It’s nothing new for poets to write poems against war, to write poems to raise the general consciousness of injustice, to express their pain and to speak truth to power. What is relatively new is the use of technology and social media to make it easy for poets to come together in protest as we see now with 100,000 Poets for Change (100TPC). In 2011, Michael Rothenberg, cofounder of 100TPC, put out a call for poets on Facebook and just five years later we have a huge global movement and a thriving community of poets and other creatives to stand up for peace, social justice and sustainability.
On the eve of the Iraqi War, poet Sam Hamill received an invitation from Laura Bush to attend a White House literary salon to celebrate the works of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman. Hamill had just read about President Bush’s plan for the invasion and saturation bombing of Iraq that would kill innumerable civilians, a plan that did not rule out the possibility of using nuclear weapons. Hamill felt he couldn’t sit restrained among politicians and poetic aristocracy. He had to speak out. He contacted colleagues, asking them to join with him in using this event to make a stand for peace.
Poetry readings were scheduled outside the White House and across the country on February 12, the day the event was scheduled. A website was started to collect and display antiwar poetry. Such prominent poets as Rita Dove, Peter Levitt, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, W.S. Merwin and Adrienne Rich contributed work. Their poems and many others were collected in a print volume. Contributions for the webstie continued to flow in for several years. The poems were screened by a team before publication. I contributed two, which were my first anti-war poems. Ultimately I think some 5,000 poems were collected. The poems are now archived in a university library.
We all know that Poets Against the War didn’t stop the invasion. Poet, peace activist and Jesuit priest, Daniel Berrigan wrote, “One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible.” So too are we called to speak truth to power, ignorance and cruelty no matter how hopeless things seem and no matter that we may never see the fruits of our labors in our lifetime. Peace has to start somewhere and it might just as well start with us.
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© 2016, Jamie Dedes; photo montage credit, Futuretrillionaire under CC BY-SA 2.0 license