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This article is taken from PN Review 185, Volume 35 Number 3, January - February 2009.

Thoughts on Some Recent Anti-War Poetry William Wootten

On 12 February 2003, there was supposed to be a symposium on 'Poetry and the American Voice'. Eminent poets such as Rita Dove, Stan Kunitz and Sam Hamill would debate Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman and everyone would, presumably, feel a bit more civilised at the end of it. The fact that the event was to be at the White House and hosted by Laura Bush while her husband's administration was readying itself for the invasion of Iraq made it impossible for the symposium to remain apolitical in the way that had been intended. Sam Hamill asked about fifty poets to submit poems of protest and thereby 'reconstitute a Poets Against the War movement like the one organized to speak out against the war in Vietnam. 1,500 poets responded, and a website was set up,, which now contains over 20,000 poems. The symposium did not take place.

Laura Bush may have been upset at the cancelled symposium, but, if we are to believe a subsequently contested anecdote of Bob Woodward's, she was opposed to the war anyway. Her husband was probably more concerned at losing the support of the Dixie Chicks. This did not deter other poets from following suit. Todd Swift's website, for instance, launched 100 Poets Against the War with a good list of poets and poems; by 5 March, it was published in book form by the publishers Salt.1 In Britain, Andrew Motion ...

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