I’ve been semi-obsessed with the CIvil War for the last couple of years. It’s been more in the public consciousness of late, since today is the 150th anniversary of South Carolina firing on Fort Sumter and starting the military stage of a war which had been a long time in coming. When I read this morning that the city of Charleston, SC is celebrating the anniversary with mock barrages and multiple surrenders timed to coincide with tour boats, I wasn’t surprised, really. I grew up in an area that celebrated the Lost Cause, that referred to the Civil War as The War of Northern Aggression much of the time–the more liberal called it The War Between the States.
And for much of my life, I didn’t really challenge the narrative I’d been fed. My parents were anything but racist–they were members of one of the earliest integrated churches in the south and actively pushed back against members of their congregations who were still drowning in the waters of the Old South–but they weren’t interested in history, so they didn’t have the necessary tools to fight the Lost Cause myths that surrounded us. They were more interested in the now and the near future, since they believed that the End Times were upon us and that racism wouldn’t be an issue in a post-Armageddon world. That’s another story though.
When I saw that piece on Charleston’s celebration, I thought about the Hugh MacDiarmid poem “Another Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries.” Here it is for you to take a look at:
Another Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries
It is a God-damned lie to say that these
Saved, or knew, anything worth a man’s pride.
They were professional murderers and they took
Their blood money and impious risks and died.
In spite of all their kind some elements of worth
With difficulty persist here and there on earth.
Now, MacDiarmid was writing about the British Expeditionary Force, and his own politics were
Kelli Agodon is organizing this again, and since I have a book of my own this year, I figure I might as well get in on it. I’ll be giving away one copy of my book and one copy of Derek Walcott’s White Egrets. If you’re interested in them, just leave a comment with a valid email address linked to your name. Don’t put your email address in the comment–poetry is awesome, but it’s not worth exposing yourself to spammers. On May 1 or thereabouts, I’ll randomly select a winner and get a mailing address from them, and mail the books. Mine will be signed as well.
Happy National Poetry Month 2011!