The Daily Poetry Movement 12/25/03
Today's selection is the Ballad of Harry Moore by Langston Hughes. Harry Moore was killed in Florida on Christmas Night, in 1951. It was a racially motivated hate crime. Some spoke of this poem after the Florida elections. But nobody was ready to predict Miami. Today is Christmas. I selected this piece to exemplify how far we have to go. And how far we have come. When the poet's black balled the white house last year, Laura said she just wanted to discuss Langston Hughes. Hmmmph. Not Likely. Resist! Refuse! Recycle!
Today's selection is the Ballad of Harry Moore by Langston Hughes. Harry Moore was killed in Florida on Christmas Night, in 1951. It was a racially motivated hate crime. Some spoke of this poem after the Florida elections. But nobody was ready to predict Miami. Today is Christmas. I selected this piece to exemplify how far we have to go. And how far we have come. When the poet's black balled the white house last year, Laura said she just wanted to discuss Langston Hughes. Hmmmph. Resist! Refuse! Recycle!
The anniversary season of the Poets Rebellion has rolled around again. The Bush ™ tyranny was surprised to find last year a mass rebellion of poets. They had invited a group of poets to do the White House ™ "thing." The obviously illiterate, possibly mentally challenged, and quite openly in relations with the same, First lady o' the coup, Laura Bush was surprised to find a Poets Rebellion after extending an invitation to the White House to a select group of poets. She was outraged that she had to cancel her social engagement because her country finds her socially inept. In honor of that great occasion I have included a snippet from a wonderful Universalist's ministers sermon speaking about the Poets Rebellion against the White House's™ endless war.
Excerpt from "Why Poetry Matters" by Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, February 16, 2003
Perhaps Laura Bush should have known as much. Back sometime around Christmas or thereabouts she invited a whole bunch of American poets to a White House conference on "Poetry and the American Voice". One of these poets was Sam Hamill, editor of Copper Canyon Press and author of thirteen books of poetry of his own. Hamill responded to his invitation, in typical modern fashion, by sending out an email to all of the poets he knew urging them to send him their poems (or statements) opposing an American invasion of Iraq. These he would then put in book form, and forward to someone who would be attending the conference, who would, in turn, present it to Mrs. Bush. (Hamill himself never considered going to the conference; indeed, he said later that he felt "nauseated" when his invitation from the White House arrived in the mail.)
Within days, the email had reached far and wide (even I received it, and I am hardly in the upper echelons of American poetry). Within days, too, almost 2000 poets had responded to Hamill's plea, and had sent in poems opposing the Iraq war. Then, some leading poets announced that they would not attend the conference, in order to protest the Bush administration's policies. Others said that they would go, but that they would try to find ways there to express their anti-war sentiments. Marilyn Nelson, poet laureate of Connecticut, said that she planned to wear a silk scarf decorated with peace symbols in order to attract Mrs. Bush's attention (how very Connecticut!).
Faced with this open rebellion within the poetic community, the White House sounded retreat, and cancelled the conference. But as Katha Pollitt asks in The Nation: "The White House, so bold to make war, is afraid of poems and scarfs?"
And she continues:
"So much for democracy, free speech, vigorous discussion. In this most insulated and choreographed of administrations, the 'American voice'—note the singular—is welcome only when it says what the White House wants to hear. And yet, as so often, censorship backfired. 'They did us an extraordinary favor,' Hamill [said]. 'They revealed that there are many, many poets opposed to the Bush regime. And they demonstrated their fear of the carefully chosen word—their fear of poetry.'
Fear of poetry? Why on Earth would anyone be afraid of poets—a rather frail and ineffectual group (in the popular mind at least) if ever there was one. "Poetry makes nothing happen," W.H. Auden wrote in his famous eulogy on the death of William Butler Yeats. It cannot change the weather, or the temperament of men and women, or of nations. "It is difficult to get the news from poems," wrote William Carlos Williams. Poetry might seem detached and isolated, kind of ivory-towerish, cut off from the real world of business and corporations and buying and selling and warmaking and things that (supposedly) "really matter" in the "real world". In the aftermath of the brouhaha over the cancelled poetry conference, Mrs. Bush herself said, "There is nothing political about American literature." "Poetry makes nothing happen... " "It is difficult to get the news from poems," as Williams wrote, the news of the day—war, war, and more war, in our own day, it seems—seems so much more with us, so much more critical, important.
But then, William Carlos Williams went on:
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably each day
of what is found there.
"Poetry makes nothing happen," wrote W.H. Auden. But the remainder of his poem is an ode to the timelessness and the enduring truth of Yeats's voice. Poetry may make nothing happen, but it abides and survives and speaks on and lives when the ways of the executives and politicians and the warmakers and the madmen of our day have passed away, and have passed from memory.
"There is nothing political about American literature," Mrs. Bush said (so by inference, she was also saying that poetry doesn't matter in the world of politics). She hadn't wanted to have a political discussion, the First Lady said; she had just wanted to bring people together to talk about three American poets she liked—Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, and Emily Dickinson. But, as one writer has said, "It would be hard to find three writers more subversive than the three she chose."
Whitman was openly gay, and his anti-elitist epic of radical democracy, Leaves of Grass, was considered so "scandalous" when it was published that it got him fired from his government job.
Nothing political about Langston Hughes? Really? Langston Hughes was a lifelong radical, a Communist sympathizer hounded by Joe McCarthy and the Republican right wing, who wrote constantly and consistently about racism, injustice, and class divisions in America. He was also an avowed atheist. In his poem, "Gods", he wrote:
Yet the ivory gods,
And the ebony gods,
And the gods of diamond-jade,
Are only silly puppet gods
That people themselves
One doubts in Hughes would have warranted an invitation to the Bush White House were he alive, and writing, today.
And what of Emily Dickinson? At first glance, Dickinson might seem the least explicitly political poet of the three. Yet, ultimately, her work may have done the most to transform American culture and society. Her life was a living example of non-conformity and what the radical rightists today would call an "alternative lifestyle". As one critic puts it: "every line she wrote is an attack on complacency and conformity of manners, mores, religion, language, gender, thought."
As Katha Pollitt puts it:
"None of these quintessentially American writers would have given two cents for [so-called] family values... abstinence education, the death penalty, tax cuts for the rich, Ashcroftian attacks on civil liberties or the other hallmarks of the Bush regime. It's hard to imagine them cheering the bombing of Baghdad."
True poets, American or otherwise, never speak with "one voice". Rather, they speak with their own genuine, God-given voices, and encourage all of us to do the same. They may well speak a word of truth to those in power, or a word of affliction to those who are too comfortable. Or, they may speak a word of comfort to those who have been afflicted for too long. They see with their own eyes, and reflect their own genuine experience through our common human lens.
I wanted to share the thoughts of this minister with you. These acts of radical insurgency that is happening in our country, should not be forgotten or downplayed. This was not last year's news. This is the news of today. As we pick up our pens, finish reading the last sentence of an incredible poet in a zine, as we stencil sidewalks, make handmade holiday cards, open packages of handmade jewelry and knitted scarves, as we silk screen shirts, as we bake the most luscious bread and serve them with homemade preserves, we are the revolution. We are the insurgence! As we live our art, we are giving of our art! Your words are dear to me and to others, speak them so that the world shall know, IT IS NOT IN OUR NAME THAT THIS WAS DONE.
As they try to take Christmas™ from us, I say let it go, let the corporations sigh as every year they tell us we are losing sales (another CEO pay raise, factories let go, another draft of NAFTA being remolded with new names, more holocaust horror for the earths inhabitants.) Let them have their Christmas™ let us have our holidays the traditional way!
In my name I serve bread to friends, hug them for too long before they leave my house. In My Name, I write my friends and family long love letters. In My Name, I cook a holiday dinner that inspires health and not disease. In My Name, I play with the children for too long, cuddle the pets, and adorn my house with mistletoe the sweet smells of pumpkin bread, ginger tea and the soft glow of candles.
But Not in my name shall women cry as at gunpoint they knit me a sweater in a sweatshop. Not in my name will young little girls be held at gunpoint and ordered to work faster and faster. Not in my name will war be declared on the environment, our health, and the innocent families who need water and medicine. Not in my name will I buy blood diamonds. Not in my name will they fire a woman in a factory in Mexico for getting pregnant. Not in my name will I condone the rapes and disappearance from women of the factories along the US/Mexico border. Factories that used to be here until we had NAFTA. Not in my name will they pass NAFTA, FTAA, CAFTA, and WTO resolutions. Not in my name will they bomb baby formula manufacturing plants in IRAQ. AND IT WILL NOT BE IN MY NAME THAT THEY STAGE ANOTHER COUP ON ANOTHER COUNTRY FOR OIL, like they attempted with Venezuela.
The other night I was walking along the street when I had an inspiration. I AM FREE BECAUSE I DECIDED SO. NO ONE CAN GIVE ME FREEDOM, ONLY I CAN. IF I DO NOT CHOOSE FREEDOM, THEN I DO NOT HAVE FREEDOM. Silly, huh? But how many times have I heard a racist comment and been silent? How many times I laughed at sexist jokes? How many times have I willingly abdicated my right of freedom to another? If I chose, I could have been free... I could have said something, done something, been the one who was willingly different.
This year we saw what happened when people rose up to shout NOT IN MY NAME. Florida came under martial law. Undeclared sweeps of people took place. They gassed, shot, and tortured those who said NOT IN MY NAME. Two years earlier Florida had taken everyone's name and turned it into spit on the ground. It was courageous activists, visionaries, who said I know what should be done in my name. So today I have a very timely piece from Langston Hughes. Here's hoping that she will become literate and actually discuss WHAT HAS BEEN DONE IN THE NAME OF BUSH!!!
As we look to the Western calendars New Year we start thinking of resolutions. We usually decide on hated tasks that we have been putting off. Instead, this year why not make a resolution for art? Be apart of the Poets Revolution and Art Revolution. Why not decide as a resolution: I am going to spend one whole day this year making a zine? Or, I am going to spend a whole day baking bread and dancing. Or, I am going to teach a freeskool class I am good at. There are so many ways you can improve your life with art and poetry. Without knowing it you are improving someone else's life too.
The Ballad Of Harry Moore
(Killed at Mims, Florida, on Christmas night, 1951)
Florida means the land of flowers.
It was on Christmas night
In the state named for the flowers
That men came bearing dynamite.
Men came stealing through the orange groves.
Bearing hate instead of love,
While the star of Bethlehem
Was in the sky above.
Oh, memories of a Christmas evening
When wise men traveled from afar
Seeking out a lowly manger
Guided by a holy star!
Oh, memories of a Christmas evenin
When to Bethlehem there came
"Peace on Earth- Goodwill to men"--
Jesus was his name.
But they must have forgotten Jesus
Down in Florida that night
Stealing through the orange groves
Bearing hate and dynamite.
It was a little cottage,
A family, name of Moore.
In the window wreaths of holly
And a pine wreath on the door
The family prayers were said
When father, mother, daughter,
And grandmother went to bed.
The father's name was Harry Moore
Told him to carry out it's work
That Negroes might be free
So it was that Harry Moore
(So deeply did he care.)
Sought the right for men to live
With their heads up everywhere.
Because of that, white killers,
Who like Negroes "in their place"
Came stealing through the orange groves
On that night of dark disgrace.
It could not be in Jesus' name,
Beneath the bedroom floor,
On Christmas night the killers
Hid the bomb for Harry Moore.
It could not be in Jesus' name
The killers took his life,
Blew his home to pieces
And killed his faithful wife.
It could not be for the sake of love
They did this awful thing--
For when the bomb exploded
No hearts were heard to sing.
And certainly no angels cried,
"Peace on earth- good will to men"-
But around the world and echo hurled
A question: When?... When?... When?...
When will men for the sake of peace
And for democracy
Learn no bombs a man can make
Keep men from being free?
It seems that I hear Harry Moore.
From the earth his voice cries,
No bomb can kill the dreams I hold--
For freedom never dies!
I will not stop! I will not stop--
For freedom never dies!
I will not stop! I will not stop--
For freedom never dies!
So should you see our Harry Moore
Walking on a Christmas night,
Don't run and hide, you killers,
He has no dynamite.
In his heart is only love.
For all the human race,
And all he wants is for every man
To have his rightful place.
And this he says, our Harry Moore,
As from the grave he cries:
No bomb can kill the dreams I hold
For freedom never dies!
Freedom never dies, I say!
Freedom never dies!
By Langston Hughes
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