Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Newsletter 2008: Olympic Truce in China

Newsletter: Poets and the Olympic Truce


Four years later - after Athens 2004

Much has happened in the world since the Olympic Games were held in Athens, but at the same time the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan continues unabated. What lessons have been learned? No one is really sure about that. More so new silences have been created by human relationships ceasing and therefore no more stories are being told which would indicate how the different cultural tributes would and could contribute to the one big stream of humanity.

One would think that China as one of the oldest Civilizations would make an effort to reach out to the world and give an insight into its cultural development not over mere one or two hundred years but over centuries. The translator Franz Kuhn in his foreword to a little book "State's Wisdoms" formulated in following words: while China has also its Machiavellian political theories and twisted stories with always honest civil servants being silenced by corrupt ones, there are thoughts and insights which have helped to keep this vast country together, to make it be governable, and this over centuries. That book he translated contain those warm thoughts and feelings reminding of the stream of humanity.

In his amazing book "Beyond the House of the False Lama" the poet and writer George Crane refers to the so-called 'snow poems' otherwise known as "A Thousand Pieces of Snow". There is on the one hand the poet Fung Hae Suh of the thirteenth century. He wrote  "One Hundred Verses on Flowering Plums": "a meditation on the illusory nature of a tree that bears no fruit but flowers in late winter, dropping yellow petals dot-dot-dot on the snow." (George Crane, p. 52)

Fung Hae Suh was followed three centuries later by the poet Zhou Lu Jing who responded to those earlier poems by adding 101 of his own poems to make up together "a thousand pieces of snow".

To compare the two poets is like going on an amazing journey through time to arrive in the present still wondering about the gifts of these two poets. One example can be cited from the book with the permission of the author.

Ancient Plum


By the sky

oh how long ago

grew ancient Gua-shan


celebrated flower


before and after

Po-sung River


only today

I woke early

to plant

new trees


next generation


all is the same

as before

- Fung Hae Suh




great and magnificant tree

no one knows

in what year?


fresh and

gray -


horizontal branch


the whole

an old dragon

twisted and curled

in its cave




like snow

cover Jiang-cheng

- Zhou Lu Jing

The Olympics in Beijing have not given space for poets of China to come together with poets from around the world. A pity. But then China has always been most fearful of poets. Writing a poem on the wall was always a sign of political protest. This time such protest would be needed above all on behalf of the environment and the rural population. Both are being destroyed by the hunger to be more like the West with slick cars and an economic growth rate which has produced an amazing shift in economic power at global level. Yet Shanghai has been to cite but one example overwhelmed by the use of the car. With the earth so scarce for a billion people, this vehicle is not just any but a monstreous consumer of space. And with the Olympics being what it is a business opportunity for global business, those left behind will not even be understood when they stand silently by the roadside and just weep for having been left behind. There is no point of sending any messages. Silence is silence.

Interestingly enough, when looking at what made up the Newsletter of 2004, the concept of language, in particular the American language, as described by George Crane is most important: for purpose of integration into society a language has to come in from the street so that the poets and writers using such a language make their hands dirty. That then entails a link to what was written back then, to start with:

2004 Besides

Besides – or after the wheel of sounds
Dust bites into the ground
As if to say anger does not still the hunger
Or literal truths do not become poetic
Even if given the chance to be miracles.
Ask the teacher, the woman, the kiosk man, they all agree to disagree.
O yes, moments come, moments go,
Yet in the streets it is where we write
About no ordinary feat but what our feet can bear in mind when after many years dust finally settles at acceptable levels of human decency and anxiety.

Here the question to be asked, but not to be answered only by a poem, can we stay open to the outcome of our anticipation of the future not to be written in the dust nor remaining only as anxious hope mere sweat on our foreheads?

List of Contents:


As Athens is about to host the Olympic Games, efforts were made to remind about the Olympic Truce as part of the conditions under which the Ancient Games were held. Today the events in Afghanistan and in Iraq, but not only there, cast a deep doubt whether these conditions shall be met during August 2004. The poet Giulio Stocchi from Milano asks that poetry does not engage itself in competition as too close to war: the bloodiest of all kinds of competitions. Instead he asks that poetry defends gentleness – “ein zarter Umgang” (a gentle way of dealing) with thoughts and human beings who suffer from arbitrary use of violence.


The black van exploded
Fifty yards from the hotel entrance.
Two men, one black-haired, the other red,
Had parked it there as though for a few moments
While they walked around the corner
Not noticing, it seemed, the children
In single file behind their perky leader,
And certainly not seeing the van
Explode into the children’s bodies.
Nails, nine inches long, lodged
In chest, ankle, thigh, buttock, shoulder, face.
The quickly gathered crowd was outraged and shocked.
Some children were whole, others bits and pieces.
These blasted cruxifixions are commonplace.
Brendan Kennelly
(reprinted with permission of the author from his Cromwell poems)


Sam Hamill calls for actions by poets and those loving poetry to hold poetry readings on 11th of September in memory of victims that lost their lives that day not only in New York but also in Chile 1973 when the government of Allende was toppled.

Letter from Sam Hamill

To express his appreciation for all the support given to the Poets Against the War and to call for poetic actions on 11th of September 2004

"We suffocate among people who think they are absolutely right, whether in their machines or their ideas. And for all those who can live only in an atmosphere of human dialogue, the silence is the end of the world."    Albert Camus

I say we had better look our nation searchingly in the face, like a physician diagnosing some deep disease. “Walt Whitman”, “Democratic Vistas”?

I go in fear of those for whom belief is fervent, for whom belief is absolute. I have lived through generations of war, through the misery and slaughter of countless millions of innocent people. Almost invariably, this floodtide of bloodshed has been authored in the name of god and justice.

The god of George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, and Ariel Sharon is the same god. And yet when I turn to the holy scriptures of their respective religions, I find the same prohibition against murder, the same call for genuine compassion, for lives of non-violence.   

I admit that I am not a believer. Nevertheless, I have been deeply touched by the teachings of Jesus, of Mohammed, of the great rabbis and monks and followers of these traditions who have had the courage to take to heart the practice of compassion. When I founded “Poets Against the War” in January, 2003, much was made of my remark that I felt a wave of nausea upon reception of an invitation to the White House the morning after reading of Mr. Bush’s proposed plans for a shock and awe attack on Iraq. In my defence I can say only that I remain baffled by anyone who is not utterly repulsed by the idea of annihilating whole cities, by the suggestion that we may somehow regain our humanity or any sense of justice through the employment of cluster bombs and smart bombs followed by waves of infantry.

Since the end of World War II, the United States has bombed some forty-two countries, and with each devastating bomb, the American people have been told that our government has taken such action in the name of decency and democracy and justice. God, we are told again and again, is on our side. And yet the Pope beseeched this administration not to attack Iraq.

Clergy from around the world begged for patience from this administration, begged for genuine dialogue with this administration, an administration that has publicly announced its religious convictions, its absolute fervour and absolute belief. Their pleas were met first with a resounding silence, and then with missiles and bombs and bloodshed that has now entered its second year with no end in sight.

Mr. Bush and his co-conspirators may call themselves Christians, but they violate almost every tenet of Christian conduct. They practice neither love nor compassion. They try to justify torture. That they murder and lie and are hypocrites is established fact. That they and their corporate co- conspirators profit on a grand scale (both politically and economically) from the gross human misery and bloodshed they author is also beyond question. Nor can we doubt for even a minute that their ultimate plan is to dominate and exploit the whole world under the blueprint of their Project for the New American Century. Among the worst of their co-conspirators we must include a thoroughly cowed and ‘embedded’ body of American journalists for whom truth is a relative and sometime thing, for whom the merest veneer of patriotism is a greater force that healthy scepticism and devotion to truth and, ultimately, humanitas. The American media are owned and operated by corporations who profit from this and every war.

Mr. Bush, Mr. Sharon, Mr. Arafat and Mr. Bin Laden share a religious fervour and certitude that trivializes the innocent lives of those they annihilate in the name of justice. They are brothers in evil certainty that authors gross violence. Their only response to terror is to elevate levels of terror. Each has chosen vengeance and the horrors of human slaughter over the forces of decency and dialogue.

“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.”
“ Blessed are the peacemakers.”

I was taught that in the original Hebrew, the commandment reads, “Thou shalt not murder.” I’m told that the true Christian and Muslim and Jew alike are taught, “Love thy enemy as thyself.” Or as a brother. If we murder every murderer, there will be no one left.

I believe there are vital lessons to be learned from poetry, indeed that poetry can be a path to enlightenment. I think often during these war-torn days of the great courage it took for poets like Kenneth Rexroth, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Lowell, William Stafford, and William Everson to reject the politics of annihilation during World War II (during which I was born), and to choose imprisonment or non-violent service over obedience to the mere appearance of patriotism. The true American patriot is one who defends the Constitution against the likes of Mr. Bush, Mr. Ashcroft, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr.

Cheney and their ilk, one who understands exactly why the first of our guaranteed rights is the right to speak out. That right and all others come with responsibilities every poet should understand.

We all live our lives by those few well-chosen words we stand by. I draw inspiration from the courage of Albert Camus as he spoke against war in the very midst of World War II, as well as against capital punishment. I think of the courage of Gandhi, the courage of Martin Luther King. And when Mr. Bush decries leaked photographs of the flag-draped coffins of America’s young men and women being returned from the front, I draw inspiration from the heart-rending courage of the mother of Emmett Till, a young man savagely beaten to death by white racists long ago in Mississippi. She demanded that his coffin be left open at his funeral, his shattered, ravaged body on full display “because,” she said, “I want people to understand exactly what transpired here.”

We poets have been attacked for the stance we have taken. We have been attacked for speaking out. We have been accused of being unpatriotic because we do not believe that compounding murder is the best possible response to murder. It grieves us to see our nation’s (or any nation’s) children turned into killers before they have had the opportunity to study war and its vicious and inevitable consequences.

Every war produces a My Lai, an Abu Ghraib. And we are treated to speeches justifying torture. But it is not merely the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the war between Israelis and Palestinians that motivates me now. These, I believe, are only symptoms of the devastating disease, the malady that causes a nation’s government to treat the suffering and annihilation of human beings as a trifling on the road to power and profit. As long as we permit our government to be rented out to the highest bidders, democracy and peace will remain mere ideals. We make the world safe for global capitalism at the expense of our own well-being.

I believe we can do better. I believe “Poets Against the War” stands for a great deal more than just poets opposing another illegal and immoral war. I believe every poet’s struggle to come to a truth through a few fortunately chosen words is good medicine, and I believe that doubting and questioning are the very foundation of any patriotism that rises above mere nationalism.

The many faces and voices of poetry in the world connect us all to one great family. The uses of our art are countless, but the political remains one of our responsibilities. Poetry is one of a thousand paths to a more enlightened life. I want to know what poetry was in the lives of the prisoners tortured at Abu Ghraib, what poetry is in the lives of their torturers. What poetry is in the life of a man who slits the throat of another to make a political advertisement? Are there verses Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Ashcroft know by heart?

Yes, Mrs. Bush, and yes, Mr. Gioia, poetry is political. Being a citizen of the world is political. That’s one of several obvious reasons why we believe poetry really does matter.

We ask the poets of the world to join us in making an international day of poetry on September 11. We ask you to think not only of the innocent victims of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, but also of the innocent victims in the U.S.-sponsored over-throwing of the Allende government in Chile and of the lives lost in the Attica prison riots, also events that happened on a September 11th in their respective years.

Please keep us posted this summer and fall on events in which you participate or which have relevance to “Poets Against the War”: info@poetsagainstthewar.org

We also ask “Poets Against the War” organizations of other countries to notify us of activities when appropriate so that we may all stand and be counted together. We are long overdue in thanking the dozens of volunteers at “Poets Against the War”. Their hard work and dedication made it possible for us to achieve the successes we have and they have been considerable.

If we are to continue to be successful in the future, however, we must ask again for a small contribution from our membership. Our budget allows for no extravagance and covers no personal expenses, so members may be assured that every nickel goes directly to the sustenance of “Poets Against the War”.

We thank you for your support. Let’s hope we poets may help bring about a revolutionary idea: a democratic government in the U.S.A.
Sam Hamill
June 20, 2004

POETS AGAINST THE WAR has an excellent website where they publish one or two poems a day. It is hoped that the language expressed through these poems finds its way into daily life and lets people overcome their silence. For further information:

3. Poets in the Anthology of “Poetry and Truce”

with texts by
Socrates Kabouropoulos
Armin Groepler

4. New Publication by Katerina Anghelaki Rooke:

“Translating Into Love Life’s End”


In: Shortstring Press, 2004

Katerina undertakes for the first time in her long career as poetess the task of translating her own poems into English. She does so after realizing that a great deal of her life she has spend with her British husband who gives her a more natural way of entering the English language than what most people have. Still, she hesitates as expressions in one’s own language, Greek in her case, are really untranslatable. In this book she observes many puzzles and therefore tries to reflect in words what the sky defines and does not, or what hope is to grandmothers as to children still to be born. Just back from readings in Paris, Oxford and Sofia, Katerina Anghelaki Rooke expresses a natural attitude towards life through her poems lifting them up to become equally powerful, indeed philosophical reflections of life. One of her most loved words is “really”, and often she would use it with some sly smile in her eyes, when she asks to have the other reaffirm what was just said: “do you really mean it what you said”, and then without hesitation she flings her great love and trust into the arms of the other: “I take you for what you said”. Believing and not believing is about not being hurt by what is said but by giving a reason to another form of diction to uplift and to let be heard another content. Poetry is all about that in a very short form, mind you, she would caution. Indeed, she is not a believer in long but beautiful short, very strong poems.

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