Consulting an Elder Poet on an Anti-War Poem

By Duane Niatum b. 1938 Duane Niatum

for Elizabeth Bishop

You said to me that day,
“There’s nothing you can do,”
and spoke of Auden’s line:
“Poetry makes nothing happen.”
And though I honor you,
especially your poems,
the objects you dipped in light,
then, left in the rainbow,
let slip from our sight,
I admitted, diving out of self,
a sweet woman’s white caress,
the hundreds of lives and places
in books, failed to counter confusion.

You did agree that it
was Socrates who said
to his Athenian friends
that governments are only
governments with many heads
and cannot think as one.
That history continues to show
how they swing from war
to peace and back again,
in one wide gallow-sweep
just as the pendulum
of the world’s clocks
returned its towns to craters.

Now I must ask myself,
fifteen cobalt-blue years later,
if the dust of each new war
that settles in our bones,
and deadens a generation,
is no more than negatives
of the Kennedys, King, and Lennon,
has less weight than what
we felt the day the Apollo
spaceship landed on the moon,
and Auden’s line is true,
then why did you to the end,
live in the dark,
sing into your ruin?

Duane Niatum, “Consulting an Elder Poet on an Anti-War Poem” from Drawings of the Song Animals: New and Collected Poems. Copyright © 1991 by Duane Niatum. Reprinted by permission of Holy Cow! Press.

Source: Drawings of the Song Animals: New and Collected Poems (Holy Cow! Press, 1991)

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Poet Duane Niatum b. 1938

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

 Duane  Niatum

Biography

Born Duane McGinness in Seattle, poet, fiction writer, playwright, and editor Duane Niatum adopted the name of one of his S’Klallam tribal ancestors early in his career as a poet. After his parents’ divorce when he was four, he studied S’Klallam tribal ways with his maternal grandfather. At age 17, Niatum joined the Navy and was stationed in Japan. He received a BA from the University of Washington, where he studied with

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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