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Poets and Connections

Connection toPoets against the War

PAW was begun in January '03, just a day after Bush's State of the Union speech where he laid out his plans for attacking Iraq, and the morning after Sam Hamill went on line to read about his proposed "shock & awe" tactics.  Then one month prior to March 21, 2003 when the invasion of Iraq was imposed — despite world protest against the Bush administration and the UK government under Tony Blair, arguing for ‘regime change’ in Baghdad through violent means — the poets of America refused to be co-opted by the White House for propaganda purposes. Had they accepted the invitation to participate in a solely literary evening at the White House, without any protest against the going to war again, the administration could have claimed that it still enjoyed the support of the country’s intellectuals and artists. The artists’ refusal tore the mask of culture from the face of the Bush administration.

One year later, on February 12th 2004, Poets against the War celebrated their first anniversary with poetry readings in libraries. In their call for action they explained their wish to support all librarians who refuse to comply with the ‘Patriot Act’: insofar as those librarians would not reveal the identities of their readers, nor the readers’ choice of books, to the intelligence committee appointed to collect information. Sam Hamill and the Poets against the War openly challenged this as an infringement upon a person’s privacy by the administration, and therefore as something unconstitutional, indeed un-American.

Letter from Sam Hamill


Dear friend,

"All I ask is that, in the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice. After that, we can distinguish those who accept the consequences of being murderers themselves or the accomplices of murderers, and those who refuse to do so with all their force and being.

Since this terrible dividing line does actually exist, it will be a gain if it be clearly marked. Over the expanse of five continents throughout the coming years an endless struggle is going to be pursued between violence and friendly persuasion, a struggle which, granted, the former has a thousand times more chances of success than does the latter. But I have always held that, if he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstances is a coward. And henceforth, the only honourable course will be to stake everything on a formidable gamble: that words are more powerful than munitions."

Albert Camus

For the past six months, it has been my privilege to serve as founder and primary spokesman of Poets Against the War. Our accomplishments have been bold and vivid, subtle and modest. Both the electronic anthology of 13,000 poems and the now best-selling print selection from it have made history.

Our actions in creating national and international days of poetry readings against war have also been historical firsts. We have established a worldwide network for poets opposed to George Bush's threat of worldwide "pre-emptive" war and his creation of a United States that is in fact and deed a rogue nation. We have joined with other anti-war and human rights organizations to broaden and deepen our opposition to this administration's policies as more and more people become aware of the terrible consequences we all face. All of this, and much more, has been accomplished because poets gave their art and hearts and money to make it work.

The war, however, has only just begun. The Bush policies have been somewhat reinforced, at least for the short run, thanks to manipulative, flag-waving media. Poets Against the War will remain an active organization opposing new and continuing wars and new "patriotic acts." Now it is time for long- range planning. For that reason, the Board of Directors has appointed Andy Himes to the position of Executive Director. I will continue to serve on the board while acting as Artistic Director, aided by an Advisory Committee of poets to be named within the month. We will continue to extend our message and provide valuable information, as well as opening a forum where poets may explore strategies and propose actions.

We have drawn our line in the sand. Our tools are everyone's tools: the simple words we use almost thoughtlessly every day, but use in our art with scrupulous honesty and precision. I am Confucian enough to believe that "All wisdom is rooted in learning to call things by the right name." And we poets understand why Dante put the defilers of language into the seventh circle of his Hell. Our liberties are defined by a few clear, simple words

The history of poetry is filled with advocacy, private and public. It is our privilege to draw on that history and to educate our friends and neighbors – and ourselves – to extend the vast pleasures and wisdom of poetry as we explore ideas, working to make a peaceful world together. In telling the story, in singing the song, there is always the poetry behind the words, both the beautiful and the deceitful. The more people learn to see clearly through the deliberately warped language of this administration, the sooner we shall understand the consequences of our actions. The better our poetry, the better we come to understand the terrible damage done by inappropriate metaphor and deliberately deceptive misnomer.

Only a few well-chosen words can make peace. And even then, only when we are willing to fully inhabit those words. To live by them. Sometime within the month, <poetsagainstthewar.org> will once again begin publishing new poetry on our web site. May we all find those few right words we can live by.

Sam Hamill

Artistic Director, poetsagainstthewar.org July 4, 2003


Can a feather uphold the wind, a poem a war unleashing uncontrollable forces? The question is as surreal as real. Men do not always follow the commands. That then is the meaning of art: some human reflection enters, lets them hesitate and then they catch a glimpse of beauty before it is too late. Achilles did learn that when he was about to die on the battlefield of Troy.


Meaning of the Arts

Armin Groepler


(assimilated out of the sounds of the times)

Those were not happy times to which our generation were exposed to,

considering especially the sounds and noises that filled them!

Thunder of canons and shrill to unclear political speeches,

besides the increase in noise level from cars and machines.

Deceitful family sounds provoked under the stress of the past (Nazism – Communism

and ’68 contortion) the most brutal reactions as defensive mechanisms,

all legitimizing the scream at the top of the lungs as self infatuated pose

while denouncing fine tunes off handily as bourgeoisie oversensitivity.

Altogether it had an impact upon the arts and today we see pictures and hear sounds

that testify to this fact.

Without question reality leaves an imprint upon the forms of art;

as artist I have to know that inside my inner most heart I would like

exactly this reality to be different, that is better, therefore also more livable.

And because art unfolds out of the sensuous human being, irrespective

whether now a matter of the performing or visual arts, or of poetry,

it cannot be anything else but that the human being and his environment

interests every artist, insofar as he does not leave out to the best of his abilities any meaning thereof when giving shape to his work.

In this ‘meaning’ I cannot leave out the badness if I want goodness!

To place human hope in such a context is a way to expose the ugly. And to do this

with enjoyment. That gives courage to live!

(Brecht: “do not spare in dignity, in effort….)

I cannot understand the arts otherwise.

Art is as incapable to promote discouragement as it cannot endorse heroism and fanaticism, if art wishes to have at all an impact.

This has been shown throughout history.

Once art gives up the affirmation of life forces that can be felt through it, then art has lost for me any meaning!

Armin Groepler

Berlin 24.01.04


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