Poems Against War

A Poem by Al-Bayati*

"On the last day,
I kissed my sheikh's tomb
And said so long,
And went.
Baghdad is no longer
But a graveyard for the beloved
And a love poem that I lost."

*Many Iraqi poets have left. Al-Bayati died in exile in 1999; his reflections on his journey were captured in this poem.


Poem of Exile
by Saadi Yousef*
On the sands of North Africa, I carried palm leaves,
I sailed through ports from the East to exile.
When the policeman stopped me in Burqa
I tore my identification, gave him one half,
and my beloved the other.
*the poet Saadi Yousef was born in 1934 in a village in the Basra area of Iraq that over the centuries gave Iraq and the Arab world renowned literary figures.  Basra is also the home port of the legendary vagabond sailor, Sinbad.  And tradition has it that the city was built near the biblical Garden of Eden.
Exile for Yousef has meant wandering like Sinbad.  He has lived in nearly a dozen countries including Algeria, Cyrprus, Jordan, France, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen and finally the United Kingdom, his current home.  The poem pritned above is one of his first poems he wrote about exile and describes crossing from Libya into Algeria, where he worked as a teacher for years.
Yousef says, "the poet lives on the road and dies on the road and this is the course taken by all poets whom I respect.  If you want to be an artist you should live and die free.  The poet is synonymous with freedom."
Yousef is in exalted company among poets who have collided with the Iraqui regime.  Mohammed Mahdi al-Jawahiri, among Iraq's best poets, was stripped of his citizenship for attending a poetry festival in Saudi Arabia.  Al-Jawahiri died shortly afterward at age 98 in Syria, where he was buried.  Abdel Wahab al-Bayati and Buland al Haydari who helped introduce free verse to Arab poetry both recently died in exile.


Women washing their clothes near the oilfields of Basra

                   *Poems by Qassim Haddad
Sin 2
When a rag conceals the map
Shame will not do
For all these naked nations.
Sin 3
Oh King
We are your flocks, of whom you boast to the nations.
We are fed up with this glory.
Sin 4
Oh fire Oh queen of time
Where shall I hide you,
while the dry stalk is the ruler of this place?
I don't know how
I sit this way,
my head the hat of the universe and my hands in a frenzy.
I am not tired or sad.
I see whiteness, towers of chaos
I touch the ink, my palms a paradise of speech.
Letters pour over shrapnels of clouds
as prey fall into a trap.
I don't know how
so I begin
I give my body to the silk of surprises,
I succumb, hallucinating shooting stars,
and I follow the reverberation of the angels
as they glorify ambiguity.
I don't kow how
But I beg the Secret to select me as a slave
so I may write, to weave mirrors
and decorate forms for an aged whiteness
in metamorphosis.
Perhaps the dead will rise in their colorful shirts.
Perhaps they will touch their goblets
and exchange toasts in a clamorous morning.
Then the wine loses its strength.
It talks to me like a friend, exhausted from travel
and I know, then, that I was the dream and the dream remained,
I am water in the galaxy of the poem.
The Horses
This is how the horses gallop,
dislodging themselves from the eminence of the carriage
and disturbing the tranquility of the market.
The horses ask the women aabout the sins of the night
and reveal to them the secrets of the rape and the zeal of the sparks.
Mad horses, born out of the lust of the springs,
penetrate the tales of the evening,
seducing the prey, they dlight in sin.
Parts of the body, the radiance of the body:
Horses have manes like hoopoes and horns just as tough.
The churches' addicts and those melded in the clay
of punishment stand terrified.
And when the toast of the wine goblets washes away the attacks,
the horses put their necks on the balcony of the tavern.
Women are free to embrace,
to give the kingdoms offspring from the tyrannical fighters.
You still talk irrationally in dangling interpretations.
Your eyes are startled, and mounds of clay have changed you.
You see troops drawing near,
your eyes are startled, and you talk irrationally.
He remembers his prison cell with its air hole as if he loves it.
Forgetfulness cannot
tremble in the cage of freedom:  o, there
where the Lamptonite horizons include herds of fog,
as if there were freedom there, distant, remote, desirable.
Life is proud of it.
The rulership wouldn't lengthen it,
and there is no hand upon it thin like a blade,
sharp like lightning, towering like the looming of the gods,
his hand in the freedom of creation
grants his dreams through language
and shows mercy in selecting his camel saddles.

*these poems were read by the Bahraini poet Qassim Haddad (1948- )at World Poetry Day, the University of Edinburgh, in 2001, at a gathering of Arab poets in exile. Haddad was imprisoned and tortured for five years for his belief in the need for radical revolution in Arab society in order to achieve freedom and justice. An important figure in the process of modernity, he called for democracy and protested tyranny and oppression. In the poem 'Sin Number Three,'  printed above, Haddad voices disgust at oppressive Arab regimes, along with a challenge. Among his contemporaries, Qasim Haddad perhaps best expresses the tragic reality of these psychological and spiritual disturbances. He has rejected this entire age and expresses the bitterness of Arab intellectuals towards their governments, a bitterness mixed with restlessness and disgust. On the horizon, there is only the "guardian dust which writes its false commands." For Haddad, nothing makes sense and all is "tragic." There are no longer bold sailors to save him from drowning in the sea. As he mentioned in his poetry, only his 'hallucinations' have delayed his suicide.


The Euphrates River

Lament for a Brother
by Al Khanza  (590-644)*
What have we done to you, death
that you treat us so,
with always another catch
one day a warrior
the next a head of state;
charmd by the loyal
you choose the best.
Iniquitous, unequalling death
I would not complain
if you were just
but you take the worthy
leaving fools for us.
Fifty years among us
upholding rights
annulling wrongs,
impatient death
 could you not wait a little longer?
He still would be here
and mine, a brother
without a flaw.  Peace
be upon him and Spring
rains water his tomb
could you not wait
a little longer,
a little longer,
you came too soon.
*Al Khanza  (590-644) was an Arab poetess who had two brothers.
One was killed in a tribal raid and the other  went out to avenge
his death and was himself  fatally wounded.  Al Khanza refused to be consoled
and one has the feeling she did not want to be.  Most of her poems are dirges
and laments for them.  Her emotional sinCerity and power come through
1,300 years later. Selected from "Arabic & Persian Poems in English"
 by Omar S. Pound, New Directions, New York, 1970.


New year

By Reza Meshkini
                  an Iranian poet
published in "The Iranian" on March 20, 2003

Tomorrow is the start
of the New Year, the beginning
of Spring.

It must be strange
to be a flower and bloom on a day
when not water, but bombs
rain from the sky.


The Winds of Babylon*
by Gregory Corso


*from "War Poems", edited by Diane Di Prima, Poets Press, Inc., New York City, 1968.

A Curse On the Men In Washington, Pentagon

by Gary Snyder, 1968

from Unicorn Broadsheet One


As you shoot down the Vietnames girls and men in their fields

        buning and chopping,

        poisoning and blighting,

                       so surely I hunt the white man down

          in my heart,

                       The crew-cutted Seattle boy

                       The Portland boy who worked for U.P.

          that was me.

              I won't let him live, the 'American'

              I'll destroy. The 'Christian'

        has long been dead.

                       They won't pass onto my children.

                       I'll give them Chief Joseph, the Bison herds,

                       Ishi, sparrowhawk, the Fir trees,

                       The Buddha, their own naked bodies,

                       Swimming and dancing and singing


                     As I kill the white man,

                                       the 'American'

                      in me

                    And dance out the Ghost dance:

                   To bring back America, the grass and the streams,

                  To trample your throat in your dreams.

                  This magic I work, this loving I give

                              that my children may flourish

                   And yours won't thrive.


Five Poems by Three Vietnam War Veterans--
Van Le, Nguyen Duy, and Kevin Bowen
Quan Tri, Viet Nam

Quang Tri*   by Van Le

Everywhere we dug there were white bones.

What could we do? Could we just leave them?

What kind of foundation would they make for our house?

My friends were perplexed. Were they our bones or their bones?

No, I told him, there are no American bones here.

The Americans left years ago and took their bones with them.

These skeletons, scattered all over our land,

Belong only to Vietnamese.

(Quang Tri, 1974, translated by Nguyen Ba Chung with Bruce Weigl)


Red Earth, Blue Water*  by Nguyen Duy


Bombs ploughed into the red earth, berry red

Scorching sunlight burned the noon air like kiln fire

Bombs raked funnels turned into rose water wells

A noiseless stream of blue water gushing up

That's our country isn't it friend.

The maddening agony, the honey comes from within.


Oh Stone*

(in place of an afterword)

by Nguyen Duy written in Cambodia, 1989


I stand in meditation before Angkor's ruins;

if stone can be so shattered , what of human life?

Oh stone,

let me inscribe a plea for peace.

In the end, in every war,

whoever won, the people always lost.

Angkor Wat at Sunset
Before Its Destruction by the Pol Pot Regime
Angkor Wat at Sunset Before Its Destruction

*  These three poems are selected from the anthology Mountain River: Vietnamese Poetry From the Wars, 1948-1993.   Kevin Bowen, Nguyen Ba Chung and Bruce Weigl, Editors. University of Mass. Press, Amherst, MA, 1998.

Playing Basketball with the Viet Cong*
                 by Kevin Bowen
You never thought it would come to this,
that afternoon in the war
when you leaned so hard into the controls
you almost became part of the landscape:
just you, the old man, old woman
and their buffalo.
You never thought then
that this grey-haired man in sandals
smoking  Gauloises on your back porch,
drinking your beer, his rough cough
punctuating tales of how he fooled
the French in '54,
would arrive at your back door
to call you out to shoot some baskets, friend.
If at first he seems awkward,
before long he's got it down.
His left leg lifts from the ground,
his arms arch back then forward
from the waist to release the ball
arcing to the hoop, one, two . . .
ten straight times.  You stare at him
in his T-shirt, sandals, and shorts.
Yes, he smiles.  It's a gift,
good for bringing gunships down
as he did in the Delta
and in other places where, he whispers,
there may be other scores to settle.
*from the book, "Playing Basketball With the Vietcong," by Kevin Bowen.  Curbstone Press, 1993.


Once More Again

by Kevin Bowen

Once more again,
the body counts on the news.

The lost armies
dragging their sad weights
across the deserts.

We hear a plane drone overhead
and think of fuel
seeping down airshafts,

the slow fall of bombs,
the loneliness of death

The head of homeland security
tells us: our country
is on Yellow Alert.

Already, the government
has retreated to shelters in the mountains
where the generals will take their orders
over the static of an old pacemaker.

What can or cannot be said
is not easy to decipher.

Slowly, we breathe in,
breathe out.

None of us can leave this place


POET  AND TRANSLATOR . Kevin Bowen was drafted and served in the U.S. Army 1st Air Cavalry Division in the Vietnam war during 1968-69. Since 1987, he has returned to Vietnam many times, initiating cultural, educational, and humanitarian exchanges. In 1993 he was appointed Director of the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Its Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.   A former Danforth Fellow and Fulbright Fellow at New College, Oxford, he earned his Ph.D. in English Literature from the State University of New York at Buffalo. . He is an adjunct Associate Professor in the English Department where he teaches courses in creative writing, literature and war, and the literature of the Vietnam War. Playing Basketball with the Viet Cong, his first collection of poetry, was published by Curbstone Press in 1994. He has edited a special feature on contemporary Vietnamese poetry in the Winter 1996 issue of Manoa. With Bruce Weigl he is co-editor of Writing Between the Lines: Writings on War and Its Consequences University of Massachusetts Press . He lives with his wife and two children in Dorchester, MA. 



Ante War Blues

by Mark Fisher

it's hotter than a motherfucker here
the tents are sweating

I'm holding a royal flush

in the predawn morning
somewhere east of screaming


Mark Fisher is a collagist, poet, performer, event organizer, bibliophile of twentieth century avant garde literature and art, and a blues scholar. He is married to M-C and together they are part of the INI movement. To see Mark's website, click on:

Great Glacier-- o, Monumental Sculptor--
by Maryclaire Wellinger
Great Glacier,
Eons ago, you sculpted alluvial marshland
at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates
where Marsh Arabs have lived for 3,000 years,
where women still dry their clothes on riverstones.
Great glacier--oh, monumental sculptor--
you gave to the birds this gift,
their greatest  fly-over  for all Eurasia.
In the name of the pelican, egret and flamingo,
spare the alluvial marshland from imminent war,
with its heartless bombs, its depleted uranium,
its killing spills of chemicals and oil.
  If it's too late to teach these men-of-war  
who love their "power over" 
 that we are all a part of Nature,  
then crush them with your monumental weight
before the spoiled marshland's impending death.
Great glacier, crush those who aim to fly
through Nature's stratosphere
above the bleeding, draining marshy ground
and with massive ordinance
 suck out Nature's very breath.
Let the Millenium be a time once again
when we can go down to the river's edge
to harvest the strong papyrus reed
and build a sailing vessel, seaworthy and sound.   


by Ai*
You sharpen the tip of spear
with your teeth,
while your wife plows the ground
with jawbone of an ox.
She is a great, black fire.
The old blood is drifting up your throat
and the witch-men sing all night
of melon-breasted women in rival villages,
but the spear is wilting in your hands.
When you are standing in the river,
you grab a fish,
tear its flesh open with your teeth, and hold it,
until the bones in your fingers break up
and fly about you like moths.
The river, a fish, your fingers, moths,
the war song churning in your belly.
left, the poet Ai
*from her book Cruelty:  Poems by Ai,
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1973

 Ai's first book, Cruelty, received critical acclaim when it was published in 1973. Her second book, Killing Floor, was the 1978 Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. Her next book, Sin (1987), won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation and was followed by Fate in 1991. In 1999 Vice was the winner of the National Book Award for Poetry. Ai is a native of the American Southwest and lives in Tucson, Arizona. In the year 2002-2003 she will hold the Mitte Chair in Creative Writing at Southwest Texas State University.

The Marathon Man Heading for Destruction
by Kazuko Shiraishi*
Birds don't sing anymore
Mermaids     have disappeared
Only the statue of the bird of death
Covered with black oil
Is a monument that decorates the beach heading for the 21st century
The sickness of earth's time     is heavy
Mankind thinks     belief and desire
Justice and diplomacy are all the same
No longer     embarassed about anything
Belief in power               rules the world
Human beings who begin to run for the sake of self-destruction
To the degree that they may be instantly destroyed
have       a large      map of the heart
Wrapping the earth     wrapping the future
The marathon man                   who runs heading for destruction
What sort of sunset does he see
Carrying the earth under his arm
Where will he throw it away


* from her book "Let Those Who Appear",
New Directions Books, New York City, 2002
translation from Japanese by Samuel Grolmes & Yumiko Tsumura
Let Those Who Appear contains selections from various recently-published books as translated by Yumiko Tsumura and Samuel Grolmes. The title poem is from Shiraishi's 1996 book given three prestigious awards in Japan-- the Yomiuri Literature Award, the Takami Jun Poetry Award, and the Purple Ribbon Medal from the Emperor of Japan.

Born inVancouver, Canada, in 1931, Shiraishi was taken to Japan by her family just prior to WW II.  Her first poetry (written at the age of seventeen, published at twenty) emerged from the violence and ugliness of post-war Tokyo. After joining a group of avant-garde poets led by Katsue Kitazono called VOU,  Kazuko established herself in the poetry scene, dreading taboos and breaking them. She experimented with various genres and invented a new form of  performance poetry reading.  In the late 1950s, Kazuko became part of the Beat Generation, which merged live jazz with poetry reading and her poems addressed issues such as sex, drugs, and poverty. During the 1960,s, she either read her poetry during jazz concerts or was accompanied by jazz musicians such as Sam Rivers, Leo Smith, and Itaru Oki.


Midsummer Common

by Peter Riley

What were the victory fireworks like in 1945
If you didnt believe in the war but loved
The people and their victory? The sky
Scripted in hot lights, the sky full
And veiled rim to rim. Oh to escape
Under the edge of night, red hair streaming
In the wind like coals in a world fire, a fire
To heat the worlds best wishes to a red
Glowing ardour, the great ring on the bone
And purpose of love for the field is full
Of folk, firework, seedscape. And return
As a soldier returns, to what? There is something
Further out in the dark than the painted stars,
Something that also hates us and our wars.

Peter Rileyfrom his book "Snow Has Settled . . . Bury Me Here" 0 907562 24 8 published by Shearsman Press, 1997 distributed by Oasis Books, 12 Stevenage Road, London SW6 6ES, UK.


Excerpts from "The Ancient Rain"*
by Bob Kaufman
 written during the period 1973-1978
After Ending his Ten-Year Buddhist Vow of Silence 1962-1972
Begun Upon the Murder of John F. Kennedy
and Ending in February 1973 on the day the Vietnam War Ended.
At the illusion world that has come into existence of world that exists secretly, as meanwhile the humorous Nazis on television will not be as laughable, but be replaced by silent and blank TV screens.  At this time, the dead nations of Europe and Asia shall cast up the corpses from the graveyards they have become. But today the Ancient Rain falls, from the far sky.  It will be white like the rain that fell on the day Abraham Lincoln died.  It shall be red rain like the rain that fell when George Washington abolished monarchy.  It shall be blue rain like the  rain that fell when John Fitzgerald Kennedy died.
They will see the bleached skeletons that they have become.  By then it shall be too late for them.  All the symbols shall return to the realm of the symbolic and reality become the meaning again.  In the meantime, masks of life continue to cover the landscape.  Now on the landscape of the death earth, the Luftwaffe continues to fly into Volkswagens through the asphalt skies of death.
It shall be black rain like the rain that fell on the day Martin Luther King died.  It shall be the Ancient Rain that fell on the day that Franklin Delano Roosevelt died.  It shall be the Ancient Rain that fell the day that Nathan Hale died.  It shall be a brown rain that fell on the day that Crispus Attucks died.  It shall be the Ancient Rain that fell on July Fourth, 1776, when America became alive.  In America, the Ancient Rain is beginning to fall again. The Ancient Rain falls from a distance secret sky. It shall fall here on America, which alone remains alive, on this earth of death. The Ancient Rain is supreme and is aware of all things that have happened.  The Ancient Rain is brilliant yellow as it was on the day Custer died. The Ancient Rain is the source of all things, the Ancient Rain knows all secrets.  The Ancient Rain illuminates America. The Ancient Rain shall kill genocide.
The Ancient Rain shall bring death to those who love and feel only themselves.  The Ancient Rain is all colors, all forms, all shapes, all sizes. The Ancient Rain is a mystery known only to itself. The Ancient Rain  filled the seas.The Ancient Rain killed all the dinosaurs and left only one dinosaur skeleton to remind the world that the Ancient Rain is falling again.
. . .
The Ancient Rain is falling again.  The Ancient Rain is falling on the waves of immigrants who fled their homelands to come to this home of Ancient Rain to be free of tyranny and hunger and injustice, and who now refuse to go to school with Crispus Attucks, the Ancient Rain knows they were starving in Europe. The Ancient Rain is falling.  It is falling on the NATO meetings. . .  . Will there be peace or war?  The Ancient Rain knows but does not say. I make speculations of my own, but I do not discuss them, because the Ancient Rain  is falling.
. . .
The Ancient Rain wets my face and I am freed from hatreds of me that discuise themselves with racist bouquets.  The Ancient Rain has moved me to another world, where the people stand still and the streets moved me to destination.  I look down on the Earth and see myself wandering in the Ancient Rain ecstatic, aware that the death I feel around me is in the hand of the Ancient Rain and those who plan death for me and dreams are know to the Ancient Rain . . . silent, humming raindrops of the Ancient Rain.
The Ancient Rain is falling.  The Washington
         Monument rumbles.
The Lincoln Memorial is surrounded by stars.
Mount Rushmore stares into every face.
The Continental Congress meets in the home of
         the Ancient Rain.
Nathan Hale stands immaculate at the entrance
         to the Capitol.
Crispus Attucks is taken to school by Thomas
Boston is quiet.
The Ancient Rain is falling.
. . .
I see the death some cannot see, because I am a poet spread-eagled on this bone of the world.  A war is coming, in many forms.  It shall take place. The South must hear Lincoln at Gettysburg, the South shall be forced to admit that we have endurd.  The black son of the American Revolution is not the son of the South.  Crispus Attucks' death does not make him the Black son of the South.  So be it.  Let the voice out of the whirlwind speak:
Federico Garcia Lorca wrote:
Black Man, Black Man, Black Man
For the mole and the water jet
Stay out of the cleft.
Seek out the great sun
Of the center.
The great sun gliding
    over dryads.
The sun that undoes
    all the numbers,
Yet never
                 crossed over a
The great sun gliding over dryads, the sun that undoes all the numbers, yet cross over a dream. At once I am there at the great sun, feeling the great sun of the center.  Hearing the Lorca music in the endless solitude of crackling blueness.  I could feel myself a little boy again in crackling blueness, wanting to do what Lorca says in crackling bluenes to kiss out my frenzy on bicycle wheels and smash little squares in the flush of a soiled exultation. Federico Garcia Lorca sky, the immaculate scoured sky, equaling only itself contained all the distances that Lora is, that he came from Spain of the Inquisition is no surprise.  His poem of solitude walking around Columbia.  My first day in crackling blueness, I walked off my ship and rode the subway to Manhattan to visit Grant's tomb and I thought because Lorca said he would let his hair grow long someday crackling blueness would cause my hair to grow long. I decided to move deeper into crackling blueness. When Franco's civil guard killed, from that moment on, I would move deeper in crackling blueness.  I kept my secrets.  I observed those who read him who were not Negro and listened to their misinterpretation of him. I thought of those who had been around him, those that were not Negro and were not in crackling blueness, those that couldn' t see his wooden south wind, a tiltin' black slime that tacked down all the boat wrecks, while Saturn delayed all the trains.
I remember the day I went into crackling blueness.  His indescribable voice saying Black Man, Black Man, for the mole and the water jet, stay out of the cleft, seek ou the great Sun of the Center.



*Kaufman, Bob.  The Ancient Rain: Poems 1956-1978. A New Directions Book, New York City, 1981.  copyright 1981, by Raymond Foye.
Editor's Note:
For the pat two decades [1960-1980] Bob Kaufman has been engaged in the active practice of being obscure, living the Orphic myth, adroitly avoiding all public contact.  He had been a legendary figure among the jazzmen and bohemians of the 1940's and '50s.  Flamboyant and quick-witted, he was the original "beatnik" -- a word he invented.  His three broadsides ("Abomunist Manifesto," " Second April," "Does the Secret Mind Whisper?") published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books, became overnight classics of the Beat Generation.  Adapting the harmonic complexities and spontaneous invention of be-bop to poetic euphony and meter, he became the quintessential jazz poet. . . .
Kaufman left San Francisco for New York in the spring of 1960. He had been invited to read at Harvard University and was to begin work on his first book, Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness (New Directions, 1965).  But the New York years were filled with poverty, addiction, and imprisonment. The poem "Blood Fell on the Mountains," was composed upon his rturn to San Francisco in 1963. Thre days later, Kaufaman took a ten-year Buddhist vow of silence, prompted by the assassination of President Kennedy.  For the next decade he neither spoke nor wrote.
Kaufman broke his silence in February 1973 on the day the Vietnam War ended.  he stunned a local gathering one evening by reciting Thomas a Becket's speech from T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral ("They know and do not know, what is is to act or suffer . . .") , followed by his own untitled poem which begins section two ("All those ships that never sailed . . .") which, like many of his poems, have been transcribed from a tape recording. 
During the next five years, Kaufman composed some of the finest poems of his career--simple, lofty and resplendent.  In the poem "The Ancient Rain," he renews his preoccupation with Federico Garcia Lorca, as he seeks to reconstruct the battered psyche of the Black man through poetry.  In 1978, Kaufman abruptly renounced writing and withdrew once again into silence.
Raymond Foye, Editor
27 October, 1980
New York City
. . .

This webpage is under construction and more poems will be added.
Thanks for your patience, and peace . . . m-c


In Memoriam
Rachel Corrie (1980-2003)
Artist and Peace Activist
Student at The Evergreen College, Olympia, Washington
Killed on Sunday, March 16, 2003 by an Israeli Army Bulldozer while defending the home of a Palestinian family whose house was targeted for destruction.   The driver refused to stop and rolled over her, crushing her. Rachel was a peacemaker who died for her convictions.

White House cancels poetry symposium

NEW YORK (AP) The White House said Wednesday it postponed a poetry symposium because of concerns that the event would be politicized. Some poets had said they wanted to protest military action against Iraq.

The symposium on the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman was scheduled for Feb. 12. No future date has been announced.

"While Mrs. Bush respects the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she, too, has opinions and believes it would be inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum." Noelia Rodriguez, spokeswoman for first lady Laura Bush, said Wednesday.

Mrs. Bush, a former librarian who has made teaching and early childhood development her signature issues, has held a series of White House symposiums to salute America's authors. The gatherings are usually lively affairs with discussions of literature and its societal impact.

But the poetry symposium soon inspired a nationwide protest.

Sam Hamill, a poet and founder of the highly regarded Copper Canyon Press, declined the invitation and e-mailed friends asking for anti-war poems or statements. He encouraged those who planned to attend to bring along anti-war poems.

Hamill said he's gotten more than 1,500 contributions, including ones from poets W.S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

"I'm putting in 18-hour days. I'm 60 and I'm tired, but it's pretty wonderful," says Hamill, based in Port Townsend, Wash., and author of such works as Destination Zero and Gratitude.

Marilyn Nelson, Connecticut's poet laureate, said Wednesday that she had accepted the White House invitation and had planned to wear a silk scarf with peace signs that she commissioned.

"I had decided to go because I felt my presence would promote peace," she said.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.