Cheers to Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Ten Years Strong This Weekend!
Congratulations to Split This Rock, based in Washington DC, which will host its tenth anniversary biennial poetry festival this weekend. Split This Rock is a national poetry organization that "cultivates, teaches, and celebrates poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes social change." The organization grew out of Poets Against the War protests, which were initiated by Copper Canyon co-founder Sam Hamill (who passed away just last week). The focus of this year's festival is Poems of Provocation & Witness 2018. Anticipating this weekend's events, Kathi Wolfe writes, "Poetry isn’t an elite, ethereal art form. It’s as essential as food, water or having enough air to breathe." From there:
Poets have always challenged the powerful and told the suppressed stories of those with little power, Split This Rock executive director Sarah Browning emailed the Blade.
“Which is why our words are on the lips of revolutionaries and why tyrants don’t much like us,” she said.
Plato blamed poets for the problems in his Republic. Historically, to be a poet has been a political act. This is even more true, today, in the Trump era where the lives and civil rights of so many from LGBTQ people to people of color are threatened. “The most marginalized – LGBTQ poets, people with disabilities, poets of color, undocumented poets, poets whose lives intersect these identities,” Browning said, “are the most vital at times of crisis such as these.”
During the week when Trump was inaugurated, Split This Rock posted six poems on its website. One of the poems posted, “Declaration of Inter-Dependence,” a poem by gay, Latino poet Richard Blanco, is a powerful call to action against injustice. “We’re the living who light vigil candles and the cop who didn’t shoot./We’re the inmate with his volunteer teacher diagraming sentences, the/Buddhist alongside the stockbroker serving soup at a shelter. We’re the/grandfather taking a selfie with his grandson and his husband,” Blanco wrote.
As a lesbian poet, I sometimes feel somewhat isolated at poetry readings. At some events, it seems as if the sensibility is too hetero. At other times, like other queer poets, I’ve encountered outright or subtle homophobia. Once, when I was in an online poetry workshop, the teacher said I should “warn readers that there is same-sex attraction in this poem.”
Split This Rock has been a haven for LGBTQ poets. From its beginning, queer poets have been an integral presence at Split This Rock. Lesbian poet Adrienne Rich sent STR $1,000 and a note when the group was organizing its first festival. “May this gathering inspire and affirm the spirit of many, especially younger poets and teachers, who have felt betrayed by corporate government and media, by broken promises and opportunism,” Rich wrote, “thank you for your belief in the freeing power of language and action.”