Sam Hamill


On the Third Anniversary of the Ongoing War in Iraq a letter to Hayden Carruth

It's been nearly forty years
since you wrote that poem
about writing poems against
all those wars, Harlan County
to Italy and Spain. When your
Selected Poems arrived today,
it was one of the poems that
gave me pause reading it again.

We've been at war ever since.
I too, born in World War,
have lived and written against
that particular stupidity
and pointless, hopeless pain
all my agonizing days.
Has even a single life thereby
been saved? Who can say?
Except that doing so saved mine.

Oh, I could tell you about
saved lives. There was that
beautiful young woman in Sitka
whose husband, jealous
of her poetry, tied
her feet together with a rope
and threw her from his boat.
You have about 12 minutes of life
in those southeast Alaskan waters.

Or the grandmother in Utah
who wrote rhymed, romantic sonnets
and called me late one night
in my motel because her jaw
was broken, and her nose, and because
he was still drinking. Or
I could tell you about Alex,
doing life for murder over drugs,
and how his eyes lit up
when he discovered the classics.

Yes, poetry saves lives.
All wars begin at home
within the warring self.
No, our poems cannot stop
a war, not this nor any war,
but the one that rages from
within. Which is the first
and only step. It is
a sacred trust, a duty,
the poet's avocation.
We write the poetry we must.
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