FEATURE | February 12, 2003
"the news from poems . . ."
February 12, 2003, the White House was to hold a Poetry Symposium, "Poetry
and the American Voice," honoring the work of poets Emily Dickinson,
Langston Hughes, and Walt Whitman.
The event was cancelled by
the White House for fear it would be "politicized."
Both those poets who refused the invitation to speak
and those who accepted have spoken out against the cancellation. They,
and thousands of other writers, have contributed poems to anti-war efforts.
Our links below to news coverage, to "Poets Against the War,"
and to "100 Poems Against the War" will provide further information.
Blackbird marks this
cancellation with poetry and quotations from Dickinson, Hughes, Whitman,
Audre Lorde, Philip Levine, and William Carlos Williams on the nature
of poetry, on the nature of war, and on the nature of the poet's responsibility
to speak to the state of the world.
Lorde | Levine
| Hughes | Whitman
| Dickinson |
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there . . .
William Carlos Williams
Poetry is not a luxury.
It's almost impossible not to write a poem that is
political, if you are a person who loves.
I had never thought much before about the nature of
compromise. For bread how much of the spirit must one give away? . . .
I began to think back to Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth,
John Brown, Fred Douglassfolks who left no buildings behind themonly
a wind of words fanning the bright flame of the spirit down the dark lanes
Either define the moment, or the moment will define
Beat! Beat Drums
Beat! beat! drums!
blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows through doors burst like a ruthless
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet no happiness must he have now with
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums so shrill you bugles blow.
Beat! beat! drums! blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses?
no sleepers must sleep in those beds,
No bargainers bargains by day no brokers or speculators
would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums you bugles wilder blow.
Beat! beat! drums! blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child's voice be heard, nor the mother's entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump O terrible drums so loud you bugles blow.
My Portion is Defeattoday
A paler luck than Victory
Less Paeansfewer Bells
The Drums don't follow Mewith tunes
Defeata somewhat slowermeans
More Arduous than Balls
'Tis populous with Bone and stain
And Men too straight to stoop again,
And piles of solid Moan
And Chips of Blankin Boyish Eyes
And scraps of Prayer
And Death's surprise,
Stamped visiblein Stone
There's somewhat prouder, over there
The Trumpets tell it to the Air
How different Victory
To Him who has itand the One
Who to have had it, would have been
Day of Poetry Today (February 12, 2003)
External links are not checked or updated after the issue is archived, and remain, whether functional or not, as a matter of record.
"First lady Laura Bush was planning to host a celebration of American
poetry at the White House today. Instead, poets all over the world will
read verse protesting the possible war in Iraq."
Mounting Anti-War Protest (streaming audio)
"Poets plan to gather in Washington, D.C., and other cities Wednesday
for 'A National Day of Poetry Against the War.'"
Poet Laureate Opposes War with Iraq
"The threatened war with Iraq has politicized the nation's poets,
starting at the very top."
Against the War
"On January 28, Sam Hamill sent an open letter . . . to a few friends.
Word has spread like wildfire . . ."
Poems Against the War
"100 poets against the war 3.0 is the third of the '100 poets . .
.' series of instant anthologies and . . . contains . . . poetry from
all over the world."
"A tapestry of Pablo Picasso's powerful anti-war tableau "Guernica"
has hung outside the U.N. Security Council since 1985, and it would be
difficult to imagine a more fitting example of site-specific art."
| Levine | Hughes
| Whitman |
Dickinson | Links