The Dresser re-entered the Split This Rock Poetry Festival on the second day by attending the panel Poet's Forum: How Political Engagement Affects the Writing Process. Beloit Poetry Journal (BPJ) editors John Rosenwald and Lee Sharkey headed this panel. The Dresser was made aware of the importance of the BPJ's role in the Festival the night before when Kim Roberts read the following poem from the BPJ Split This Rock Chapbook 2012, a special issue of the magazine which showcased featured readers of this third STR Festival.
THE INTERNATIONAL FRUIT OF WELCOME
A pineapple is the perfect gift
to bring to a blind date.
A pineapple is like a blind date:
spiky and armored at first,
with the hope of sweetness inside.
A pineapple is the perfect housewarming gift.
You don't have to wrap it,
it doesn't spill inside your car.
It comes in its own house.
A pineapple is the perfect birthday gift.
You might prefer a coconut,
that planet molten at the core,
but a pineapple has a better hairdo,
better wardrobe; it never
goes out of style.
Think of all those historic houses
with pineapple bolsters, pineapple finials,
pineapples carved above lintels.
Such a sophisticated fruit:
every sailor wants one.
by Kim Roberts
from Beloit Poetry Journal Split This Rock Chapbook 2012
The Dresser thinks this poem captures something essential about the STR Festival in its theme of welcoming and encouraging new relationships or rewarding existing relationships. The STR Festival embraces poets of every ability, color, gender, nationality, occupation, form, etc. hoping to find under spiky hairdos or heavy coats of armour some kind of goodness. The Dresser believes that even poets with political beliefs not in synch with the left leanings of the core crew of STR would be welcomed provided they were willing to engage in meaningful dialogue.
Dialogue about how political engagement affects the writing process was what John Rosenwald and Lee Sharkey were encouraging by having Douglass Kearney, Khaled Mattawa, and Minnie Bruce Pratt read and talk about poems published in their special edition chapbook. Of three poems published in this chapbook, Minnie Bruce chose "Turning the Switch Off" to read and discuss. This is a poem that deals with habit, a behavior William James impressed upon Gertrude Stein would deaden creativity, that behavior keeping people from progressing, from achieving genius or, in the case of this poem social justice. Minnie Bruce writes, "How hard to break the habit of work, obedience not to the machines, but to those who own them."
Khaled Mattawa chose to read "After 42 years," a poem he at first told his commissioners he would not write. The subject matter, the regime and fall of Muammar Gaddafi, was too personally painful for him--for all the losses suffered during Gaddafi's reign of terror. His poem ends, "There is no after until we pray for all the dead," but indeed where does one begin and how long until the mourning has staunched the pain of so many losses?
Douglas Kearney read "Thank You But Don't Buy My Babies Clothes with Monkeys on Them," a five-page discourse, exposé, rant, and philosophical treatise on commercial racism. Doug's reading and discussion was a profitable follow-on to the performance he gave opening night of STR. To see his work on the page in conjunction with how he reads (emotionally super-charged) and discusses it (both emotionally engaged and standing back at a distance) gave the Dresser a whole new appreciation for this poet whom she encountered first as a librettist for the Anne LeBaron opera Crescent City at the 2009 New York City VOX new opera showcase.
In the discussion with the audience for this panel came points about cultural literacy (how ordinary people fail to recognize their own acts of racism, misogyny, homophobia), contradiction (Doug says he likes to deal with contradiction with juxtaposition), the intersection of entertainment and violence, authenticity of voice (and what about the gatekeepers, Minnie Bruce asked, who say "That is not poetry"), the ridiculous (take the power of racism that reduces a human being to an object), and the legend of the importance of poetry in the Arab world (Khaled talked about the "poets of the tribe" who kowtow to a dictator).
The Dresser capped day #2 by joining STR Director and poet Sarah Browning, her assistant director Bob LaVallee, and maybe 90 to 100 poets at the Supreme Court to protest their ruling that equated money with speech as it relates to Super PAC donations. The form of the protest was a Cento, a poem created line by line by many contributors. The lines, limited to 12 words, included quotes by June Jordan (STR 2012 is dedicated to her poetic legacy) and Langston Hughes (STR names comes from Langston's poem "Big Buddy") and many references to the recent murder of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager shot by an over zealous neighborhood watchman who seems to be getting away with this crime under the Florida stand your ground law. Here's the line the Dresser contributed, "Letter to the Editor from Gertrude Stein: "Is money money" or speech?