Friday, September 30, 2011

the trenches of seventh grade

Over the summer, students in my daughter's humanities and communications program read All Quiet on the Western Front (which I also read in high school; did you?).  Now that the school year is in full swing, these 12-year-olds are writing 2-page essays analyzing the message and tone of World War I poems.  I recognized the names of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and some of the poems included in her packet, but I was not familiar with the poem Daisy chose.

Suicide in the Trenches

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

~ Siegfried Sassoon, 1917

Simplicity itself--even nursery-rhymish--but effective, yes?

Daisy had a tough time getting going with her essay, and I guess I'm not surprised.  We thank our lucky stars that she has never lived first-hand through a war (a curiously true statement), and that being so full of despair you'd put a bullet through your own brain is foreign to her. (However, when I wondered whether her choice of "frustrated" to describe the soldier boy's feelings was quite strong enough to warrant suicide, she quipped, "This frustration would be enough for me!") 

But it's hard, as a parent, to know that my big little girl is spending time down in the trenches with the demands of a well-constructed five-paragraph essay on a topic she has to stretch hard to reach: the grim reality of war.  I take solace in the fact that immersing yourself in a masterful poem is always worthwhile.

Find more poetic war and peace--and above all, connection--at Read Write Believe with Sara today...BUT WAIT!  THERE'S MORE!

p*tag is here!!!  October 1 is the official launch date of the new p*tag digital poetry anthology for teens, conceived and edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.  For only $2.99 (early-bird price $1.99 through today) you can download this anthology in a wink and become a proud part of the publicity machine for new work by the "best poets for young people, including YA poets and verse novelists Naomi Shihab Nye, Margarita Engle, Allan Wolf, Betsy Franco, Paul Janeczko, Helen Frost, Newbery Honor winner Joyce Sidman, current Children's Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis, and poetry legend Lee Bennett Hopkins,".... and li'l ol' me. 

Please take time to support this project and share it wherever you go, in body and in spirit.  Sylvia's intriguing photos were wonderfully inspiring and Janet's concluding piece is beyond powerful; there are poems for readers of all stripes ages 12 and up, and this approach to publishing is aimed at bringing more poetry to more young people using the media they can most easily access.  Go, p*tag!


  1. Wow. That's heavy for me, let alone a seventh grader. I hope writing about it helps. There is just no good way to explain violence, nor should there be. We can only ache.

  2. My nine year old daughter and I had a Maus I and II read-aloud several months back - and we followed it through with the film adaptation of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. My visit in Austria's Mauthausen Camp May of this year (and the photos and video clips that I brought home with me) - have all made the stories a little too real as well for my little girl. Makes for beautiful discussion between the both of us.

    While I loved reading through the poetry you shared, my heart is also tugged by your commentary. Such a gift to be with our little sparks of moonshine.

  3. That poem makes me particularly sad today as I have just heard my oldest son is about to be deployed. He will be in the air, not in a trench, so there is that to be thankful for, but still.

    It is heartening to read about the courage of 7th graders tackling 5 paragraph essays! I am sure you are proud of her. The poetry tag ebook sounds wonderful! Congratulations!

  4. Wow. And yet, hard as it is for kids to imagine war, I think it's so important for them to know how horrifying it is. How else can we possibly hope to eradicate it?

    Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy is an amazing but hard-to-bear look at war. It's not a "real" war, but he has made war so real. The second book was so difficult that I'm taking a break before book 3. Still, I think everyone should read these books and remember their lessons when they choose their leaders, and when they think about war.


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!