Friday, March 16, 2012

Poetry: America at War (Lee Bennett Hopkins)

For Poetry Friday, I am sharing some poems from Lee Bennett Hopkins’ anthology America at War.   Hopkins has pulled selections from all the major wars American has fought—American Revolution, Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, and Iraq War.   Each section begins with a quote from a figure during the conflict and brief information about the specific war. 

There is a beautiful range of point of views from those fighting to those who are at home waiting or mourning.  The tone is heavy, but not overwhelming.  The selections humanize death and bloodshed, which is sorely lacking in our culture where violence in the media has become so commonplace that we can easily forget the human cost of war.  Here are a few of my favorites: 

“Drummer” (by Cynthia Cotton)
Tonight is quiet.

there’ll be fighting.

My first battle.

I’ll be brave
in the morning
as I set the pace:

Men will march
many to their deaths
as I spur them on:


I wish my ma was

“Sleep tight—
sweet dreams,”
would be
right fine
to hear.

“My Brother’s Shirt” (Rebecca Kai Dotlich)
It is mine now,
one stiff army shirt,
THOMPSON printed
on the pocket.
United States Army
sends something home;
gives part of you back.
The part that cannot
breathe, or speak
or tease me anymore.

The last poem is not necessarily about war, but it ends where all things should—with hope. 

“Dreams” (by Langston Hughes)
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is q broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

This anthology would be an excellent accompaniment to a study of history and war.  The condensed imagery in poetry appeals to both the intellect and emotions so readers FEEL the impact greater than merely reading about a topic in prose.  Use America at War for across the curriculum unit study of literature and history for ages 10 and up. 

For more Poetry Friday posts, visit Gottabook


  1. I love this book. Every year in April I have my students memorize and perform a poem in front of the class and so many boys choose poems from this book. I had a student perform the Drummer poem a few years ago and was so moved by his quiet, sensitive performance that I encouraged him to join the forensics team the next year, and sure enough he did.

    I also had a boy another year perform the poem from this book, though the name escapes me, about the dad telling the son he's the man of the house now, and it literally brought me to tears.

  2. Wow! I am glad you have had such a great experience with these poems! What a great testimony on the importance of memorizing and performing poetry.

  3. Lee Bennett Hopkins' anthologies are just a-ma-zing. Haven't heard of this one yet and it sure looks like a perfect book to include if ever we do push through with our war-and-peace theme in GatheringBooks. Will pin this in my Pinterest board. :)

  4. Thank you for selecting AMERICA AT WAR -- and
    for choosing three of my favorite poems in the collection. I wish you could post a youtube of students reading from the book. The work is so powerful. Lee Bennett Hopkins

  5. My kids would be so interested in this..thank you!


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