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Psalms of Peace

September 23, 2009

For people who experienced war or grew up in times of war, imagining peace is hard to do. “Growing up, war was a playground/and my friends and I played in it,” Yasmin Elmi writes in a poem about his native Somalia, which appears in a new poetry and art collection called "Waging Peace." The multi-media anthology, which includes one of my recent poems, is published online by Voices Education Project in Seattle, Washington.

Many contributors, from students like Yasmin to older folks, vividly recall wars in Africa, the Middle East, Central America, Southeast Asia, Europe and other violence-torn places in recent decades. Their dreams of peace are eclipsed by nightmarish war images. Others struggle to engage peace on its own terms.

For instance, here’s the beginning passage and the ending of Tristan Alving’s poem, “As Long As: A Psalm of Peace”:

As long as we fight
There will be no peace
As long as we hate
There will be no peace
When we stop fighting
When we stop hating
Then peace shall flourish

And as long as the wall between
Israel and Palestine stays up
Then fight will break its bonds
And hate will escape its prison
And then chaos will endure

A middle school student in Seattle, Tristan was stumped trying to imagine peace taking root in the war-prone Middle East. A big problem in promoting peace is that there are far more images linked with war, says Barbara Kaufman, a long-time peace activist, in a poem titled “Could Use a Little Help Here, Humanity!”

War veteran Jack McLean marshals imagines from both camps to float a thought-provoking idea:

Create a village as strong as a war
To pick the maggots off my skin
And burnish the gold that lies within
This will renew the strength of my sacred core.
Can we create a village as strong as a war?

Storyteller Joe Bruchac invokes the Native American tradition of the Tree of Peace. Judyth Hill, a poet living on a farm in Mexico, proposes that people create the conditions of peace by avidly living peaceful lives:

Wage peace.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious:
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

Song writer Susan Salidor suggests, in a finger-snapping You Tube performance, that peace is a choice of what we do with our hands. Musician Michael Valeri argues in his song “Change the World!” that the path to peace is for crowds of people to raise their voices in a united movement. My own contribution is a poem, “Make a New History,” that encourages people to make better use of our minds.

Make a New History

In harsh, benighted lands
Child soldiers learn early
How to kill each other
With little skills
But gory practice

In modern, enlightened lands
Gentlemen go to elite schools
To learn how to bomb cities
And whole nations into oblivion
With the latest high-tech devices

Modern sons and daughters
Are carefully educated
In how to dispatch, eliminate—
But not call it murder;
Torment, but not call it torture

Let’s make a new history,
One where war is banished,
Outlawed, like slavery;
One where disputes are resolved,
Not used as violent excuses

--Jan Barry

For more information:
http://voiceseducation.org/content/waging-peace-0

Selected Works

Poetry
A tonic spray of poetry, verses that a Vietnam war veteran lives by.
Prose
A pragmatic, common-sense handbook for civic action at the community and international levels.