Peace activist sheds light on ‘the ink of human darkness’
AFTER the election of Donald Trump earlier this year, the hands of the Doomsday Clock — calculated by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — were reset at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight.
This is the clock’s second-closest approach to midnight since its introduction in 1947.
Yet, 72 years after the US dropped nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing over 200,000 men, women and children, only 122 countries could be found to endorse the new UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
These, of course, do not include any of the nuclear powers. Russia and the US are currently modernising their strategic nuclear forces, North Korea claims that its nuclear missiles are now capable of attacking the US “any place, any time” and Trump threatens North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
These kind of foolish boasts are what Antony Owen calls the “speeches of men playing Gods,” written in “the ink of human darkness.”
Owen is a CND Peace Foundation patron who teaches peace education in Britain’s schools. The Nagasaki Elder (V Press, £9.99) is his fifth collection of poems and his best yet.
He started writing the book after a visit to Japan to hear the testimonies of the hibakusha (“explosion-affected people”) who survived the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On Hiroshima Day last month, Owen read from the book at Coventry Cathedral, accompanied by a violinist from Coventry’s twin city Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad).
His book has the inspired ferocity and prophetic fury of those British poets like Edith Sitwell, Randall Swingler, EP Thompson, James Kirkup and Adrian Mitchell who have protested so eloquently against nuclear weapons.
Owen describes a hellish world of “unforgettable fire,” “black rain” and the “ruined corn.”
Here is a shadow “that once cast a boy,” there is a playground where “children vanished into black magic,” human remains are like “Pompeii ornaments,” the world’s empires are “realms of pot-bellied maggots.”
There are some fine individual poems, notably How to Survive a Nuclear Winter, To Feed a Nagasaki Starling and The Stars That Wandered Hiroshima. One of the most memorable is The Art of War:
“The old Hiroshima trees in autumn scratch the ill wind till it bleeds in time for spring when the dead each blow a petal and their fragrant inferno engulfs a man coughing blossoms of blood from weak boughs of bone... when spring leaves Hiroshima, all that remains of trees are fingers of the dead, holding birds that swept across sky like ashes, throwing their urn of shrieks to a scarlet sun... Every year the cherry blossoms get redder and a zephyr sighs as they fall...”
In the second half of the book, Owen writes about Basra, the bombing of Dresden, the Coventry Blitz and British tabloid hostility to refugees: “Those who fight refugees from coming into the country forget that not so long ago... we were called evacuees; it means the same thing”
And he reminds us that: “The new talk was exodus,/children sent from Coventry,/clasping umbilical gas masks tighter than their mothers... there is no love rationed when a child is cleaved from their kin.”
The book ends with two pages filled with lines of black dots, each representing one of the 2,058 nuclear tests conducted since 1945. Owen points out that it would need another seven pages of black dots to represent the number of nuclear weapons in the world today.