blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1


FEATURE | February 12, 2003

"the news from poems . . ."

On 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.

Poetry is not a luxury.

Audre Lorde

It's almost impossible not to write a poem that is political, if you are a person who loves.

Philip Levine

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 Douglass—folks who left no buildings behind them—only a wind of words fanning the bright flame of the spirit down the dark lanes of time.

Langston Hughes

Either define the moment, or the moment will define you.

Walt Whitman

Beat! Beat Drums

Beat! beat! drums! — blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows — through doors — burst like a ruthless force,
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 his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
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.

Walt Whitman


My Portion is Defeat—today—
A paler luck than Victory—
Less Paeans—fewer Bells—
The Drums don't follow Me—with tunes—
Defeat—a somewhat slower—means—
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 Blank—in Boyish Eyes—
And scraps of Prayer—
And Death's surprise,
Stamped visible—in Stone—

There's somewhat prouder, over there—
The Trumpets tell it to the Air—
How different Victory
To Him who has it—and the One
Who to have had it, would have been
Contenteder—to die—

Emily Dickinson


External links are not checked or updated after the issue is archived, and remain, whether functional or not, as a matter of record.

National Day of Poetry Today (February 12, 2003)
"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."

Poets 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.'"

U.S. Poet Laureate Opposes War with Iraq
"The threatened war with Iraq has politicized the nation's poets, starting at the very top."

Poets Against the War
"On January 28, Sam Hamill sent an open letter . . . to a few friends. Word has spread like wildfire . . ."

100 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."

The Picasso Coverup
"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."  

Williams   |   Lorde   |   Levine   |  Hughes   |   Whitman   |   Dickinson   |   Links