Once again, the poets are coming to Washington, D.C. From March 22-25, 2012, Split This Rock Poetry Festival takes place here in Washington, D.C. This will be the third Split This Rock Poetry Festival, previous Festivals took place in 2008 and 2010. I have participated in all three of these Festivals and they are magnificent events. Split This Rock is a national organization of poets calling for justice and peace, using their craft as their voices. While Split This Rock grew out of D.C. Poets Against the War, it was founded on the vision of a fine poet and my friend, Sarah Browning. Sarah’s energy and commitment to literary activism hold this Festival together and guide it into what many American poets have experienced as an amazing, life-giving gathering. The Festival takes place on and around Washington’s famous U Street and Columbia Heights neighborhoods. There are panel discussions, readings, gatherings of all kind. It’s a little too easy to classify this Festival as a gathering of political poets. It is that, but it is much more. It’s a place where poets who seek to speak to the sufferings of our time — war, torture, inequality, prejudice — find encouragement and challenge. Split This Rock is more than just the Festival too. Throughout the year, and during the Festival’s off-years, the organization sponsors and co-sponsors all kinds of literary and political events.
In the 2008 Festival, I served as a volunteer and was given the delightful task of hosting poet Naomi Shihab Nye. I’m glad to say she has since become one of my dearest friends. At the 2010 Festival, I coordinated a workshop on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Poets Reginald Harris, Dan Vera, Janet Aalfs, Jericho Brown, Francisco Aragon and I had a discussion on the current state and future of GLBT poetry. During this, the 2012 Festival, I’m honored to be on a panel of poets, including editor Kevin Simmonds, who have poems in the new anthology Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion, and Spirituality. We will read from this important anthology.
The Festival’s schedule during the day offers a wide variety of workshops and in the late afternoons and evenings there are readings by featured poets. This year, some of the featured poets are Homero Aridjis, Sherwin Bitsui, Kathy Engel, Douglas Kearney, Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sonia Sanchez, Alice Walker, Jose Padua, Venus Thrash and Kim Roberts.
As with many Festivals or conferences, the scheduled events are excellent but the “in betweens” are what really inspire. Walking from one workshop to another, sitting down early for a reading, you never know who you will meet. I have met many strong poets and beautiful friends at these Festivals. Each time, poets have come hungry for community and for new ideas and encouragement. The mood has always been serious and hopeful and joyful.
There are student discounts to the Festival. You can go only to the evening readings. There are many ways to participate. What I know for certain is that if you can make it to Washington, D.C. for this necessary Festival, you will not regret it.