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Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poetry Matters

The poets are coming to Washington, D.C. once again. Split This Rock Poetry Festival takes place March 27-30, 2014. This is one of the most stirring and crucial gatherings of poets in the country. I am probably a bit biased as I’ve been involved in small ways with the festival. But it’s clear to me– Split This Rock– Poems of Provocation and Witness– has something powerful to say. It matters.

Split This Rock Poetry Festival grew out of D.C. Poets Against the War, founded in Washington, D.C. by poet and activist Sarah Browning. D.C. Poets Against the War organized, joined marches, held readings, published three anthologies: D.C. Poets Against the War: Anthology 1 and 2, and Cut Loose the Body: An Anthology of Poems on Torture and Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib. From those early days in 2003, Sarah Browning’s vision of a national poetry festival built on poetry of witness, socially engaged poets who believe poetry has something crucial to say to our country– this dream was born. The first festival was held in 2008 to great success. I volunteered at that festival and was assigned to host poet Naomi Shihab Nye. Naomi is a remarkable poet and a magnificent person. We joked that I was sort of her “North Korean minder.” I got her places on time, told her where to go, where not to go. Since, we’ve become great friends. The Festival continued in 2010 and 2012 and now we’re on the verge of the fourth festival.

But Split This Rock has grown into more than a festival. It is a community. Split This Rock has gathered a community of poets who care about peace, justice, and the power of language. Split This Rock co-sponsors many events with other groups. It hosts poetry workshops, youth programs, various events, and Sunday Kind of Love, an eight-year running monthly poetry reading in Washington, D.C. Split This Rock has offices at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. In short, its growth and goodness has been a gift to poets and poetry lovers everywhere.

I have made some magnificent friends through Split This Rock. I have to say it gave birth to what I consider my poetry family around the country. I met amazing poets and people like Naomi Shihab Nye, Randall Horton, Patricia Smith, Marilyn Nelson, Martin Espada and many others through this rich and diverse community of poets. I’ve also been at workshops that challenged and encouraged me. Ailish Hopper, Martha Collins, Tess Taylor, and the late Jake Adam York ran an awesome workshop a couple of years ago about white poets writing about race. Kristi Kramer hosted workshops featuring Iraqi children writing poetry. Mark Nowak ran a workshop in 2012 about his work with factory workers in the U.S. and South Africa. I’ve been on panels dealing with GLBT Poetry Since Stonewall with Jericho Brown, Dan Vera, and others. I’ve also been in readings with Kevin Simmonds, Daniel Nathan Terry, among others. This year, I’m fortunate to be on a panel discussing Poetry of Witness with Kyle Dargan, Yvette Neissor Moreno, and Travis Roberts.

The 2014 Split This Rock Poetry Festival will be awesome once again. Besides the many workshops, the evening featured readers includes: Joy Harjo, Eduardo Corral, Franny Choi, Yusef Komunyakaa, Tim Seibles, Danez Smith, Anne Waldman, and Natalie Diaz. This is a great gathering of some of America’s finest living poets. If you love poetry, if you write poetry, if you appreciate the power of language, you will love this gathering. I hope you can join us.

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