The journal of the Center for Documentary Arts, a nonprofit initiative to bear witness to suffering and promote the common good through the arts. At the crossroads of art, ethics, faith, and social justice, the Center brings together makers and thinkers whose work advances beauty, compassion, collaboration, dignity, and mercy.

20 April 2012

All true poets

. . . an elegant statement not only about the devastation of war but also about poetry's 
power to amaze”  — The New York Times

Sunday, April 22, 4 pm, Opalka Gallery*
Discussion and reading with Dr. Ed Tick to follow
$5 Admission  •  Book Table in Lobby
One showing only

The seeds of the documentary Voices in Wartime were planted in January, 2003, when First Lady Laura Bush made the error of inviting a group of poets to the White House to celebrate the works of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes. Mrs. Bush no doubt harbored benign notions of who poets are, and maybe imagined a scene of literary decorum similar to Robert Frost reading at JFK's inauguration. Distracted by the duties of First Ladydom, she may not have noticed that her husband and his handlers were manufacturing a tissue of lies to coerce the United Nations and the US into war in Iraq. Unfortunately for Laura, the poets had noticed, and rather than being solicitous they became unruly. Sam Hamill, publisher of the indispensable Copper Canyon Press, and Emily Warn, answered the invite by founding Poets Against the War. The third person they called was Andrew Himes, who Warn had worked with at Microsoft; within days, Himes had set up a website and the anti-war, anti-Bush poems began to pour in, eventually at the rate of five per second.

Laura Bush cancelled her tea party, but the poets kept on dissenting. Himes, observing the worldwide press coverage and watching the hits on the website whirl upward, understood there was a story to be told. He contacted his friend Jonathan King, who in turn contacted his brother Rick King with the idea of directing a film about Poets Against the War. Less than a year after the three men conceived the project, a rough cut of Voices in Wartime was screened to an audience.

Originally imagined as the chronicle of a protest movement build on poems, Voices morphed first into a history of war poetry and eventually into its final state, a meditation on the poet as the persistent witness to warfare. More than language, more than image, more than music (poetry's three graces), this persistence lies at the heart of the film, the tenacious sense of purpose that compels poets to speak the truth of war. Poetry born of combat occupies a unique literary niche; it never exists for its own sake, but as a phenomenon of testimony, to give voice to suffering, stand clear-eyed before death, cast light on carnage, and condemn bellicose pride and the counterfeit glories of battle. Homer's audience reveled in gory descriptions of battlefield deaths, and praised valor as it cast its spear, but the blind bard knew the toll aggression takes on the soul, and evoked it even as his heroes flashed and gleamed.

Increasingly over the past hundred years, wars are mobilized around armies but waged on civilians. Nuclear weapons have rendered war between major powers untenable; 21st-century conflicts are either techno-mechanical police actions or barbarous feuds between competing factions; in all cases, the destruction is wrought around and on the innocents, and so-called "collateral damage" is the common result with the most casualties. The testimony of poet Wilfred Own during World War I was of fellow soldiers choking on gas and bleeding in the trenches; today, from Afghanistan to Syria to Ivory Coast, eyewitness accounts are of burned children, raped women, the scattered dead of suicide bombers—atrocities committed in the name of someone's fundamentalism or nationalism or old-fashioned brute force.

No poet's cry ever stopped a bullet or bandaged a wound or ended a battle. Yet as warfare becomes  more and more—not just savage, but ruthlessly immoral, our humanity depends on the persistence of poets. The voice of witness, the shout of outrage, the cry of horror and sadness must be raised. "All a poet can do today is warn," wrote Wilfred Owen, whose elegiac descriptions of war's savagery are quietly eviscerating. "That is why true poets must be truthful.". Owen's directive is the ethos of Voices in Wartime and its lasting moral.

A poet functions as a kind of journalist of the interior landscape and brings back reports from the front. The front is the struggle in the human heart. — Andrew Himes

*  The Opalka Gallery is located at 140 New Scotland Avenue in Albany. For information and directions, click here

12 April 2012

Film Screening: Voices in Wartime

Voices in Wartime is an extraordinary film about the convergence of poetry and war, a visceral, eloquent work of word and image. It's a privilege to be able to screen this picture and to work with Ed Tick, a remarkable healer and writer, and I invite everyone to join us on 22 April. Here is the press release about the screening and a trailer; an interview with executive producer Andrew Himes will follow next week. Blessings, Tim

The ancient convergence of poetry and war is the subject of the documentary Voices in Wartime, to be screened for one performance only at 4 p.m., April 22, at the Opalka Gallery, Sage College of Albany. Following the film, Dr. Edward Tick of Soldier’s Heart will lead a discussion about poetry as witness and healing force to the legacy of warfare. The event is sponsored by the Center for Documentary Arts at The Sage Colleges and the Opalka Gallery. It is opened to the public.

The screening will be held in the Opalka Gallery theater, on the campus of the Sage College of Albany, 140 New Scotland Road, Albany. Admission is $5. Parking on campus is free.

Voices in Wartime is a feature-length documentary produced by Seattle filmmaker and author Andrew Himes. The film, directed by Rick King, etches the experience of war through the images and words of poets both world-famous and unknown. Soldiers, journalists, historians, and battle experts interviewed in Voices in Wartime add diverse perspectives on war’s effects on combatants and civilians alike. The film includes poets from many countries, from the U.S. and Great Britain to Colombia, Nigeria, Iraq and India.

Voices in Wartime explores the long, complex relationship between poetry and war, beginning in ancient Babylonia and the fields of Troy, through the great conflicts of the twentieth century, right up to America’s war on terror. The stirring words of great poets—Homer, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman and Shoda Shinoe of Hiroshima—mingle with the voices of a Vietnam veteran, a battlefield doctor, a survivor of war-torn Baghdad, even a witness to the devastating civil war in Biafra. The poems penetrate and capture the horror, valor, and sacrifice of warriors and those caught up in war’s vortex. The terrible beauty of the poetry distills the grim realities and diverse emotions of war, allowing access to greater truths and more powerful insights.
Following the film, psychoanalyst and poet Edward Tick, Ph. D., will lead an audience discussion about the film and speak about the healing power of poetry. Dr. Tick is co-founder of Soldier's Heart, a not-for-profit healing and advocacy center in Troy, New York that provides a unique and comprehensive model to address the emotional, moral, and spiritual wounds of veterans, their families, and communities. His psychotherapy practice has specialized in veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) since 1979. His pioneering study, War and the Soul, identifies PTSD as not just a psychological condition but a “loss of the soul,” and reanimates ancient and cross-cultural warrior traditions to reveal paths for successful healing. The book is used by the Department of Defense to treat soldiers.

Dr. Tick is also the author of The Golden Tortoise: Journeys in Viet Nam, a poetry collection inspired by numerous trips to that country with Vietnam veterans to heal the wounds of the war.
A sales table will be on site for cash and check sales to support Soldier’s Heart.

The screening and discussion are a presentation of the Opalka Gallery and the Center for Documentary Arts, and organized by CDA founding director Timothy Cahill. The Center for Documentary Arts, hosted by The Sage Colleges, is a not-for-profit cultural organization founded in 2009 to inspire compassion and foster social justice though art of conscience and consciousness.

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