Some thoughts on the book on Anti-BVBL

Here are some answers I gave to Kelly3406, a poster on Anti-BVBL, in a discussion of Poems from the Battlefield.
October 31st, 2009 at 10:20 | #10

Thank you, Kellly. And good questions! You can read more about the book here:

In the book’s afterword and in the “about” link I posted, I make it clear I am not a historian, nor am I attempting to interpret battle scenes. I’m just not gifted in that way. My interest is in the psychological, sociological and cultural, not in battle strategy.

Hiking through the Battlefields launched my interest in the topic because it occurred to me one day that I was hiking in a cemetery. (Read “To the Hikers” if you want to experience that discovery on my part.) Visits to various sites and reading enriched my own background.

Why should you buy the book?

1. I address aspects of the war that aren’t typically discussed in the war books or at least haven’t been put poetically. For example, in “Casualties of War,” there is the kind of (rhyming) dialog that can occur only between hurt people who aren’t sure of each other and who, because there is already an air of distrust and tension, won’t reveal much about the self. This creates even more mistrust and a negative outcome (which you will have to read about in the book). The poem is a metaphor for the battle between the states and between soldiers, but also, it emphasizes human dynamics and what happens when people who have lived with violence try to communicate.

2. The book features contemporary park sites such as Chinn Ridge, Stone Bridge, Stone House etc. as settings for poems. Manassas Museum, Bristoe Station and Brentsville Courthouse inspired other poems. “The Luncheon Ladies” specifically deals with the ladies who took picnics to watch the first battle of Bull Run. This book is a tribute to our local heritage. Most books you see on sale at park book stores aren’t so personal or contemporary.

3. Use of Civil War soldier and civilian persona run rampant in the poems. “I the author” am not the narrator in most of these. Readers should always ask (and not just when reading these poems, but all literature), “Who is doing the talking, and why are they saying what they are saying?” These “voices” come from the readings I have done on the park sites and elsewhere. It’s my attempt to understand the people from 148 years ago, which, as MH says, isn’t easy.

4. Some poems address the tensions between having to choose sides and what that might have felt like. Some address the horrors of war–but it’s more like we shouldn’t forget how horrible it was because if we do, we are more prone to repeat it. There are plenty of blood-and-guts images in there.

I also wanted to stress how important it is that we don’t take these battles for granted. These men fought because they believed in something. Ultimately, what that comes down to, is they wanted freedom and peace. THAT is what we need to remember. We all want the same things, and if we perpetuate the war between the states and each other instead of reconciling our differences, we do them–and ourselves–a disservice.

5. Photos come from the parks themselves but also from national archives. Quotes from soldiers and civilians accompany many of the poems. These quotes and photos really made me think while going through the revision process.

Sometimes I think I learned more about the people of that time from reading the short quotes than trying to read a biography. These snippets give invaluable access to a tiny part of that person’s thinking process.

As you can tell, I could write on and on about this. The project has been incredibly self-indulgent, and if asked to explicate each poem, I would gladly do so. Unfortunately, I can’t do it through speaking as well as I can in writing. But if anyone asks at the readings, I will do my best.

Last comment (sorry to be so windy): even if you aren’t a poetry fan, buy the book and support the parks. At the moment (and for quite some time), I am not making a penny off this book. But the parks will benefit from it, and that’s crucial, especially when funding is tight and historic sites are threatened by over-development.

One more thing–my undergrad is in English lit. I took several semesters and focused classes on American lit. My hero is Henry David Thoreau and the Transcendentalists, all Civil War period figures. (I have a sketch of Thoreau on my wall in my living room.) So I guess you could say that’s where my historic interest began.

Okay, my first love affair with Thoreau was in my sophomore year of high school. But that is really going back further than I want. Going even further back, I used to swim and fish at Walden Pond.

In 2007, I went back to Concord Mass to visit Author’s Ridge cemetery, the Alcott house and all the other fun sites that only Concord can offer. If people are seeking another perspective on the Civil War, I would encourage them to visit Concord. I am so fortunate that I have been able to grow up in that world and live in this one here as well.