Monday, January 18, 2010

Reflections on Somehow Tenderness Survives: Remembering Dennis Brutus

Dennis Brutus at the 2008 Split This Rock Poetry Festival
Photo credit: Jill Brazel

Split This Rock's new intern, Scott Zimmerman, contributed this post. Enjoy Scott's reflections on Somehow Tenderness Survives: Remembering Dennis Brutus and welcome him to the Split This Rock team.

This past week has thus far been an amazing first step in what will be a wonderful two and a half month journey in D.C. Little more than seven days ago I boarded a plane from a familiar 75-degree Southern California and landed in the midst of a frigid East coast winter. From the time of my arrival I have been absorbing the many different facets of D.C. So far the city has reached a point of personal familiarity, but yet there lies level a culture almost foreign to me. Diving head first into a new urban lifestyle, I find myself welcomed as the newest intern at Split This Rock Poetry Festival. The program, which greeted me with open arms, is already a place I may call a home away from home.

Last Sunday (Jan. 10th), I found myself in awe, listening to the tales of a captivating poet, an enduring activist, and an inspirational leader, a man by the name of Dennis Brutus. Personal accounts of Mr. Brutus’ closest friends and acquaintances were joyfully shared with me by a lovely memorial event at local restaurant and cultural gathering place, Busboys and Poets. First arriving to the event, I had little to no knowledge of what a powerful person Dennis was and continues to be.

Photo Credit: Karren Alenier

The evening progressed with an exciting line-up: poetry, engaging chants, and testaments of an enthralling man who lived courageously, and we left admiring Mr. Brutus. I have heard the tales of activists, poets, and even teachers, but never have I heard the story of man influencing so many people in all three areas. Though I feel wronged for not knowing Dennis Brutus personally, I am thankful for now learning about him.

The thoughtful anecdotes and the words of Mr. Brutus’ poetry spoken throughout the evening helped me piece together a portrait of Dennis Brutus. I saw the image of a tall slender framed man who spoke compassionately of the world injustices. Dennis was as wiry in character as his beard that adorned his face. The empowering lyrical mantras and songs of global and South African activism was spot on, as the room packed with more than one hundred people chanted a powerful saying: Keep the oil in the soil, Keep the coal in the hole, and keep the tar sand in the land!

Photo Credit: Karren Alenier

In keeping with the mood of the event, an insightful 50-minute film by Vincent Moloi, fittingly named “I am a Rebel,” was screened by one of Mr. Brutus’ dear friends, Patrick Bond. The documentary of Dennis’s life helped solidify the passionate words spoken earlier throughout the evening. Words reverberated around the D.C. and back to South Africa during the tribute, originated by Split This Rock and Busboys and Poets, as well as other organizations. The tribute appropriately honored a tall poet with a slight frame.

To define is to limit, and I do not wish to put such an injustice on a man like Dennis Brutus. He touched the hearts of many and each heart has a voice of their own.

Viva Dennis Brutus Viva!!!

Isla Negra: For Neruda

the earth that loves you
and that you loved
welcomes you again at last
its dark brown arms
open to embrace you:

the crowds that swarmed the streets
at your funeral
shouting “Chile is not dead”
will shout your return
crying amid tears and laughter

“We were waiting for you here on Isla Negra.”

The sea, the brinky kelp, the seagulls
will know that a lover has returned
the scrawled messages to Pablo
on the walls of your shattered house
—all will fill the air with chants and poems
and songs that sing you home.

1993 (Written by Brutus for Neruda upon learning that Neruda was to be reburied at his home)

Scott Zimmerman is presently interning for the Institute of Policy Studies under Split This Rock Poetry Festival. He is pursuing his BA in International Sociology and an AA in Film and Media at the University of California Irvine. Scott is currently working through UCDC, a program that allows students to experience D.C. and intern at a local organization, which appeals to their interests. He has been an active leader in Global Connect, which utilizes college students in teaching local high schools on the importance of global issues. In late March, Scott will be working with local communities in Honduras, through the Public Health Brigade.

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