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Poems of provocation

Massachusetts poet to be featured in virtual reading for Split This Rock

Cameron Awkward-Rich will combine newly written poems with previously published works in his virtual set.Hieu Minh Nguyen

Massachusetts-based poet, professor, and scholar Cameron Awkward-Rich would have been a featured poet at Split This Rock’s biennial festival this year. The event, originally set for late March, was canceled because of COVID-19. Keeping with the original theme of “Poems of Provocation & Witness,” the organization has planned a series of virtual poetry readings in lieu of the festival.

Awkward-Rich will perform a 15-minute set of spoken-word poetry on June 11 at 6 p.m, live streamed on the organization’s YouTube channel, Poets Justice Ameer from Providence, Trevino L. Brings Plenty from Portland, Ore., and Kyle Dargan from Washington, D.C., will also read.


“All of us write into and around issues of race, justice, etc.,” said Awkward-Rich, an assistant professor of gender studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “In the midst of all the unfolding of both hopeful and troubling chaos, it will be a place for people to feel the feelings that all of that has brought up.”

Based in Washington, D.C., Split This Rock is devoted to cultivating poetry that responds to social engagement and injustice and provokes change. Awkward-Rich will showcase poems he wrote in the last two weeks, alongside selected pieces from his 2019 collection “Dispatch” and previously unpublished older works.

His lived experiences as a Black transgender artist and his academic research on gender seeps into all of his writing, he says.

“I inevitably bring to all the work I write a series of questions about how racism, transphobia, etc. have shaped the way that I move through the world, shape the way that my people move through the world, and how we might hope for other things,” Awkward-Rich said. “The poetry I try to write is poetry that asks questions rather than makes demands or comes to conclusions we already know the answers to.”


This reading marks the second installation in the three-part virtual reading series. The first took place on May 29 and can be viewed on YouTube, and the third and final is scheduled for July 1.

Grace Griffin can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GraceMGriffin.