Dead Poets’ Society

Charles Frederick West

Over the last couple months, there’s been occasional talk in various online journals and new outlets about the concept of war-weariness. The discussions have coincided (whether intentionally or not, I can’t say for sure) with the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. The picture to the left is my granddad (whom I never met) who served in World War I.

Reflecting on the idea of war-weariness, I’ve looked backwards at my own life. Having grown up during Korea and Vietnam, my young adulthood seemed a relatively peaceful time. Then came the first Gulf War, followed by Afghanistan and eventually Iraq. (While there were others, I’m not cataloguing all US ventures.)

It has been our good fortune in the United States that war usually doesn’t closely touch our shores … though certainly for those whose families have lost loved ones overseas (or on 9/11), the sting of war is no less felt.

Unlike the Middle East, we train our school children to shelter under their desks for tornadoes, but thankfully, not for rocket attacks. Still, whether one lives in the Middle East or middle America, it seems to me, there comes a point where one finds the weariness of ongoing war despicable.

I was reminded today that war goes on around the globe, even when our personal journey (from time to time) seems untouched by it. Perhaps that has been the case over centuries. When one studies history, the one constant seems to be this war or that, this conquering people overtaking a previous conquering people.

In the August 9, 2014 issue of World Magazine, I came across an article that immediately drew my attention:  The Poetry of Death. Author Marvin Olasky highlights several poets whose work centered on the First World War. In the verses Olasky quotes, horror and cynicism are laid bare. These works are a startling reminder that literary creativity doesn’t stop while war is waged. With some of the poets Olasky quotes, their poems were the only legacy they left behind.

It’s a hard thing, celebrating poetry when its roots (at least for these writers) was one of the deadliest conflicts in the history of man. In retrospect, I understand how important such poetry is. There’s a tendency to quickly forget the horrors of war. Unfortunately, we need reminders. The poetry of that time will refresh our memories that war destroys and deadens and fails to resolve deep-seated hatred.

Along with the aforementioned World Magazine article, Olasky printed a poem by John Piper that he says carries forward the tradition of earlier British and American poets in regard to news poems. This particular poem definitely addresses current news as it relates to the situation this week on Ebola. Titled Ebola Summer 2014, here’s the first stanza. (Please be sure to click over and read the rest of it on the World Magazine website.)

Today a thousand dead. And more
To die. A common ache, like flu,
Then nausea, a fever-soar,
A hopeless clinic interview:
“There’s nothing we can do.”

I like this idea of news poems. (I suppose a couple of the posts I’ve done might fit within this current news template.) Do you know other websites/blogs that feature news poems? If so, please be sure to add a comment including the web-link.

A recent New York Times post asked the seemingly age-old question:  Is Poetry Dead? The post suggested it is not … based on the number of poet laureates that proliferate across our country. We can hope at least some of those poet laureates (and budding poets who learn from them) are creating memorable poems that offer a compelling portrait of this war-weary age in which we live.

Comments Are Always Appreciated!