On Thursday morning I went to a workshop titled “Affirm, Ground & Heal, In that Order.” The description read, “A tenet of intergenerational trauma is silence. This workshop is a reflection on a project to collect and memorialize cultural and familial history through the storytelling of narrative poetry. The workshop leader will create and hold safe space for participants to: (1) understand the impact of daily trauma on each participant; (2) use a fusion of poetry, storytelling, oral history, and mindfulness to explore emotions such as anger, abandonment, and violence against our bodies; and (3) reflect on what the self needs. All of this draws from the tools that exist within and the generations of black women’s resilience, vulnerability, and power. We will leave with questions that elicit and transmit cultural and familial memory. Through selected poems by Gwendolyn Brooks and Cheryl Clarke—as well as original pieces—the workshop will explore the themes of anger, abandonment, and violence that are prevalent with black women. This workshop aims to use “storytelling as a regenerative gendered act of creation.”
(*Throughout this blog, I will use the term 'freewrites' for the work I produced at STR. These were originally hand-written material that have now been revised at least once since that time. I've included them because this writing was an important part of how I experienced STR, and a small measure of the tremendous creativity flowing through the air straight into our bodies.)
Description: Pat Parker and Audre Lorde first met in 1969 when Lorde was on a book tour on the West Coast. Wendy Cadden, a graphic artist and member of the Women’s Press Collective, introduced the two women. Lorde was thirty-five years old (born February 18, 1934), and Parker was twenty-five (born January 20, 1944). Recently published, Sister Love: The Letters of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker, 1974-1989, is the collection of the 26 letters of their extant correspondence. The letters between Parker and Lorde began in 1974 after Lorde’s second visit with Parker on the West Coast and continued until Parker’s death from complications of cancer in 1989. Parker and Lorde write about the business of poetry, the contours of their lives, cancer, lovers, and travel. The letters cover the most productive years of their poetic and intellectual production and provide insight into both poets’ interior worlds, as well as the larger environment in which they produced their work. This panel will read selections from the letters and discuss Parker and Lorde’s enduring legacies.
Presenter: Devi Lockwood
Description: What is climate justice storytelling? What language can we use to draw people into stories of climate change, rather than pushing them away? While numerical data is important, it is only part of the story of climate change. Women and people of color are disproportionately impacted by climate change. We can use our voices to speak up—and speak out. Poetry can help to elevate and express human stories that need to be told. In this workshop, we'll cover basic techniques of deep listening. After a brief intro, we'll break into pairs to practice listening to each other's stories of lived change. We'll be creating two poems: one individual story of lived change, and one collaborative climate change poem composed as a group. Our president might erase swaths of climate data from government websites, but human stories can be even more powerful. We'll end with a discussion of the principles of environmental justice and ways to get involved with environmental activism in your community.
That evening, we arrived at the auditorium late, and ended up towards the back. The seating was fairly level, so it was hard to see the readers (note: the Nat Geo auditorium, which was previously the venue, no longer rents to outside organizations - boo!). Luckily, as long as we could hear their voices, lack of sight-line made no difference at all. We hung on every word from Camille T. Dungy, Sharon Olds, Javier Zamora, and 2018 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest Winner Jonathan Mendoza. Jonathan’s poem, “Osmosis,” knocked us out of our seats even before his elders uttered a word. If you’d like to see and hear him read “Osmosis,” check out this video.
After a quick meal, we went back to our hotel room in that odd, happy, buzzy state of exhaustion and clarity: we couldn’t sleep, but we were beyond being able to go to the evening’s open mike. Finally, after midnight, we drifted off. I was already excited about our plans for Friday.
Presenters: Anna Lena Phillips Bell (Ecotone) and Sumita Chakraborty (AGNI) – both also poets.
Description: Editing is an act of love—an effort to help writers find their work's best form and to help readers discover that work. Two editors who work with poets for publication in national literary magazines will offer writers fresh strategies for revising their own work and for offering practical feedback on others' work. With both existing examples and poems written during the workshop, we'll practice using tools from the craft of editing, including the art of querying as well as considerations of syntax, rhetoric, grammar, usage, and more. We'll explore strategies for providing feedback without furthering oppression around class, race, gender, place of origin, and sexuality. We'll discuss ways to engage compassionately, openly, and truthfully with both our own identities and those of the writers we work with. We'll consider the peculiar benefits and challenges of being a poet-editor, as well as ways to get started as an editor for those who wish to explore the field. Writers will leave the workshop with a packet of revision prompts and resources for editing.
Presenters: Jennifer Case, Meg Day, Miguel M. Morales, Wendy Oleson, Maria Vasquez Boyd
Description: With border walls, Muslim bans, and cuts in healthcare, education, and environmental protection, what can writers do to resist? This diverse panel of writers will discuss the challenges of writing and living in red states and in red rural areas. These social and eco-justice-oriented writers live in Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia. They strive to publish multi-genre work rooted in these spaces, while giving voice to issues of women's health, reproductive rights, and immigration and providing accurate representation of marginalized communities, including disabled, queer, trans, and Latinx, among others. Panelists will also facilitate the discussion by intermixing examples of their work in the session. Panelists encourage participants who write and live in red states and in red rural areas to contribute their own resistance and coping strategies. In an effort to trump isolation, participants will also identify resources and network across state lines in an effort we call #RedStateWritersResist. In addition to using their voices and craft for provocation and witness, panelists foster and engage their communities. Examples include a radio program spotlighting creative marginalized voices, migrant youth writers workshops, presentations in classrooms and other public spaces, and forming community partnerships.
Presenters: Sarah A. Chavez, Julie R. Enszer, Olga García Echeverría, Sara Gregory, Dan Vera
“I have often used the metaphor that if the U.S. is a house, then the foundation is built out of genocide and slavery, which is fast and dirty, but also unstable. So build a big rambling house on top of that, and then, years later, realize you have some serious rehab to do. The foundation is completely unusable - at the very least, you're gonna have to jack the house up and create an all-new foundation out of material with integrity and long-lasting substance. And then ... you have to go back and readjust the whole house: timbers, plumbing, wiring, etc - because it all shifted as the foundation collapsed, and lots of critters have gotten into the wood, walls, insulation. In essence, you are rebuilding the house, and probably, you'll improve and update it as you go, because now you have all kinds of ideas and new dreams, made possible by the stronger foundation. In the end, if you can actually accomplish all of this, will it be the same house? Nope. Creating a better foundation makes so much possible now that wasn't before. The foundation can bear more weight. The house can reflect that power.”
Split This Rock! is, in fact, actively working to rebuild the rotting foundations of this country.