a voicing in the world “I am alive and I am not your tool.”
11:30 AM Panel 2: The Space to Create: Designing Successful Poetry Workshops for Communities
First things first: This panel was actually amazing. As a Creative Writing teacher at a local middle school, I know how much outside time and planning is required to come up with engaging writing prompts for my students.
Basically a workshop on how to hold a workshop, the room was filled to capacity with seating spread out to the floor—tightly packed. Despite the minimal elbow room, the room was filled with energy as so many amazing individuals shared their own experiences and gave each other advice across the room on holding workshops. As a relative newbie, I was just in awe to see so many people share my experiences or offer ways to improve how I've held workshops for my students in the past.
After a group brainstorming session the audience broke into groups as we designed our own workshops. On groups I will say this—after being introduced to my group-members, I am actually in awe of how a workshop like this brings together people of all levels of experience from an Ohio county poet laureate to a university student studying poetry. On designing a workshop I will go further and say that I am extremely grateful for the lessons and the advice. Being in a setting where I was introduced to so many opinions and experiences helped me to recognize that although I may be starting out, I'll be armed with the experience of my poetry workshop workshop peers as I move forward.
Lastly, a huge shout-out and thanks to the Project VOICE team Sarah Kay, Phil Kaye, Franny Choi and Jamila Woods for making the process of designing a workshop streamlined and helpful and particularly timely, as I go back to teaching next year!
1:00 PM Meeting Pages Matam in Person (More details in our interview here)
While the poetry festival itself was a new and unique experience, the absolute most exciting part of my day was between all of the scheduled events of the festival (sorry, Split This Rock organizers, and thank you at the same time for making this meeting possible in the first place!). As students in Dora Malech’s Poetry and Social Justice class at JHU, Rejjia Camphor, and WBS writer and myself were partners in conducting an interview with Pages Matam for this website. Due to time constraints, we had conducted our interview with Pages over email, however after receiving his responses he mentioned that he would be at the festival on Saturday.
While our conversation was very helpful for completing our interview for this blog, it was also an excellent summary of this poetry festival itself. It was immediately clear that Pages knows literally everyone—as Rejjia and I were fortunate to meet so many amazing artists who stopped by just to say hi. Upon learning that we were conducting an interview, many asserted that Pages is the perfect combination of poetry and social justice—a perfect interviewee for this class. At a festival like this, Pages was a human reminder of all the stories that need to be told, of the many silences to be broken.
2:00 PM Unchained Voices: Giving Incarcerated Writers a Voice
What I found most interesting about this panel was how it could be so much about poetry and expression, without any poetry being read aloud. In some ways, this panel exemplified the aims of a social justice poetry festival drawing attention to the voices of the unheard.
The two panelists spoke of their experiences not only in teaching creative writing courses to incarcerated individuals, but also of the systemic issues all volunteers face whether it be from program coordinators, grant funding etc. They emphasized their own need to remain apolitical, instead driving activism through writing. By focusing their power on telling their authentic truths, these individuals are able to craft their stories and have a space for their voices to be heard.
You can find out more about the work these panelists do with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop here.
4:30 PM The Adventure Back to Baltimore (or When I Remembered I Had Snapchat and Drained my Phone Battery Recording my Last Hour in D.C. to Make Up for Not Capturing the Festival)
“Life is an adventure best lived with the people you love” This semester I was thrilled to take a poetry class with one of my dearest friends before she graduates. While this semester itself has been an adventure for both of us, our trip back to Baltimore was the best kind—inadvertent.
After unknowingly walking to the farther away metro station, passing it by a couple feet and being patiently directed by a fellow pedestrian to look five feet behind us, my classmate, Maysa and I made it to the Metro. Where the real adventure began. Now, everyone knows that trains go in two directions: from Here to There and There to Here. And Maysa, looking in the opposite direction came upon the realization that we were on the wrong train and wrongfully ushered me off the right train. Right before the stop for Union Station—a.k.a. our stop. She continued to advise against the next two trains which both stopped at Union Station (at this point, the blame is solely on me for not asserting my superior directional skills), until the metro which would bring us to Union Station with one minute to our train arrived. Ultimately combination of running as fast as we could, and the sheer luck that the 5:30 PM train was late, brings our D.C. adventures to a close.