DC Poets Grace the Scene with New Works & Awards
Poetry is a unique art form. It breathes life through words, illustrates emotion through performance and sparks conversation through thought-provoking subject matter.
“The options to reflect poetry are endless. It can live in performance, online in a book, in video,” says Sarah Browning, executive director of Split This Rock, a Washington, DC based non-profit.
The advocacy-oriented organization fuses poetry with activism led by a diverse group of urban poets who address social issues related to their concerns. It ignites revolutions through festivals, workshops and lectures that cater to youthful and veteran artists, alike.
Split This Rock also provides poets with a platform to create works clothed in personal experiences, life history and passion. During my conversation with Browning, she sited the individual accomplishments of her following six colleagues who have recently landed new works on the shelves of bookstores and into the hands of literature lovers.
Tarfia Faizullah, who serves on Split This Rock’s Activities and Programming Board, is the recent winner of the Crab Orchard Review First Book prize, for her book Seam. Seam is Tarfia’s dedication to Bangladeshi women through her telling of the stories of women who were raped by the Pakistani Army during the 1971 Liberation War. It is also a dedication to her grandmother who passed away shortly before she finished the book.
Carmen Calatayud, who has been with Split This Rock since the DC Poets Against the War campaign, released her first book, In the Company of Spirits, in October 2012. In the Company of Spirits is a composition cultivated by Carmen’s multicultural background and her first-hand experience with prejudices others have had against foreigners, minorities, people of color and women.
Dan Vera, who currently chairs the Split This Rock board, recently won the inaugural Letras Latinas/Red Hen Press Prize for Latino Poetry for his second book, Speaking Wiri Wiri. Dan takes this achievement as an opportunity to read around the country, sparking conversation through a book that explores issues of immigration, "Americaness", family history, language and identity.
G Yamazawa, who has been a teaching artist with Split This Rock for the past seven months, is a recent winner of Kollaboration DC, an Asian-American, multi-arts competition—and he is the first spoken word artist to win this award. For G, this award meant everything. Finally getting the chance to connect with individuals in Washington DC’s Asian community who understand his story was enlightening.
Joseph Ross, who’s friendship with Sarah Browning forged his connection with Split This Rock, recently released his book, Meeting Bone Man. This collection of poems seeks to explore mortality in political, personal, social and spiritual arenas by touching on topics such as hate crimes, graffiti artists, Darfur, the earthquake in Haiti and the death of his mother.
Yvette Neisser Moreno, who serves on Split This Rock’s programming committee, is the winner of the Gival Press Prize for her first book, Grip. After working on Grip for 12 years, finally sharing the book with the public was an amazing experience for her. And winning the award was a validating bonus.
In a world where athletes, actors and musicians receive millions of dollars to pursue their talents, the gratification of a finished poem, completed book or noteworthy award is sometimes the only validation for poets.“It’s almost impossible for them to do it full-time—it’s an indication of what we value in our culture that you can’t make a living doing your art,” says Browning.
“Anybody is crazy to become a poet, and yet we do it anyway because we have no choice. It moves you in a way that nothing else does; it marries the heart and the head in a way that other art forms don’t.”
So with all of the shortcomings that lie in the life of being a poet, Browning remains optimistic about the future of Split This Rock and her fellow colleagues.
They will continue to create and advocate out of an innate sense of obligation to share their stories with the world on stage and on page.
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