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Women's voices against war

Martha Ostheimer is one of the poets who will read her work at "Women's Voices Against War." The war inspired her poem, "Pressing the Deal for Pretty."
By Lisa Schumaier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday March 27, 2003

At the end of Alison Deming's literary nonfiction workshop Tuesday, she urged her students to use their talents to write some of their thoughts on the war. This was after an hour-long discussion on the topic. "Language has been the central event in human evolution" is a quote from the professor stapled all over Tucson on a flyer. So it is not surprising that she felt the necessity to open her workshop to critique of a different kind: war in Iraq. It is a story many of her students were not willing to claim.

The flier promotes Women's Voices Against War, a poetry reading that takes place this Friday at 7p.m. at Biblio, 222 E. Congress St., a relatively new bookstore downtown. Martha Ostheimer is one of the nine well-published poets that will be reading. She wrote a poem after being inspired by Poets Against War, an online movement that calls forth poetry condemning war.

"The Web site began when Sam Hammil invited all his poet friends to write an anti-war protest which he then submitted to the White House. Laura Bush was planning a symposium at the time on Emily Dickenson but when he started inundating her with all these poetry protests she canceled the symposium because she didn't want that to be the forum. From then on he knew he had something," Ostheimer said. "The last time I checked the Web site they had 15,000 submissions."

Ostheimer brought her idea to a board meeting at Kore Press, a nonprofit publishing house that is named for the idea that women are agents of change. They have printed works by Deming as well other established and emerging writers. Known for experimental and collaborative pieces, Kore appeared to be an ideal stage for a forum the First Lady had rejected.

"I realized there was hardly any poetry being read in Tucson that speaks about the war. After writing my poem I met with Lisa Bowden, founder of Kore, and said we should do something and make it relevant to this particular time," Ostheimer said.

"The title is ╬Pressing the Deal for Pretty.' In the poem I am juxtaposing what is really happening in the world with all these artificial things that are still going on. It speaks to the absurdity we are living in."

Ostheimer and Kore took their proposal to Maggie Golston, owner of Biblio.

"I felt like I couldn't not do something about what was going on, and Kore is another small independent and we felt that joining forces would increase the scope and breadth of our audience," Golston said. "In addition, Biblio has a commitment to local as well as women authors anyway. It is so important to keep art viable and in the public eye in whatever way possible."

"Women's voices should be heard but this is not a reaction to the war. We organized this several weeks before the war. It is women's reaction to all injustices," Ostheimer said. "The poems do not have to be politically overt ¸ it can be a lyric about love and still be appropriate. We are just trying to deal with the moment of time we are in."

In fact, the poem that Golston will read does not address the current conflict.

"My poem is about issues of Proto-Fascism and the dangers of democracy which I see fraying every day. It has been happening long before Sept. 11 and only worsening," Golston said.

An acceptable belief seems to have ravaged many of the pro-peace students around campus. It goes something like this: It is futile to object now that bombs are actually dropping, so we may as well rely on Aaron Brown at CNN. We begin to sit back and watch.

"It seems that much more crucial to provide alternative voices to the dominate voices on television. This has been something I have battled with since I opened," Golston said. "We carry mainly left wing political books. Before the bombs fell, our best seller was "Stupid White Men." I feel like this book store is a way of expressing myself and part of that is informing people about the dangers of this administration."

Imagining a protest does not usually include a bunch of chairs lined up on a nice wooden floor. Change is not typically envisioned with flowering broadsides and a bouquet of all the colorful bindings of different books that will surround the podium at Biblio. For many, a poetry reading may feel too passive, but time and time again we are reminded of the ultimate authority of words. It is an authority elected by many Americans because it is the only authority that is representing the people.

"The fact that these poems are being written against the war necessitates their dissention. The tradition of dissent, which has been so horribly trampled on by Bush when he said that if you weren't with him you were with the enemy, is horrifying to me," Golston said. "Protest is so crucial in a democracy and the corporatization of media has been so detrimental to free speech the last couple decades that film and television won't do it anymore. So it will in fact be silly poetry readings and little bookstores that will represent dissent in this country."

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