Truth and conscience, and with them art, are the first casualties of any war. The impending U.S. invasion of Iraq has already provided us with two major examples of this. The first of these was the cancellation by First Lady Laura Bush of a White House Symposium on “Poetry and the American Voice” scheduled for early February 2003, once it was discovered that some of the invited poets were voicing opposition to Bush administration plans for an invasion of Iraq and might use the occasion to address the conscience of the country on the war. (Upon receiving the White House invitation, as explained in this issue, Sam Hamill, founding editor and co-founder of Copper Canyon Press, issued a call for the establishment of Poets Against the War. His call was answered by thousands of poets, including many of the country’s leading literary figures, who offered their antiwar poems. Some of this poetry protesting the impending war is printed for the first time in this issue of MR.)
Volume 54, Issue 11 (April)
Only a few years ago it was widely suggested that the capitalist economy had entered a new economic era. The rapid economic growth experienced during the brief period of the late 1990s, we were told, would become virtually endless, spurred on by rising productivity led by high technology and the New Economy. The circumstances that now confront us following the bursting of the speculative bubble could not be more different. The country is once again mired in economic stagnation. In the present “recovery”—if indeed we can call it that—new jobs remain few and far between. Of the four sources of demand that create economic activity—personal consumption, business investment, government spending, and net exports—it is mainly consumption, backed by increasing debt, that is currently keeping the economy from slipping deeper into stagnation. Indeed, many business leaders and economists fear the return of recession—referred to as the likelihood of a “double dip.” Behind this fear lies excess capacity in almost every industry, the absence of new growth stimuli, slow growth or recession in most of the rest of the world, and the aftereffects of the bursting of the speculative stock market bubble. All of this suggests that there is more at stake than the traditional business cycle. At the very least, there is reason to expect the continuation of the tendency of stagnation.
How “free” was the black freedman in 1863? He had no clothes, no home, tools, or land. Thaddeus Stevens begged the government to give him a bit of the land which his blood had fertilized for 244 years. The nation refused. Frederick Douglass and Charles Sumner asked for the Negro the right to vote. The nation yielded because only Negro votes could force the white South to conform to the demands of Big Business in tariff legislation and debt control. This accomplished, the nation took away the Negro’s vote, and the vote of most poor whites went with it
Earlier this year, Sam Hamill, poet and co-founder of the prestigious literary publisher, Copper Canyon Press, was invited to a White House literary symposium. Incensed by President Bush’s war plans, Hamill wrote in an open letter to his colleagues I believe the only legitimate response to such a morally bankrupt and unconscionable idea is to reconstitute a Poets Against the War movement like the one organized to speak out against the war in Vietnam. He asked every poet to speak up for the conscience of our country and lend his or her name to our petition against this war. The response was extraordinary. By March 1, when poetsagainstthewar.org, the web site Hamill and friends set up to receive poems, stopped accepting submissions, more than 12,000 poems had been posted. On March 5, a day of global anti-war poetry readings, the poems were presented to Congress by Pulitzer prize winner and Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets W. S. Merwin, Pulitzer prize winner Jorie Graham, and author and poet Terry Tempest Williams, as well as Hamill