War of Words: Poets Deliver Protest in Verse

Posted March 5, 2003 at 3:50pm

“… And then I think of the frauds in office at this instant devising their massacres in my name, what part of me could they have come from,” poet W.S. Merwin wrote in “Ogres” to protest the pending war with Iraq.

These words, and those of about 11,000 other amateur and professional poets opposed to a war, where delivered to Congress on Wednesday.

Spurred to action by Sam Hamill, founder of Copper Canyon Press, writers of verse have penned about 15,000 poems since Jan. 28. That’s the day Hamill asked 50 friends to help him explain to the White House why he adamantly opposes war.

Hamill, a retired Marine, published poet and Buddhist, has been asked to participate in a Feb. 12 symposium on “Poetry and the American Voice” sponsored by first lady Laura Bush.

When word of his request for anti-war poetry spread — he said the response was so overwhelming that within 24 hours his e-mail inbox was overflowing — the White House canceled the event.

“It set the Internet on fire,” he said of his letter.

And so Poets Against the War was born.

“But when I think of the posture now, I can’t help but think of Palestinians huddled in their ruins, the Afghani shepherd with his bleating goats, the widow weeping, sending off her sons, the Tibetan monk who can’t go home,” he wrote in “Sheepherder Coffee.”

Poets Hamill, Merwin and Terry Tempest Williams were invited to Capitol Hill by Rep. Nancy Kaptur (D-Ohio) to deliver the message. They jammed into a small room in the Longworth House Office Building with several members of the Progressive Caucus to read their poems and blast President Bush.

“This is an administration that has gained power almost day by day by selling fear,” Hamill said, adding that he’s more afraid of the Bush administration than he is of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

He also bashed the administration for abusing the English language.

For example, the widely used metaphor “weapons of mass destruction” is incorrect, he said. The United States suspects Hussein possesses biological weapons, such as anthrax, that could kill many people but would not destroy buildings or anything else. “Weapons of mass murder” would be more accurate but “weapons of mass destruction” sounds scarier, he said.

Merwin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, denounced U.S. posturing as a “bully’s war against a small but oil-rich country.”

Democratic Members in attendance said the poems — which they vowed to read into the Congressional Record — prove that public opinion does not support going to war.

“Public opinion is catching up to the administration’s actions,” Kaptur said.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who has been criticized for a trip he made to Baghdad, said world opinion is not on Bush’s side either.

He and other Democrats met Wednesday with members of various European parliaments, all of whom have seen massive demonstrations against a war in their home countries, he said.

Although Congress overwhelmingly adopted a resolution authorizing Bush to use force in Iraq last fall, Kaptur said the public’s mood has shifted since then.

Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) introduced legislation Feb. 5 to repeal that resolution, but their bill is not likely to make it to the House floor.

The poets are scheduled to read from their voluminous collection — Hamill said the manuscript in its entirety would measure six and a half feet tall — Wednesday night at George Washington University.