How much grief is a life?/ And what can be done unless/we stand among the missing, among the murdered,/the orphaned,/our own armed children, and bear witness/
“You can’t write about character and the human condition and be apolitical—that’s not the kind of world we’ve ever lived in.”
Half broken on that smoky night,
There is no other poet like Sam Hamill.
His poem True Peace describes his reaction to the self immolation of Buddhist priest Thich Quang Duc in June 1963 in Saigon. Thich Quang Duc sat in the middle of a busy Saigon street and waited for a fellow priest to pour petrol over him. He then set himself on fire.
Thich Quang Duc was protesting religious persecution against Buddhists by the American sponsored dictator of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem. Just weeks before Diem's armed forces shot dead 9 Buddhists.
The murder of the monks and the self immolation of Thich Quang Duc set off a wave of protest against the deeply unpopular Diem regime, which triggered a US inspired coup approved by President John F Kennedy to overthrow the Diem regime in November 1963. The coup and overthrow of the Diem regime paved the way for escalation of US involvement in the second Vietnam War.
Sam Hamill is a distinguished American poet and political activist.
Hamill is an outspoken and campaigning poet who has produced nearly 20 volumes of poetry and edited even more. Hamill acknowledges the influence of the Beat poets and also Zen Buddhism on his poetry.
As a young man, Hamill served in the US army as the result of a court sentence.
He is an avowed pacifist who has taught in prisons and has worked actively with women and children affected by domestic violence.
He founded and ran Copper Canyon Press for 32 years, one of the US's most innovative poetry publishers and has also translated Japanese, Chinese, Greek, Latin and Estonian poetry.
In January 2003 he was invited to the Bush White House by the President's wife Laura Bush as part of a poetry symposium. Hamill refused to attend in protest against Bush policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. He went on to establish Poets against War, a global movement against war, to speak out about wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hamill called for poets to submit poems for an anthology of poetry protesting against the wars. The anthology proved to be the largest single theme poetry anthology in history, comprising 30,000 poems by 26,000 poets. 12th February 2003 became a day of poetry against the war.
Hamill's actions inspired 135 poetry readings and events throughout the US and lead to the establishment of the website Poets Against the War.
His poetry has been translated widely with recent translations in France, Egypt, Italy and Argentina. A Collected Volume of his work titled Habitations: Collected Poems, spanning nearly half a century of writing was published in 2014.
He presently lives in Port Townsend, Washington, and Buenos Aires. Recent interviews and article featuring Sam Hamill are here, here, here and here