It is three years since we began Poets Against War. It seems altogether appropriate to note the occasion with three comments from Walt Whitman. It was, after all, Whitman to whom I turned that cold January afternoon after reading my invitation to the White House. The real war is not in Iraq or Afghanistan, but in the hearts-and-minds of people around the world. I turned to Whitman. And I knew in that instant my life had been changed forever. I could go play nice with a murderous establishment or I could live as I have tried to live all my adult life-by the revolutionary path I first glimpsed in Whitman when I was still a boy.
We have walked a long way together. We have a long way to go. While it remains essential for us to continue to be engaged with fellow groups and individuals working for nonviolent solutions, it is also good to remember that we sometimes accomplish the most by working alone, daily, with a few good words from the heart. In either case, Whitman is good company. Not only are we not alone, but our company, our majority, grows- one by one, day by day. Namaste. We have good work to do.
Anyone interested in obtaining a DVD copy of Tim Robbins' utterly brilliant satire, Embedded Live! or Cinema Libre's Peace! may do so by contacting: www.docworkers.com
Does anyone wish to offer a few polite remarks to Henry Kissinger? Among his many accomplishments besides Viet Nam, the Nobel Peace Prize winner gets credit for overthrowing the duly elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile on September 11, 1973.
On March 10th and 11th this year the fourteen Presidential Libraries and the National Archives will host a conference at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston on "Vietnam and the Presidency." Many of the leading U.S. "decision makers" of that war will be present , including former Secretary of State, and National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, who rarely makes such public appearances. Unfortunately, perspectives will be limited, as will access to the conference: currently no seats are available. In an effort to address these issues, across the road at the University of Massachusetts Boston, the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences will host a series of events offering those who have lived the consequences of these decisions to make their own testimonies and present their perspectives. In an effort to provide individulas unable to attend the same opportunity we are offering to deliver letters and emails directly to the conference, and to Mr. Kissinger. We ask these letters be addressed to Mr. Kissinger, personnally, since he will be the chief architect of the war who will be present. In a time when the same issues of Presidential power and the abuse of that power we saw in Vietnam are again in the air, we feel this conference offers a unique opportunity to deliver a message.
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Please keep us advised of poetry-related events as appropriate for our calendar.
In the coming weeks we hope to find about a dozen volunteers to become contributing editors to our Poetry Matters section. We want to build a library of important links and to be notified of important events.
The Winter edition of Poets Against War Newsletter is on line and features the first installment of William O'Daly's commentary on poetry and torture along with poet-translator-doctor Fady Joudah's memoir of recent work with Doctors Without Borders.
From Specimen Days
The Real War Will Never Get in the Books
AND so good-bye to the war. I know not how it may have been, or may be, to
others-to me the main interest I found, (and still, on recollection, find,)
in the rank and file of the armies, both sides, and in those specimens amid
the hospitals, and even the dead on the field. To me the points
illustrating the latent personal character and eligibilities of these
States, in the two or three millions of American young and middle-aged men,
North and South, embodied in those armies-and especially the one-third or
one-fourth of their number, stricken by wounds or disease at some time in
the course of the contest-were of more significance even than the political
interests involved. (As so much of a race depends on how it faces death,
and how it stands personal anguish and sickness. As, in the glints of
emotions under emergencies, and the indirect traits and asides in Plutarch,
we get far profounder clues to the antique world than all its more formal
Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal
background of countless minor scenes and interiors, (not the official
surface courteousness of the Generals, not the few great battles) of the
Secession war; and it is best they should not-the real war will never get
in the books. In the mushy influences of current times, too, the fervid
atmosphere and typical events of those years are in danger of being totally
forgotten. I have at night watch'd by the side of a sick man in the
hospital, one who could not live many hours. I have seen his eyes flash and
burn as he raised himself and recurr'd to the cruelties on his surrender'd
brother, and mutilations of the corpse afterward. (See, in the preceding
pages, the incident at Upperville-the seventeen kill'd as in the
description, were left there on the ground. After they dropt dead, no one
touch'd them-all were made sure of, however. The carcasses were left for
the citizens to bury or not, as they chose.)
Such was the war. It was not a quadrille in a ball-room. Its interior
history will not only never be written-its practicality, minutiæ of deeds
and passions, will never be even suggested. The actual soldier of 1862-'65,
North and South, with all his ways, his incredible dauntlessness, habits,
practices, tastes, language, his fierce friendship, his appetite, rankness,
his superb strength and animality, lawless gait, and a hundred unnamed
lights and shades of camp, I say, will never be written-perhaps must not
and should not be.
The preceding notes may furnish a few stray glimpses into that life, and
into those lurid interiors, never to be fully convey'd to the future. The
hospital part of the drama from '61 to '65, deserves indeed to be recorded.
Of that many-threaded drama, with its sudden and strange surprises, its
confounding of prophecies, its moments of despair, the dread of foreign
interference, the interminable campaigns, the bloody battles, the mighty
and cumbrous and green armies, the drafts and bounties-the immense money
expenditure, like a heavy-pouring constant rain-with, over the whole land,
the last three years of the struggle, an unending, universal mourning-wail
of women, parents, orphans-the marrow of the tragedy concentrated in those
Army Hospitals-(it seem'd sometimes as if the whole interest of the land,
North and South, was one vast central hospital, and all the rest of the
affair but flanges)-those forming the untold and unwritten history of the
war-infinitely greater (like life's) than the few scraps and distortions
that are ever told or written. Think how much, and of importance, will be-
how much, civic and military, has already been-buried in the grave, in
Nature and Democracy-Morality
DEMOCRACY most of all affiliates with the open air, is sunny and hardy and
sane only with Nature-just as much as Art is. Something is required to
temper both-to check them, restrain them from excess, morbidity. I have
wanted, before departure, to bear special testimony to a very old lesson
and requisite. American Democracy, in its myriad personalities, in
factories, work-shops, stores, offices-through the dense streets and houses
of cities, and all their manifold sophisticated life-must either be fibred,
vitalized, by regular contact with out-door light and air and growths,
farm-scenes, animals, fields, trees, birds, sun-warmth and free skies, or
it will certainly dwindle and pale. We cannot have grand races of
mechanics, work people, and commonalty, (the only specific purpose of
America,) on any less terms. I conceive of no flourishing and heroic
elements of Democracy in the United States, or of Democracy maintaining
itself at all, without the Nature-element forming a main part - to be its
health-element and beauty-element - to really underlie the whole politics,
sanity, religion and art of the New World.
Finally, the morality: "Virtue," said Marcus Aurelius, "what is it,
only a living and enthusiastic sympathy with Nature?" Perhaps indeed the efforts
of the true poets, founders, religions, literatures, all ages, have been,
and ever will be, our time and times to come, essentially the same - to bring
people back from their persistent strayings and sickly abstractions, to the
costless average, divine, original concrete.
From the 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass
Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to
everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income
and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience
and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or
unknown, or to any man or number of men-go freely with powerful uneducated
persons, and with the young, and with the mothers or families-re-examine
all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss
whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem,
and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent
lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in
every motion and joint of your body.