Books & Writing

Split This Rock

June 10, 2012
Split this Rock is one, if not, THE largest poetry festival in the United States of America. I didn’t understand the magnitude of this event when I was asked to attend and represent Manhattanville College’s writing program. I was just thankful to be have been asked and and I was eager to get there and network like I’ve never networked before!
I took the train down to Washington, DC because I thought it would be easier and less stressful. The first time I took the train to DC was in 2009 when Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President. The train ride gave me time to read, talk to my mom, randomly interview passengers, and stay away from motion sickness. I was hoping for the same thing this time around.
After an evening of travelling and great night’s rest, the next morning I woke up early and headed to my first workshop. I knew when I was preparing this trip I knew I wanted to attend the “Starting, Maintaining, and Growing a Youth Slam Team” workshop with Jonathan B. Tucker, the Split this Rock Youth Programs Coordinator. I’ve loved poetry since I was a child and if I would have had the opportunity to be part of a youth poetry slam team as a teenager, in so many ways, my life would be different. I’ve always thought, if I can afford the freedoms of art to another human being I would. I took this workshop to figure out how to practically do that. I was really impressed with the way the students who are apart of the Jonathan’s poetry slam team interacted with the adults in the room. We were really their students and they were our educators. The biggest lesson they taught us was to look for one kid to encourage and show the art form of poetry to and to always, always expect the unexpected. The group that Jonathan started is run for the students (teenagers) and by them. They are allowed to interject their opinion about the ways they feel the group should be run based on their own needs as inner city students. This was so appealing to me. There needs to be more programs for students, by students, for the growth of students. After all, they’re the minds, the hands, the souls, that we will leave this world to.
Walking around Dupont Circle I found Shake Shack and a cupcake shop. Both were delicious! I’ll never pass on a cupcake, ever. I love baking them and I love eating them. This cupcake was the perfect treat after a perfect meal.
After walking that food off I found Kramerbooks and After Words Café and I had to go in. I have this thing when I’m traveling, I have to go to a bookstore. There’s just something special about going into a bookstore and seeing what types of books are popular and being sold in different areaa. This bookstore was small but packed to capacity with books! I skimmed the poetry section and my eyes landed on the Penguin Anthology for 20th Century American Poetry edited by Rita Dove (whom I’ve made no secret about loving and using as my muse). I had to buy the book. I was on a poetry trip after all and what better story for this book to tell than to to say it was purchased in such a great city during such a great weekend.
The next day, I had less time to be a tourist. It was back to business. I had a FULL day ahead. It started with a little photoshoot in front of the Thurgood Marshall Center. Thank God my Mom came with me on this trip, she was so nice and didn’t mind capturing these moments for me. If you’re ever on a work trip, ask for a mother/photographer/travel guide to accompany you. It can make a world of difference.

I went inside the Thurgood Marshall Center and immediately started setting up the display table for INKWELL Journal, the literary magazine affiliated with my graduate program where I served as Poetry Editor this year. Days before I went to campus and grabbed pens, bookmarkers, present and a few older copies of various magazine issues, information about this year’s Summer Writer’s Week, and those fabulous bags that were a huge hit! I even bought some candy to decorate the table and to entice people to come to the table. And can I say, it worked like a charm!
Mark Nowak, my graduate director even came to see how the table looked and to sneak in some candy. I was so happy he loved it. He told me about a few workshops he thought I’d like to attend. I took his advice and headed over to the “Even in Polite Community: Women Write Their Own Truths” which was a fantastic workshop facilitated by Antoinette Brim, Nik Herd, Lita Hooper, Renee Simms, and Demetrice Anntia Worley. A few of these beautiful women were Cave Canem fellows which I found greatly inspiring. The discussion they led circled around the concept of women being silenced by society and even ourselves and then the ways writing gives us all a voice to speak up. I loved it.
After the morning workshops I decided to go to catch lunch at Busboys and Poets.
Busboys and Poets is a highly historical and hugely popular cafe that caters to the poetic community in Washington, D.C. as well as in a few other cities in the United States. It’s name comes as a reference from Langston Hughes who worked as a busboy prior to his success as one of the greatest poets and most influential black writers in America. The vibe of Busboys and Poets is EVERYTHING I love. There’s a bookstore in the front, huge plush seats with electric outlets everyone (internet and electronics junkies like myself appreciate this!), as well as a long bar and then tables and chairs for sit down meals. It was awesome. The food was delicious. I had a crab cake on a roll with some spicy sauce I wish I had the recipe to and sweet potato fries. If you’re ever in Washington, whether you’re a poet or not, you should DEFINITELY check Busboys and Poets out. You’ll love it, trust me.
I went back to the hotel after participating in Poetry and Yoga workshop which was mind blowing. I used to do yoga in college but I had NEVER done yoga with poetry. Stretching, breathing in deeply and slowly while someone read poetry was just a great time I didn’t know I was missing out on. But, when it was all said and done I had one thing on my mind and one thing only: hearing Alice Walker give a reading in my presence.
I took this beautiful picture with Sonia Sanchez and I was so nervous. Actually, I was beyond nervous! And as I stooped down next to this tiny yet powerful woman do you know what she said to me?? She said, “Stand up! Let people see how tall you are”. I promise you, this moment will live with me forever. What she said could have been because I was wearing 5 inch heels and that boosted my height well beyond my natural 5 foot and 7 inches self but, to me this meant SO much more. I quickly took the picture and sat back down, gripped my Mom’s arm (after recapping my QT with Sonia) and waited for the show to began. Rachel McKibbens opened the show and her poetry was the most raw, most honest, and scariest (in a GOOD way) poetry I’d heard in awhile. Most of it had to do with domestic violence, child abuse, and teen pregnancy. Absolutely powerful stuff! Of course, after a few words from the MC Alice Walker hit the stage. I sat there, listening to her talk about change that comes through poetry, politics, freedom for all mankind, and zeal she has for living so starstruck and so encouraged. This woman is everything I’ve always wanted to be. Dignified, artistic, confident in her heritage as a black woman in America, poised, and committed to poetry.
After the reading I got a picture with Alice Walker…and had a wonderful and HILARIOUS conversation with Rachel. She was so cool and I’m always impressed with people who instantly get my slightly sarcastic and witty humor. I even got signed copies of BOTH of their chapbooks! Epic win for the night.
I have to say, the Split this Rock Poetry Festival was absolutely perfect. It was a whirlwind of networking, workshops, readings, and sightseeing. Split This Rock is already planning for their 2014 festival and I’m keeping a watchful eye. I can’t wait to be present for that one! In the end…I left D.C. feeling accomplished, blessed, and happy.
Click it! Share it!

You Might Also Like...

1 Comment

  • Reply
    July 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    I love how you describe d everything..while reading this I felt as if I was there with you and your pictures are beautiful 🙂 im glad it was a successful trip..

Leave a Reply