Whenever I hear the word “war,” I reach for my checkbook …
We all know of the problems oil can cause, both locally and abroad, but when it comes to other forms of energy, poets have also written in response to other ecological disasters. Consider the historical and current use of nuclear energy in Japan today via “Capturing Japan’s pain in 17 syllables” or one of The Economist’s journalist-turned-poet’s response, when reporting fails, to the recent disaster in “A poem for Ofunato.”
Now we are hearing yet another drum beat to the tune of war, starting with the sanctions made against Iran for enriching uranium inside a mountain. Of course, that region is no stranger to U.S. “intervention” on various grounds, as are other places on the planet. For instance, the Japanese WWII poets know it well. Brian Turner, soldier in Iraq, and Wilfred Owen, short-lived soldier, bear witness and warn against it too. Adrienne Rich also captures the fleeting ephemera of the battlefield.
It helps to read widely to find the news only poems can carry, for lack of which, as per William Carlos Williams, “men die miserably every day.” As the war drums rumble louder, we might want to take a look, as we engage, at some Iranian poets, some of whom write about their country from within or from an international vantage, many risking or losing their lives to do so. Read also about poetry as the daily victual of the revolution.
Despite all of this knowledge and effort, no poem can stop a war. So not just war, but poetry—what is it good for? We know there are various types of wars, ongoing. Consider this survey of the battles in “The Landscape of Identity: Poetry and the Modern in Japan“ (originally published in Aufgabe #4) or Korean poet Kim Hyesoon’s response to the traditional poetics regime via “The Female Grotesque.” Back in Egypt, through “The Poetry of Revolt,” poetry serves to encourage the masses (+ video), as it does close to home in Zuccotti Park.
As we start the new year, let’s commit to wide-reading and long-seeing outside the borders of American culture, where war is televised and experienced so often only in isolated households awaiting returning soldiers, or via impassive reports on the Pentagon budget. Let’s start with an anthology of poetry by Iranian women, of Iranians around the world, and a wonderful new one of Afghan American literature. Visit also the journal Warscapes and the work of poet & journalist Linh Dinh. Let’s meditate on war to enrich our vision of its opposite.