Day 20 In Memoriam
Occasional poems are poems written for a specific occasion, such as state events like a presidential inaugural, or even a national tragedy, such as September 11. For example, "The Names," is a poem by poet laureate of the United States Billy Collins, read during a special joint session of Congress to commemorate the tragedy. People‘s Poetry Gathering produced "Twin Word Towers," a collaborative memorial project. USA Today collects several September 11 memorial poems.
Other poems may offer a comment on a social issue by focusing on an event or object associated with a issue of social importance. Note the following poem, previously used on the AP Literature exam, which focuses on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and what it represents.
Born in Bogalusa, Louisiana in 1947, Yusef Komunyakaa was the first black man to win a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1994). A Vietnam veteran, he did not write about the war until more than a decade after returning to theUnited States. He has published nine books of poetry and teaches at Princeton University. You can read and hear more of his poetry at The Internet Poetry Archive. You can also download a two-page handout on his work from Bill Moyer's Fooling with Words.
Your Turn: Select a place that in some way memorials a place important to you. Use it to focus your own poem. You will be examining the context of the memorial's setting, any actual text that appears at the site, and the sub-text embodied in the site itself. For example, "The Art of Honoring the Dead" focuses on the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial through an interview with its architect Maya Lin.
If you would like more guidance for this assignment, download my brochure on How to Read a Memorial, developed as my project for my National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar, studying the Dark Years in France for five weeks.