Most poetry ignores most people

Courtesy The NEWS, Pakistan

The shadow poet

Adrian Mitchell died on December 21, 2008 in London. A prolific poet, novelist and playwright, he was perhaps best known for saying “most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.” He was a strongly committed anti-war poet and wrote extensively against Vietnam and Iraq wars.

Norman Morrison

On November 2nd 1965

in the multi-colored multi-minded

United beautiful States of terrible America

Norman Morrison set himself on fire

outside the Pentagon.

He was thirty-one, he was a Quaker,

and his wife (seen weeping in the newsreels)

and his three children

survive him as best they can.

He did it in Washington where everyone could see


people were being set on fire

in the dark corners of Vietnam where nobody could see

Their names, ages, beliefs and loves

are not recorded.

This is what Norman Morrison did.

He poured petrol over himself.

He burned. He suffered.

He died.

That is what he did

in the white heart of Washington

where everyone could see.

He simply burned away his clothes,

his passport, his pink-tinted skin,

put on a new skin of flame

and became




dark brown eyes

scanning dusty tarmac

a boy on a swing

head down

mouth humming

a boy swinging intensely

before dust he must go

to his grandmother’s house

on the edge of the city

alone on a swing

thinking on a swing

a boy

his mother will stay home

she won’t go to the shelter

people here are afraid of shelters

they remember last time

the chains of the swing

they clang they creak

the boy’s head fills

with explosions

a boy on a swing

This poem was written during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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