The Split This Rock Poetry Festival has been an experience of the body.
For the Dresser, what made this conference coalesce to a degree that no other activity, however vibrant, sensitive and mind-expanding, was hearing South African poet Dennis Brutus speak.
Brutus, who won the Langston Hughes Award in 1987 and was the first non-African American to receive that award, brought home what the Split This Rock Festival title means in its most brutal human experience.
Brutus did this by describing his years on Robben Island where he was imprisoned along with Nelson Mandela. In this maximum-security prison, he was forced to split rocks until the rocks became gravel. His hands became a mass of blisters on top of blisters but he said he was spared the harder work of digging out rocks from the limestone quarry (Mandela was not) because Brutus who had been shot by South African secret police had suffered a "through and through wound" and was not strong enough for the quarry work.
From the podium, Brutus suggested that what Americans need to do is rise above the certainty of the proverbial "Death and Taxes" credo that we live by. How? By not paying our taxes to fund the war in Iraq. He urged Americans to not be complicit in supporting atrocities done in the name of all Americans. The Dresser who is native of the Washington, DC area doubts that most of us are strong enough to quarry the rocks of political activism that would involve going to prison because we will not support this unjust war. However, what Brutus has said has moved the Dresser, who believes in universal truths, peace and social justice, to go down to the White House today and join Sarah Browning to express poetically a protest against the five years of American involvement in an unjust war waged against the people of Iraq.
What Sarah Browning and her army of volunteers has achieved with Split This Rock is monumental on all levels. Not only did the Festival provide a platform of learning and ways to engage in social action, but it was also the best administered program that the Dresser has ever take part in. No one lost a beat. Some people may not have been able to show up for key speaking appointments and activities might not have happened right on time, but there was always a plan b and plan c to fill in the gaps. Participants like the Dresser were much appreciative that events didn't always start on time because it allowed stragglers to get there without missing anything or prompt ones to talk to the participants waiting who themselves were as interesting as the featured speakers. Hats off to Sarah (author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden) who was awarded a bottle of whiskey and bouquet of flowers at the Saturday night reading.
[Stay tuned for a larger report on Split this Rock that will include reviews of Kim Robert's walking tour "The 'Harlem' Renaissance in Washington;" the panel discussion by Jose Gouveia, Martin Espada, Alicia Ostriker, and Colorado T. Sky on "Poetry, Politics, and the Rant;" the panel discussion by Grace Cavalieri, Brian De Shazor, and Jennifer King on preserving poetic history; and a partial glimpse at Francesco Levato's film festival selections.]