Poets Against War continues the tradition of socially engaged poetry by creating venues for poetry as a voice against war, tyranny and oppression.

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Report of the Presentation of 13,000 poems of Poets Against the War to Delegates to the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Meeting

Palais des Nations
United Nations
Geneva, Switzerland
April 30, 2003

Pamela Meidell Pamela Meidell presenting PAW poems at the Nonproliferation Treaty Meeting, with Mayor of Hiroshima Tadatoshi Akiba looking on

What a surreal experience to wander the corridors and rooms of the Palais des Nations in Geneva just a few weeks after the deaths of tens of thousands in Iraq. In a building created in the aftermath of the "war to end all wars," and the millions who died in it, diplomats and citizens came together to tackle the threat of weapons--nuclear weapons--that could truly end all war, by ending life as we know it. The occasion was the meeting of delegates from the 188 countries (106 countries were present) that have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (one of the few treaties that the US still says that it honors). Tensions ran high. North Korea had pulled out of the treaty just weeks before this meeting. The world lens, focused so recently on deliberations in the Security Council, now shifted to Geneva. The ever-present peacocks strutting outside the halls released their strangely mournful cries at irregular intervals, expressing the feelings of many of the human beings inside. In this atmosphere, on Wednesday, April 30, 2003, the Atomic Mirror presented the 13,000 poems of Poets Against the War to the assembled diplomats and citizens gathered at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

Like many rooms in the Palais des Nations, this particular one is round, and lined with wood. The circular ceiling of light illuminates all equally, the representatives of the nations arrayed underneath like the whorl of seeds in the hearts of certain flowers. Just beneath the ceiling in boxes similar to those in opera houses sit the banks of translators, with a view of the whole proceeding. This is a palace of words as well as a palace of nations: every official word uttered here is translated into the six official UN languages of Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. The gift of poems capped a morning of speeches and observations presented to the delegates by the 37 nongovernmental representatives in attendance, the only official time allotted to citizens in 10 days of meetings. The slate of speakers included Kathy Sanchez, an indigenous elder from San Ildefonso Pueblo, the next-door-neighbor to the US Nuclear Weapons Lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico; Tadatoshi Akiba, mayor of Hiroshima and president of the Mayors for Peace; and nine others from as many countries. Because each minute of this three-hour time slot is so precious, each presentation is carefully crafted in advance (see them all on www.reachingcriticalwill.org). The chair of the conference, Ambassador to the UN in New York, Laszlo Molnar of Hungary, in a break from past precedent, opened the floor for questions from the delegates, and gave NGOs the opportunity to reply. Then, with barely five minutes before the translators were slated to leave for lunch, he called on Pamela Meidell of the Atomic Mirror to present the poems. Ms. Meidell, sitting at the end of the row of NGO representatives, summarized her prepared text (included below), and concluded with this stanza by Lawrence Ferlinghetti:

"I am waiting for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder."

In the silence that greeted these words, she walked the entire length of the hall, through the desks of the diplomats to the front dais, carrying the zip disk of poems, wrapped in pink origami paper, and graced with two folded paper cranes. Ambassador Molnar, as Chair of the meeting, rose to greet her. As she presented the poems, plus a postcard of the Venus de Milo, he leaned toward her to receive them in traditional European fashion: by offering a kiss on each cheek to the bearer of the gifts. The room burst into applause, and then Ambassador Molnar, addressing all present at the conference hall and also all the Poets Against the War who were represented by their poems, expressed his conviction that "wherever we are from and whatever our actual duties are, we have a common denominator: we all want to make a difference in getting the nuclear arms eliminated from our world. Indeed, this should be a constant priority for all of us and we shall resort to all available means at our disposal in order to achieve this noble goal. I am convinced that the poems I received will serve as powerful reminders as well as perpetual inspiration for us in the pursuit of this common task, expressed in the most common language of mankind, in the form of art."

With a tap of the gavel, the meeting concluded for lunch. Although the official afternoon deliberations were closed to NGOs, that evening, diplomats and citizens mixed and talked at a reception honoring the occasion. A poetry reading followed, the first ever (we were told) to be held inside the UN. The event opened with the reading of the full statement written to accompany the presentation of the poems. Then, people from Sweden, France, the UK, India, Switzerland, the US, Japan, Belgium, and Aotearoa/New Zealand read these poems to each other before walking out into the warm spring night.

Pablo Neruda "Now I Will Count to Twelve"
Wilfred Owen "Anthem for Doomed Youth"
Shakespeare - from Anthony and Cleopatra
Denise Levertov "Misnomer"
Rita Dove "Umoja - Each One of Us Counts"
An excerpt from Rabindranath Tagore
Ben Okri "An African Elegy"
Sam Hamill "Sheepherder Coffee"
Hone Tuwhare "No Ordinary Sun"
Sam Hamill "Jerusalem"
Norman MacCaig "After His Death"
Noriko Takuda "Poem from Hiroshima"
Robert Herrick "Gather Ye Rosebuds"
Emily Dickinson "Success is Counted Sweetest"
Mary Oliver "Wage Peace"
Sappho "Some Think a Fleet"
Lawrence Ferlinghetti "Speak Out"

Prepared Text Accompanying the Gift of Poems

A Gift Offering for Delegates to the (Nuclear) Non Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee Meeting
Palais des Nations
United Nations
Geneva, Switzerland
April 30, 2003

Presented by Pamela S. Meidell
Speaking on behalf of The Atomic Mirror

Thank you, Ambassador Molnar, and delegates for this opportunity to offer you and your colleagues a small gift of encouragement and hope. The recent hostilities in Iraq provoked an astonishing outcry from the peoples of our world. But none more eloquent than the 13,000 poets, who responded to the call of one man.

We bring these 13,000 poems to you today because diplomats, like poets, work in the realm of words. Words matter. Even First Lady Laura Bush knew this. She invited America's most gifted poets to the White House in February of this year for a seminar on "Poetry and the American Voice." Sam Hamill declined her invitation, and instead invited 50 poet friends to send poems or statements of conscience to him, which he would then forward to the White House. Within a week, 500 poets had responded; and within a month, poets from around the world and in many languages had sent more than 13,000 poems.

Mr. Chairman, these poems have been presented to the US Congress in Washington DC, to No. 10 Downing Street in the UK, to the Chancellor's office in Berlin, and other capitols in Turkey, Nepal, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Italy. We bring them here, to give to you, the Chair of this NPT Preparatory Committee meeting because nuclear weapons threaten every aspect of our lives, including our cultures. We bring them to you because you are charged with fulfilling the words of one text, one document*. We offer these words of the poets, this small collection of the hopes and furies of the some of the best writers on our planet, in the spirit of Ben Okri, the great Nigerian poet and winner of the Booker Prize, who said:

"The real war always has been to keep alive the light of civilization, everywhere. It is to keep culture and art at the forefront of our national and international endeavors. The end of the world begins not with the barbarians at the gate, but with the barbarians at the highest levels of the state. All the states in the world. We need a new kind of sustained and passionate and enlightened action in the world of the arts and the spirit."

We conclude by offering a poem, an image, and the zip disk containing all 13,000 poems. The poem is by Thomas Centolella, a poet in San Francisco, and it concerns a bridge. Yesterday former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament, Douglas Roche, praised Under Secretary General Jayantha Dhanapala as a bridge-builder, and then called on all of us to become bridge-builders. It appears we may be halfway across the bridge to complete abolition of nuclear weapons. The bridge in this poem is in Japan, and with it we also acknowledge the Mayor of Hiroshima, who is here with us, and all Japanese citizens.

View #45
After Hokusai and Hiroshige

I dreamt half my life was spent
In wonder, and never suspected.

So immersed in the moment
I forgot I was ever there.

Red-tailed hawk turning
resistance into ecstasy.

The patrolmen joking with the drunk
Whose butt seemed glued to the sidewalk.

A coral quince blossom in winter,
Pink as a lover's present.

And tilting my bamboo umbrella
Against the warm slant

Of rain, was I not a happy peasant
Crossing the great bay on a bridge that began

Who knows when, and will end
Who knows when?

The final image comes from ancient Greece, via the Louvre in Paris, and in the words of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet laureate of San Francisco:

"I am waiting for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder."

*For the text of the Nonproliferation Treaty, see http://disarmament.un.org/wmd/npt/index.html. The two fundamental promises enshrined in the treaty are 1) the nuclear weapons states agree to get rid of their nuclear weapons in exchange for 2) the non-nuclear weapons states agree not to acquire nuclear weapons.

[All 13,000 poems plus background information and more stories can be found on the web site of Poets Against War: www.poetsagainstwar.net]

Throughout the week, the Atomic Mirror continued to meet with delegations from various countries, including the US and the UK. In each instance, we began our discussion by giving the diplomats a copy of the chapbook of the poems of Poets Against the War, encased in a pink folder. Before our meetings, we looked through the Poets Against the War website for the home country or language of the diplomats, to see if a poet had submitted a poem from their country. If they had, we mentioned it in our meeting, which unfailingly brought a smile or comment.

Thank you to Sam Hamill, and all the folks who keep the Poets Against the War (and now International Movement of Poets Against War) alive and well. It was truly an honor to carry the poems and words of our world's gifted writers to the United Nations.

Pamela S. Meidell and Janet Bloomfield
The Atomic Mirror

A Short History of PAW

Press Archive
Links to News Articles About PAW

Open Letters From Sam Hamill
Jan 1, 2005
Sept 11, 2004
June 20, 2004
Jan 1, 2004
July 4, 2003

Reports from the Streets
March 5th, Day of Poetry
Poems Presented to Canadian PM
October 25th Report
NPT Meeting Report