Saturday, January 10, 2009

Poetry and Gaza and Congress and Charara

There has been some poetry blogosphere buzz over the violence in Gaza--the feneon collective, Ron Silliman, Joshua Corey, Linh Dinh, Don Share (to name a few)--and, though each seems to articulate a kind of discomfort about making a statement (and, importantly, about the power of such statements), I'd argue that it is not only important but a sign of courage and humanity. Of course, in one sense, it's already too late. It's always been too late. At the same time, as Naomi Shihab Nye writes in "Jerusalem," "it's late, but everything happens next." I'd hope that these poets also phone their congresspeople, who are bending over backwards to condone this attack.

Persis Karim sent this note:
Please join a swelling national movement to bring a just end to Israel's attacks on Gaza - call 202.224.3121 and ask the operator to connect you to your Representative. If you don't know who your Representative is you can find out by entering your zip code in the upper right corner on

When you are connected with your Representative's office make your message short and to the point. *Tell your Representative to vote NO on any resolution which fails to call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, and for unimpeded access for humanitarian aid into Gaza and a lifting of Israel's illegal siege.* If you have time make the following three points:

* We need an immediate, unconditional cease-fire. Biased resolutions that enable Israel to continue killing and injuring Palestinians are unacceptable. Israel has killed more than an estimated 700 Palestinians and injured more than 3,000 since Dec. 27. Resolutions that condition a cease-fire will only lead to more needless death and destruction.

* Demand unrestricted access for humanitarian aid. Israel is allowing through only a trickle of humanitarian aid into Gaza. As the Occupying Power of the Gaza Strip, Israel is legally obligated by the 4th Geneva Convention to ensure that Palestinians receive adequate supplies of food, medical supplies, and other necessities of life. Israel's siege on the Gaza Strip imposes an illegal collective punishment on 1.5 million civilians by denying them access to these vital supplies in violation of international law. Israel must lift its siege of the Gaza Strip to comply with its Geneva Convention obligations and humanitarian aid deliveries must be allowed to enter without restrictions.

* Israel is misusing U.S. weapons to attack a civilian population. Instead of placing blame for Israel's war on and siege of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on the victims, Members of Congress should join with Rep. Dennis Kucinich in demanding from the Secretary of State an investigation into Israel's violations of the Arms Export Control Act. Members of Congress must hold Israel accountable for its misuse of U.S. weapons to kill Palestinian civilians in violation of U.S. and international law, not vote for resolutions which justify these illegal killings.

Thank you for joining me and thousands of others pushing Congress to do the right thing!

For more ideas on what you can do to help the people of Gaza through this crisis visit

Hayan Charara, a recent NEA recipient, wrote this statement about his recent poetry:
The poems I submitted to the National Endowment for the Arts grew out of an enormous sense of helplessness over the ways my government--and the governments it supports--used and misused language toward violent ends. As a result, my grandfather died a victim of war, as did many family friends, old neighbors, and some animals. So while this award is especially meaningful, its irony is not lost on me. Too often, my government's loudest voice endorses violence. That an endowment exists for writers and artists is a sign of hope. And where there's hope, there is at least the capacity for change. This is a start.

Of course, I trust poets more than politicians, and I have more faith in poems than in policies. And while I don't believe that poems will keep bombs from falling on schools, or bullets from entering bodies, or tanks from rolling over houses, or men or women or children from being humiliated, poetry insists on the humanity of people, which violence steals away; and poems advocate the power of the imagination, which violence seeks to destroy. Poets change the world. I don't mean literally, though some try. I mean with words, with language, they take the many things of this world and its make them new, and when we read poems, we know the world and its many things differently--it might not be a better or worse place than the one we live in--just different--but without the imagination, without poetry, I don't believe that the world as most of us know it would be tolerable.


Don Share said...

I have no discomfort at all with making a statement, and have done so in real life, where it counts. I have discomfort with hatefulness and name-calling from any quarter of a dispute (whether about war or poetry), - something the blogosphere seems to provoke, as can be seen from some of the comments at Ron's blog and on Harriet. That aside, as a human being and citizen I, like you, believe it essential to protest injustice on any side of a conflict, as well as to be fair-minded, aware of complexity, and dubious of rhetoric. I am glad that your blog provides the service of connecting poetry and the politics of war, which is why I linked to it. Thank you for doing so, Philip.

Philip Metres said...


I hope you didn't feel too misrepresented by my characterization. Yes, there is much about the blogosphere that resembles a hothouse without doors, without windows. I have been feeling the peculiar helplessness of being an imperial subject these days...

I enjoy your blog, as you probably already know--its erudition, its resourcefulness, its humor. Be well, Phil

Anonymous said...

quite interesting read. I would love to follow you on twitter.