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

homepoemsnewsletterpoetry mattersdonatearchivescontact us

A Government of Words

Every government is a government of words. Presidential candidate Barack Obama denounced the Bush/Cheney regime’s use of “state secrets” to justify sweeping invasions of our basic rights during its “dragnet domestic surveillance” program. Obama promised “transparency” and “accountability” in government. Why is it not news now that he has shifted his position 180 degrees to further—and perhaps expand— the very programs he so eloquently condemned? Your mail, your telephone calls, your email— all subject to government scrutiny without a warrant and leaving you without recourse in the courts if Obama has his way. Add John McCain’s endorsement of anti-internet neutrality, and you have a country in which freedom of speech, information and privacy rights mean nothing.

Meanwhile, Obama is apparently planning to send more personnel to Afghanistan in a war that we can’t possibly win. Where is the outcry? Is this country simply incapable of learning from history? And why do none of our political pundits connect the dots between costly unwinnable wars and a national deficit that will be passed from generation to generation? Is it really more important to continue to finance terrorist drone planes in Pakistan and Afghanistan and expand our military presence in countries that despise our presence than to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure of our own country and address the health care needs of our citizenry? Apparently, we can afford to expand the killing machine but not afford life-saving health care or decent public education.

During a panel discussion at the Seattle Book Festival in October, I pointed out that each of us—as poets, as citizens—carries the burden of wars and political lies and the degradation of our very language whether we do so consciously or subconsciously, and that we would benefit from seriously considering the meaning of murder and our personal responsibility for what kind of country we inhabit. A man in the audience dismissed my observation with a single syllable: my “rant aside,” he said, glibly sidestepping the very point I was making. Exactly how do “we, the people,” expect to have transparency and accountability in government when we do not practice accountability in the conduct of our own lives and works? Do we actually get the government we deserve? And if not, why not? And if we do, are we content to be the accomplices, the facilitators, of murderers and torturers?

We have never been a true democracy, but we have democracy enough to have learned that politicians succeed by appealing to the lowest common denominator, and that denominator is fear. Unrestrained capitalism feeds on greed. If fear and greed are the ultimate tools of our political class, we end up with a government that wages perpetual war run by military-corporate moguls—the Dick Cheneys and Shrubs of this world—the very government Dwight Eisenhower most feared and predicted.

In January, it will be seven years since we founded Poets Against War, seven years since I begged fellow poets to “speak for the conscience of our country.” Over one million Iraqis are dead; thousands of our military personnel are dead; violence in Afghanistan is worsening; Iraq is in shambles. Do we, as poets, still speak for a “conscience” in the USA? I don’t know. When I read APR or Poetry, it’s almost as though the conditions of our real lives at war are utterly marginalized. And yet I also realize that agenda-driven poetry is almost always a waste of time— but with some notable exceptions, of course: Neruda’s great sense of humor and irony in the best of Canto General, for instance. I’ve felt for a long time that far too many of our poets are culturally isolated, like the public at large, from the wider world; too few give serious consideration to what it means to stand among the poets of the world, many of whom risk life and limb in the service of the truth of poetry. Are solipsism and wit, merest wordplay, to be the poetry of our age?

Our political class begins its programs by corrupting our language— “weapons of mass destruction,” Bush shrieks, and “rendition,” a word empty of moral implication, to cover the most heinous acts of kidnapping, torture and murder. The right wing equates a public health care program with bodies stacked high in Dachau in 1945 and compares Obama to Hitler or Pol Pot, and the corporate establishment news media barely raise an eyebrow. The corruption of our language is a moral corruption as well as an intellectual fraud. Where is the outrage?

In January it will be seven years since Bush’s call for “shock and awe” in Iraq, nine years since our incursion into Afghanistan, and no one seems to willing to count the innocent civilian dead, the displaced, the devastation in which we have invested thousands of American lives and untold hundreds of billions of dollars.

How can we, as poets, reclaim or redeem our language? How can we, as citizens of a corrupt polis, reclaim a moral stance while our government sends people off to Uzbekistan to be boiled alive, to Guantánamo to be tortured year after year without trial, without appeal, without hope? If there is to be any hope, any justice at all, it will be born in words that are true, words that strip away the deadly lies to reveal the awful, almost unbearable truth of our present politics.

—Sam Hamill

P.S. Accountability of Terrorists:

And especially this:

Greenwald: "The corruption of our language is a moral corruption..."


Dahlia Ravikovitch

Dahlia RavikovitchHovering at a Low Altitude: The Collected Poems of Dahlia Ravikovitch (translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld, Norton, 2009) is a book to live with: the range of her powers, her defiant spirit and good humor, are infectious and revolutionary. Every poet in the world should know her “Rough Draft” and “Making a Living.” Poems to live by are rare enough; Ravikovitch opens a world to us. —Sam Hamill

Read her poetry

Short History of Poets Against War

In late January 2003, in response to an invitation to a symposium by Laura Bush to celebrate "Poetry and the American Voice," Sam Hamill declined; a longtime pacifist, he could not in good faith visit the White House following the recent news of George W. Bush's plan for a unilateral "Shock and Awe" attack on Iraq. Instead, he asked about 50 fellow poets to "reconstitute a Poets Against the War movement like the one organized to speak out against the war in Vietnam...to speak up for the conscience of our country and lend your names to our petition against this war” by submitting poems of protest that he would send to the White House. When 1,500 poets responded within four days, this web site was created as a means of handling the enormous, unexpected response.

Since then, the "accidental groundswell" grew to include poets from around the world. There are presently more than 20,000 poems in this, the largest poetry anthology ever published. Poems from Poets Against War have been presented in person, by invitation, to several representatives of the U.S. Congress; many of them have since been introduced into the Congressional Record.

We need your help to make a powerful statement against war.

Poets Against war is a volunteer organization dependent upon the financial contributions of friends and members. Please help support our efforts.

current events

Autumn 2009

On Obama's Nobel Speech

War is good; King and Gandhi are inapplicable. Prepare for generations of war now that "The Obama Doctrine" has been spelled out: it's Bush III.


Kucinich responds:

“Yesterday, our president mused about the inevitability of war, war’s instrumentality in the pursuit of peace and just wars. It is important for us to reflect on his words, because once we believe in the inevitability of war, war becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once we are committed to war’s instrumentality in pursuit of peace, we begin the Orwellian journey to the semantic netherworld where War IS Peace, where the momentum of war overwhelms hopes for peace. And once we wrap doctrines perpetuating war in the arms of justice, we can easily legitimate the wholesale slaughter of innocents. The war against Iraq was based on lies. Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan are based on flawed doctrines of counter-insurgency. War is often not just; sometimes it is just war. And our ability to rethink the terms of our existence, to explore the possibility of peace without war, may well determine whether we end war, or war ends us.”


War Crimes:

Tony Blair knew there were no WMDs and knew the war would be illegal:


An American Legacy of Suffering

A while back, I took a brief tour of Vietnam with The Joiner Center for the Study of War & Social Consequences. My fellow travelers were interviewing first-, second- and third-generations victims of Agent Orange and I learned a lot about the onslaught of cancers in children, saw horrible birth deformities and children who would remain ravaged, wounded infants for as long as they lived. I saw the suffering in the eyes of parents and grandparents and siblings and listened to the weary voice of doctors and nurses. The toxins have invaded the water table and the gene pool. For how may generations to come will this continue to be our American legacy? As in our disastrous and immoral near-destruction of Vietnam, we created a similar legacy for Iraq. For how long will we continue to instigate wars that leave in their wake a poisonous legacy for generations to come?

—Sam Hamill


The People Who Buy Congress: Making the World Safe for Business


and this:


Johnny Cash Meets Tricky Dick!

This story leads one to ask, When will this president meet with dissident poets? Or does he have to get caught flat-footed like Tricky Dick? Inspiring story:


Former U.K. Ambassador on "Rendition"

Boiling people alive, raping them with broken bottles, torturing children in front of their parents— all in a day's work for the CIA And the Obama administration may be continuing the practice. Meanwhile Bush, Cheney and the other war criminals walk free.


Leaving Afghanistan: Why U.S. Forces Cannot "Win"

Matthew Hoh's four-page letter resigning from the Foreign Service in Afghanistan is must reading. He shows us exactly why empires die in that harsh tribal world. Thanks, Glenn Greenwald


Déjà Vu All Over Again

Greenwald on a Russian Soldier's Afghanistan Experience:


Afghan Women & the War


Children of the Occupation:


A Deep Breath of Fresh Air: Morris Berman's Blog

Read it now

Poems of the Month

Our team of volunteer editors have reviewed more than 20,000 poems. We can't showcase every poem but on this page you will find a monthly posting of poems or statements that have been suggested to us by poets and editors around the world.

USMC Brig. Gen. Smedley Butler, War is a Racket (1933):

After winning the Marine Corps Brevet Medal, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the French Order of the Black Star and two Congressional Medals of Honor, Butler said, "I spent 33 years and four months in active service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927, I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."

Read his speech here: