Step 1: Get acquainted with the who, what, where, when, why, & how’s
Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness is a four-day (April 14-17) festival in Washington DC that “cultivates, teaches, and celebrates poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes social change.” The festival, which has become an annual event since 2008, grew from several poets’ shared anti-Iraq war stance, and the festival’s first incarnation took place on the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. (You can learn more about Split This Rock’s beginnings by reading Catalogue for Philanthropy’s interview with Executive Director and co-Founder Sarah Browning.)
Split This Rock’s website describes its members as “poets who work in the community, in the academy, and both; well known-poets and poets just starting out…a diverse group in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, age, physical ability, sexual orientation, and social class.” It describes its core values as including “dissent and action for social justice,” “diversity and inclusivity,” “accessibility,” and “community building and education”—values, among others, that the festival strives to fulfill through its readings, panels, discussions, workshops, book fair, calls for public action, exhibits, poetry competitions, open mics, spoken word, and more.
The festival is an obvious outing for our class, whose syllabus outlines course objectives as being 1) “To acquire a deeper understanding of the intersections of poetry and social justice in historical and contemporary contexts,” and 2) “To grow as a writer and member of literary communities, particularly the Baltimore community, by actively engaging with concerns of poetry and social justice in writing and in person.” I think, too, Split This Rock is an obvious festival choice for the community at large: for anyone who finds fault with the political reality in which we find ourselves, for anyone with the courage to speak out against that reality, and for anyone who wants to find that courage within themselves.
Step 2: Stalk Split This Rock’s online presence
Of course, Split This Rock’s own website will provide you with a wealth of knowledge concerning the festival, but there are also several other online resources available to feed your pre-festival curiosity for anything, and everything, Split This Rock. Split This Rock has an active Facebook page, Twitter handle, and YouTube channel, as well as what appears to be a burgeoning Instagram account. (Don’t forget to add #splitthisrock2016 to social media posts!) You also can check out their blog and sign up for newsletter updates.
Most exciting, the festival schedule is now up! You can view it on their website or download the Split This Rock app for Android or iOS.
Step 3: Investigate the impetus behind the name “Split This Rock”
In case anyone in workshop asks: the festival’s name comes from lines in the second stanza of Langston Hughes’s poem “Big Buddy”: “I’m gonna split this rock / And split it wide! / When I split this rock, / Stand by my side.” Listen to a recording of the full poem here.
Step 4: Spend some quality time with the mobile app
I recommend downloading the Split This Rock mobile app ASAP so that you can learn more about the festival, events, and poets before even arriving in DC. The app offers the following subsections: schedule of events (with the option of filtering events by those you’ve “hearted,” by location, or by category), poets and presenters (with short bios for each & links to the events they are leading), FAQs (including festival locations, general questions, and festival food venues), sponsors, about us, map (which is a must), social media (which links you to Facebook, Twitter, the blog, videos, and more), share status, and share photo.
Step 5: Obsess over the amazing lineup of featured poets
Every year, Split This Rock’s Curatorial Committee (which consists of the festival’s staff, board of directors, and advisory committee) chooses fifteen featured speakers for the festival. The committee seeks “poets who are among the most significant and artistically vibrant writing and performing today” and who “exhibit exemplary public citizenship, as activists, supporters of marginalized voices, and/or in a variety of other ways.” Poets come at varying stages of their careers; some are local, others international. As a collective, they represent diverse identities, and writing content/styles.
This year, the featured speakers are Jennifer Bartlett, Jan Beatty, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Regie Cabico, Dominique Christina, Martha Collins, Nikky Finney, Ross Gay, Aracelis Girmay, Rigoberto González, Zeina Hashem Beck, Linda Hogan, Dawn Lundy Martin, Craig Santos Perez, and Ocean Vuong.
Between the 14th and 17th, Split This Rock will offer five readings, each featuring three of the writers above. Thursday evening (April 14), Ross Gray, Aracelis Girmay, and Craig Santos Perez will read from their work. Friday evening (April 15), Jennifer Bartlett, Jan Beatty, and Regie Cabico will read from their work as well. Saturday (April 16) brings us two readings! Dominique Christina, Dawn Lundy, and Martha Collins will start off the evening to be followed by Nikky Finney, Ocean Vuong, and Reginald Dwayne Betts later that night. Sunday morning (April 17), Zeina Hashem Beck, Rigoberto González, and Linda Hogan will be our final featured poets to read. (Click on the hyperlinked text to see the Facebook page for that particular reading.)
In addition to giving readings, the featured speakers will be leading workshop & events throughout the festival. To learn more about the speakers—and choose whose workshops/readings you’ll attend—you can click on their names above. You can also check out Split This Rock’s Featured Speaker Page, the festival’s blog, its Android & iOS apps, and Poetry magazine’s April issue (in which 11 of the featured speakers’ work appears!).
Step 6: Learn more about how to stay involved after this weekend & about year-round programming
There is no one “right” way of reflecting and acting upon what you will learn from this weekend. Posting photos, blogging, corresponding with contacts you’ve made, revising poems you began in workshop, sharing with a book you bought at the Social Justice Book Fair, wearing a Split This Rock t-shirt to class/work, submitting the festival evaluation Split This Rock will request of you—these are only a few examples of how you can might continue the conversations you will be starting this weekend.
Split This Rock also offers a range of volunteer and internship opportunities, some specific to the festival but others concerning overall programming, and you can become a festival sponsor by donating. (Take a look here at Split This Rock’s in-kind donation needs.)
Although Split This Rock Poetry Festival is a huge event, it isn’t the only programming the organization offers. Regular events include the Sunday of Love Poetry Series, workshops (currently offered every other Wednesday), a bunch of youth programming (e.g. DC Youth Slam Team & Louder Than a Bomb DMV Teen Poetry Slam Festival), poetry contests and awards, the Poem of the Week Series, publication of a poetry database called The Quarry, and collaboration with community projects. Click here to view a list of upcoming events and here to view a calendar of events.
If you take nothing else from this blog post, though, take this: Split This Rock is an opportunity to get out of your comfort zone. Make a schedule for this weekend, and completely change your mind the day of. Strike up a conversation with that cool person in workshop. Read a book that confuses you. Think new thoughts. Write new thoughts. Speak new thoughts. Think, write, speak.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all quoted texts originates from Split This Rock's website.
Split This Rock. Split This Rock, n.d. Web. 10 April 2016.