National Poetry Month

Brooke here.  We made less progress on the stairs than expected.  6″x6″x8′ timber is heavy.  Go figure.  And I smacked my hand with a mallet.  And there was a tremendous storm last night where we lost some very large branches which need to be cleaned up…  And, and, and…

And it’s National Poetry Month! It seems right and fair to give Randall Jarrell his due, so let’s poke his most famous poem, the “Death of the Ball Turret Gunner:”

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

When we first bid on this house and were told it had inherent value (*cough*) as Randall Jarrell was famous (*cough*cough*), I smiled and nodded politely and went to Google this apparently famous dude I had never heard of.   Although I had!  I had read the “Ball Turret Gunner.”  From eighth-grade English, as I recall, where we also learned Randall Jarrell had been in the Air Force during the Second World War and had seen first-hand the fate of the vulnerable gunner in his little glass bubble.

This was the first and only time I had heard of Randall Jarrell; apparently, I am not alone.  Even as far back as 1962, “Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” seemed a point of painful pride for the Jarrell family.  In Remembering Randall, Mary von Schrader Jarrell noted that “out in the world, Randall was mainly known as the author of the most anthologized poem of World War II, ‘Death of the Ball Turret Gunner'” (p. 93) and that the prevalence of the poem was such that Randall Jarrell could pick up his mail and “tell from the outside, somehow, which letters were for ‘Ball Turret Gunner’ requests” (p. 137).

He’d hand them over to me for reply and we made no comment.  It was an awkward moment.  I’d write back granting permission for the five-line poem to be used in all kinds of giant anthologies for a fee of twenty-five dollars.  It wasn’t the fee so much.  Twenty-five dollars bought us a restaurant dinner in those days.  What stung Randall was the custom of textbook departments epitomizing his two books of acclaimed war poetry to this one space-saving and money-saving five lines.  We talked of writers who were known for one novel, one play, one book, and each “Ball Turret Gunner” letter stabbed Randall with the notion he was a one-poem poet (p. 137).

Sorry Randall, but take some comfort as you’ve been dead for almost half of a century and you’re a writer whose work is still known.  Very, very few creators can rest with that honor.

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5 thoughts on “National Poetry Month

  1. Pingback: If the tree doesn’t fall on the house, does the insurance company hear the claim? «

  2. Majumba

    I started reading your blog after finding AGAHF. I too didn’t think I knew of Mr. Jarrell’s poetry. As it turns out we seem to have had a similar introduction to his work, but my first exposure was finding the last line etched into the desk I used in a 9th grade Mythic Patterns class.

  3. annoyedwabbit

    I decided to illustrate that poem for my high school art class. It’s still one of my favorite war poems, mostly because of the imagery in the last two lines.

  4. Pingback: Speaking of trees… «

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