The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A new way to find just the poem you want

(Courtesy of Split This Rock)

Split This Rock, the Washington-area organization devoted to poetry and social justice, has unveiled an online site to keep its best verse alive and available. The new site, called the Quarry, provides a searchable archive of more than 300 poems published by Split This Rock’s “Poet of the Week” series. The site also includes contest winners and poems presented at Split This Rock poetry festivals.

But what makes this archive particularly unusual is its search feature. In addition to locating poems by author and title, users can find poems by selecting from a list of more than 40 different themes and issues, such as Animal Rights, Environmental Justice and Police Brutality. What’s more, poems can be further delimited by selecting the writer’s identity from a checklist that includes Disability, Race, Gender, Religion and Class.

It’s a curious idea, helpful on its face, but I wonder if it runs the risk of reducing poetry to polemics and biography?

Split This Rock’s executive director Sarah Browning explains why a user might turn to the new site: “Suppose you are an activist planning a Black Lives Matter rally or vigil or a religious leader facilitating a discussion on the Pope’s new climate encyclical. You can go to and search The Quarry. You’ll easily find poems that will infuse your event with imaginative language, poems that help us grieve and mourn, express our communal rage, and articulate our hopes for a different future. Sometimes all in the same poem!”

On his blog, poet Joseph Ross recently wrote: “As a teacher, I know I will use this database to share poems with my American Literature students as well as with my Creative Writing students. As a poet, I know I will browse these poems to see what others are writing, how they approach different topics and issues in American life. As a reader of poetry, I will savor these poems as a personal call to work for justice more effectively in the world.”

The Quarry will be formally presented at a benefit party at Busboys & Poets (Brookland) on Thursday evening, June 25, at 7 p.m. The event, which is free and open to the public, will include a demonstration of the site along with music, food and poetry reading.

One of the people who will read at the B&P launch party is John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who was jailed for disclosing classified information concerning the government’s use of torture. (He was released in February after serving nearly two years.) He’ll  read “Letter from the Water at Guantanamo Bay,” by Sara Brickman, which won Split This Rock’s poetry contest earlier this year.

The name of the site, “The Quarry,” was chosen through a contest. Browning explained that it’s a play on “where you go to split rocks.”

Split This Rock was founded in 2008 to “celebrate poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes personal and social change.”