Poets I Didn’t Study in School
- by Mary Liepold
Editor in Chief
William Shakespeare, the poet of all poets for those of us raised on English literature, knew that peace is a verb. Regal Lear, out on the heath, acknowledged sadly that “the thunder would not peace at my bidding.”
The Bard didn’t miss much. Still, a lot has happened since he breathed his last in 1616. I’m always eager to know what other poets have to say on the work of peace. One of the many blessings that came with this month’s topic was learning about the Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Prize. The poems that have won the annual prizes, offered since 1996 by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF), constitute an online library of remarkable work by mostly unknown authors. The Foundation has collected some of them in book form, and more are due out soon.
There’s an adult awards category, one for teens, and one for children. Some of the most moving pieces were written by children 12 and under, like this one by Daniel Amoss called “Ali Ismail Abbas.”
I saw his picture.
War is a twelve-year-old boy
With no arms, brown eyes.
This one, by Alexandra S. Timmer, won in the 13 – 18-year-old category. Called “Paper Crane,” it recalls Sadako Sasaki, who is memorialized in a classic children’s book and a sculpture in Hiroshima’s Peace Park.
Start with a perfectly square sheet of paper for waking a sleeping giant;
Fold one edge to meet the other for the nations who shared the sides of a bitter vendetta;
Flip the square for a sinister cloud that rose above the heavens;
Crease the corners for a melted city once engulfed in light.
Open up the paper for the blistering ash that rained down upon the streets;
Form the head for the austere procession of the scorched in the wake of the aftermath;
Gently pull the wings apart for a small girl who made a vain wish on colored sheets;
Now behold a small red paper crane for a hopeful future.
The first-prize adult winner for 2011 was Valentina Gnup, with “The Cries of One Crow.” Here’s part of it:
. . . Somewhere in the world
a forest recovers, a stump is sprouting new growth—
give one child a branch, he creates a weapon
give another child a branch, he raises his hands
to conduct a symphony only he will hear.
Do take a moment to read it all! Valentina teaches at Clark College in Vancouver, WA, USA, and her poetry is brilliant, though I’d never heard of her before. Had you? (Here’s another moving sample of her work.)
Ranging beyond the NAPF site, I found Poland’s Wislawa Szymborska. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996, but I’d never heard of her either. Maybe she’s news to you too. I love the common-sense, what-every-woman-knows tone of “The End and the Beginning.” Again, I encourage you to read more than this partial selection.
After every war
someone has to clean up.
straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the sides of the road,
so the corpse-laden wagons can pass.
Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
and bloody rags.
. . .
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.
Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls how it was.
and nods with unsevered head.
You didn’t read Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish’s poems in school if you were educated in Israel, unless it was for a very brief period in 2000, before the outcry their inclusion sparked. Palestinians, who adopted Darwish as a spokesman, may not read the poems of Yehuda Amichai (1924 – 2000) either, but both expressed the same longing for peace with justice. Here’s Darwish (1941 – 2008):
As you conduct your wars – think of others.
Don’t forget those who want peace.
As you pay your water bill – think of others.
Think of those who only have clouds to drink from.
As you go home, your own home – think of others – don’t forget those who live in tents.
As you sleep and count the planets, think of others – there are people who have no place to sleep.
As you liberate yourself with metaphors think of others – those who have lost their right to speak.
And as you think of distant others – think of yourself and say, “I wish I were a candle in the darkness.”
Amichai offered a vision of peace as ultimately inevitable:
Let it come
suddenly, because the field
has to have it.
What Amichai was to Israelis and Darwish to Palestinians, Ko Un is to Koreans. He has been a military conscript, a Buddhist monk, and a leading spokesman in the struggle for democracy, and he has published more than 140 volumes of poetry and prose. What follows is the conclusion of his “Poem for Peace.”
Ah, peace is a grass-green dream.
Without people dreaming
the very word peace
dies crushed by the caterpillar tracks of tanks.
. . .
It’s coming. It’s coming.
I must go out to welcome it.
Like June’s offshore sea breeze on Jeju Island, it’s coming.”
Tomorrow we’ll feature an interview with Alaha Ahrar, a young poet who future generations may learn about in school, whether for her poetry or her achievements in other areas. Don’t miss it!
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