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Wick Poetry Center News

Speak Peace Appears at University of Arizona Poetry Center

Posted Sep. 23, 2011

International poetry project offers a look at war from a child’s perspective

By Adam Curtis
Sierra Vista Herald/Review
Sept. 21, 2011

From left: Bob Wick, Chris Wick and David Hassler, director of the Wick Poetry Center, discuss some of the work presented at the exhibition in Tucson. (Pat Wick • Herald/Review)SIERRA VISTA — The impacts of war on a nation and its people are personal, wrenching and long-lasting. Its emotional toll may be even more profoundly understood when seen through the innocent and honest lens of a child’s eyes. 

A unique international project has combined the power of children’s take on war and the healing power of poetry in hopes of mending the lasting wounds between people who were at war more than 40 years ago. 

Through the efforts of the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, Kent State’s School of Art Galleries and an organization called Soldier’s Heart, “Speak Peace: American Voices Respond to Vietnamese Children’s Paintings” has been touring the United States since last year. It will remain on display at the University of Arizona Poetry Center in Tucson through Friday and then will be housed at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art from Oct. 1 through Nov. 9.

The project juxtaposes pictures created by Vietnamese children on the subjects of war and peace with poems from American veterans, poets and children reacting to these images. The inspiration for the project stems from the work of Dr. Edward Tick, co-founder of the Soldier’s Heart, who takes Vietnam Veterans to visit Vietnam to help relieve their own emotional trauma and reconcile relationships between the two once conflicting populations. 

As part of the journey, Tick takes the veterans to the War Remnants Museum where they have a room housing a collection of paintings done by Vietnamese children. When Director of the Wick Poetry Center David Hassler met Tick he learned of the transformational impact this experience has on the veterans.

Many begin to weep as they are struck by the innocent and unfiltered nature of these expressions of children, Hassler said. He also learned that these images had never made their way to the United States, so the pair embarked on a project to do just that.

The poetry center took it a step further by posting the paintings on its website and asking for response poems from American veterans, poets and children, Hassler said. “At the Wick Poetry Center, we certainly believe in the healing power of poetry…to open up the dialogue, to encourage us to speak in new ways to each other.”

Within just six months they had more than 1200 submissions and soon began to select choice images and poems to create a book and an art exhibition. The result has generated a terrific response as people get to look through a unique window into the tragic pain of war and delicate beauty of aspirations of peace.

For a country that has engaged in 12 military conflicts since the year 1900 and is currently in the midst of 10 years of persistent conflict, this project offers a rare glimpse into the emotional toll that violence takes.

“We’ve silenced a lot of the emotional truth of war in our country,” Hassler said. Human interest stories from the perspective of people in Iraq or Afghanistan who have lost loved ones rarely appear in the media.

Graphic images of war also fail the media’s “breakfast test” and do not end up making it into the news consumed by most Americans. 

Art offers a safer place to explore emotions that may feel risky and to take that step to try view life through another person’s skin, Hassler said. It’s an opportunity to see what happens when a country chooses that last resort option.

Paraphrasing the words of Adrienne Rich, Hassler called war a “failure of imagination.”

While it is fair to argue the grim necessity of war, the Speak Peace project may remind people of its consequences and that it should only be used as an absolute last resort. It can also serve as a salve to help heal wounds that still haunt those who have been touched by the most destructive of human endeavors. 

The project can be viewed online, complete with videos of some of the poems being read aloud, by going to