issue 20 summer 03
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Lines of fire

Buddhists were among one million rallying to a march in London on February 15, in protest against war in Iraq. This was the largest public demonstration the uk has ever seen

Slogans at the London peace march:
'Bush is a twig'
'Give him up Tony, he's not worth it'
'Bombing for peace is like bonking for virginity'
'Why waste money on war when you can spend it on beer'
'Dyslexics against the Raw'
'Queer Pagan Camp against the War'
'Peas Now' (illustrated with green peas)
'Thomas the Tank Engine says No to war'

Slogans at the New York peace march:
'Stop Mad Cowboy Disease'
'How did our oil get under their sand?'
'Asses of Evil: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld'
'Inspect the US'
'There's a village in Texas that lost its idiot'
'Vive la France: Merci cheese-eaters'
'Regime change begins at home'

Last January the editor, poet and Zen Buddhist, Sam Hamill received an invitation to a literary salon with First Lady Laura Bush on 'Poetry and the American Voice', scheduled for February 12 in the run-up to war with Iraq. He immediately sent out an open letter describing his response. 'I was overcome by a kind of nausea,' he wrote, and his letter proposed that 'the only legitimate response to such a morally bankrupt and unconscionable idea is to reconstitute a Poets Against the War movement, like the one organised to speak out against the war in Vietnam.' The letter continued, 'I am asking every poet to speak up for the conscience of our country and lend his or her name to our petition against this war; and to make 12 February a 'Day of Poetry Against the War'.'

When the White House got wind of plans circulating among Hamill's colleagues to bring anti-war poetry to the salon, they hastily cancelled the event, saying it was 'inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum'. Meanwhile Hamill's letter touched a nerve. He had expected a few hundred responses, but within a week 4,000 poets had stepped forward with poems or statements denouncing the war. Within three weeks the figure was 12,000 and counting.

Contributors included many leading American writers, such as Hayden Carruth, Adrienne Rich and Ursula Le Guin, as well as a strong contingent of Buddhist and Buddhist-inspired writers (see overleaf for a selection of these). As the movement spread internationally Hamill declared, 'This is the largest assembly of poets ever to speak in a single voice in all of recorded history'. Readings were held across the us on February 12, with a large meeting at New York's Lincoln Centre featuring many famous names. Pulitzer Prize-winning Buddhist poet W.S. Merwin wrote: 'Mr Bush and his plans are a greater danger to the United States than Saddam Hussein'.

Meanwhile the pro-war Wall Street Journal solicited 'pro-American, pro-freedom, anti-Saddam, anti-idiotarian poems'. Of the responses received, it reported: 'Some were very good, some were very bad, and some were so bad they were good.'

'For sensitive poets
We have this news:
Saddam is why God
Made B-52s.

Sam Hamill discovered Zen Buddhism while he was in the us marines. 'I'm not the Marine Corps' proudest moment,' he told journalists. Serving on Iwo Jima in 1963, he concluded that killing innocent people is murder, and he came back a changed man. Now he believes, 'The practice of non-violence, the practice of poetry and the practice of Zen are one practice.'

State of the Union, 2003
I have not been to Jerusalem
but Shirley talks about the bombs.
I have no god, but have seen the children praying
for it to stop. They pray to different gods.
The news is all old news again, repeated
like a bad habit, cheap tobacco, the social lie.

The children have seen so much death
that death means nothing to them now.
They wait in line for bread.
They wait in line for water.
Their eyes are black moons reflecting emptiness.
We've seen them a thousand times.

Soon, the President will speak.
He will have something to say about bombs
and freedom and our way of life.
I will turn the tv off. I always do.
Because I can't bear to look
at the monuments in his eyes.
Sam Hamill


I'm new at this,
unsure of my arguments.

Iraq is one of the world's largest producers of dates.
I should have worn wool socks.

Last week a friend offered me a white button.
I said, 'I'm against war, but not ready to wear a button'.

Time's up.
I fold my plastic sheet.
My body's melted a hole in the snow
where my legs used to be.

A man in mittens hands me a button.

I'm wearing it now,
ready to be written down.
Len Edgerly

Speak Out

And a vast paranoia sweeps across the land
And America turns the attack on its Twin Towers
Into the beginning of the Third World War
The war with the Third World

And the terrorists in Washington
Are drafting all the young men
And no one speaks

And they are rousting out
All the ones with turbans
And they are flushing out
All the strange immigrants

And they are shipping all the young men
To the killing fields again
And no one speaks

And when they come to round up
All the great writers and poets and painters
The National Endowment of the Arts of Complacency
Will not speak

While all the young men
Will be killing all the young men
In the killing fields again

So now is the time for you to speak
All you lovers of liberty
All you lovers of the pursuit of happiness
All you lovers and sleepers
Deep in your private dreams

Now is the time for you to speak
O silent majority
Before they come for you
Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The Dead Do Not Want Us Dead

The dead do not want us dead;
such petty errors are left for the living.
Nor do they want our mourning.
No gift to them - not rage, not weeping.
Return one of them, any one of them, to the earth,
and look: such foolish skipping,
such telling of bad jokes, such feasting!
Even a cucumber, even a single anise seed: feasting
Jane Hirshfield

All poems copyright of their authors