Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Power of Poetry

Robert Frost once said, “Writing a poem is discovering.” Since I prefer reading poems to writing them I would like to add that reading a poem is also discovering, and sometimes even rediscovering (no disrespect, Mr. Frost). Since working as an intern with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation I have learned to rediscover poetry in a way that I did not expect, and not just any poetry: war poetry.

Here is the irony in all of this: in Georgia I worked at an Air Force museum where we literally played the History channel’s documentary, “WWII in HD” on repeat all day long. I found it interesting and informative, but never moving. Who would have thought that a few simple words about the very same war could evoke so much emotion? Let me give you an example:

I read “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” by Randall Jarrell about 7 years ago in my high school English class. I specifically recall my professor telling us that the ball turret gunner had one of the most dangerous positions on the aircraft because he was an easy target. A couple years later Perry, one of the WWII veterans from the museum, showed me a ball turret on the underside of a B-17 the museum was restoring. I remember thinking that it was such a cramped space, probably designated for the youngest or smallest guy on the plane, maybe somebody’s son or little brother. I came across the poem again a few days ago in a book I found in the NAPF library. As I read it the words jumped off the page and shook me.

“From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,

And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.

Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,

I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.

When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.”

In only five lines of text, this poem manages to transcend time, technology, and gives the reader a more intimate view of war than all the media outlets combined. That, my friends, is the power of poetry. War poetry can be and should be used as a tool to help us appreciate peace and the human spirit. NAPF will soon be publishing an anthology of poems called, “War Poetry: Memory, Myth and Meaning.” I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy and I picked out a few of my favorites to share with you.

“Speaking: The Hero” by Felix Pollak: Powerful. A must read.
“Bring Forth New Life” by Sadako Kurihara: So Inspiring. Humans are capable of amazing things.
“The Children of Iraq Have Names” by David Krieger: Very moving. This will make you think differently about the face of war.

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