Voices In Wartime

Poem of the Week

The Poem in Time of War

Sherman Pearl

should wake the city shouting EXTRA! EXTRA!
then whisper the story behind the story
like a conspirator.It should be short, stirring
as the president's call to arms;
soft enough for a flag at half-mast;
strong enough to stiffen the bereaved;
spacious enough to serve as a body bag.

The poem should carry the news that men
die miserably for lack of.It is
a brief on behalf of the living, a paper megaphone
for the voices of the dead.It must be
the world's last will and testament, a listing
of what will be left.It steals from forebears:
Sassoon's doomed diary and Auden's call to love.

The poem would be a prescription for healing
but who could read such a scrawl?...or a bandage
over the wounds, except that blood
tends to obliterate words.
Maybe all the war poems could be sewn together
into a vast thick quilt we'd pull around
our shoulders; might warm us on nights like this.

Sherman Pearl is the co-founder of Los Angeles Poetry Festival, co-editor of CQ (California Quarterly), author of three published collections of poetry, and winner of several major awards including National Writers Union's 2002 poetry competition. He is also featured in the film, Voices in Wartime.

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Excerpt from an Interview with Chris Hedges

How does fear enter into the equation when you're in combat?

It's a constant battle against fear. There are always times when fear wins. Courage is not a state. Courage is an act. And I think one of the reasons that those who carry out what we would define as courageous acts are often very reticent to speak about it afterwards is because they're not completely sure they could do it again.

One has to remember that the landscape of war has a narcotic effect on those that are caught up in it. I mean, indeed, I think war is probably the most potent narcotic invented by humankind. And Michael Herr got it right in Dispatches. War is like a drug trip. You have the adrenaline highs. You have, because of a loss of sleep and the almost incomprehensible images that are pounded into your brain, you can become almost zombie-like.

You've seen soldiers almost switch on to autopilot because of a combination of exhaustion and stress, so that when you do acts in combat it's not at the same level of consciousness that you have when you're not in combat. Because of that landscape of the grotesque, because of that heightened fear, because of that rush of adrenaline, because of that utter exhaustion. War can be an almost out of body experience.

Read the complete interview The Experience of Combat

Chris Hedges is a New York Times war correspondent with fifteen years of experience in places such as El Salvador, Kosovo, and the Persian Gulf. He shared in a 2002 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of global terrorism. He is featured in the film Voices in Wartime.

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