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Jewish World Review March 10, 2003 / 6 Adar II, 5762

Mark Goldblatt

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Nonfighting Words | Wednesday, in case you missed it, was the very first International Day of Poetry Against the War. The event was organized by Poets Against the War — a gang of established mediocrities seeking desperately to inflate their microscopic book sales and brown-nosing wannabes who know that the only proven path to publication in the altogether subjective, free-verse world of contemporary poetry is by kissing up to their well-connected elders — and featured dramatic readings at venues in the United States and Great Britain.

font face="Times New Roman, Times, serif" size="3">According to W. S. Merwin, a doddering Pulitzer-prize winner whose contempt for President Bush's policies towards Iraq is exceeded only by his contempt for formal punctuation, "A deeply entrenched administrative institution now finds itself wholly undermined by the people." What qualifies Merwin, who's split his adult life between a home in a farming village in France and a home on the edge of a rainforest in Hawaii, to speak on behalf of "the people" is unclear. Still, you have to respect Merwin's views on military matters; he did, after all, translate "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" into modern English.

Then there's a furious little fellow named Jay Parini, who recently declared that "poets are always the conscience of the people," but whose conscientious objection to the war is framed in decidedly knee-jerk terms: "We have a damn president who's about to kill, to burn, to dismember tens of thousands of Iraqi children, mothers, fathers, and innocent American soldiers who don't know what they're doing."

It was the poet Sam Hamill who initiated this tempest in a chamber pot with his calculated refusal to attend Laura Bush's ill-conceived symposium on poetry in January. The White House cancelled the event when the invitees' political agenda became clear, thus provoking howls of indignation from the literary community. "They're afraid of poets," Hamill cried. "They're afraid of the truth."

So that's what keeps Colin Powell up at nights. Not Saddam's weapons of mass destructions but the jottings of a couple of hundred self-righteous posers whose lines come up short of the right side of the page.

At any rate, Hamill trudged down to D.C. on Wednesday to present a bundle of antiwar poems to presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio), who remarked: "The work of these poets is in a tradition of poets throughout contemporary history who have used their art to challenge war."

The entire arrogant lot of them, including Kucinich, would do well to recall the wisdom of William Butler Yeats, who was asked to write a war poem during World War One and responded with these lines:

I think it better that in times like these
A poet's mouth be silent, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter's night.

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JWR contributor Mark Goldblatt teaches at SUNY's Fashion Institute of Technology. His new novel is Africa Speaks. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Mark Goldblatt