Introduction & Overview of At the Bomb Testing Site by William Stafford

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At the Bomb Testing Site Summary & Study Guide Description

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"At the Bomb Testing Site" is an unusual work: it is an antiwar poem that never directly mentions war. In a review in Field, Charles Simic called the poem "A political poem in which not a single political statement is made."

The poem appeared in West of Your City, William Stafford's first collection of poetry, which was published by a small press in 1960. One of Stafford's best known and most widely anthologized poems, "At the Bomb Testing Site" deals with the conflict between the natural environment and the artificial world that man has imposed upon it.

The title refers to the atomic bomb testing in the New Mexico and Nevada deserts that began in 1945. Although the poem implicitly refers to the horrors of war and the ravages of radiation fallout, it is anything but a "no-nukes" polemic. Instead, it focuses on the behavior of a lizard that is about to be destroyed in a test explosion, and it implies that humans will be destroyed as well by their obsession with technological progress and political domination. Like most of Stafford's work, this understated poem employs everyday, colloquial language and is steeped in a western landscape.

A conscientious objector to World War II, Stafford was forced to spend four years in a labor camp, and his antiwar stance was reinforced by this experience—but he published no poems that speak about it directly. Stafford often said that he didn't see himself as "a very political person"; there were just some issues on which one simply had to take a stand. In an interview about "At the Bomb Testing Site," he revealed one of the main impulses of his writing: "Every poem I have ever written is a quiet protest poem."

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This section contains 289 words
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Poetry for Students
At the Bomb Testing Site from Poetry for Students. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.