"It is impossible to overstate the importance of the arts in creating the supportive social movements that permit trauma to have a voice and the voice to be heard, believed, remembered and respoken."--
Dr. Jonathan Shay, author of Achilles in Vietnam; Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character
It's been two years since we heard the shocking and awful news that Bush and company started their illegal and immoral War on Iraq. All that week I had held tightly onto the slim hope that the war wouldn't happen. After all, only a few weeks earlier millions of people had demonstrated against it, all over the world. I was stuck in traffic that Thursday night on the 101, going about 5 miles an hour and alternately cursing, screaming and crying as I listened to the news. Being trapped behind the red tail lights of endless rows of SUV's, and listening to the patronizing voice of Bush reassuring us all that big daddy would soon make our booboos all better, brought up such simultaneous rage and powerlessness in me, that I barely got home in one piece.
In times like that, and this, I turn to poetry for solace. There are several excellent poets for peace websites out there. Here's a summary of three of them, plus a poem about poetry in wartime by Sherman Pearl.
In January 2003, in response to an invitation to a symposium by Laura Bush to celebrate "Poetry and the American Voice," Sam Hamill declined; a longtime pacifist, he could not in good faith visit the White House following the recent news of George W. Bush's plan for a unilateral "Shock and Awe" attack on Iraq. Instead, he asked about 50 fellow poets to "reconstitute a Poets Against the War movement like the one organized to speak out against the war in Vietnam...to speak up for the conscience of our country and lend your names to our petition against this war” by submitting poems of protest that he would send to the White House. When 1,500 poets responded within four days, a web site was created as a means of handling the enormous, unexpected response. By March 1, more than 13,000 poems had been reviewed and posted. The site has published an anthology and continues to grow.
Dialogue Through Poetry is working to build a culture of peace and non-violence in the world through poetry. It is a coalition of poets, writers, organizers, and UN officials committed to the principles of the United Nations and of building a culture of peace and non-violence in the world through poetry.
Voices in Wartime is a healing network, a non-profit organization dedicated to the mission of enabling millions of people to express themselves artistically, and to engage with each other to heal the collective trauma caused by war and create a less violent world. Their mission is inspired by the belief that people can and do heal from the suffering of war, and furthermore that we, by creating a willing and active online community, can help. Since February 2004, they have been creating a forum where people with widely divergent views can publish their artwork, meet, and exchange ideas in an atmosphere where it is safe to tell the truth. They've also put out an excellent film called Poetry in Wartime that we showed at Flor y Canto last September. It will be released in theaters in April and is available from the website. The poem below, by Sherman Pearl, came from this website.
(the image above came from Christopher Rainone of http://www.anti-war.us/gallery/gallery10.php)
In honor of the 1697 "coalition" dead and the 17,061 or more Iraqi dead as of today 3/18/05:
The Poem in Time of War
should wake the city shouting EXTRA! EXTRA!
then whisper the story behind the story
like a conspirator. It should be short, stirring
as the president's call to arms;
soft enough for a flag at half-mast;
strong enough to stiffen the bereaved;
spacious enough to serve as a body bag.
The poem should carry the news that men
die miserably for lack of. It is
a brief on behalf of the living, a paper megaphone
for the voices of the dead. It must be
the world's last will and testament, a listing
of what will be left. It steals from forebears:
Sassoon's doomed diary and Auden's call to love.
The poem would be a prescription for healing
but who could read such a scrawl?...or a bandage
over the wounds, except that blood
tends to obliterate words.
Maybe all the war poems could be sewn together
into a vast thick quilt we'd pull around
our shoulders; might warm us on nights like this.