Books for Poets | Mailing List | Copyrights | About Us



March 2011

In a month full of revolution and change in the world, I came upon a talk given by Mark Doty titled "Tide of Voices: Why Poetry Matters Now." In one section of his talk he says:
"But I was also thinking about the tide of voices lapping at this country's shores in our moment. The sounds of all the rest of the world speaking. To get a sense of how little we listen to that tide, all it takes is a quick look at the statistics on the publication of translated books, which make up the tiniest fraction of what's published in the states. Lots of American books find their way into other languages, but few indeed come the other way. The message is plainly that while the world beyond our boundaries speaks, giving us the opportunity to see who's out there and how they see things and how they feel, we have not been paying attention. That's the painful, inescapable lesson of 9/11. When suddenly so many Americans found themselves asking, "Why?" "Where'd that hatred of American power come from?" There's no answering this question if we are not listening. I can't think of a better place to turn, thinking about this need, than to the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali."

I was at the Dodge Poetry Festival in 2006 when Taha Muhammad Ali and his translator, Peter Cole, gave a reading of Taha’s then unpublished poem "Revenge". I remember that it shook the audience - first in fear and then in another direction.

In 1948, Taha fled from Galilee to Lebanon with his family when their village came under heavy bombardment during the Arab-Israeli war. A year later, still a teenager, he slipped back across the border and settled in Nazareth where he still lives, now as an Israeli citizen.

“Revenge” has all the elements of revenge, and revenge hasn't changed much from ancient times. A father has been killed, a village destroyed. And the speaker in the poem has thought about his revenge. He has even played out outcomes. But the bomb made of revenge that he is building in his mind gets dismantled before it can go off as he plays out relationships (mother and father, sisters and a brother, neighbors and friends) which transform his enemy. He uses memories of places and moments (a prison, a hospital room, a father’s hand over the heart when his son is late) and in the end he imagines finding his enemy all alone and, rather than taking his revenge, he leaves him, knowing that the pain of aloneness is punishment enough.

For this month's writing prompt, we asked participants to write about revenge. Of course, this ancient and basic human act takes many forms. It can be small and personal or very large and frighteningly impersonal. I'm in a frame of mind where (as in the poem) we can use our imagination to change wrong action into right action and turn over stones instead of throwing them.

You can read the printed text of "Revenge" in Arabic and in in English. The poem was was initially published by TWO LINES: World Writing in Translationx, along with a short introduction to the poet and the poem by Peter Cole. 

For more on our writing prompts and poetry topics, visit the Poets Online blog.

I don’t believe in revenge,
It can lower the doer to the level to the level of the doee
But the best intentions…

Revenge can be bloody—an eye for an eye
Revenge can be funny—Falstaff hidden in a basket of dirty, smelly laundry.
Revenge can be fearful—Don Giovanni going to Hell.
(If you believe in Hell.)
But most of all, revenge must be satisfying.
I’ll settle for last week’s revenge.

Last week my Mac computer screen said
Beware--a virus has invaded
And will wipe out your hard drive if you turn me on.
I called my IT virus number and got a voice from India.
Oh yes, we can fix that for ninety dollars.
But I already pay you for protecting me from viruses.
I know, but sometimes viruses get through.
What do I pay you for then?
I know, but sometimes viruses get through.
“Thank you,” I said,
“I’m following my kids’ advice and buying an Apple.”

Ellen Kaplan


I will not throw stones at you
Who would throw your stones at me.
If I did, I know that
I could quite easily kill you,
And in doing so
Bring harm to myself,
Which is what you want.
You would love to see me dead
Or begging mercy in the street,
Surrounded by the angry crowds
Of my own vengeful thoughts,
Bloodied and battered
By my aggrieved sense of honor.
Then you could say: aha
With that gloat of yours, wag your head,
And pass by in righteous indignation.
But I will turn the other cheek.
There will be no revenge,
No payback, no settled scores.
Even though you stamp your foot
In ill-tempered display,
I will not throw stones at you.
To your everlasting regret,
You cannot fight with
Someone who refuses to.
I will not throw stones at you.
I am worth far more than that.

Maddison Ross


It was a perfect poem for a lesson
Both about how poems are written and life lived.
It started with who and what and way
And ended away from all the painful event
A double headed axe of logic;
It says, it is better
that love of man prevails, in spite of pain.

We get to think of words, Their openings and closings
From Revenge to Vengeance
Or mentor transformed to tormentor.
How far one travel in a small distance
The distance only being long by the kindness it entails.

We invite each other to a table laden
With sweet and sour little portions
Of reconciliation of what finger takes
The bites, the wings,the drumstick
That we baked to make peace.

The old ladies who have make the meal
Are well acquainted with silence
They are not to have rage spill out
But wait for those in concert to go along
With what is supposed to be an end.
Think of Romeo and Juliet
With the Capulets and Montagues listening
To the Prince's speech with a nod of their heads

And as we taste the future's water
As we toast the tears and dry lips
We each discover that our glasses
Have black masking tape around the lips
Sufficient to hold the edges together
Even as there is slippage from the past.

Edward N. Halperin


To your teeth:
I would like to grind them on rocks.
So your smile would be

To your nerve endings:
I would like to invert them.
So pleasure was pain,
And you would never

To your freedom:
I would like to pluck the feathers from your wings.
So you would be stuck

Olivia Butler


She loved the Platonic ideal of her Socrates,
One that was thinner, worked longer hours,
Drank less, and didn’t squander his days strolling the agora
Saying embarrassing things about the gods and the afterlife.

His perfect self invested more time with his own sons,
And not with that riffraff, like Alcibiades, who laughed
Each time he bragged of how little he knew.
On the other hand, the ideal wife was one like her,

Wise enough to see how he had to reform,
Instructing him to wait, at least, until she passed,
Before dying like a common criminal.
In the after life, she would finish his soul.
always, thank your for your time and consideration.

Ron Yazinski


The cancer bullets flew swiftly,
finding their marks with first my husband
and a few months later, me.
We fought fiercely to save each other,
only to be outwitted by the heart that had given
so much to so many for, apparently, too long...
He was followed three weeks later by my mother,
the two of them Gemini to the end!

What was left?
My daughter, the gift of our love,
her face so full of him...
and forty years of memories, now,
too painful to recall.

I had arrived at the end.
I couldn't go back.
I couldn't go forward.
I lingered in my purgatorial world,
no more than a wraith,

And when the cancer returned to me,
I had no fear.
It could take my remains now
or later.

This was to be my revenge, albeit lackluster.
I would not allow the insouciant gods of circumstance
to bear witness to my pain and fury.

So life pranced madly on around me,
those gods of circumstance thumbing their noses,
grinning, jeering and leaving in their wake
other deaths, other tragedies.


Love, if given the smallest chance,
fleshes out even the most mercurial of spirits.
She lifts the shadowed veil of grief
and draws you into her arms,
cradling you with a lullaby of peace
and awakening you with the gentle breath of hope.

Now the joys of past and present
flood through my veins
and I rejoice in a new life--a good life
built upon what was and energized by what is.

This will be my true revenge--
I will live the remainder of my days on this earth
as a psalm of praise!

Barbara Caldwell


Hanging amongst the ivy
dripping over the mantle,
catching on its exploding flowers
smelling of churchyards,
our stockings hang.

I approach, eyes closed by order,
my fingers reach through
whispering wrapping
to pull out a golden sun.
The faint crackle of foil
promises chocolate.

I see my sister has one too.
My thumbnail about to separate the foil
I have an ivy thought.
I look at the ivy and wish
to be as ivy on the tree,
centipede roots clinging, creeping
onto what seems bigger, stronger.

I slip my chocolate into a pocket,
wait with ivy patience
for my sister to cram her mouth
with sweetness.

Later I will take out my chocolate,
eat it, slow as ivy,
savouring my sister’s envy,
punishing her beauty,
taking small revenge.

Vivien Jones


After awhile,
it didn't matter any more
whether he had actually done
the vindictive

So just maybe
there's more than one reason
his eyes held part understanding
and part confusion
when I looked
into him
and asked,





S. W. Whelan


If only I could be
A fly on the wall
Crawl upon the bed
Down into your ear
Where all that you hear
Is a buzzing sound
You clench your heart
As it starts to pound
Head ready to explode
Because you can no longer
Deal with the agitation
But the buzzing gets louder
Then you feel a pinch
You have just been stung
Remember I was the one
In your position
Saying acts of contrition
Hoping for brighter days
I wish I could make you pay
For what you have done
But for every seed sewn
The time will come to reap
Until then I’ll just keep
Wearing the game face
Take a deep breath
And swallow your pride
I’ll just switch sides
While you take my place

Lakia Montgomery