Split This Rock: Reflecting on 10 Years of Poetry, Witness & Resistance


This is Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness. My name is Sarah Browning and I am the Co-Director of Split This Rock Poetry Festival here in Washington, DC. In 2003, when the United
States invaded Iraq, DC poets came together and created DC Poets Against the War.
Poets came together to use their poetry to reclaim the language.
Language was being manipulated and used over and over again as propaganda and it flattens
the language and poetry revives it it injects blood back into the language. krik! (audience: krak!)
krik! (audience: krak!) Roxy has a secret and i know it.
krik! (audience: krak!)
Roxy ̶ fresh
from the Dominican Republic ̶ lives on the first floor
and me ̶ a Haitian talkin
American ̶ I live on the third. She’s twelve
years old
and I’m nine but we’re friends cuz neither of us is allowed
to go outside. [music] [music] So you know I had to resolve it, and you know, it turned out to be pretty simple. Africa is my grandmother; Jamaica, where I was born and grew up until I was seventeen, is my mother; and Canada is my spouse of choice. And that’s why I get so much criticism and screaming at. We decided here in DC that it was time to do something on a larger scale, and it was time for a national
event here in the nation’s capital. Split This Rock. Split This Rock. Split This Rock. As you know, the publicity goes on to say,
these are poems of provocation and witness and in fact the brochure quotes the
lines from Langston Hughes and it says: Don’t you hear this hammer ring?
I’m gonna split this rock
and split it wide! And when I split it wide,
stand by my side. And that is his call. It is the call of this event.
It is the call of this festival. Poets have an opportunity and a responsibility to help cut through the propaganda, help name the injustices.
Too often, it’s invisible– what’s happening. My teacher asks the Black boys in the
class what it’s like to be America’s biggest target. No one seems to notice he
doesn’t ask the Black girls anything, and we’re too used to being America’s
biggest disappearing act to mind being ignored. We are the girls of the soil and this is an adult conversation, so we pacify our fears by reciting the names of dead Black boys because we have
no names to call our own. My teacher did not ask me a question but I answer
anyway because you have to say my name to call on me, and that’s all the proof I
need that I exist in this moment. America has helped me realize invisibility ain’t
much of a superpower. They say you need a voice to speak up, but
Black girls have a knack of dying soundlessly so how can I be a martyr if
I was never invited to the movement? They march on our bones and recite the
names of men like girls that look like me and died on these same streets for these same reasons. My only contribution to the hashtag is my womb. 3awda—a5 ya baba
I have fallen in love with Beckett, I stumble upon my Arabic inflections, confuse
subject and object,
but I have promised Al-Mutanabbi I will come back. Promise—
some people are kind, they say
Bienvenu, Welcome, أهلاً here’s a toy, a blanket,
a sandwich, here
away from slaughter but also from my bed, my balconies, my books.
There is no space for me
to make love to you here. Here—
Nina Simone still sings
Got my liver, got my blood, so here, despite the children sleeping
on the floor, and the tents, and the sea,
and much much more, kiss me, for where else
do we carry home now, habibi,
if not on our lips? It’s really exciting to see this thing
take off like a rocket ship. When Sarah Browning innocently approached me and
she says, “I have an idea for a poetry festival, and since we are the poetry
place she said maybe you guys can help us to kind of push it forward” and so on.
And so immediately we got on board here at Busboys and Poets and we’re so
excited and thrilled to be part of this incredible festival. Poetry has always
been important to me it’s always been important in my life. The language of the
subversive, it’s a language of provocation. It’s a language that lies
underneath the regular language that you hear every day and so it is how
revolutions begin it’s how change begins. It’s with change of those words that
poets, only poets can bring out ̶ words that have such powerful meaning and such deep,
deep, deep, understanding that they go beyond the din that people are used
to on a daily basis. So it’s wonderful to see Split This Rock really taking an
important role to that. Big Buddy, Big Buddy.
Ain’t you gonna stand by me? Big Buddy, Big Buddy.
Ain’t you gonna stand by me? If I got to fight,
I’ll fight like a man.
If I got to fight, I’ll fight like a woman. But say, Big Buddy
Won’t you lend a hand? Ain’t you gonna stand by me?
Big Buddy, Big Buddy Don’t you hear this hammer ring?
Hey Big Buddy,
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. Say Big Buddy,
Don’t you hear this hammer ring? [music]

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