17 April 2013

Why I Pair Poetry with News Articles

Even though I haven’t had my own classroom for several years now, I still find myself thinking about how I might deal with a national news situation if I still worked with teens on a daily basis.  Almost always, I find myself looking for poems to pair with news articles, and more often than not, I look for an angle leading toward thoughts of human compassion.  Since I no longer actually teach these lessons to teens, I modify the lessons planned in my head for use with my sons (now ages 9 and 12).  Once a teacher, always a teacher, I suppose. 

The lesson plan in my head this time relates to a convergence of events, people, ideas, and places--National Poem in Your Pocket Day 2013, Boston Marathon, family trip to Washington DC, poem by Walt Whitman.  I'm pairing news articles about Boston with "The Wound Dresser" by Walt Whitman.

Tomb of the Unknowns
It’s disquieting to watch television footage or follow twitter stream with news of bombings or shootings, and it’s especially unsettling to watch and listen when children are involved.  Over the past couple of days while following news related to the explosion at the Boston Marathon, I’ve been encouraged to see many acts of human compassion.  Strangers reaching out to others in distress or injured, websites established for donations for victims, public Facebook pages in honor and support, Google Documents people finder, twitter hashtags such as #prayforboston, and even stories of Boston Marathon runners giving their medals to runners who were unable to finish when the race was shut down after the explosion to protect remaining runners—all excellent reminders of human compassion.

This year for Poem in Your Pocket Day, I am carrying “The Wound Dresser” by Walt Whitman.  It’s a reminder of human compassion carried out by many nurses on a daily basis.  Whitman writes of the suffering in Civil War hospitals and of children longing to hear stories of battle, much like my own nine year old son wanted to hear all about various war battles on our recent trip to Washington D.C..  Instead, of all scenes from battle we read scenes from inside a war hospital as noticed in this excerpt

… On, on I go, (open doors of time! open hospital doors!)
The crush'd head I dress, (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage away,)
The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through and through I examine,
Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life struggles hard,
(Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death!
In mercy come quickly.)

From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand,
I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and blood,
Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curv'd neck and side falling head,
His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump,
And has not yet look'd on it.

I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep,
But a day or two more, for see the frame all wasted and sinking,
And the yellow-blue countenance see.

I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound,
Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so offensive,
While the attendant stands behind aside me holding the tray and pail.

I am faithful, I do not give out,
The fractur'd thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen,
These and more I dress with impassive hand, (yet deep in my breast a fire, a burning flame.)

Quote from Whitman poem Dupont Circle Metro Station

Thus in silence in dreams' projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals,
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young,
Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad,
(Many a soldier's loving arms about this neck have cross'd and rested,
Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)


As someone who enjoys making connections between events, ideas, people, and places, the poem I carry  connects our recent family trip to Washington D.C., compassion shown at a recent horrific event in Boston, my love for reading poetry and national poem in your pocket day.

What poems do you pair with news events?  What poem are you carrying for Poem in Your Pocket Day 2013?