Monday, September 14, 2009

Comfort in Times of Tragedy

Where do you turn in times of deep trouble? How do you console yourself when your whole world has turned upside down? How can you provide solace to others, especially children, who have lived through traumatic events like the tragedies of September 11, 2001?

Poet, author, and teacher Georgia Heard tried to answer such questions when asked “to gather poems of comfort to read to the New York City children who witnessed the World Trade Center tragedy.” The anthology she edited, This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort, includes eighteen poems, each one illustrated by a different picture book artist. Many of the illustrators describe their inspiration for the illustrations and their hopes that their contributions might help provide comfort. In an Author’s Note, Heard says, “I tried to choose poems that touch upon our feelings of fear and loss, remind us that we are not alone in despair, and assure us that dreams can be born even from tragedy.” The poems in this wonderful collection fulfill her objective and more.

The title poem, “This Place,” by Eloise Greenfield, and several others address grieving and assure young readers that tears are an acceptable and possibly even a necessary part of the process.

Touching poems about friendship and togetherness include “To You” by Karla Kuskin, which speaks to someone whose company would enable the narrator to “do anything at all.” “A Little Girl’s Poem” by Gwendolyn Brooks describes a child’s wishes for children all over the world: “Life is for us, and is shining. We have a right to sing.”

Both “Hold Fast Your Dreams” by Louise Driscoll and Langston Hughes’s “Dreams” remind readers to hold onto their hopes and dreams so they can eventually find joy. A favorite of mine, “Trouble, Fly” by Susan Marie Swanson, addresses trouble directly and asks it to “Let our night be a night of peace.” “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry describes a retreat to still water to “rest in the grace of the world.” Additional poems describe life in New York City and the resilience of its inhabitants. The publisher, Candlewick Press, and contributors donate part of the proceeds to Save the Children.

I return to this collection again and again, when teaching, in school visits, to comfort myself in difficult times. Of course, poetry alone is not enough to save us in times of tragedy. But it can help lessen the pain of listeners and readers alike by reminding us of our shared losses and strengths.


Kim Winters said...

Thanks for bringing this book to our attention, Joann. It's definitely one I want to add to my collection.

JoAnn Early Macken said...

You're welcome, Kim! It's certainly a favorite of mine, & I think it has something for everyone.