Monday, May 25, 2009

Resources for Memorial Day

The other day, my mom called me. One of her friends was putting together a presentation for Memorial Day, and he couldn't think of any good poems except for some of the classic World War I poems. She asked if I had any suggestions.

At first my mind went blank, as it always does. I remember going to record stores (ah, record stores! where I would go to spend my hard-earned dollars, saved for just this delight), and for about 5 or 10 minutes, I would wander listlessly, unable to remember the name of any band or singer that I liked. Then the fog would lift, and I'd get down to the task at hand, choosing which albums to buy--I always wanted more than I could afford.

But I digress.

So, when my poetry fog lifted, I sent my mom's friend here, to the poem "Facing It" by Yusef Komunyakaa.

My parents live in the D.C. area, and even when they didn't, my dad's Air Force Reserve work kept them returning to the area, and so, I've often spent Memorial Days in Washington, D.C., one of the best places for remembering what this holiday is all about. Arlington National Cemetery makes quite a statement about how many people have died who have served their country (to be fair, not all of them killed in war).

I keep thinking about how many children are growing up these days with no connection to anyone who serves in the military. I wonder about the implications for the future. Perhaps we are moving towards a day when we will need no military protection, but I doubt that will happen in my lifetime. This Washington Post article has some interesting insight into the role of the Army Buddy in one young boy's life.

And this blog post reminds us of why we have needed the military in the past, and why we're likely to need them in the future. John Guzlowski writes about his Uncle Buddy, who liberated a concentration camp while serving in the military. Some of my younger students seem to think that humanity was done with that kind of oppression after World War II, so I give them a mini history lesson about concentration camps and genocide after 1945. Sometimes it seems like world civilization runs a lottery, and some country loses big each decade (Russians in the 1950's and 1960's, Cambodians in the 1970's, etc.).

I even have a resource for those of you who say, "I'm a writer, not a soldier. What does any of this have to do with me?" In this New York Times article, Melissa Seligman writes about how letter writing saved her marriage to her Army soldier husband. I always have some students who tell me about how the future will not include writing, but Seligman and her husband discovered that they did better with letters than they did with phone calls and webcams--I plan to give this article to those students.

It sounds like most NPR programs will have programming today that will address Memorial Day in a variety of ways. I'll let you go to the website to explore.

It would be interesting to give students all these resources: a newspaper article, a blog post, a poem, a radio show. I'd then have them write about which was more effective and why. I'd have them go out and discover some sort of multi-media approach to Memorial Day--or better yet, I'd have them create one.

I always found that students wrote great papers when I had them interview people about a subject, as opposed to researching online or in books. It would be neat to have students interview military people, either past or present. I'd have them write a paper about what they expected to find, then I'd have them interview the person and write it up, then I'd have them write an essay about whether or not their expectations were met or were exploded in some way.

Have a great Memorial Day! Even if you don't approve of current wars, it might be good to spend some time thinking about the men and women who fought for this country along the way to the 21st century. I always think of those Revolutionary War era people, and I marvel at the risks they were willing to take. More about that on July 4!

1 comment:

John Guzlowski said...

Hi, Kristen, thanks for the post.

I always try to teach a war novel or some poems about war in class, and one of the things that surprises me is when people say they aren't interested in war. What I tell them is that they may not be, but they will have children who go to war or have to deal with the hardships of war. This surprises them and we start talking about how many wars the US has been involved in in the last 100 years, It's about one every 10 years. That comes to two wars per each generation!

I'm even surprised when we get to this point in the discussion.

By the way, did you see the post I did about Lisa Siedlarz's chapbook about her brother's tour of duty in Afghanistan? There's a link there to the chapbook which is available free from Clemson University's Digital Press project.

Thanks also for the link to the poem. I didn't know Yusef's Facing it.