Guest poem sent in by Reed C Bowman Here's Andrew Motion's latest take, as UK poet laureate, on the destruction of Iraq (from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/arts/2912557.stm):
(Poem #1215) Regime Change
Advancing down the road from Nineveh Death paused a while and said 'Now listen here. You see the names of places roundabout? They're mine now, and I've turned them inside out. Take Eden, further south: At dawn today I ordered up my troops to tear away Its walls and gates so everyone can see That gorgeous fruit which dangles from its tree. You want it, don't you? Go and eat it then, And lick your lips, and pick the same again. Take Tigris and Euphrates; once they ran Through childhood-coloured slats of sand and sun. Not any more they don't; I've filled them up With countless different kinds of human crap. Take Babylon, the palace sprouting flowers Which sweetened empires in their peaceful hours - I've found a different way to scent the air: Already it's a by-word for despair. Which leaves Baghdad - the star-tipped minarets, The marble courts and halls, the mirage-heat. These places, and the ancient things you know, You won't know soon. I'm working on it now.'
Calling it 'Regime Change', presumably the change from life's to death's realm, from standing monuments of history to fading memory, is bleakly ironic commentary on the political beginnings and propaganda of this war. The comment 'You see the names of places round about?' reflects the extra awe and horror of modern warfare's havoc wreaked on places hallowed by millennia of history. (I'm reminded of James Fenton's "Jerusalem" - I forget if you've run that yet - though there it is the history itself that is the bone of contention. Here it is merely the recipient of attention from that infamous hobgoblin, collateral damage.) I am sure that due attention is in fact being paid by bomber commands not to destroy ancient monuments if it can be helped, as they always insist, but I dread the Friday when at time of prayer some ancient faience-decked and thronging mosque will fall to a bomb made to look like a cruise missile blast, because what better way would there be for a desperate, ruthless and irreligious regime to at least call down vengeance for its own passing on the enemy which is hunting it down? Even if someone's hand balks at that deed, we'll see Monte Cassinos fall, the more in Iraq because their equivalents are more densely strewn, in any city the ground war takes by storm. If we protested the war before it started, this poem is, in a way mourning the passing of monuments which have not yet been destroyed. But beyond that, it laments the stain of death now being brought to the hallows, even if the mosques or temples or palaces or ruins are not battered down. Reed [Martin adds] I like today's poem a lot more than I did Motion's previous antiwar piece, Causa Belli [Poem #1143]. Motion addresses the common concern about priceless historical sites being obliterated in a moment of wanton destruction, and sets that against the background of a Middle East enriched by the passing millennia, the cradle of civilisations, empires and legends. 'Regime Change' doesn't really do justice to the richly evocative, almost legendary nature of the region's history (I wonder, for instance, what Flecker would have made of the same material), but then, that isn't its focus. Instead, its tone captures the indifference-masquerading-as-pragmatism that seems to be vying with patriotic glory as a justification for some of modern warfare's indiscriminate excesses. The understated, almost offhand "I'm working on it now" hits just the right note. martin p.s. Quote of the day: "Andrew Motion said his 22 lines of verse were intended to be explicitly anti-war." -- [broken link] http://dsdsdemo2.ap.org/aptopicsdemo/stories/184_ds_1764009.html