Split This Rock: Launching a Poetic Festival of Provocation and Witness

2010 Split the Rock Gathering

Learn more about the Split the Rock Festival.  It is possible to launch a similiar gathering and celebration in your own local area--anywhere in the world.  Learn more about past festivals, starting in 2008 and the upcoming 2012 festival by going to the Split Rock site: http://www.splitthisrock.org/index.html.  Split the Rock also features poems of provocation and witness each week written by registered participants of the past festivals (2008 and 2010). 


Background Information

Poets have long played a central role in movements for social change. Today, at a critical juncture in our country’s history, poetry that gives voice to the voiceless, names the unnamable, and speaks directly from the individual and collective conscience is more important than ever. The festival will explore and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for change: reaching across differences, considering personal and social responsibility, asserting the centrality of the right to free speech, bearing witness to the diversity and complexity of human experience through language, imagining a better world.

Our country faces a crisis of imagination. We need dramatic change: to end the wars, reorder our national priorities to meet human needs, save our planet. How we address these challenges is a question not just for policy makers and strategists. It is a question for all of us. We believe poets have a unique role to play in social movements—as innovators, visionaries, truth tellers, and restorers of language.

Poetry and the arts are also vital to youth development and empowering young people to speak out and have confidence in their voices. Our intention is to bridge differences in our city and literary community: to place on the same stage poets who work primarily on the page and poets who write primarily for performance; gay and straight poets; African American, Latino, Asian, white, and Native poets; young poets and older poets; poets with disabilities; poets of all social classes.

Split This Rock believes that as citizens and artists, our obligation has never been greater. Our intent is twofold: To call poets to a greater role in public life and to bring the vital, important, challenging poetry of witness that is being written by American poets today to a larger and more diverse audience.

The goals of Split This Rock are:

  1. To celebrate the poetry of witness and provocation being written, published, and performed in the United States today.
  2. To call poets to a greater role in public life and to equip them with the tools they need to be effective advocates in their communities and in the nation.

The name "Split This Rock" is pulled from a line in “Big Buddy,” a poem from Langston Hughes.

Don’t you hear this hammer ring?
I’m gonna split this rock
And split it wide!
When I split this rock,
Stand by my side.

The work of writing the poems that split open the injustices in society is in some ways a solitary act, but it is also an act that requires community. Split This Rock calls all of us to split this rock, and to do it together.

Source: Spilt This Rock: http://www.splitthisrock.org/who.html


The First Festival

On March 23, 2008, during the first Split This Rock Poetry Festival, participants marched to the White House and contributed to the creation of an amazing collaborative poem about peace. To create this cento (verses or passages taken from different authors to form a new piece), participants each read out loud one line of no more than 12 words.


The Poem

I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn between 
bitterness and hope

Turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.

Let’s dance! Let’s dance! Give peace a chance!

Bless them, with the forgiveness only the dead can afford to offer.
In an age without heroes I just want to be a man.
I think I could turn and go and live with the animals.

We draw from a deep well of sorrow and shame—my country and I.
The erosion of voice is the build-up of war …

I don’t know Baghdad
But I do know Albany
And it’s burning.

Oh wasteful war—we could have been learning and listening together!
Who needs oil? The sun ain’t going nowhere.

Lies win you nothing but folded flags in tear-drenched laps.

Alabanza …
I will teach you.
Music is all we have.

Make generals do the fighting.
A child’s hand will overturn their chessboard.
We must emerge from pioneer ashes to penetrate the bosoms of indifferences.

I work so hard to educate
I mourn as bombs annihilate.

Today poets animate the public podiums held by politicians manifesting once sleeping dreams.

“Stop the war” we say
But for this war our taxes pay.

Beneath Mordor —
                        Atlantis rising!
Inanna emerging from the Iraqi underworld, again.

Even when dreams vanish cranes glisten like snow in a broken field.
In my country there’s a censure called “freedom”

America, my heart opened for you. 
Belief in the love of the world …

I.e., reality’s bonemarrow
resides in its pieces.

Weep, you may weep, but you may touch them not.

Singer-poet raised silent stumps
Music mangled but not voice
Viva Victor Jara!

We need one single person not to fight. Won’t you be that one?
I can no longer watch as you eat the shadows of others. 
Carrying your harp of sighs you breathe out the music of mourning.
After the war’s funeral let us not suffer renovated marginalization ever again.

Connection with other
important as autonomy
Alone, not alone in the war zone.

We no longer whisper sweet nothings
War cries make poor pillow talk.
Words of peace pierce the wounded air here, like sweet bandages.

Where are you, Prince of Peace?
We could really use you now.

Placing words like quicksand, stepping forward where word bridges hold.
My bird-wing arm is wrapped around your heart’s spun glass cage.

War is not the answer. Talking it over is the answer. 
A world of peace and social justice, protection of the planet.

Let us walk through
inviolable borders
like rain finding its
destined continent.

If you dare, come now with me,
Fearless, confident and free.
Turn your wrath on war when its winds rise. Spit and let the flags fight.

Love is what it is …
The calming stream that warms us …

The bombs pound holes in the night. Night after night.
This is our watch just for having been born.

they speak of the art of war
but arts
draw their light from the soul’s well
dries up the soul

Maybe you shook the hot bone dice.
Promise me not to go silent all of a sudden.

Hung one, young America died and continue to die
Terrorists occupy THE WHITE HOUSE

ahhh peace
ahhh end this war now
ahhh peace
bring them home

Our country
Our shock
Our awe
Our shame
Our recompense
Our future

Draw me a future I won’t be ashamed to leave my son.

Why, in America, are the only choices I’m allowed always between lesser evils?
What will you do, America, when the dormant poet begins to speak?

Carry the wounded world like a dying child in our arms forever, giving sorrow to words.
Melt down the vessel full that served as mixing pot of grief.
Can we bring down heaven, plant it here where they love?

The invasion of boots is everyday
Occupation is violence
Operation self-determination is salvation—spring.

You’ve ruined lives like centaurs tearing up trees with world-wasting cries …
“Both, I will have them both!” declared this true-blue American.
This fifth Easter Sunday drops yellow down my throat—what must I do?

Mercy, Mercy
“America can’t leave ‘em go like this.”

Under the peace hungry eyes of the world,
Cherry blossoms witness the fifth anniversary of the Iraqi war.

Politics of death and taxes bring me here to grieve.

Blood on Blood—red matter fragments! What follows? Let it be—luminous, free!
A painter says red, white + blue. No more purple hearts for you.
So instead of war, we might have had much improvisational festivity.

Dichoso el árbol que es apenas sensitive
Y más la piedra dura …

This empirical wonderland is spinning off its evil axis
and I am pissed off.

Listen—the murmur
of 100 million stars
too distant to fear
any fighting.

Baghdad, once called the given garden—
a desert—stolen—water, medicine, citizen.

Easter, again, and the sky as blue as the oldest promise.

Blackwater, Boeing, CACI, Dyncorp, GE, General Dynamics, Halliburton, KBR, Lockheed, Raytheon, SAIC?
When your venomous cabal is gone, may the earth truly blossom again.

Weight-bearing has made us strong
Our bones metal
Muscles sinew hearts anealled

Can’t we try to win this peace? Because we’re never gonna win this war.
Weapons of mass construction—loving-kindness, diversity, joy!
War, you’re in our cross-hairs.

O voice of all-night wind and rain,
do you count the petals that are falling?

There is more beauty in words than in war.
The most deafening weapons in any war should be lyrics, not landmines.
Carry our well wherever we walk, saturating scars with living waters, promise.

O sister of nausea       of broken ribs              of isolation
what is the freedom I protect              how is it mine

Mothers search the skies for their sons and daughters.
I dream of a child who will ask, “Mother, what was war?”

Move within. But don’t move the way fear makes you move.

Melt, melt away ye armies—disperse ye blue-clad soldiers,
Resolve ye back again, give up for good your deadly arms.

May rooms of dryness find you fed … watched by every human love.
The light is always there, even on an empty page or in my dream.

Where there is no wisdom, the people perish.
I am grafted to the skin of this land and its blood

“Islands”: For God’s sakes
Don’t you know
they are connected

Look up—veil of cherry blossoms—peace rising.
Happy peacemakers know—even in sorrow, anger—we’re all children—one love.

1968: screaming screaming STOP this war;
2008: silent, silent STOP this war.

On a day of unreportable sadnesses we must reteach a thing its loveliness.
Go ahead open your hand ... 
The lone night bird sings to the tortured between screams.

If I keep from imposing on people, they become themselves.
Peace is within reach, over the horizon just beyond war.

The best lack all conviction while the worst
are full of passionate intensity.

Where the princes are principled and the poets empowered, there is the land where peace is possible!
Let there be peace on Earth, the peace that was and is meant to be.
Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.

And the narrowest hinge of my hand parts to score all machinery.

The children are waiting to be heard, listen to their silenced cries.
We inherit ashes and transform these into the rich compost of poetic possibility.
Let America be America again.

All thinking people oppose terrorism both domestic and international …
The winding Potomac lazily drifts by the Pentagon, journeying towards the sea.

America, let the words of the poets ring in your head.
No sick winter shall blot out the stars of our defiance.

Heroes want hugs, but send bombs to buildings to excuse their absences.
We are borne with dreams in our hearts, looking for better days ahead.

I’ve never been to war, except inside.
Please stop war. We want peace and we will not fight.
Poetry made me brave. It tells me we can build our peace.

Enough, I say, enough.
5 years. How long until even the gods are ashamed.

Happiness exists, I can feel it.

Why are we here,
Because the heart needs to burn bigger than fear.

Mr. Bush, you’ve pushed war 5 Easters. Ask this: who would Jesus torture?
Dung beetle says, “I want dung, not blood.”

You have broken our laws, and our hearts, but not our spirit.
Lilacs are still ten dreams away.

… old fathers … consider the necessary eradication of the new fathering fathers (who are their sons) …
To be free why do we steal the dignity of others?

War is like cancer: It’s treated, but needs a cure.
All those ships that never sailed.

Hate never dispels hate
only love
each the other
one heart

And because everything we carry is really ours.

T’ai chi afternoon
What about sweet surrender?
Sink and relax.

Lieutenant! This corpse will not stop burning!

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

Look around
The intifada is coming
and we are the stones.

We will NOT be SILENT.
Yes, we do want to be well.

I dream a world where love will bless the earth.

We are warriors of the light
shine, shine, shine
love love love.

Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away.
The underthrum, the handing off from one voice to another.

Don’t you hear this hammer ring?
We are the sworn poets of every dauntless rebel the world over!

Source: http://www.splitthisrock.org/cento.html