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A Statue of Tom Hayden
By Jennifer Cook
I was ready to leave it all behind,
until you distastefully pushed away your culture war
topped off with that soggy, hanging
finally looked at me dead
in the eye,
and announced it plainly:
that we’re a land of Great
so many little town squares called Tom Hayden teeming
quaintly on its mind.
And I knew what it really meant
to love something then,
to love so deeply
The 24th of September marks the 50th anniversary of the Chicago 8 trial, in which Tom Hayden and others were charged for organizing anti-war protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Poets and writers William Burroughs, Jean Genet, Allen Ginsberg, and Ed Sanders were among the high profile protest participants (Ed Sanders’ non-fiction poetics, or Investigative Poetry method, helped to capture the historic event in context). Allen Ginsberg was a witness at the related trial that started 50 years ago. He and other artists called by the Defense helped turn the courtroom into a poetic space of institutional disruption. Ginsberg read poetry and performed mantras to objections in the courtroom.
Defendant (and eventual Congressman) Tom Hayden was an Irish-American activist, author of the culturally politically vanguard ‘new left’ Port Huron Statement, and founder of the influential SDS. Hayden visited Ireland and considered Ireland’s anti-colonial history in his writings about anti-racism, anti-imperialism, and social justice in the United States and abroad.
My poem positions Tom Hayden transnationally within the current debate over historical narrative and the removal of public monuments dedicated to internal colonialism, considering what Fintan O’Tool called the radical right’s appeals to white ethnic “Irishness” in stoking racial division. I evoke Paul Ryan with his flat Guinness, the drumming of white ethnic holiday alongside party dogwhistles of racist rhetoric.
But decolonization, when you think about it, is about something much deeper than this.
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