Poets of Split This Rock Festival put their words to work at Capitol

Anti-war demonstrators each read a line of text to create a public poem of protest during the Split This Rock Poetry Festival at Upper Senate Park in Washington, D.C.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 12, 2010

These are not the poets you remember from high school who sit in lonely rooms writing maudlin words that few might hear and fewer might comprehend.

These are poets who arrive in public carrying fierce lines of poetry to say aloud from sharp slips of paper.

Unconnected, the lines of poetry seem odd. Fragmented. Desperately trying to say something. Like babbling babies.

Once the words are taped together in one long poem of antiwar protest, the question becomes: Will they do what the writers intend?

Will they be heard beyond this grassy open space? Will they effect social change, even a bit?

A poet with a blue headband climbs onto the stage in the Upper Senate Park: "Now is the time for poetry to storm the walls of Congress."

It's doubtful that anyone in the Senate could have heard her -- the Capitol is near, but still too far away. But this doesn't stop Frances Payne Adler, or the poets who recite after her:

"Don't forget those who want peace."

"We are citizens, not tools. Educate us, shelter us, feed us."

This is the scene of the creation of a cento, a spontaneous poem of protest, in this case written verse by verse by hundreds of poets who have arrived at the Capitol from around the country for the Split This Rock Poetry Festival, a gathering to celebrate "the poetry of witness and provocation."

Poets, you say? Aren't they those solitary creatures, slaves to pen and paper, pulling out strands of hair, beating on unforgiving keys of typewriters and computers, always reaching for the more perfect word?

You have heard that music has been the spark of revolutions. But poetry?

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