Liz’s Weekend Poetry Series: Pipelines, Headlines, Powerlines, And Maybe Somewhere In There A Poem Or Two

by lizard

(photo by Peter Essick)

The state department is ready to greenlight the pipeline. Daryl Hannah can make headlines getting arrested, but the powerlines are beyond the grasp of even her celebrity status.

The protest in Missoula was a nice piece of street theatre. It generated some small talk in the fancy boutique my wife dragged me into for the free caricature drawings. I tried to hear what they were saying, but my kid was too loud and wiggly. There appeared to be some mild concern about what was being done to forests by the tar sands project, and some mild derision of the protesters, peppered with a few polite chuckles of agreement.


Ochenski’s column this week features a brazen subtitle: How Democrats Lost the 2012 Election. Not a spoiler, it ends like this:

While telling Americans he would change the way business is done in the White House, Obama has continued the oil-baron, big-corporate policies of the last President Bush. If it’s goodbye to labor and goodbye to greens, come the 2012 elections, it’ll be goodbye to Obama.

Read the whole article. It’s got Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, pulling resources from Obama’s reelection efforts, and Hillary’s sycophant, Paul Elliot, whoring for the pipeline.


That’s a lot of political baggage to unpack for a LWPS lead-in. Whew. Now, for the poetry this week I pulled two books from my stacks. The first is a field guide to nature poems, written by John Felstiner, called Can Poetry Save the Earth?. The second is an anthology edited by Sam Hamill, Poets Against The War, a collection of poems Sam would have presented to Laura Bush, had she not canceled her little poetry symposium as her husband prepared to preemptively strike Iraq.

First up, this from the preface of Felstiner’s field guide:

Can poems help, when the times demand environmental science and history, government leadership, corporate and consumer moderation, nonprofit activism, local initiatives? Why call on the pleasures of poetry, when the time has come for an all out response?

Looking for a response, I went flipping through Hamill’s collection of poems and statements of conscience that he selected from over 10,000 submissions. I selected two.

This poem is by Karma Tenzing Wangchuk:

none. a tanka

After the rain,
she finds puddles
to jump in—
my child, knowing nothing
of the storms to come.

And this poem, Kelli Russell Agodon:

Of a Forgetful Sea

Sometimes, I forget the sun
sinking into ocean.

Desert is only a handful of sand
held by my daughter.

In her palm,
she holds small creatures,
tracks an ant, a flea
moving over each grain.

She brings them to places
she thinks are safe:

an island of driftwood,
the knot of a blackberry bush,
a continent of grass.

Fire ants carried on sticks,
potato bugs scooped
into the crease of a newspaper.

She tries to help them
before the patterns of tides
reach their lives.

She knows about families
who fold together like hands,
a horizon of tanks moving forward.

Here war is only newsprint.

How easy it is not to think about it
as we sleep beneath our quiet sky,
slip ourselves into foam, neglectful
waves appearing endless.


Unless it’s your land the pipeline will cross, or your watershed it could destroy, then it’s easy to sit back and discuss the environmental perils of tar sand extraction and its long-range delivery. Unless it’s your country being bombed and occupied by self-proclaimed “liberators”, then it’s easy to sit back and casually discuss foreign policy.

When will the time come for an all out response? Those who think we’re already there are an increasing segment of the population. Still, critical mass may take awhile, and there is such a thing as too late.

To conclude this week’s LWPS, a selection from my personal archives:


lately i’ve wondered
about evil
more specifically, about whether it fills the gaps in my understanding
of why
violent death and our cold indifference keeps getting worse and worse

usually i shake off devils and the limited concept of god that stems
from books
but lately i’ve wondered about evil in the real sense of it stalking us and
the question
the question of origin keeps nibbling all my edges

the structures when they pancaked spread on airwaves and damaged minds—
evil, utter evil
pinned on wild tribal lands, on Islam, on the rising eastern sun, on terrorists
so we kill
and by that killing suffer peripheral discomforts of conscience from time
to time

maybe when the towers fell something deep within us rose up
and nothing
not torture, rape, severed limbs, smoldering craters, or dogs eating corpses
will penetrate
the dark swirl of impending storm we feel testing the bend of our branches
and our fear
of how easily, when the wind kicks up, they will break.

  1. Ingemar Johansson

    Remember, “Starry, Starry Night?

    Tarry, tarry sands
    Keep your oil far away
    Send it over to Cathay
    For guys to befoul and spoil that shit hole.
    Pipelines in the hills,.
    Crush the trees and the daffodils,
    Pumps so loud with sound that kills
    Wildlife in the snowy northern lands.

    Now we don’t understand what makes an economy,
    So you’ll suffer for our purity,
    Can’t afford to have you free.
    We will not listen, we do not know how.
    Perhaps we’ll have a cow.*

    *Apologies to Don MacLean

    I might’ve posted this before, fits better here.

  2. lizard19

    what we take
    we can’t put back
    what fuels us now
    will fuel collapse

    deny, make fun
    your head in sand
    the world is changing
    and your plan?

    keep doing what’s been done before
    keep taking, raping, and waging war

    the economy of unlimited growth
    is like a cancer that will kill the host

  3. Turner

    I really like Auden’s poem, “In Memory of W.B. Yeats.” It contains a nice meditation on the place of poetry in a world of important-seeming events. A line from it, “poetry makes nothing happen,” is often interpreted as a statement about the powerlessness of poetry. Its actual, pretty complex meaning relies, of course, on its context in Auden’s poem.

  4. Ingemar Johansson

    The Codfish lie dead in the ocean
    The bluefish lie dead in the sea
    They all died from water pollution
    Caused by the oil company

    Don’t fish
    Don’t swim
    Remember the bluefish and cod and cod

    Its not our sea
    Exxon leased it from God.

  5. lizard19

    Auden is a poet I’m just now beginning to become familiar with; thanks for pointing me in the direction of the poem (read it here).

    the way the natural world is brought into the poem echoes an excerpt I was going to include in the post, but couldn’t fit in, but it seems appropriate now.

    this is from a chapter of Felstiner’s Can Poetry Save the Earth looking at the poetry of Denise Levertov:

    Wherever calamity takes place, nature holds out someplace to turn. Yeats counters the violent Irish rebellion with a “living stream,” moorhens calling moorcocks. Edward Thomas tracks a kestrel overhead the week German shells kill him in 1917. From World War I trenches, Isaac Rosenberg hears “night ringing with unseen larks.” If you ask “why his poems / don’t tell us of dreams, and leaves, / and great volcanoes in his native land,” writes Pablo Neruda (another inspiration for Levertov), “Come see / the blood in the streets” of Spain’s civil war. Robert Lowell fearing nuclear war gazes at an “orange and black / oriole’s swinging nest.” An Arab woman’s “kilo of ripe figs” counterbalances the day’s crushing news in Shirley Kaufman’s Jerusalem.

    Levertov’s Vietnam-era collection The Sorrow Dance struggles to imagine how once, “water buffalo stepped surely along terraces” and “peaceful clouds were reflected in the paddies.” Then “bombs smashed those mirrors.”

    Yes, this is the knowledge that jostles for space
    in our bodies along with all we
    go on knowing of joy, of love.

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