Friday, February 22, 2008

Poetry Friday Book Review: The Brothers' War

J. Patrick Lewis lends his poetic talent to a somber subject in The Brothers' War: Civil War Voices in Verse. The Brothers' War is a thought-provoking and beautiful book. It's also a multi-layered poetic history, with Lewis writing in different voices and different poetic forms.

Two lines open The Brothers' War: Civil War Voices in Verse--two lines alone on a two-page spread in dark brown: "If war is nothing more than lists of battles/Then human lives count less than saber rattles". Lewis brings the human voice to the Civil War, inhabiting the persons of those long gone.

The Brothers' War benefits not only from Lewis's verse, but also from stunning composition. Each two-page spread contains a photo from the Civil War era, one of Lewis's poems, and a paragraph on either the person in whose voice Lewis speaks or the subject of the poem. The grays, blacks, browns, and whites that make up The Brothers' War fit the subject and the verse perfectly.

Take, for example, "Boys in a Brothers' War," a poem devoted to the Battle of Seven Pines. (The poem is subtitled 'near Richmond Virginia, May 31, 1862." The poem opens:

In the bloody Battle of Seven Pines,
a young soldier, Absalom Flowers,
whose mother baked the most delicious cobbler
in Roanoke, whose father was nothing really,
stopped a Union bullet with his face. Rolling slowly
downhill, he concluded on the home of a vole.
A sprawling monument to insanity.

A photo of a tree on the banks of a creek faces the poem, and the note tells us, "The Battle of Seven Pines was an exercise in calamity."

Lewis chooses different poetic forms throughout The Brothers' War to match his subject and voice. "I Am Fast In My Chains" is in the voice of Frederick Douglass and stands opposite Douglass's famous portrait. The poem begins:

Down where the slaves lie broken
Under a slant-wind sky,
The sleepy land heard spoken
Words to electrify.

Bleak history of two nations,
My own slave narrative
Told what the white plantations
Took but refused to give.

Lewis writes in his notes on the poems, "Frederick Douglass's slave narrative is one of the most powerful political documents ever written and the inspiration for my poem. The rhythmic and rhyming form seemed to have just the right flavor to evoke Douglass's voice."

Lewis's notes on the poems are wonderful. He explains why he rhymes in some, why he uses a sonnet for another, why he chose a certain rhythm. His notes add further complexity to an already superb work.

Because of its intense subject matter, The Brothers' War: Civil War Voices in Verse is best suited for children eight and older. This book is perfect for children in Middle School studying American history systematically for the first time. Highly recommended.

Don't miss Bruce's interview with J. Patrick Lewis at Wordswimmer

The Poetry Friday roundup is here today. I'll be doing it old school--adding links in throughout the day. Leave your links in the comments!
First linkage: 8am. Let the roundup begin!

The Cole Mine is first out of the gate with a "short and sweet" poetic quote on family from Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

Becky of Becky's Book Reviews goes for the sublime with a Muppet song (and video clip!), "I Am My Own Grandpa."

Suzanne of Adventures in Daily Living returns to Lucy Shaw this week with "Freezing Rain."

Gregory K. of Gotta Book goes for the laughs today with the original "Mom's Meatloaf."

Mary Lee (A Year of Reading) also contributes an original--a poetry chant called "The Solace of Open Places or It's Not the End of the Earth, But You Can See it From Here." Great stuff, Mary Lee!

Tricia--The Miss Rumphius Effect--celebrates Edna St. Vincent Millay's birthday today with two poems.

Just One More Book is talking A Bird About to Sing--a "gorgeous picture book about a young girl celebrating her poet-self."

Laura Salas is busy this morning! She's looking for help defining the "difference between poetic prose and a poem, specifically in picture books." If you have some ideas, head on over and help her out. Laura also shares some 15 words or less poems this morning. (I love "Why Did I Think I Should Learn Web Design?")

Cloudscome shares "February," by Margaret Atwood, and is enjoying the snow at A Wrung Sponge.

Writer2be contributes a John Mole children's poem --"Variation on an Old Rhyme"--at Findings.

Watch out for Sara Lewis Holmes! This week she commemorates her experience boxing with "One Stick Song," by Sherman Alexei (also a boxer) at Read Write Believe.

Kerry the Shelf Elf reviews Jack Prelutsky's The Wizard (fantastic illustrations by Brandon Dorman).

Jama Rattigan's in love with Paul McCartney and explains why in a beautiful post at Alphabet Soup. (I'm a George girl myself, but this is a fantastic post. Jama almost has me convinced.)

The Queen of Poetry Friday--Elaine Magliaro--has posted an original cento to Harriet Tubman at Wild Rose Reader, and, ooh!, a list poem from one of my favorite poets, Szymborska, at Blue Rose Girls.

MmeT shares a Mary Oliver poem, "Hummingbird Pauses at the Trumpet Vine," at Destined to Become a Classic.

M.F. Atkins reviews Cybils finalist for Poetry Your Own Sylvia, by Stephanie Hemphill, at World of Words.

Sarah Miller hopes spring is on its way (Me too, Sarah! I'm at the end of a very short rope) with a short and joyful poem by Rumi.

Jules is a-swooning with and, she says, the "love poem of all love poems" by John Frederick Nims at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Laurel shares one of John Berryman's Dream Songs--Number 14 to be precise--at Kid*Lit(erary).

Liz B. (A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy) is inspired by the television show Supernatural (Man, I feel out of it) and shares two poems reminiscent of two characters ("pretty, pretty boys"--Sam and Dean).

Susan of Wizards Wireless is also thinking weather today and contributes "Whether the Weather," by Author Unknown.

Karen Edminsten shares a lovely little poem by Ramona on the wonder that is celery. Beautiful.

50 comments. Wow! Okay, now where was I? Oh, here I am...

Tiel Aisha Ansari has an original--"I Could Be"--at Knocking from the Inside

Anastasia Suen shares from Birdsongs, by Betsy Franco and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, at 6 Traits.

Stacey at Two Writing Teachers is raising awareness about upcoming World Water Day (March 22) with two lovely stanzas from Shania Fernandes.

Jill shares some Thomas Hardy ("The Voice") at The Well-Read Child

Sandhya of Literary Safari raves about's The Poem as Comic Strip series and quotes from this month's entry: "Recitative" by A.E. Stalling, illustrated by Kikuo Johnson.

First-time Poetry Friday participant, Lara of Paper Doll, shares some Billy Collins and some pretty cute photos of her daughter.

Wa-hoo! An audiobook blog! Mary Burkey, of Audiobooker, reviews Blues Journey, by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers, and produced by Live Oak Media for Poetry Friday.

Little Willow contributes "She Didn't Mean to Do It," by Daisy Fried, at Bildungsroman.

Cheryl Rainfield joins the Poetry Friday crowd with an original--"A Good Book."

Gina MarySol Ruiz shares "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," by John Donne, in memory of a friend at AmoXicalli.

Hey, it's George Washington's birthday. RM1(SS) (Ret) shares "Our Worshipful Brother, George Washington" (author unknown) at The Old Coot. And, Chris, of The Simple and the Ordinary, shares "
George Washington's Birthday: Wondering," by Bobbi Katz. And, Becky at Farm School shares a letter and a poem by Phillis Wheatley addressed to George Washington. And, late entry: Sherry from Semicolon interrupts her blog break with some Washingtonian poetry.

Jennifer shares an "add-on" song in honor of a new car at
S/V Mari Hal-O-Jen. (A new car definitely deserves a new song. Congrats, Jennifer!)

Our brave Kelly Fineman shares how to prepare to be a featured poetry reader at Writing and Ruminating. Congratulations, Kelly! I'm sure you knocked their socks off.

Liz Garton Scanlon shares an original from 1999--"March Birthday." It's a sad, but touching poem.

Susan of Chicken Spaghetti gives us a mini-review of The Secret of Me, a Young Adult novel in verse by Meg Kearney and links of some of Kearney's work.

MotherReader reviews Carver: A Life in Poems, by Marilyn Nelson. Like The Brothers' War, Carver: A Life in Poems contains poems written in different voices.

John Mutford shares an original called "Age" at The Book Mine Set

Alyssa of The Shady Glade is reading e.e. cummings in American Lit and so shares "anyone lived in a pretty how town. "

Tadmack contributes a poem for all the worriers of the world--"Whatif," by Shel Silverstein--at Finding Wonderland. And that "blissfully peaceful completely unexceptional weekend of relaxation" you wish us all? I hope you have one too, in the end.

Uh-oh. My Doggy Ate My Homework," by Dave Crawly, at At Little of This, A Little of That.

Charlotte of Charlotte's Library shares two snow poems from Robert Graves in honor of snow in Rhode Island. (Here in Smalltown, Charlotte, we've had over 50 inches since December 1. I'm happy to send more your way!)