“Norman Morrison” is a poem about the Baltimore Quaker who burned himself to death at the Pentagon on November 2, 1965. He did this in protest of the Vietnam War. Adrian Mitchell wrote the piece. The poem comments on the consequences of Morrison’s act, rather than describing the act. The piece’s tone is quiet and musing. At the end the poem speaks about the fire changing Morrison’s pink skin to a Vietnamese’s gold skin.
Adrian Mitchell (1932-2008) was an English poet, novelist, playwright and journalist. His subjects varied widely, though he often wrote about politics. He used everyday language and images and, above all, humor. As well, he was influenced by his love of music, especially rock-and-roll. He was the first reporter to print an interview with the Beatles and later edited and contributed the foreword to Blackbird Singing, Paul McCartney’s collection of lyrics and poetry. Mitchell’s works included Out Loud; Ride the Nightmare; Tyger: A Celebration Based on the Life and Works of William Blake; Love Songs of World War Three: Collected Stage Lyrics; and Adrian Mitchell’s Greatest Hits – The Top Forty. He also co-wrote US, a play about the Vietnamese and American burnings, like Morrison’s. He was honored with the Eric Gregory Award, the PEN Translation Prize and the Tokyo Festival Television Film Award. A prominent pacifist and leftist, he often recited his poetry at political demonstrations. Kenneth Tynan dubbed him “the British Mayakovsky”.
Norman Morrison was wrong and misguided. We struggle for life, not death. But his act continues to haunt me.
“Norman Morrison”, the poem, is heart-felt and heart-breaking. Below is a link to Adrian Mitchell reciting it, starting at 1:35: