Pick-a-Poem: Politics in Verse

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Ever since I said earlier this year that I don’t really connect poetry with politics, I’ve been finding lots of examples of poetry that does include politics. I guess that’s the literary world’s way of telling me “I told you so! ” So, consider me proven wrong! I’ve found plenty of excellent examples of political poetry since beginning this blog and I’ve found that political poetry tends to be brash and unapologetic about its content. I like that about political poetry — sometimes you just need to stand up and say what needs to be said. Poetry has proved to be an excellent medium for that purpose time after time.

This week, I found the poem, Stars and Stripes, Blood and Bone, by Mitchell Kristie in the Fall 2010 E-Zine of Wordeater, a literary journal run from nearby Joliet Junior College. Truth be told, I clicked on this poem because of its title, hoping that it would be about politics in some way. After the cut, I’ve posted the entire poem and my thoughts on what it has to say.

Stars and Stripes, Blood and Bone, by Mitchell Kristie

Vonnegut told me that Frank Sinatra does not exist in war.
They were just babies then; they were just children.

You fought old men’s wars over sandcastle empires;
because you were just children.

You wrapped yourself in slogans,
believing they were bulletproof;
because you were just children.

You gave blood and bone
for stars and stripes;
because you were just children.

But now you are celebrated as men,
because a nation can’t justify burying their children.

For me, this is one of those poems that I just need to think about after I read it. I read that last stanza the first time and just sat back in my chair, feeling like I’d been hit in the gut. A good poem can do that, a good poem can hit you where it matters and make you think more deeply, more truthfully, about the world in which you live. I feel like this is one of those poems.

The first thing I thought of when I finished this poem was the war novel, All Quiet on the Western Front. I recently finished this book for my Modern Europe class and it’s been ever-present in my mind. World War I was a brutal and nasty war (not that other wars aren’t brutal and nasty as well), and the novel portrayed that so well that it’s stuck with me for a week now after finishing the novel. In reality, this poem is probably more about WWII because of the references to Vonnegut and Frank Sinatra, but I think it could apply to just about any war. Even the two wars we’re engaged in right now.

The central theme of this poem, to me, is that young people often fight a war that was not decided by them or supported by them. The characters in All Quiet on the Western Front address this issue about halfway through the novel — none of them decided to go to war, it was the old men who run the country. I think that’s still the case today. Sure, there may be soldiers who genuinely support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they entered the armed forces so they could fight for their country, but were they the ones to declare war? No.

The final stanza hit me so hard because it made me think of the end of This Week with Christiane Amanpour, which airs every Sunday morning. Each week, at the end of the broadcast, they run the names of soldiers who’ve been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan that week. I didn’t used to pay attention as the names faded in and out on the screen, but the ages began to catch my eye. Some of the soldiers are my age, some of them are younger than me. It’s jarring to realize that someone two years younger than me has been overseas and has seen horrific combat and has died for their country. It’s really unfathomable.

Although I think this poem criticizes those old men who send the country’s children to their deaths, I think it also lauds those children who fight for our freedom. It says quite a bit about a person that they are willing to give up their selfish desires and fight so that we can go about our days and do our mundane everyday tasks without bombs going off in the streets. These soldiers fight for us and they do so at very young ages.

I suppose the moral of this post is that you may hate the war, but you have to love those who are willing to fight it for us.

— Jet Fuel Editor, Mary Egan

One thought on “Pick-a-Poem: Politics in Verse

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