On March 18, 2016, A Splendid Wake celebrates its fourth anniversary with another stellar line-up of guest speakers. Located at the Gelman Library* at George Washington University, host and partner of the organization, the event will include discussions and readings on various topics related to poetry. Grace Cavalieri, poet and host of the radio series “The Poet and The Poem,” is joined by Dan Vera and Francisco Aragón from Letras Latinas, and panelists Barbara Goldberg, Roman Kostovski, Nancy Naomi Carlson, and Vivian Wang.
A D.C.-based organization dedicated to promoting poets in the area from 1900 to present, A Splendid Wake first began making an impact on the literary scene by launching its archive of area poets on its wiki. These poets all have a special connection to D.C., including Paul Laurence Dunbar, Walt Whitman, Naomi Ayala, and Grace Cavalieri. The archive continues to grow and add more information as collections become available.
Jessica Flores, marketing and communications intern, spoke with Sunil Freeman, a member of the organization's planning committee and assistant director at The Writer’s Center, to learn more about the event and its importance to the nation’s capital.
Jessica Flores: What is this event and the organization’sbroader mission?
Sunil Freeman: A Splendid Wake was formed to celebrate and make people aware of the extensive historical poetry movements and traditions in D.C. since 1900. We have covered, in our four years, a number of panels, presentations, and discussion. Along with the annual presentation and wiki, we have a blog that lists different events and programs. It covers literary journals, translations, and biographical listings of poets from the D.C. area. The programs have been quite popular and we have hosted this event once a year. We have a planning committee of about a half dozen people on any given meeting.
JF: In addition to the readings, this year will have a panel about Literary Translation. What should we expect at the panel?
SF: There will, more or less, be one group after the other with these different topics. Grace is a longtime poet and member of the community, and she’s done a lot in the past 40 years. She has her radio program, “Poet and the Poem,” and for several years, she has produced the podcast with the Library of Congress, sharing poets reading and covering their work, both national and local.
JF: What kind of poetry does the organization look for? What criteria is used to justify what is archived?
SF: Usually there’s a thematic link in the different panels and presentations. Other than that we look for a wide range, usually a lot of history in the poetry community. Richard Peabody, editor of Gargoyle, presented on literary journalism in the Washington area and was able to give a tremendous history over many decades—that’s just one example.
JF: How does this event foster community in the area’s literary scene?
SF: Through a number of ways. The event opens a window into Washington poetry traditions for people who may not know about it. One member of the community teaches at Montgomery College and opened it up to her students. It also functions as a gathering point for poets and editors who don’t always meet. It’s very enjoyable, sort of like a family reunion. I should note, George Washington University has been a very good host for these events. A staff member there attends nearly all of our meetings and participates in the group.
JF: What are the difficulties of such a project and how can the public help?
SF: We’ve done this now for four years. The first few years are critical for staying power. Now that we’re coming up to our fourth event, we’re fairly well established, but we can always use help. Interns working on the wiki project do a tremendous amount of work to upload and record everything. The blog entries give an enormous amount of different perspective of the Washington poetry community.
JF: What make’s D.C.’s literary culture stand out from other parts of the nation?
SF: Washington, among other things, is a seat of power in the nation’s history. It brings an interesting mix of people and different cultures together. There are a lot of black historical poetry movements and groups that are included within A Splendid Wakes’ programs. This is probably not unique, but there’s also the university MFA culture, slam poetry, and performance culture in one area, offering a broad range over the last few decades.
JF: Is there anything else you would like to share that people should know?
SF: It’s free and open to the public! It’ll be a good opportunity to learn more about poetry in Washington, a number of poets who have passed on, many with connections to The Writer’s Center, and a very good opportunity to meet people here in the writing community.
*The Gelman Library is located at
2130 H St NW, Washington, D.C. 20052
Sunil Freeman has been a part of The Writer’s Center and D.C. literary community for more than 25 years. He has served as managing editor of Poet’s Lore in the past and is the author of two poetry books, and Surreal Freedom Blues (Argonne Hotel Press Chapbook Series, 1999) and That Would Explain the Violinist (Gut Punch, 1993).