Wake Up! is a book of powerful poems by nuclear disarmament champion and civil society activist Dr. David Krieger, founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF).  The book divided into five parts comprising 86 thought-provoking poems. They paint evocative images of wars and killings yet giving us hope through possibility of self-correction in finding our shared humanity.

How does one write a review of such a collection where each poem stands out drawing the reader into a vortex of inhumanity of man by man and at the same time wanting to make sense of existential themes like Truth, War, Peace, Nuclear Weapons, and even a section called Imperfection.

David challenges the notion of Theodor Adorno that to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric asserting that in fact poetry after Auschwitz is needed today more than ever, it has no longer the luxury of being trivial. Those who write poetry must confront the ugliness of our human brutality. His exhortation to the poets is that: “They must express the heart’s longing for peace and reveal its grief at our loss of decency. They must uncover the truth of who we are behind our masks and who we could become.”  He adds: “Poetry can uncover truths that can reconnect us with ourselves and with our lost humanity.”

Laudable in all this is the vision of a poet challenging his countrymen and others to change the status quo and work towards building a Nonkilling America as a model example to the world. Yet he is realistic about progress as he writes in one of  his poems, “Time carries no pretense of progress nor perfection… It (time) is a patient teacher whose voice by force must be our own.”

In the section on Truth is Beauty, in the poem ‘A Sage Walks Slowly’, David contrasts the human condition with the sage in us: “We are the weavers and the woven. In tenacity of being, we’ve been chosen.” But “A sage walks slowly, straight and proud, faces life with head unbowed.”

In a larger section of poems on War, the poem, ‘Little Changes’  reflects on his compatriot soldiers: “Our brave young soldiers shot babies at My Lai – few remember…Then it was gooks. Now it is hajjis – little changes.”

In another place in his poem Archeology of War, he describes:

“The years of war numb us, grind us
down as they pile up one upon the other
forming a burial mound not only
for the fallen soldiers and innocents
who were killed, but for the parts of us
once decent and bright with hope
and now deflated by the steady fall of death
and sting of empty promises.

On Bush II, the poet in ‘Staying the Course’ writes:

The race has been run
and he lost
Yet he swaggers
around the track as though
it were a victory lap
It is hard not to think
How pathetic is power.”

In another poem ‘Greeting Bush in Baghdad’, David reflects upon the mind of creative nonviolent Iraqi shoe thrower Muntader al-Zaifdi who among his various reasons for disliking the American President as “a maker of widows and orphans” has the following to say:

I have only this for you, my left shoe that I hurl
at your lost and smirking face,

and my right shoe that I throw at your face
of no remorse.”

The most significant section of the collection is entitled, Global Hiroshima with 9 poems on the dropping of Atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and subsequent nuclear arms race:

“They are weapons with steel hearts.
There is no bargain with them.”

The title poem of the collection Wake Up! is a long one, and in the nuclear disarmament section of the book entitled Global Hiroshima. It concludes:

“Now, before the arrow is let loose,
before it flies across oceans
and continents.

Now, before we are engulfed in flames,
while there is still time, while we still can,
Wake up!’

David Krieger has a keen sense of irony and parody (schadenfreude). In a poem “Einstein Sticks out his Tongue”, he delves into the mind of the great scientist whose brilliant E= MC2 equation contributed to development of the Atom Bomb. David writes:

“When asked for a pose, Einstein turned
toward the camera and stuck out his tongue


He was Albert. He was Einstein. He was
his own man, first and always.

He was lovely. He was real. And behind
his dark eyes, there was fear.”

Krieger’s inspirational collection reminds a reader that its time for the world to awaken to the imperative for peace in the Nuclear Age. A must read poetry that illumines dark corners to show presence of truth and thereby possibilities for peace. For further information on the collection, check out Nuclear Age Peace Foundation website: www.wagingpeace.org ; phone:805-965-3443

Reviewed by: Bill Bhaneja, a former Canadian diplomat. His two recent books are: Quest for Gandhi: A Nonkilling Journey and Troubled Pilgrimage: Passage to Pakistan. He is Vice-Chair of Center for Global Nonkilling, Honolulu (www.nonkilling.org).