Sunday, July 04, 2010

Fourth of July, The Great Reunion of 1913

I ran across this, my favorite 4th of July story ever, about veterans of Gettysburg who gathered 50 years after the battle to reminisce and to celebrate the unified nation that had resulted.  Veterans of both sides attended the event. Here is an excert from the story (by Stefany Anne Golberg) of the reunion:
The Great Reunion of 1913 was an amazing historical event, the largest gathering ever of Civil War veterans, who came together for a week of solidarity and celebration. On July 4, President Woodrow Wilson arrived and made a speech. But it was July 3 that people remember most. As part of the week’s festivities, thousands of old veterans — most in their 70s, the oldest 112 — took their respective places on the former battlefield and commenced with a tottering reenactment of Pickett’s Charge. At 3 p.m., the surviving Confederate soldiers of General Pickett’s division stormed Cemetery Ridge, a clattering assortment of long beards and crutches and canes. Slowly approaching the stone fence at Bloody Angle, some of the codgers croaked out the rebel yell when they were “surprised” by a group of men from the former Union Philadelphia Brigade. But instead of shooting each other, they all shook hands across the stone wall and exchanged ceremonial flags. Some fell into each other’s arms, weeping. Other just sat down in silence and looked sadly across the field.
The full story includes pictures of the reunion from The Library of Congress.

What does this have to do with poetry?  Maybe not much. It's such a good story I couldn't help but pass it on.  Yet it does say a lot about memory, which is one of the more powerful antennae of poetry.  And it says something about unpredictability (read the story!), which also reminds us of the world of poetry, where words unexpectedly collide to form new things and unearth things unknown.  Although the Great Reunion was in many ways a healing and celebratory event, a look back is always fraught with more dimensions than you might have planned.  Golfarb writes, "But the reunion was not all flowers, candy, and homogeneity. Time may heal all wounds but memory rips them right back open."  Yes, just like a good poem. 

Your assignment:  Read the story, and then go write a poem looking back at something (any real event) that happened 50 years ago, as if you were there to celebrate the anniversary.  (If you're over 50, up that to 100 years ago, to equalize the challenge.)  You may see an event much differently than you anticipated, and it might turn out to be a good poem.

1 comment:

gaye g.p said...

Good goddess, another challenge from your blog. Am I up for it? My early excuse is the hours I'll be spending this week playing with my 10 year old grand-girl--but I sure will try to find time to read the story and be inspired to write a poem.