Literature reading gives perspective on war

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Sunlight filtered through the windows of a room where voices — some resolute, some shaky, others tearful  shared literature about war on Friday.

This was not the first World War I poetry reading to take place at Dixie State University, but it was the first to be held on Veteran’s Day. A unique energy filled the room as several students and faculty shared stories coaxed from their parents and grandparents who had served in the military. Others read well-known pieces, such as “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. Instead of applause after each reading, thoughtful silence filled the air.

The event brought a new perspective to the holiday, providing a greater understanding of the bleakness, horror and heartbreak of war.

The reading was organized by members of the English department, including Susan Ertel, an associate professor of English. She said in light of the election, the energy felt different compared to previous war poetry readings the department has hosted.

“It did feel different, because when you think about the hurt and the open wound that’s in our country right now for a lot of people, particularly people of color, it’s hard,” Ertel said.

Not all literature presented on Friday was about WWI or soldiers. Ertel shared a piece from the book “Visions of War, Dreams of Peace,” which is a collection of poems written by Vietnam-era war nurses. In the poem, the speaker muses about how she performed CPR on a black man in an attempt to save his life but was raised in the South with whites-only water fountains.

Ertel said she chose this piece because she liked the contrast it provided.

“I like that juxtaposition of ‘this is what I was raised to believe about black people, but this is what I need to do to save this person,’” Ertel said. “As a nurse, you don’t get to make a decision based on what somebody looks like, what their race is, what their religion is or background is.”

Randy Jasmine, an associate professor of English, said he was happy the holiday inspired readers to share literature they had strong personal connections to.

“You’re always faced with a difficulty when talking about things like this because it’s so moving and powerful and yet, at the same time, it’s so tragic,” Jasmine said. “It’s important to share this type of literature.”

Ertel’s area of research is war poetry. She said throughout history there are examples from every war where people used poetry as a medium to express the chaos, anxiety and torture of war.

“Throughout war, when it’s really horrible and chaotic, people always resort to poetry to find meaning in that,” Ertel said.

Hope Corcoran, a junior English major from St. George, shared a letter written by an ancestor who fought for the Union during the Civil War. The letter was written to the family of a fallen soldier and talks about “the mad ambition of the Rebels.” Near the end of the letter, the author expresses his hope that he will meet his deceased friend again in “another world where wars are no more.”

Tears gathered in Corcoran’s eyes as she compared how she feels about veterans to how a mother might hurt when her child has a broken arm.  

“I have so much appreciation for our veterans,” Corcoran said.