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Dreaming the End of War (06 Edition)by Benjamin Saenz
Synopses & ReviewsPlease note that used books may not include additional media (study guides, CDs, DVDs, solutions manuals, etc.) as described in the publisher comments.
This gripping suite of twelve dreams, infused with the conflict along the border of Mexico and the United States, traces humanity’s addiction to violence and killing—from boys stepping on ants to men shooting animals, men shooting women, men shooting enemies. The Dreams begin in a desert landscape where poverty and wealth grate against each other, and the ever present war becomes “as invisible as the desert sands we trample on.” The dreams, however, move toward a greater peace with Sáenz providing an unforgettable reading experience.
From “The Fourth Dream: Families and Flags and Revenge”:
I don’t believe a flag
enough to kiss—
or even burn.
Some men would hate me
enough to kill me
if they read these words.
“Rage,” Sáenz said in an interview, “must be a component of any writer’s life. But this rage must also be contained—otherwise our very bodies will become chaos—our minds will become chaos. We need order.” Sáenz finds that order in poems, transforming his rage into something “more beautiful and gracious and forgiving.”
Poet and novelist Benjamin Sáenz has written 10 books of poetry and prose, most recently In Perfect Light (HarperCollins). He was a Catholic priest, doing missionary and charity work in London, Tanzania, and the barrio parishes of El Paso, Texas. Upon leaving the priesthood, he was awarded a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. He teaches in the MFA program at University of Texas, El Paso.
"Divided into twelve 'dreams,' Sáenz's direct and moving book-length poem traces the outline of his own life-he was raised Mexican-American in New Mexico, and has now settled in El Paso along the same border-as it highlights his own commitment to nonviolence, in verse that includes, but goes beyond, topical protest. To do so, Sáenz explores violence: by terrorists against civilians, by law enforcement personnel against immigrants, by consumers and companies against the animals we take for our food. Acclaimed as a YA author as well as a poet, Sáenz (Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood) seeks and sometimes finds an ethical clarity and a heartfelt tone that suggests, variously, William Stafford, and Li-Young Lee. 'I dream my sisters and brothers/ have no debts,' Sáenz writes, 'I dream that all/ the wars are done,' 'that/ nations do not matter.'" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
" Political poetry today is, as ever, a vexed enterprise. On one side are those who feel that poetry is no place for politics; they cleave to W.H. Auden's famous statement that 'poetry makes nothing happen.' But others interpret Auden entirely differently, citing some of his own more expressly political poetry, and declaring that the poetic impulse is inherently an activist one, a call to... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) community engagement, a deeply empathetic gesture that demands we consider our human interrelationships on individual, societal and even global levels. Great poets sit on both sides of this potentially charged divide: One thinks of Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost and James Merrill as ostensibly apolitical poets, while June Jordan, Pablo Neruda and Muriel Rukeyser immediately come to mind as writers whose social consciousness is more explicit. In the United States, the debate over the purpose of poetry has only become more heated in recent decades, when poets have called attention to themselves by opposing the wars in Korea, Vietnam and now Iraq. Just a few years back, a small group of American poets created a stir (and garnered more media attention than poetry is used to receiving) by, in protest of her husband's Iraq policy, refusing Laura Bush's invitation to attend a poetry symposium she planned to host at the White House. Now known as 'Poets Against War,' they have grown into an important grassroots pacifist movement, organizing dissident readings and posting on their well-trafficked Web site (www.poetsagainstthewar.org) hundreds of antiwar poems. As I read these three collections of poems — Benjamin Alire Saenz's 'Dreaming the End of War,' Denise Levertov's posthumous 'Making Peace' and Jean L. Connor's 'A Cartography of Peace' — I was most struck by the rich diversity of voices in American poetry, which itself seems emblematic of our nation's greatness. Taken together, these books are not so much an argument against war as they are testimony to our abiding desire for peace. These poets, even at their angriest moments, ask questions rather than impose beliefs; in their invitation to dialogue, even at its most provocative, we find compassion (for wounded soldiers and their families, for innocent civilian casualties, even for the reviled enemy), which is precisely the opposite of what some who espouse fundamentalism and terrorism seek to incite in us. 'Shove the world into a couplet' Saenz's 'Dreaming the End of War' is perhaps most directly relevant to our current moment. A former Catholic priest, this poet creates prayerful verse that is at once mystical and utterly human. In a series of 'dreams,' he investigates the very origins of human conflict: These meditations, which take place in the stark desert borderland between Mexico and the United States (in turn a metaphor for the borders between consciousness and unconsciousness and the corporeal and spiritual worlds), posit a primal tendency to divide ourselves. Saenz also crosses the boundary between the personal and the political, recognizing in his own experiences the seeds of violence that he so abhors in U.S. government policies. He goes so far as to question poetry's capacity for mediating such profound discord: I live in the century of aesthetics. Though I can take a thought and dress it up Then take it out to eat, and then pretend That alexandrine couplets are my friends; Alone, my thoughts are wrinkled and unpressed, And I take my clothes off so I can rest -- My thoughts are more important than the dress. Though I can take a word and make it rhyme, I cannot shove the world into a couplet. Ultimately, Saenz critiques the notion that poetry is not a suitable container for political outrage; the almost mocking, sing-song feeling of these lines contrasts ironically with nearly all the rest of the book, which consists of fragmented, unrhymed, explosive language, plainly emblematic of the brokenness of our war-ravaged Earth. If poetry can save us, he implies, it must be a poetry free of artifice and politeness. The most compelling section of the book is the last, in which Saenz achieves a kind of reconciliation among his warring inner selves and, on a larger scale, comes to grips with his identity as a Mexican-American, his relative success and what he has experienced as a citizen of what he sees as an oppressive, warmongering country. Weaving together the salient presences from the previous 11 poems — including his lost childhood dog, the anonymous illegal immigrants who die trying to cross the Rio Grande, the animals we exploit that in Mexican folklore await us in the afterlife — he creates a kind of resurrection in lines that evoke the cleansing ritual of baptism; the hope for peace lies in the empathetic identification with the other, as embodied in the entirely innocent love we receive from our pets, which carries the poet — who has become the illegal, hated 'everyman' immigrant — across the border to safety. 'The disasters numb within us' Many of the poems in a new short anthology of Denise Levertov's work, 'Making Peace,' are more standard antiwar fare. Written primarily during Vietnam and the Persian Gulf war, they are at times more strident and self-righteous than anything in Saenz's collection. Levertov is at her best when she resists the urge to clobber us with her indignation. The wonderful beginning of 'Writing in the Dark,' for example, shows us much about writing poems during such gloomy times: 'It's not difficult./ Anyway, it's necessary.// Wait till morning, and you'll forget./And who knows if morning will come.' The brief moment of humor in the opening couplet contrasts brutally with the blunt truth of what follows — how little we remember of Vietnam, it seems, when faced with the enormity of each succeeding threat, each new bloody conflict. That fear of tomorrow never coming is largely dispelled by the best poems in this book, which fill the last section. Included here is a part of her longer poem, 'An Interim,' in which the adolescent speaker's mother takes her to the beach to recover from measles: She read aloud from George Eliot, while I half-dozed and played with pebbles. Or I read to myself Richard Jefferies' 'The Story of My Heart,' which begins in such majesty. I was mean and grouchy much of the time, but she forgave me, and years later remembered only the peace of that time. The quiet there is in listening. Peace could be that grandeur, that dwelling in majestic presence, attuned to the great pulse. What Levertov proposes here is greatly reassuring. In narration and in our ability to listen, which she locates in closest proximity to that ongoing, innermost story told by our own heartbeats, we can attain the 'grandeur' that is peace. 'Those unexpected words of thanks' Such soft-spoken glory is frequently present in the octogenarian poet Jean L. Connor's collection, 'A Cartography of Peace.' She makes her case for peace with an armamentarium as humble as a bee's buzz, a snowfall's chill and the 'hunger (and) shyness' of her garden's roses. Most of the poems in this remarkable first collection are simple lyrics, and yet they build toward a stubborn insistence on our reliance upon one another. (With whom else can we share the world's beauty and sorrow?) So peace is born not by choice or coercion but by necessity. With each of these poets, the leap of faith made through language — in the hope that we will be heard and understood and what we have to say matters to others — in turn engenders peace. Take, for example, Connor's poem 'Possibly a Crow': Something about the slow wingbeat, the size, the print of black against the low gray sky; the bird's entering, but even more, his leaving, an absence marked by the sudden widening out of space, the sky still receptive to brush strokes of black long after they have ended. Then, peace, soft, akin to mist-like rain and in the quiet, the deepened need to go on. Connor makes a singular beauty of the receding blackness of the ominous bird. Peace, for this superb poet, is our ability to make sense out of fear, to make care and feeling from our own inescapable, insatiable needs. Rafael Campo is a poet, physician, essayist and critic. His latest collection of poetry is 'Landscape with Human Figure.' " Reviewed by Rafael Campo, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
Acclaimed novelist and poet Sáenz creates an emotionally charged poem-cycle that moves beyond vengeance into understanding
Poetry. This gripping suite of 12 dreams, infused with the conflict along the border of Mexico and the United States, traces humanity's addiction to violence and killing--from boys stepping on ants to men shooting animals, men shooting women, men shooting enemies. The dreams begin in a desert landscape where poverty and wealth grate against each other, and the ever-present war becomes "as invisible as the desert sands we trample on." The dreams, however, move toward a greater peace, with Saenz providing an unforgettable reading experience.
About the Author
A former Catholic priest, Benjamin Sáenz, has published five books of poetry, four novels, a collection of short stories, and two bilingual children's books. He received the American Book Award, and teaches in the MFA program at University of Texas, El Paso.
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