One of the traditions here at Split This Rock is the evening featured readings. While there is a fee to attend the daytime panels, discussions & workshops, the evening readings are free & open to the public.
This night’s reading, at the National Geographic Grosvenor Auditorium, was hosted by the indomitable Sarah Browning, & began with a tribute to gone poet Francisco X. Alarcón, with his image on the screen & his recorded voice filling the room.
And as is the tradition here, the night began with a reading by one of the DC Youth Poets, Bobby Johnson, with a spirited piece about a teacher honoring the black boys killed by reading their names, but not that of any black girls.
Next was the 2015 Split This Rock poetry contest winner, Sarah Brickman, reading her poem printed in this year’s program, “Letter from the Water at Guantanamo Bay.”
The first of the main features was Aracelis Girmay, & she began with a poem by Kendall Hippolyte, “It’s Like Wind.” She read from her book, from a cycle of poems about people crossing the Mediterranean Sea, “Prayer & Letter to the Dead.” Then from another cycle about a young, black astronomer being harassed by the police “The Black Maria.”
The final poet for the night was Ross Gay, who used his time well performing the exuberant & cosmic “Catalogue of Unabsolved Gratitude” (also the title of his book), proving that one can, with energy & meaning — & good lines, of course — keep the audience’s interest in a long poem. He ended with a short poem about Eric Garner, how as a former parks worker he planted plants that help us to breathe.
What a reading — what a day — what a festival!