by Tom Kerr
In a new book anthology, Birthed from Scorched Hearts: Women Respond to War (Fulcrum Books 2008), the phenomenon of war is insightfully explored by more than 60 award-winning women writers. War, as experienced, observed and defined by the writers, is skillfully interrogated with wisdom and unapologetic honesty.
Editor and compiler MariJo Moore, also a contributor, explains her motivation for creating the anthology in an introduction: “These writings will go deep into readers psyches, past the nonverbal consent caused by desensitization, to reawaken and bring to the surface the innate realization that we are all involved in the historical and recent events concerning war; that no one is insulated from these issues; that everyone has experienced the realities of war in some way.”
Women often have different perspectives of war than men, so Moore asked women writers from across the world to consider war, while pondering this question: “If you could converse with a woman any woman living or deceased who suffered from war, what would you ask”
Their responses, in both poetry and prose, comprise this anthology.
Some describe public battles or ideological warfare; others delve into the nature of private internal conflicts and personal fights to recover from loss. Contributors include Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!; Paula Gunn Allen, author of the groundbreaking book The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions; and Matilde Urrutia, a writer, singer, and political activist who was the inspiration for many of poet Pablo Nerudas greatest works.
From the mythical Medusa to the circa 60 CE Celtic warrior Boudicca and Underground Railroad leader Harriet Tubman, women describe how and why they endured the grim realities of war. Writer Christine Stark introduces her contribution (“Youre White”) by saying, “I wrote (this piece) to bear witness to the atrocities committed on this land. I wrote it for those who did not survive. I wrote it for those still being hurt in these ways. And I wrote it for the ancestors. The truth matters.”
Writers tell about experiences in the bombing of Dresden, the persecutions of fascist dictators, the atrocities perpetuated by secret police and the violent insanity of previously gentle friends and family members who returned home traumatized from combat. In her piece “The Call,” writer Stacy Bannerman explains: “People have become more, not less, violent, and there hasn’t been a single year since WWII that some countries, somewhere, weren’t at war.”
One poem gives voice to a woman giving birth while incarcerated, another grieves the loss of a battle against cancer. Nancy Jackson explains in “How Could It Be” that “War can take many forms other than nation against nation. Many personal wars are fought; one that is being fought by millions of people is the cancer war. Once it begins, the battles are numerous.”
Barbara-Helen Hill (“War Is Never Done!”) describes how “People in our communities are often at war with each other over their powerlessness when it comes to the high unemployment or the lack of services. There are also the problems that are results of ethnostress and internalized racism…”
Along the way, these women impart wisdom to help teach us how to defang the tendency for war from within our individual and collective DNA. They show how a war is different from a battle how wars are never isolated to the battlefield trenches or to the blood that is shed between soldiers. War also moves across the land and through future generations to spread disease, devastation, and horrific inhumanity in ways that are simultaneously physical, emotional, spiritual, and cultural. War is not merely the absence of peace, and peace will never be thoroughly experienced by only burying the hatchet and the gun. Every war rises up from a foundation of prerequisite lies, prejudices, and myths that are necessary to justify unspeakable acts of inhumanity. These writers as word warriors help to debunk the vital immoral premise of war and slay its cruel hype and blatant hypocrisy.
In a poem “After Reading Women on War,” Pat Falk writes that, “The places and the weapons vary but the terror is the same the unimagined pain the same.”
Birthed from Scorched Hearts will make some readers feel uncomfortably guilty or outright ignorant. Others will feel heard, vindicated, empowered or inspired to reevaluate their perception of war and their passive acceptance of it within society. All readers have the rare opportunity to question the current human condition with a view toward the betterment of all.
Birthed from Scorched Hearts, complied and edited by MariJo Moore is available from Fulcrum Books.
January 5, 2009
Tom Kerr is a freelance writer based in Asheville, North Carolina.