TV Guide

Rick King, 2005

Our Rating: 3.5 stars


Little did Laura Bush realize that organizing a January 2003 symposium to celebrate the great American poets Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman would open a can of worms that would soon lead to the abrupt cancelation of the entire affair. The guests were to include widely published poet Sam Hamill who, like so many others, could not believe the first lady planned to celebrate three so politically charged writers at the very moment when her husband was gearing up to "liberate" Iraq. Hamill forwarded the invitation to some 50 fellow poets with the request that they contribute short, to-the-point verses protesting the coming war, which Hamill intended to compile and forward to Mrs. Bush. Over the next 36 hours, Hamill received more than 1500 submissions and posted them to his web site, "Poets Against the War." The announcement that Mrs. Bush's symposium, ironically titled "Poetry and the American Voice," had been canceled followed shortly after. It seems the American voice preparing itself to be heard was one the White House wasn't interested in hearing.

Inspired by that debacle — and featuring a number of Hamill's contributing poets — this haunting documentary offers an emotionally charged survey of poetry motivated by wars past and all too present. It features works whose authors range from Homer, Tennyson and less monumental military poets like Wilfred Owen to the writings of soldiers currently stationed in Iraq.

The trauma of war, however, isn't restricted to combatants. Witness "Summer Poppy," a beautiful, forlorn verse in which poet Emily Warn mourns the death of her father, a D-Day paratrooper who returned home a shattered man and died, drunk, in a frozen ditch at the age of 53. Also see "My Portion Is Defeat Today," in which Dickinson, from her little room in Amherst, Mass., imagines the desolation of the conquered soldier.

Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox Jr. teaches poetry at West Point, hoping it will help cadets appreciate the full meaning of war. Poetry, he says, is the literary form best suited to capturing the intense, often contradictory emotions of battlefield experiences that noncombatants can never entirely comprehend. That vividness is a compelling reason for this short documentary — filled with some of the most powerful poetry and shattering images ever to come out of warfare — to be required viewing for any one who believes him- or herself outside war's reach.  — Ken Fox


Country of Origin:




Color or b/w:

Color/Black & White

Production Co(s).:

Two Careys Productions

Released By:

Cinema Libre Studio

MPAA Rating:


Parental Rating:

Cautionary; some scenes objectionable

Running Time: