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On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam -- Hayden Carruth

Guest poem sent in by amulya gopalakrishnan
(Poem #1214) On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam
 Well I have and in fact
 more than one and I'll
 tell you this too

 I wrote one against
 Algeria that nightmare
 and another against

 Korea and another
 against the one
 I was in

 and I don't remember
 how many against
 the three

 when I was a boy
 Abyssinia Spain and
 Harlan County

 and not one
 breath was restored
 to one

 shattered throat
 mans womans or childs
 not one not

 one
 but death went on and on
 never looking aside

 except now and then
 with a furtive half-smile
 to make sure I was noticing.
-- Hayden Carruth
Poems on war sometimes seem so useless and uncalled for, like flinging bits of
confetti at this pitiless juggernaut. This poem sort of captures that, right
from the throwaway tone it begins with to the bland monstrousness of the end.

Amulya

[Martin adds]

This is indeed a brilliant poem, but its very brilliance serves to mask an
underlying fallacy. The purpose of war poetry is not so much to "restore breath
to one shattered throat", but to show people what exactly war is, in a way that
the safely sanitised capsules delivered by newspapers and television cannot or
do not. "The pity of war, the pity war distilled" needs to be adequately
conveyed to the populace-at-large, and I submit that poets, as much as anyone
else, have served to counteract the "dulce et decorum est" blood-and-glory
mindset of an earlier day.

martin

35 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

SarCanz said...

[Martin adds]

This is indeed a brilliant poem, but its very brilliance serves to mask an
underlying fallacy. The purpose of war poetry is not so much to "restore
breath to one shattered throat", but to show people what exactly war is, in a
way that the safely sanitised capsules delivered by newspapers and television
cannot or do not. "The pity of war, the pity war distilled" needs to be
adequately conveyed to the populace-at-large, and I submit that poets, as
much as anyone else, have served to counteract the "dulce et decorum est"
blood-and-glory mindset of an earlier day.

martin

Martin,

I really agree with you about the role of war poetry. And I think that the
current war, shows how important that role is -- and that war poetry can be a
force for good.

I wish my government had not started this war, but I think that the way the
US is conducting the war shows that people have heard the poets and others
who, for so long, have conveyed "the pity of war" to the populace-at-large.
Every war is a tragedy but, compared to many wars, this one is turning out to
be considerably less brutal.

I think that has a lot to do with the fact that American leaders know that
their own people understand "exactly what war is" and don't like it. Poets
(and artists, writers, film makers, musicians, and actors) keep on reminding
us of the reality of war, and there is little the government can do to stop
them. (Indeed, the Pentagon's decision to "embed" journalists rather than
keeping them at a distance and trying to make the war look like a video game
-- as it did in the Gulf War -- reflects the military's acceptance of that.)

Even the most hawkish American commercial TV has not been able to limit
itself to "dulce et decorum est" in covering this war, and the coverage in
American newspapers, magazines, and on American public radio and television
has not "safely sanitized" the war. I think that is a tribute to war poets
and other artists who have continued to distill "the pity of war" even when
it did seem like they were "flinging bits of confetti at [a] pitiless
juggernaut."

It may not be perfect, but it really is some sort of progress. Wilfred
Owen's warnings to the next generations have not been wasted.

Sally

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Interesting poem, one of my favorites poems you have posted so far.

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Around, the carousel went around the gays together
The anxious travelers sought and found
Their bags, intact or gently battered, and they were waiting for something special
But to my foolish eyes what mattered
Was a brave suitcase without sex, red and small,
That circled round, not mine at all.

What do you think about my art? I hope you like it. 23jj

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