Sunday, 7 November 2010

Poetry activism: An interview with American poet Mike Prime author of Don't Burn the Flag. Wash it!

Interviewed by Iqbal Tamimi

Mark Prime is one of many American poets who have chosen to use poetry and cyber activism to put out the fires created by wars. Online activism in all forms is spreading world wide. I have been introduced to poets such as Michael R. Burch, Walid Khazindar, Richard Jones, Nessa O'Mahony, Farrah Sarafa, Zamin Jafari and many others through the cybersphere. Online activism has always impressed me. These poets and many more turned to new media to repaint the world in humane compassionate colours through poetry. But the question remains, can words that dance with a rhythm win the war against guns and rockets? Can poetry stand against heavy artillery that shreds the flesh of innocent children? Can the sound of reason silence the sounds of shells exploding? Many questions were on my mind whilst I read Mike Prime’s poems, and I wondered what the reaction of Palestinian mothers whose children have been burned by the American-made white phosphorus would be, if they heard what this American poet has to say. How would South Lebanese mothers, who lost their children to American-made cluster bombs, feel if they read what Prime, the poet, the father, and the American citizen has to say? If Iraqi widows read his poetry, would they stop crying?

Prime’s book of poems Don't Burn the Flag. Wash it! was first published in paperback in 2005, then 2006 and reprinted again in April 2007, yet every message contained in these 174 pages are still relevant and as potent as ever as a reminder of the need to rinse out the gunpowder through compassion. Cheryl Ann Bach wrote in her review of Prime’s book: “This book is an incredible work of art!! His words have taken me through all aspects of this emotional roller coaster administration we are currently living through. The expressive prose always reminds of where we have been and what took us to this cesspool democracy/corporatism. He is one of the brightest, sharpest minds speaking out against the injustices today in America”. Belacqua Jones wrote: “Mark Prime's poetry is not for the weak of heart. His poetry fleshes out the blood and tragedy of war in language that is both vivid and concrete as it brings to life war's gore and carnage, the blindness of its perpetrators and the toll it takes on women and children. His slender volume is a valuable addition to the antiwar canon.”

Prime who happens to be a member of the Palestinian Mothers’ Network writes in Trembling Loam:

Like a mother in the shadow of night we can, if we choose,
Erect a grand temple from out of our bosomed courage
And quell this; our trembling loam of mounting death!

He believes that creating peace must be a joint international effort. In Gorge he remarks:

The heart knows that war may signal our end
and that collateral damage is a coward’s phrase.

It is our hearts, not our minds;
Our rotted head makes sport of death
and our lean souls tease the dwindling wit,
pokes, jabs at our churning gut
beckoning it come sit heavy upon our will.

Our hands, feet, arms and legs
Are only told to move in rage
when the heart’s gone missing.

Children are the focal point in Mike’s poems. Read this from the Shadow's Talon:

Breathe yet tomorrow,
Struggle from under error,
Stash your spirit in freedom,
Teach your children
That bombs are the graft
Of terror.

In Of War he captures how ugly war is, and the fact that the victims are often the innocent, helpless children:

Their streets are filled with the dried bones
of brutally murdered children,
of wishes for new beginnings,
of craving for freedom's ring,
of gleaming a sovereign face,
of faith in mankind's prayer.
...Let us look upon this thing called war...

One of the advantages of online journalism and newmedia is being able to record interviews without having to travel around the globe. Here is an extract of the interview that I had with Prime on 3rd November 2010:

Tamimi: Do you believe in cyberactivism? Do you believe that creative writing and poetry can change governments' policies when it comes to wars?
Prime: Yes to both questions. Cyber-activism is certainly a mainstay of a real drive for change. It is limited only by our approach and by the majority’s ability and willingness to seek it out. Creative writing and poetry have been influencing the masses for years and have even been the things that highlighted the causes and the needs for change in governments and their foreign policies.
Poetry and creative writing, to me, have the potential to bring man to reach higher, or, at the least, seek his best moments. My poetry, even if any given poem only touches a single soul, it will have been worth it for me to have written down the words that constantly swim in my head.

Tamimi: Why did you choose this title for your book?
Prime: The book title is, or was, the tag line for my blog, Poetic Justice. Don't Burn the Flag. Wash it!, contains poetry from my early, mid-war, mid-George Bush (Jr), blogging days. It's essentially a book of protest poetry all intended to highlight the need for peace.

Tamimi: Do you think creative writing; poetry and art can complement each other and change the world when it comes to activism?
Prime: Yes, I do. The books cover is a piece of art, I am proud to say, is an original piece from my friend and associate, the artist Ben Heine who was born in Abidjan and currently lives and works in Brussels, Beljium.
is a painter, illustrator, photographer and a cartoonist who also blogs about art and human rights. His works are known around the globe.

Tamimi: Following the publication of your book, you marched towards online poetry activism, why?
Prime: My blog, Confession Zero, is still poetry, video, plays, a treatise and photomontage, but my words reflect a change of consciousness since my early works. No less a desire and push for peace, but a different tone and approach altogether. I suppose one might call it a more peaceful connection, as it were. I have been writing and posting political poetry and plays and photomontage works and activism links and peace videos since 2005 and that has not changed. I hope in some small way, or even in a significant way, I have and will continue to touch people with my words, with my creative drive.

Tamimi: What is your favourite amongst the poems you wrote for Palestine?
Prime: Oh! A favourite Palestinian topical poem I created in May 2006 is still one of my favourites. This snippet is from Canyon of the Sun

Rocks hit the side of the crawling beast
It stops and turns its cyclopean cannon,
The vile monster lurches forward
And stares into the eyes of its enemy;
Boys armed with limitless rocks
And fire in the belly

Tamimi: The first question that comes to mind, who are you addressing with your book of poems and what do you mean by washing the flag? wash away what?
Prime: Don't Burn the Flag. Wash it! means that instead of getting upset that someone might be, heaven forbid, burning a flag, one could go another route and instead wash all of the blood from it. At the time of my first blog post on Poetic Justice in 2006 I felt the flag, the US flag, had so much blood on it due in part to the occupation of Iraq and the torture and displacement of a large numbers of Iraqis, that it wouldn't be able to be burned, so... washing it could alleviate the problem. It was a wonderful phrase I found somewhere on the internet in `06 and decided it fit well with the theme.

Tamimi: Do you think that online activism, such as your efforts of poetry blogging, will replace demonstrations in the streets? would online activism be the new form of a more peaceful act of self expression to evade physical clashing with representatives of authority?
Prime: I hope it doesn't replace street demonstrations. I hope it accentuates it. My wish is that we continue to express our opinions across all available avenues; internet, grass roots, marching, voting, screaming, debating, letter writing efforts, face to face, activism of all stripes. Online activism is and can continue to be serious business, but, if it is all we use or have at our disposal, it will have been for naught.

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