Poets Against the War Slam Laura Bush Symposium

Revolutionary Worker #1186, February 9, 2003, posted at http://rwor.org

On Sunday, January 26, Sam Hamill, author of 40 books of poetry and founding editor and co-founder of Copper Canyon Press, sent a letter to 50 friends and colleagues which said:

"Dear Friends and Fellow Poets:

"When I picked up my mail and saw the letter marked "The White House," I felt no joy. Rather I was overcome by a kind of nausea as I read the card enclosed:

Laura Bush requests the pleasure of your company at a reception and White House Symposium on "Poetry and the American Voice" on Wednesday, February 12, 2003 at one o'clock

"Only the day before I had read a lengthy report on George Bush's proposed "Shock and Awe" attack on Iraq, calling for saturation bombing that would be like the firebombing of Dresden or Tokyo, killing countless innocent civilians.

"I believe the only legitimate response to such a morally bankrupt and unconscionable idea is to reconstitute a Poets Against the War movement like the one organized to speak out against the war in Vietnam.

"I am asking every poet to speak up for the conscience of our country and lend his or her name to our petition against this war, and to make February 12 a day of Poetry Against the War. We will compile an anthology of protest to be presented to the White House on that afternoon..."

By Wednesday, Sam Hamill had received 1,500 responses, and had to create a Web site, which he named poetsagainstthewar.org, to handle the e-mail messages that were overloading his system.

That same day, Laura Bush heard about the emergence of Poets Against the War and announced she was postponing the White House symposium on poetry. Her press secretary said, "While Mrs. Bush respects and believes in the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she, too, has opinions, and believes that it would be inappropriate to turn what is intended to be a literary event into a political forum."

Speaking to the significance of the great response from poets speaking out against the war through their poetry, the PAW website says: "In doing so, they have honored a long and rich tradition of thoughtful and moral opposition by poets and other artists to senseless and murderous policies, including those of our own government. In the face of the near unanimous opposition from U.N. members, despite the disapproval of the vast majority of citizens of the world, in defiance of the advice of its own intelligence agencies, and contrary to both common sense and fundamental notions of morality, the Bush administration seems to be on a rocket sled headed for war. The next few weeks will likely prove to be critical. Please register your protest and add your name to our numbers by submitting a poem or brief commentary."

Hamill says he has now received almost 3,000 responses, including numerous submissions from some of the nation's most well-known poets.

There is a submission from Hayden Carruth, winner of the National Book Award, and Yusef Komunyakaa, who wrote poetry while serving in the Army in Vietnam and won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1994. W.S. Merwin, another Pulitzer winner and the former chancellor of The Academy of American Poets, wrote "an incredible indictment of Bush," which he read to Hamill over the phone. Hamill also heard from Philip Levine, Grace Paley, Galway Kinnell, Gregory Orr, John Balaban, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Adrienne Rich sent a poem entitled "The School Among the Ruins," which includes these lines:

When the offensive rocks the sky when nightglaremisconstrues day and night when lived- inrooms from the upper citytumble cratering lower streets
cornices of olden ornament human debris
when fear vacuums out the streets
When the whole town flinches
blood on the undersole thickening to glass
Whoever crosses hunched knees bent a contested zone
knows why she does this suicidal ting
School's now in session day and night
children sleep
in the classrooms teachers rolled close

A poem submitted by Marilyn Hacker included these lines:

The world is howling,
bleeding and dying in banner headlines.
No hope from youthful pacifists, elderly
anarchists; no solutions from diplomats.
Men maddened with revealed religion
murder their neighbors with their righteous fervor,
while claiming they're "defending democracy"
our homespun junta exports the war machine...

On the poetsagainstthewar.org website Hamill has put up a sample of the hundreds of poems submitted by poets from the U.S. and many other countries. By February 3, Hamill plans on publishing a directory of over 2,000 poets who have joined Poets Against the War and there are plans for a February 12--"Day of Poetry Against the War" with anti-war poetry readings across the country.

Hamill said, "There are a lot of people writing and reading poetry in this country who are feeling alienated... People have felt silenced, and we are providing a platform for poets to speak together."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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