Poetry, Politics, and War

I have three poems for you from the Favorite Poem Project, which was established by Robert Pinsky when he was the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. In 2001, I was one of fifty educators who participated in The First Annual Summer Poetry Institute at Boston University. The institute was a collaboration between the Favorite Poem Project and the BU School of Education. The project produced poetry books and videos–which we participants watched and discussed.

I’m posting three of my favorite Favorite Poem Project videos today. In the videos, average Americans read/recite their favorite poems and talk about the poems connections to their lives. I selected Politics by William Butler Yeats, Facing It by Yusef Komunyakaa, and Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen—poems about politics, war, and the Vietnam War Memorial.

Edited to Add:

Maybe some of you remember how, in early 2003, poets had planned to speak out against the United States getting involved in a pre-emptive war in Iraq.

From Democracy Now (February 7, 2003)

First Lady Laura Bush Cancels Poetry Gathering Fearing Anti-War Poems: Democracy Now! Hosts Its Own Poetry Slam with Def Poetry Jam Stars Staceyann Chin, Suheir Hammad and Steve Colman

“First Lady Laura Bush has canceled a White House symposium on poetry because she feared the invited poets would recite poetry against war.”

Favorite Poem Project 

About the Favorite Poem Project

Favorite Poem Project Videos

– Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

17 thoughts on “Poetry, Politics, and War”

  1. Excerpt from “No More” by Eddie Vedder:

    I speak for a man who gave for this land
    Took a bullet in the back for his pay
    Spilled his blood in the dirt and the dust
    He’s back to say:

    What he has seen is hard to believe
    And it does no good to just pray
    He asks of us to stand
    And we must end this war today

    With his mind, he’s saying, “No more!”
    With his heart, he’s saying, “No more!”
    With his life he’s saying, “No more war!”

    With his eyes, he’s saying, “No more!”
    With his body, he’s saying, “No more!”
    With his voice, he’s saying, “No more war!”

    You can read the rest of the lyrics here:

  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUE0ewuM_cQ

    by Steve Earle

    This is the best time of the day—the dawn
    The final cleansing breath unsullied yet
    By acrid fume or death’s cacophony
    The rank refuse of unchained ambition
    And pray, deny me not but know me now,
    Your faithful retainer stands resolute
    To serve his liege lord without recompense
    Perchance to fall and perish namelessly
    No flag-draped bier or muffled drum to set
    The cadence for a final dress parade
    But it was not always thus—remember?
    Once you worshipped me and named me a god
    In many tongues and made offering lest
    I exact too terrible a tribute

    Take heed for I am weary, ancient
    And decrepit now and my time grows short
    There are no honorable frays to join

    Only mean death dealt out in dibs and dabs
    Or horror unleashed from across oceans
    Assail me not with noble policy
    For I care not at all for platitude
    And surrender such tedious detail
    To greater minds than mine and nimbler tongues
    Singular in their purpose and resolve
    And presuming to speak for everyman

    Oh, for another time, a distant field
    And there a mortal warrior’s lonely grave
    But duty charges me remain until
    The end the last battle of the last war
    Until that ‘morrow render unto me
    That which is mine my stipend well deserved
    The fairest flower of your progeny
    Your sons, your daughters your hopes and your dreams
    The cruel consequence of your conceit

    Sarangel Music (ASCAP)

  3. A nearly double posting. The moral of the story: If you don’t know if something’s posted, don’t change anything before resubmitting. These online “editors” can’t protect us from ourselves.

  4. anon nurse, that’s one of my favorites…

    Maaarrghk!, I remember toodlin around London (adore it…) and seeing a wall with the canon ball dents still in it, can’t remember just where it was though it was down the street from a passport office…I’m looking forward to my next visit.

  5. “This coming Sunday is Remembrance Sunday and most of the country are wearing poppies in their lapels as a mark of respect for the sacrifice of all who sufferred and were lost in war.”

    (Thank you.)

  6. “This coming Sunday is Remembrance Sunday and most of the country are wearing poppies in their lapels as a mark of respect for the sacrifice of all who sufferred and were lost in war.”

    I’ll let that stand pretty much alone. (Thank you.)

  7. Dulce Et Decorum is one of my favorites.

    I once saw a great play on TV about the time that Owen spent in the sanitarium where he met Seigfreid Sassoon. The British officer class were allowed to have “shell shock” provided they did not run away from the enemy (otherwise they were busted down to Private before being shot for cowardice).

    Owen recovered and went freely back to the trenches, where he died during the last two weeks of the war, leading his men into battle.

    For those of you who can get access to BBC programs, next week they will be repeating the documentary on the last 11 hours of the WW1. The German surrender had been accepted at midnight, but it was decided that the fighting continue for a further 11 hours so that the war could end on the 11th hour of the 11th blah f’kin blah….

    Another 700 men were killed in that 11 hours. A lunatic conflict from start to finish.

    Last week my in-laws were over from Norway and we had a snoop around London. My new brother in law wanted to see Downing Street. Close to Downing Street is a memorial to the women of WW2, which he asked me about. About 20 yard away is the Cenotaph, our main memorial to The Fallen. I am grateful that he did not ask me about that as I am deeply averse to crying like a baby in public.

    This coming Sunday is Remembrance Sunday and most of the country are wearing poppies in their lapels as a mark of respect for the sacrifice of all who sufferred and were lost in war.

  8. Elaine M.,

    What a lovely poem to have read for your father-in-law…

    (I’m sure that you’re right about the “anonymous” poem being read at funerals. When I first read it over a decade ago, I read that it originated in Vietnam, but this may be a legend.)

  9. anon nurse,

    I wonder if that poem is read often at funerals.

    Here’s a link to Jane Kenyon’s poem “Let Evening Come.” I read it my father-in-law’s funeral.


    Here’s how Kenyon’s poem ends:

    Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
    Let the wind die down. Let the shed
    go black inside. Let evening come.

    To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
    in the oats, to air in the lung
    let evening come.

    Let it come, as it will, and don’t
    be afraid. God does not leave us
    comfortless, so let evening come.

  10. mespo,

    Thanks! I had never read that Melville poem before.

    I and many other children’s literature bloggers participate in something we call “Poetry Friday.” Each week one blogger posts links to the other bloggers Poetry Friday posts. That’s how I got the idea of posting the Favorite Poem Project videos today.

    The five-day Summer Poetry Institute was the experience of a lifetime for me. We educators worked with poets Robert Pinsky, Rosanna Warren, Mark Doty, Louise Gluck, and David Ferry. (I loved Mark Doty!) We received a copy of “Americans Favorite Poems” and all the poetry videos. We educators also got together by elementary/middle school/high school level and developed poetry lessons for teachers.

    Below you’ll find a link to Sharing with Parents at the Favorite Poem website. There, you’ll find a description of a poetry research project I conducted in my second-grade classroom in 1993. In the fall of 1994, I presented a paper about the project, Bringing Parents and Children Together through Poetry, at Beijing Normal University–a teacher training university in Beijing. My visit to China with an educational delegation was also an exhilarating experience.


  11. “it’s” SB its, in the first sentence… those typos that we should’t care about, but do…

  12. I Did Not Die

    Do not stand at my grave and weep.
    I am not there; I do not sleep.
    I am a thousand winds that blow.
    I am the diamond glints on snow.
    I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
    I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
    When you awaken in the morning’s hush
    I am the swift uplifting rush
    Of quiet birds in circled flight.
    I am the soft stars that shine at night.
    Do not stand at my grave and forever cry.
    I am not there. I did not die. -Anonymous

    This one has found it’s way to greeting cards in recent years :-). It’s still one that I like…

  13. Elaine M:

    Thanks for those wonderful posts. I think they are my favorites this week. Here’s my contribution:

    Shiloh: A Requiem

    Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
    The swallows fly low
    Over the field in clouded days,
    The forest-field of Shiloh —
    Over the field where April rain
    Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
    Through the pause of night
    That followed the Sunday fight
    Around the church of Shiloh —
    The church so lone, the log-built one,
    That echoed to many a parting groan
    And natural prayer
    Of dying foemen mingled there —
    Foemen at morn, but friends at eve —
    Fame or country least their care:
    (What like a bullet can undeceive!)
    But now they lie low,
    While over them the swallows skim,
    And all is hushed at Shiloh.

    ~Herman Melville (1866)

    As my English Prof told me long ago: If you think Melville only wrote about obsessive sea captains and whales you don’t know “Moby Dick.”

  14. This article is a perfect example of what makes this blog hum — what lifts it above the others. Thanks.

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