Poets Online Archive
March 2003

Since First Lady Laura Bush indefinitely postponed her symposium and reception "Poetry and the American Voice" after many of the nation’s finest poets declined her invitation to protest the war, Poets Against the War has been rallying opposition to planned assault on Iraq.

Almost 9,000 poets have joined this grassroots peace movement by submitting poems and statements to the Web site. Untold thousands of poets joined with millions more in massive anti-war demonstrations around the world on February 15. A delegation from Poets Against the War conducted a reading at the White House gates on February 12, and then attempted to deliver a statement and poems to the White House -- but were turned away. Over 160 public readings of Poetry Against the War were held on February 12th in many different countries and almost all of the 50 states. Many more such public readings are planned in the weeks ahead.

"Trying to Write a Poem Against the War" by Katha Pollit and "The Olive Wood Fire" by Galway Kinnell both served as models for the site in February 2003 as the world waited to see if America would go to war with Iraq. Both poems were posted at the Poets Against the War web site.

It's your turn to say what you feel about war, this war, other wars, peace. There's no requirement to be political or even contemporary - Kinnell's "The Olive-Wood Fire" is certainly timeless. Look at the poems on the site and you'll see a wide range of takes on the subject.


Do not disturb (ignore) the miracles of the day.
In an hour the subway carries me to work while I read.
I started to write a poem for peace, but it is too late.
Only the writers are listening.

Communication has never been better.
e-mail's carry my thoughts and feelings.
The words are familiar and meaningful, but it is too late.
Only the writers are listening.

TV advises how to prepare for war.
TV tells us peace would be better,
All agree, but it is too late.
Only the writers are listening.

Being tense and stilted and stiff,
Anxious and fearful
This is the consequence of preparing for war.
All agree, but it is too late to speak out.
Only the writers are listening.

Ellen Kaplan


Bold as a June bug on a frozen winter tundra,
oh Cassandra, oh Cassandra,
deftly weaving pictures that seem
to spring eternal, spring eternal
and immortal,
and immortal as the girdle
of a widow's tattered corset.
Do you see a deep, deep grieving,
deeply seeping, oh Cassandra?
Do you see a sad deceiving
in a land so purely giving when
hearts are sorely needy and painfully
receding in our frozen winter tundra
holding souls stuck in the weeding, thousands
bloodied, thousands frozen, thousands frozen stone-cold dead?
Bold, oh Cassandra, eternally weaving
what's plastered on our pages - do you see, Cassandra,
all the widows with their tightened, tattered corsets, see
all the soldiers with their bloodied, tattered faces, see
all the children, always children in a bloodied, frozen tundra - do you
weep, Cassandra, as our terrors come to be?


war, peace?
words to speak,
to dribble lightly about
over tea ,
perhaps to shout with conviction
in the heat of passion.
the very words spoken
often make enemies of friends.
what then do you know of war?
have you smelled it's foul breath
in your nostrils?
tasted the blood of a companion
on your lips?
heard his last cry in battle?
wiped away the last tear
from his eyes?
do you know of war in this manner?
if not, i will ask no more questions of you
about war.
for it is plain to see
that you know not of it.
could never speak it's name.

Ray Cutshaw


To the States or any one of them, or any city of the states, resist much, obey little
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved,
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city of this earth, ever afterward resumes it's liberty.
"To The States" by Walt Whitman

Sheriffs' cars drive slowly in sleeping neighborhoods,
night goggles trained inside houses
helicopters pilots watching u on the toilet
as they hover while eating lunch in the sky
Anyone can invade anyone's body fluids, yes even spittle
to see what one has eaten, drank or smoked
And the people tolerate sniffing dogs and arbitrary auto blockades
see no reason for rights, no privacy , no need
to argue rights no need to quibble
To the States or any one of them, or any city of the states, resist much, obey little

Hard working citizens come home
to be zombies watching television sitcoms and election results
Real TV shows of brain numbing situations,
Listening to inane conversations spewed on radio waves
Children arming and drugging themselves
to get through schools unscathed
where Orwell's 1984 is a history book
science is just another class they took
music and art have been permanently waived
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved,

There will be no revolution,
by Tocqeville's will
No justice, no peace
just slow steady compliance
Franz Fanon will be proven right
As the powerful rulers mandated
by the chosen political coop are filled with mirth
for their plans for enslavement of the masses will be fulfilled
and their dishonest backers will get their moneys worth
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city of this earth,

Will be safe for the good and the meek
The people striving for equality will be lost
As the many follow blindly as told
Just like sheep, salmon and minnows
Playing the game, making no waves
Just as long as they are after you, not me
You can be fully enslaved, taken to the showers
Eaten up and spit out, exterminated, eliminated
So that no city, state, nation or man will
ever afterward resume its liberty.

Xennia Gittoes-Singh


Without even asking he told me
What he had done
On a cold Saturday in February,
Gone a walking gone a talking
Gone a hoping not to be stalking.
So I am gawkish
Pretty mawkish
Not to be hawkish
Giving peace a hope
And not pulling a rope.
We searched for a cry
That was more than a sigh.

Then my son asks,
"Were you meeting Pops
In Washington at the time of Nam?"
We raised our hands
And gave a thumbs down to war
Telling the leaders
Like kids in a nursery school no."
There is more to life
Than tracing names in black marble.

Edward N. Halperin


"Come to the window," I called.
I had just looked out
on my way up to bed.
The season's first snow
covered the grass
and gave a bumpy look to the lawn.
We stood together
by the window
in the dark room
and just for a moment
I wanted to put my arms around you.
But sadly remembered-
We don't do that anymore.

Earlier in the evening
I heard the news
that President Bush intended
to disarm Iraq,
intended to use force if necessary.
And I wish I could say:
We don't do that anymore.

Norma Ketzis Bernstock


There are times when peace is not attained
through diplomacy, and negotiations.
Lesson one, is to believe that when an
aggressive head of state is bent on expansion,
that antagonist must be contained at all costs.
Peace is what results when stronger nations
successfully convince an ambitious country
that it best stay within its own borders
and not build arms with which to make war.
To enforce this rule, the United Nations pledge
to join in keeping renegade countries impotent.
The people of The United States of America
remain the only ones attacked by killing zealots,
born of modern terrorism, and it is apparently,
the lone peaceful nation still to be so targeted.
There is dissent and censure for our informed
leaders' design to disarm certain proven enemies.
So, let us ask ourselves, By Peace, We Mean --

F. William Broome


"Every thought is also a prison." R.W. Emerson

Our leaders hold their tone of war
sustained far beyond the normal value.
I want to think of this as a rest,
like a musical fermata,
a breath of thoughtfulness.

Do not mistake temptation for opportunity,
advises my friend to me tonight.
He is talking about other things,
but on the television is our President
and all the voices around me are swirling.

Thirty-two years ago I sat watching television
with my fellow freshman as balls were pulled
from two terrible containers in the final
military draft lottery of the United States.
One hand deciding a birthdate, the other its fate.

My oldest son, eighteen this month, awaits
letters about colleges unaware of deferments,
draft cards and friends coming home alive, dead
and some caught somewhere between.
I take a breath as I look at him and hold it in

thinking I can make time pause and hold right here.

Ken Ronkowitz




Leatherhead on Surrey
in the rains, the mud
and mad cow, how it echoes
day and night, the churn
the burn and distant glow
high octane, ninety-three
"...as the line of cars go down real slow-ow..."
a Golden Earring, glistening.
Sleeping children worry not
bedtime stories are such fun
sadly though, not about them
careful now not to eat beef
at least not on the island
where it's liters not gallons
as you fill the tank -- super
high octane, ninety-three.


Lilies at the forest edge
in the slightest hint of sun
(yes it shines even here)
eighteen months in Kazakstan
a world in supernova
a burning white, a light
at the darkest edge
lilies at the forest edge
soon bodies in the dark.


Curved glass, superheated
bent in the shimmering waves
air, a toxic oxygen
expanding rhetoric
the vase of a singular cause
tinted red it bleeds
a glass unshattered
teetering at the edge.


Holistic, a sum of parts
but something more
than nothing, than fire
than a black streak
across the sand
a fire, burning all
and the children
marching children
a lightweight weaponry
in the crosshairs
one shot, one child
live with that
superpower, live with that.


Expeditious forces
a technical might
to rain from the skies
an oily voice of god
black, black words
a steady downpour
into muddy streets
a superable mass
soon dead, all dead.


A supernal voice
ladened as millions
listen to prophets
a supernal voice
heard by few.


Dos, two
an id
and superego
I am me
and he is he
and we are who?
beetles in dung


the silent ones
a supersonic


James M. Thompson

You are born with the "six sense" and superb insight.
Lucky Numbers 2, 5, 10, 14, 18, 33


You have inherited a sixth sense which is the land.
It is a kind of knowing,
an awareness under the skin.
You know your body too,
the landscape of it.

On TV when they say rape,
in relation to war
or landfills
the intimate ache comes on ­
the sting of foreign seed.
You recognize the pangs of emptying rifles,
the heaviness of dead bodies on top of your own.

The sixth sense opens you like a grave for indecency.
You choke on darkness,
cry without making a sound ­
salt tears do not make good drink.

Sara Bauer-Zingg


And when they use the birth dates
of our sons to decide which of them
will go to the desert or the jungle
or the mountains -- whatever place
they have selected for their next war --
let me tell the mother who watches the TV screen
as men pick from a glass container
each date of birth on a plastic ball

let me tell her I too wrapped my child
in a cocoon of selfish prayer as she does now
leaving the sons of others unprotected.
I too felt the echoes of contractions
when each date was read aloud
as though long after his birth
if my body could force him
into the world on September 13 not 14
these men could not then claim him as their first.

And let me tell the mother who watches
if the date she whispers is chosen late
and she rejoices, as she should,
she must also rise from her chair
must rise and speak for the children born
on September 14 and April 24 and October 17
and July 7 and March 31
she must rise
and she must speak

for all of them
she must speak.

Eileen Doherty



NEW YORK - February 2003
The threatened war with Iraq has politicized the nation's poets, starting at the very top.

In comments rarely heard from a sitting U.S. poet laureate, Billy Collins has publicly declared his opposition to war and says he finds it increasingly difficult to keep politics out of his official job as literary advocate.

While at least three of Collins' predecessors also have stated their opposition to war, an incumbent laureate usually sticks to art for art's sake. Poets laureate are not political appointees; the selection is made by the Librarian of Congress, a post currently held by James H. Billington. Collins, who receives an annual stipend of $35,000, is serving his second one-year term.

A spokeswoman for the Library of Congress said Tuesday that "Mr. Collins is free to express his own opinions on any subject."

Collins, whose books include Questions About Angels and Nine Horses," is a mostly introspective poet who doesn't have a history of political activism. But he defended anti-war poets who last week caused the White House to postpone a symposium sponsored by first lady Laura Bush.

"If political protest is urgent, I don't think it needs to wait for an appropriate scene and setting and should be as disruptive as it wants to be," Collins said in a recent e-mail to The Associated Press .

"I have tried to keep the West Wing and the East Wing of the White House as separate as possible because I support what Mrs. Bush has done for the causes of literacy and reading. But as this country is being pushed into a violent confrontation, I find it increasingly difficult to maintain that separation."






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