Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Bill Bailey Award

Matthew Doherty, a poet whose work I don’t know, had the guts to voluntarily drive a fuel truck in Iraq for that he deserves the just created Bill Bailey Award (Bailey volunteered to fight with the Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War). Poetry has just published a beautiful prose piece he wrote about his experiences. I highly recommend reading it. Here are a couple of memorable quotes:

But there was a driver from Turkey who, when he saw my camera, led me away from our line of trucks. I thought he might want a photo of himself next to an Army tank, or to wait for a helicopter to put itself down in the background. But he stopped next to a hibiscus bush with bright red blooms in front of the hangar. In the photo our trucks are lined up behind him, and his expression does indeed suggest fortitude and resolve. But his left hand is clutched around a stalk. He pulls a red flower to his heart.When a poem is a good poem, it often does what the Turkish truck driver did. He found beauty in a world of brute utility, for one thing. But that’s not the important part. He was on to something. He didn’t explain, but he enacted; he went somewhere, with great purpose, and made it seem like meandering. He held something up, just enough to raise it from its plain-sight hiding place, and in that enactment he changed the world he’d lifted it out of.

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I have no sympathy for the insurgency. With a view toward my own preservation, I wish they would all cut it out. But apart from pure self-interest, I think that every mortar, whether it hits or misses, every burst of gunfire or roadside bomb is a dismal impediment to what can only be called progress. The wisdom and righteousness of our going to war are uncomfortable questions. But the insurgents rest on a justification that only the most ardent relativism could withstand. There’s nothing noble about them. They’re the Sopranos East.

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But a poem, or any work of art, should also hold out some consolation, no matter how painful its truth. A rocket-propelled grenade offers nothing. Not to the targets, anyway. Any peril engendered by words seems trivial, and vanishes when external danger arrives.


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