David Ray & The Great American Poem

I said I wanted to be a
writer, editor,
and teacher,
and, as Gary Snyder said
in “Hay for the Horses,”
that’s what I’ve gone and done.

David Ray Griffin’s evidence is hard to refute,

but Bush

(like Truman kept out of F.D.R.’s loop during the Manhattan Project)

may not have known what was going on.

We do know that men like Cheney and Rumsfeld

were eager for a casus belli for the war they’d already planned.

I am always awed by the ease with which most people ignore what they don’t want to see.

Evil relies on the denial and “positive thinking” of the masses.

F.D. Reeve writes:
"There is nothing like this book in American poetry today, for it is the skilled work of a craftsman whose fine ear and deft control distinguish every poem, all of which cry out against the barbarism of war and the stupid cruelties of those who make it. From the clever metaphoric transition of "The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" to the deeply moving elegy to Wilfred Owen, this collection of intense lyrics shines with intelligence and passion."

Anselm Hollo: "In a time of imperial wars abroad and religious wars at home, David Ray's eloquent meditations speak to all who hope and work for change."

Philip Schultz: "Zbigniew Herbert uses irony to mask his great vulnerability in the face of oppression. David Ray uses a detached classicism to distance himself (and us) from the present horror. But the outrage is there, and the great sadness. I admire these poems, and his courage in writing them."

Dear Mike,

A confidential source in Washington has sent me a copy of this prayer which seems to be a text written by our former President, George W. Bush. I didn't know he enjoyed reading poetry like the one that evidently inspired him, one of my favorites by Philip Larkin.
I do not know if W. actually delivered this prayer upon his knees, but if so perhaps he did not pray hard enough. It's all a mystery. As you know, the war's being moved over now, so maybe there'll be some more prayers aimed at it, who knows?

Obamaly Yours,



After John Betjeman’s “In Westminster Cathedral.”

Let me in this holy place
upon my padded knees
thank you, Lord, in this case,
for Victory, when you please.
My troops upon the distant sands
have nobly pursued the Muslim bands.

But I need much more support
for my latest surge, although
I know that You, God, are with us,
just testing our faith which now
and then wavers and must wait,
since you are frequently late.

With due respect, I must point out
that on some days I wonder
if you’re asleep at the wheel.
Where’s your lightning and thunder
that would scare the bejesus
out of hordes who disrespect us?

They blow up our Hummers
and shoot back at our men.
And why, I ask, do you permit
attacks on our brave women
and let the terrorists persist
in their attempts to resist?

Please bless my Legacy,
for if Satan should win
and we are obliged to retreat
he’ll get a vote for every sin.
If you give him a chance
all his devils will dance.

When I said “Bring ‘em on!”
I did not mean for a thousand
years like You Know Who did.
And Lord, just think of tears
poor widows shed for sons
who have bled in your holy war.

My troops upon the sands
have chased your Muslim foe
but in their filthy cities
as you know, they still hold out.
With due respect, Lord, you
allow too many of them to be born.

I must remind you, Lord, it is
your crusade as well as mine
and our pious Christian nation’s.
So please help us, I humbly plead,
with more concern for our Occupation.

It is in your hands and interest, Lord,
to bring about swift Victory, and I do
mean sooner, not later, lest I lose
that well-deserved Legacy. I know,
Lord, that You mean well, but to
be frank, you have led us into holy hell.


Your Humble and Obedient President,
George W. Bush

(c) 2009 by David Ray

Listen to David Ray reading poems:

Recent books:
"After Tagore: Poems Inspired by Rabindranath Tagore"
"Music of Time: Selected & New Poems"

New American Dream Interview

DAVID RAY, 76, is an American poet and author of fiction, essays, and memoir.

He is particularly noted for poems that, while being rooted in the personal, also show a strong social concern.

Ray is the author of twenty-one volumes of poetry, the most recent being "When" (2007), "Music of Time: Selected and New Poems" (2006) and The Death of Sardanapalus and Other Poems of the Iraq Wars (2004). A new volume, "After Tagore: Poems Inspired by Rabindranath Tagore" has just been released (2008).

Ray has taught at several colleges in the United States, including Cornell University, Reed College, the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, and the University of Missouri-Kansas-City, where he is professor emeritus.

He has also taught in India, New Zealand, and Australia, and has published books inspired by the cultures of each country.

Among other prizes, including an N.E.A. fellowship for fiction and five P.E.N. Newspaper Syndicate Awards for short stories, David Ray is a two-time winner of the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America.

He and his wife, poet and essayist Judy Ray, live in Tucson, Arizona.


The New American Dream Trivia Question

To win a round button that says, “Bush Is Lying About What He Knew,”
be the first one to correctly answer the following.

David Ray would rather be:

a. Back in Sapulpa, headed to Tulsa, with a harmonica and the clothes on his back

Drinking brewskies with Bukowski, in Boise

c. Somewhere with weather

d. Meeting Karl Rove in the alley behind the Chicago Bar on East Speedway Blvd

e. Reading to the masses in Washington Square Park

f. Visiting Bush every week in Leavenworth to read him poems from “Sardanapalus”

g. A high school sports reporter in Oklahoma City



Near the end of his reign
King George appeared
in the ruined city
to proclaim his pride
in having destroyed it.

Oddly, the citizens
did not applaud
their unwelcome visitor
this time, and one
even flung a shoe at him,
a protest long overdue.

Yet no one dragged
the tyrant out
into the squalid streets
and rubbed his face in the blood.

(c) 2008 by David Ray

NAD: David, hello, thank you for taking the time for this.

What was the name of your high school?

Tucson High School

NAD: What was the school mascot name?

It was and still is a Badger, but I don’t know its name.

NAD: What was on the list of activities under your senior picture in the yearbook?

Astronomy, chemistry, Latin, and English, I’m pretty sure.

My book reviews sometimes appeared, as I was reminded decades later at a class reunion, in the school paper, The Cactus Chronicle.

I had a short story in a local magazine, Vista. In other words I’ve been in a rut all along, which seems fine as long as there’s more joy in it than pain that comes out of it.

NAD: What did you start out wanting to be?


Professor Donald Bond in his Eighteenth Century Lit Class at the U. of Chicago asked us on the last day of class to write a page on what we wanted to be. I said I wanted to be a writer, editor, and teacher and, as Gary Snyder said in “Hay for the Horses,” that’s what I’ve gone and done.

NAD: Is there still time?


You’d have to ask the doc.

It would still be dreamy to get some of my (completed and in-progress) unpublished books out, and be welcomed some of the places where I decidedly am not, but dreams recede at a remarkable rate, just as time speeds up at a scary rate as we get older.

NAD: Why do you do what you do, in six lines or less. Eight?


I try to live up to Epictetus’ counsel (as I’ve quoted for years, going back to my first Who’s Who in America entry): “We cannot make others admire us. We must look to the curing of ourselves.”

I’ve tried desperately to accept and follow that advice, but clearly it is beyond my grasp.

“Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost,” wrote Henry James, but I’d like not to heed that advice.

I’m far too burdened with what should be disregarded or ignored if one is to survive, and be accepted.

I am always awed by the ease with which most people ignore what they don’t want to see.

Evil relies on the denial and “positive thinking” of the masses.


Pedophiles lure their cute prey
with candy and promise
of Disney World or carnivals
and a ride in a glitzy car
while recruiters roam halls
of high schools and seduce
with money and future tuition
and a chance to tour the world
dressed in handsome uniforms.

There is not one word of warning
that the return journey may well
be in a flag-covered casket
so beautiful that it is no wonder
kids volunteer to play the game
just to hide in that darkness
and upon arrival back home
pop up and surprise the hell
out of folks and may them all cry
for the rest of their lives, make
them all cry for the rest of their lives.

(c) 2009 by David Ray

NAD: Would you like to choose one of these to answer, elaborate on?

We don’t ask this to make fun. We ask because we really seek the answers.

Did Bush knock down the towers?


I wrote a lot of poems and essays about 9/11, some of which were in The Death of Sardanapalus and three anthologies that were entirely ignored though they had some terrific writing in them by better known folks than myself, but I don’t know that the truth will come out in our lifetime.

(My essay was in September 11, 2001: American Poets Respond.)

David Ray Griffin’s evidence is hard to refute, but Bush (like Truman kept out of F.D.R.’s loop during the Manhattan Project) may not have known what was going on.

We do know that men like Cheney and Rumsfeld were eager for a casus belli for the war they’d already planned.

Even if nothing was actively done, the suppression of very clear warnings makes the Bush Administration complicit. Those warnings were loud and clear.

Conspiracies are such a way of life that to exempt or not to expect them where callous murder is at the heart of all action (as of today’s news 33.33 per cent children as collateral damage is acceptable to those who do not object to righteous warfare) would be the big surprise.

Why wouldn’t people who want a war conspire if nice peaceable C.E.O.s do so regularly?

The corporations – oil, medicine, finance, insurance, tobacco, alcohol, the utility industries, you name it – are all conducted by conspiracy, so why not matters of more obvious violence, the kind that ends life with bangs as well as whimpers?

It’s always seemed strange to me that we don’t mind being killed with whimpers, but just confine our fears mostly to bangs.

You’re just as dead from air pollution or a poison pill as you’d be from a missile.

NAD: Is there a God?


Everywhere and everything!

I believe in Gaia, everything’s alive, good news for us too, since otherwise our power to destroy ourselves might do some major damage to the solar system.

NAD: What makes you think that?


Belated and reluctant spirituality, and my relationship with Grief.

I’ve been unable to shake Grief (and thus have enormous compassion for others, known and unknown, who suffer it – Emily Dickinson is a very pure example).

The skies open when you are suffering Grief like that for my son Samuel when he was killed in a horrible accident, but that grief was only a new chapter, since I had grieved deeply since birth.

I’d do anything to shake (and my writings and search through therapy and psychoanalysis have been my most constant effort), cure, or escape that addiction, that illness, but it is also the source of my deepest truth-seeking.

In Quakerism, reading, and meditation I’ve found enough quiet to slow me down long enough to hear some of the resonating positive forces in the universe.

It just seems too stupid to think that all the beauty and meaning around us – and we see only a small part of what is out there — is for nothing.

Obviously we are part of mysteries so much greater than those we know about that we are ill equipped to understand much.

What is truly amazing—and tragic if it doesn’t save us — is the extent to which human beings, standing on a speck, have come to understand as much as they have – at such distances and in such complexity.

Yet we’re still just scratching the surface, and it’ll be a shame if human stupidity cuts short the struggles of human intelligence for comprehension and even control of our destiny.

Equally incomprehensible is our collective permission granted to those who imperil civilization with bald faced lies and aggression.

Drinking almost
killed me.

My son’s drinking
got him killed,

and my pariah status today is no doubt to a large extent attributable to my behavior back when about anything I said
was offensive to someone.

NAD: Please tell us more about yourself, the things you have done, what you would like to do, what you did today. What do you eat, what do you drive, what do you drink.


This morning I went to a doctor for consultation about medications.

I’ve been doing a lot of research on nutrition and amino acid therapy as a way of getting off SSRIs and other psychotropic drugs.

(I’ve also written a piece about a new book, "Poets On Prozac," and would like to match it with documentation from poets who have managed to get off dangerous drugs such as SSRIs.)

Then I took my daughter Wini’s birthday gift to the post office and mailed it Priority so she’d get it in time; then I visited a friend (Will Inman, whose last three poetry books Judy and I have edited — two of them for Howling Dog Press and one for Pudding House Press — and are trying to sell copies for his benefit. Will’s totally indigent and has been in a nursing home for several years.).

He literally lives for his work, dictates poems from his bed and wheelchair. Today I took him a can of Dr. Pepper, a chocolate bar, and some cassettes of his past readings.

Back home I did some writing, both revision and new work on poems and a story I’ve revised so often that it’s hard to find the type for the scribbled changes.

It’s nothing to brag about, but I have far more unpublished work than published, and I envy writers who have excited enough interest from publishers that they have little or no unpublished work which they regard as worthy of sharing with readers.

After lunch took a long walk with Judy and our dog Levi; later watched Judge Judy (a hilarious trip as the judge bounces up and down, tells both plaintiff and defendant off, and keeps telling everybody how smart she is).

We had some popcorn and gave dog Levi some, and I finished a book by the Nuala O’Faolain, a lively Dubliner.

Some of her run-ins with writers she interviewed for B.B.C. remind me of incidents when Judy and I, with Bob Stewart and Rebekah Presson, were producing "New Letters On The Air" back in Kansas City.

Nuala wisely remarked of Dublin literati that “there was too much anecdotal life and not enough personal lyric life.

There was too much drinking ... You would think that way of life had been designed to test people to their limits.

Certainly it could not be survived, only abandoned.”

She speaks my mind. Drinking almost killed me. My son’s drinking got him killed, and my pariah status today is no doubt to a large extent attributable to my behavior back when about anything I said was offensive to someone.

I was very sad to learn just recently that Nuala died last year of lung cancer, probably another great writer sacrificed to the booze and tobacco business. (Talk about conspiracies!)

NAD: Does your favorite coffee cup have words on it? What are they?


“Arizona Illustrated,” the local TV program I’ve been on a few times.

Every time you’re on they make you take home another cup.

They must have ordered a ship load of them from China.

NAD: What did you absolutely have to get done by noon today?

DAVID RAY: Rewrite a short story I first wrote in India in 1982.

NAD: How about by Christmas 2009?

DAVID RAY: Revise afresh a short story I first wrote in India in 1982.

NAD: Is it frustrating to do what you do?



I really am a naive child, since I can’t quit.

In a poem in "Music Of Time," I foresaw a more peaceable kingdom, as if we’d be wise enough to leave the evils of the twentieth century behind and slam a twenty foot thick door on that stockpile of woe and world trauma.

Millennium Prayers

At the stroke of midnight we said goodbye
to a thousand forms of murder,

hoped they would each and every one
go out of fashion. We would pray

for another style altogether, abolish
a few pastimes that do nothing but teach

murder and torture. But all we did was change
the name of our School of the Americas

where leaders of death squads are trained.
Yet we wished for the thousand years past

to be sealed like a tomb, and we hoped
the years ahead would not be littered

with corpses. Oh, vain prayers, not the first
that men and women have uttered. Oh, grief

for the future that must be added to that
for the past. Oh, how we prayed for the brass

doors to be slammed forever on the abattoirs,
the horrors forgotten, our addiction

to them cured, the knowledge of how to inflict them
not even passed along as heritage. Lastly,

we prayed that the sun would come up
on nothing it would be ashamed to shine upon.

© 2006 by David Ray; from Music of Time, Selected and New Poems (Backwaters Press)

Obviously, I haven’t even learned that there’s little point in speaking up, that it’s all futility, but just as I long ago made an ethical decision not to commit suicide, I hold to my vow not to give up trying to use my voice to speak truth to power as well as to seek beauty and truth (the ultimate naivety — there’s a famous essay pointing out that Keats was a fool to believe that all we need to know is that Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty).

One of Robert Bly’s best poems is a three liner beginning: “How strange to think of giving up all ambition!” A decade ago I wrote a poem that said virtually the same thing:

Tuning Out

Space becomes sacred.
Don’t wait for the grave.
A small shack will do.

Or perhaps none.
One cart for possessions,
none spilling over.

Just walking – an end
to that car crap, TV
crap, big house

and big chair crap,
stocked pantry,
bars on window,

gold coins, stocks
stashed, cards
the poor folks don’t have,

basement bomb shelter,
secret well kept.
More cactus, more sun,

less bought and more thought.

© 2009 by David Ray. This poem originally appeared in New Letters.

So here I am, trying to tune out but at the same time trying to tune in.

What folly!

And what hubris – I’ve even hoped to outlive evil, the ultimate and most egotistic arrogance. Do you think there’s a chance?

More David Ray

On Writer's Almanac

Reading of a few poems by David Ray, recorded at the Vitalist Theatre in Chicago, 2008:

David Ray’s home page:



Answer to NAD Trivia Question

f., final answer!

I’d like to think that, though we are at last able to say Sayonara to Bush, my poems in The Death of Sardanapalus and Other Poems of the Iraq Wars about him and the damage he and his cabal inflicted on humanity and the earth still have some validity and shelf life and appeal to posterity for their effort to understand how so much could have gone wrong so quickly.


THE New American Dream Feature Interviews

If you search the archives below, you will find, in a sort of order [last to first], interviews with:

Jack Blood, radio show host, in Austin, Texas

Danny Schechter, A Real Reporter

Bob Kincaid, host, Head-On Radio Show

Tony Packes, Animal Farm Radio Host, Keeping An Eye on Big Brother

Richard Flamer, Working With the Poor in Chiapas

David Ray Griffin, 9/11 Truth activist author

Barry Crimmins, U.S. comedian, author, social activist

Bret Hayworth, political reporter for the Sioux City [IA] Journal

Lisa Casey, publisher of website All Hat No Cattle

Joe & Elaine Mayer, activist couple in Rochester, Minnesota

Fr. Darrell Rupiper, U.S. priest revolutionary

Whitney Trettien, MIT student, Green Party activist

Meria Heller, radio show host

Phil Hey, professor, poet

John Crawford, book publisher

Steve Moon, Iowa Bigfoot researcher

Carol Brouillet, California social activist, 9/11 Truth

Russell Brutsche, Santa Cruz artist

Kevin Barrett, professor, radio show host, 9/11 Truth activist

A'Jamal Rashad Byndon, social activist in Omaha

Chris Rooney, Vancouver, Canada Catholic Worker, website publisher

Marc Estrin, political novelist, from the left

Peter Dale Scott, poet, professor, author, activist

Anthony Rayson, anarchist zine publisher, works with prisoners

Alice Cherbonnier, editor of The Baltimore Chronicle, an independent newspaper

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