Letters from our Youth on the Iraq War


Yesterday, I received a stack of letters from an English class at Ceres High in Ceres, CA. that I visited last month. I did a presentation for them and shared with them some of my favorite poems. Everything from Wilfred Owen, to Bruce Weigl, to Yusef Komunyakaa, and Brian Turner. I also shared with them some of my own poetry and let them ask me questions about the Iraq war. They were really sharp kids, and they kept me on my toes for the three class sessions I led.

Their teacher sent me the student’s thank you letters, and upon reading them, I was surprised and pleased by their insightful comments. I was also pleased to receive so many letters. You don’t get many letters nowadays unless it’s a bill. Since this was such a beautiful gift, I thought I would share a few choice passages with you the readers.

Here is what one student had to say:

“I really liked that you wrote your poetry about your experiences in Iraq. An aspect of your imagery that I liked, was how you would project an awful image then ease the tension with a beautiful image of scenery. The poems explained to me what really goes on in war, it’s not just guns and fighting, but it is hell for the soldier. I didn’t really like poetry because I thought it was girly or for sissies. But you showed me that poetry is for all types of people…big, small, buff, or scrawny. Thank you, for opening a door to a new world. And thank you for taking the time to read this letter.”

I opened my talk by saying, “I’ve come to dispel the myth that poetry is for sissies.” This letter showed me that message sunk in. I’m glad to hear that more young men will be reading poetry, and that they will value it as something more than a sissified art form.

Another student had this to say:

“I’m sure the experiences you’ve been through have been really hard to overcome and I admire your strength to project your feelings, and what you have been through, through your writing. It must still be hard for you to share what you feel through your poems, but I also believe that letting your thoughts flow through pen onto your paper helps way more than holding in those sad thoughts, memories, and feelings.”

What great insight! I believe we have a young poet in the works with a line like, “letting your thoughts flow through pen and paper,” there may be many more young poets in our future.

This was such an engaged class. I was really excited to have been a part of their learning experience. I was also amazed by how thoughtful their analysis of the poetry was. Sharp kids.

Another student said this:

“Having you read some of your poems helped me understand the tragedy of war. In your poems you used great imagery.  Putting a beautiful image next to an ugly one, making it surreal. Being a veteran of war, you explained the devastations without glorifying them.”

They really got it. They were reading, “All Quiet on the Western Front” and they said that hearing the poems and asking me questions really added to the depth of their understanding of the book.

Another student commented that this was helpful in understanding, “that even in the battlefield, beauty and peace can still be found.” This is one message I am glad got across to these young people. The myths of the battlefield pervade our society, but these kids see through it. Another letter that showed me how sharp these young people were was a comment that, “You talked about the boredom sometimes in war and that was shocking to me because I was narrow-minded and thought there was nonstop action.”

This student also commented on the capture of Jessica Lynch, and how I commented that it could have been avoided.The Student said, “It made me think and pay more attention to what’s going on in the war.” Another student said about the Jessica Lynch  account of my presentation, that he talked about it with his parents and was surprised that he knew more than they did!

All of this is proof that our young people are sharper than we give them credit for, and they will be affected by war too. Their lifetime will be altered, but they too can find beauty and peace on the Western front if they look for it.

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