Thursday, November 12, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Veterans' Day Coincidence

Tricia's Poetry Stretch this week at The Miss Rumphius Effect was to write a rictameter, which is an unrhymed nine line poetry form with a syllable count of 2,4,6,8,10,8,6,4,2 and the first and last lines the same.

Here's my rictameter, and then I'll tell you the rest of the story behind it:

Two books,
both about war,
both read on Veterans Day.
Coincidence. First, MARE'S WAR by
Tanita Davis, then CROSSING STONES by
Helen Frost. War's no solution,
and it's not the only
problem in these
two books.

by Tanita S. Davis
Alfred A. Knopf, 2009
review copy provided by the publisher

Mare's war was WWII. She joined the African American Women's Army Corps at the age of 17 (lying that she was 21) to escape the dead end of 1940's life in rural Alabama, where the best jobs she could hope for as a Black woman who hadn't finished high school were being the house girl for Mrs. Ida Payne and busing tables and cleaning the kitchen of Young's Diner.

In this book, Mare is taking a road trip from California to Alabama with her two teenage granddaughters. The narrative switches between chapters about "then" when Mare is telling her life story to her granddaughters, and "now" as we see the two girls' reluctance about the trip change to interest in their grandmother's experiences and finally appreciation and admiration for her strength and independence.

By listening in on Mare's stories, I learned things about WWII, the WAC, segregation, and Civil Rights that are never included in history books.

Besides the coincidence of finishing this book on Veterans Day, I was tickled to note that Mare's full name is Marey Lee Boylen (closest I've ever come to finding a book character with my name!) and one of the granddaughters is named Talitha, which is the name of one of my great grandmothers.

More reviews at ACPL Mock Newbery, The Miss Rumphius Effect, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Jen Robinson's Book Page, A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy, Charlotte's Library...and there are probably more...if I missed yours, leave a link in the comments!

Here's Tanita's blog and here's more about the African American WACs.

by Helen Frost
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009
review copy provided by the publisher

I couldn't believe it when the next book I picked up after finishing MARE'S WAR on the afternoon of Veterans' Day was a book about WWI.

Remember how Frost's amazing diamond poems in DIAMOND WILLOW added so much to the story? (Bill's post at Literate Lives convinced me to read the book, and Tricia's Poetry Makers post featuring Helen Frost elevated her to One Of My Favorites!) Frost describes the poetry forms that she uses in CROSSING STONES this way:
"I've created a formal structure to give the sense of stepping from stone to stone across a flowing creek. I think of this kind of writing as painting with words, a process involving hands, eyes, ears, thought, and emotion, all simultaneously working together.

The relatively free style of Muriel's poems represent the creek flowing over the stones as it pushes against its banks. Ollie's and Emma's poems represent the stones. I "painted" them to look round and smooth, each with a slightly different shape, like real stones. They are "cupped-hand sonnets," fourteen-line poems in which the first line rhymes with the last line, the second line rhymes with the second-to-last, and so on, so that the seventh and eighth lines rhyme with each other at the poem's center. In Ollie's poems the rhymes are the beginning words of each line, and in Emma's poems they are the end words.

To give the sense of stepping from one stone to the next, I have used the middle rhyme of one sonnet as the outside rhyme of the next. You will see that the seventh and eighth lines of each of Emma's poems rhyme with the first and last lines of Ollie's next poem, and the seventh and eighth lines of Ollie's poems rhyme with the first an last lines of Emma's next poem."
Despite the seeming complexity of the structure of this book, the form NEVER gets in the way of the story. Muriel's free-flowing poems match her free thinking about her own future (NOT as a farm wife, as everyone else seems to expect of her) and the suffrage movement. Emma's and Ollie's poems are solid and almost invisibly interconnected, bringing their two families and their own lives closer and closer.

Again in this book, I learned things that are never found in history books about WWI, the suffragettes, the Spanish Flu Epidemic, settlement houses in Chicago (Hull House) and Washington, D.C., and the ability of body and soul to heal from the ravages of war.

Put both these books on your "must read" list. They are too good to pass by.

Greg's doing the Poetry Friday round up this week at GottaBook.


  1. Anonymous11:16 PM

    I love how you tied your poem to two books--and reviews of them! And I love the coincidence of reading these books back to back on Veteran's Day! You've got me interested in reading both books--and I must say I'm intrigued especially to read Frost's word-paintings (and how beautifully she describes the poetic process!). Thank you!

  2. Hey, glad you enjoyed it!
    My grandmother's real name? Was Mary Lee. So you can totally feel like this heroine really DOES have your name.

    Just this Veteran's Day, I finally tracked down my real grandmother's WAC enlistment record. I had a moment, let me tell you. It was a neat thing to come full circle.

    Happy Veteran's Poetry Friday!

  3. Wait, I just reread that. Your grandmother's name was Talitha??? How much do I love that name!?

    Are we cousins? ;)
    I totally declare us cousins. Or some relation.

  4. Tanita,

    We are SO TOTALLY cousins-of-some-kind! How else could two (TWO!!) unusual names be in both our lives at the same time!!!


    Does this mean I can come visit you in Scotland?!?! :-)

  5. Anonymous10:58 AM

    Can i go to Scotland with you to visit Tanita? Is Mare's War good for 4th and 5th? I love how you tied the two books together witht he poem. Fabulous! Both books are on my list!

  6. Jone,

    I'm TOTALLY up for a field trip to Scotland and you're definitely invited!

    Yes, I think Mare's War would be good for later in 4th grade and definitely in 5th grade. Lots of great discussion possibilities about WWII, segregation, women's roles. There is a bit about Mare's mother's abusive boyfriend and how Mare protects herself and her younger sister from him, but nothing explicit and probably nothing worse than our kids have seen on TV. The two granddaughters are teens, but one is younger and not worldly like her sister...probably the one older elem. readers might relate to.

  7. Anonymous12:37 PM

    Thank you for this, Mary Lee!
    Tanita, are you in Scotland? Where? (I used to live there.)
    It's so nice to see our two books linked in this way, and it looks like there are lots of other connections, too.

  8. What a cool post -- an original poem, and two awesome books.
    Now that everybody's going to Scotland, I shall take out my bagpipes. I'm changing my name to Mary Talitha Lee, too.

  9. Love your poem! These books are on my must read next list too. Thanks for the reviews.

  10. Okay, Cousin,

    I'm getting a futon and a spare bed. Y'all come on, kids.


  11. P.S., to Helen: I'm in Glasgow; TechBoy is doing his PhD, and I'm along for the ride.

  12. Hey, I wanna come! I went to Scotland last year but didn't get to meet Tanita. Would love to go again someday.

    Cool poem and reviews. I love Mare's War--terrific book! Need to read Crossing Stones. Diamond Willow was just so beautifully written.

    I've thought about doing book reviews in poem form before, but it was just too daunting:>) Brava!

  13. Both books look great. I like the focus on women in war, too.

  14. Awesome, awesome! I loved the poem and I am buying the books - thanks for the convincing and beautiful post.
    With the holidays coming, have you seen/read the book The Great Mizzariddle by Roland McElroy? It is a fun christmas story that really plays with words. Kids love it! :)
    Shannon O'Donnell


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