Poems, prayers and promises: addition to Op/Ed page brings a bit of culture to The Post

By DAVID GUSTAFSON,

Long before there was Facebook, people turned to newspapers to clip out stories about members of their families for posterity sake.

In addition to news clippings about Johnny making the honor roll or Katie winning the county spelling bee, people have often saved articles  – or entire newspaper issues – about important current events or other less relevant pieces of writing people just wanted to remember.

In the late 1800’s, those clippings often included poems that were routinely featured on the front page of newspapers across the country.

Often times, those poems – or even other thought-provoking sayings or observations were featured under a single section in the newspaper with a title like “Thought for the Day” or something like that.

Sometimes those poems were written by local personalities or even nationally-recognized poets, but lots of times, they were written by people who simply submitted their prose much like someone would submit a letter to the editor.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the more things change, the more they seem to remain the same and I reached out to an old friend of mine with an idea of featuring some topical poems from time to time in our newspapers. It’s not a new idea by any means. But it’s new to our newspaper and I’m very excited to help make it happen.

First and foremost, Bill McCloud is an educator. And a damn good one at that. For 30 years, he taught middle school history and for the last 10 years, he has been an adjunct professor of American History at a liberal arts university back home in the Sooner State.

Thrice named “Teacher of the Year,” McCloud is also a veteran, having served three years in the U.S. Army – including a tour in Vietnam.

I first met Bill more than 30 years ago as a student in his classroom. That same year, he began writing his first book, What Should We Tell Our Children About Vietnam? – a collection of responses to that same question offered by politicians, activists, authors, historians, television personalities, musicians, and dozens of other notable Americans.

Those responses have since been purchased by Harvard University for its permanent literary collection.

Bill is a bit of a renaissance man. While still teaching full-time, he spent summers umpiring little league baseball and working as a greeter at the local WalMart store. He’s also a music afficionado and an avid reader. For years, he wrote book reviews for my hometown newspaper and still manages to find time to read more books than anyone else I know.

His new book, The Smell of the Light: Vietnam, 1968-1969, published by Balkan Press, consists of 107 poems that take the reader, chronologically, along with McCloud during his year in Vietnam.

Most of the poems were written in 2015-16 and were inspired from information McCloud provided in 52 letters he wrote home from Vietnam.

Graham Nash, one-third of the seminal folk trio Crosby, Stills, and Nash, was one of the earliest people to read McCloud’s work and was quick to offer his support.

“As a writer of words myself, I find it truly fascinating to be inside the head of someone faced with an uncertain future. Every day to be experienced to the fullest as it may be the last. Imagine this to be you. I did, and Bill’s powerful imagery of his remarkable journey will remain to help and guide me through my own future. Well done.”

The poems to be featured on these pages in the weeks and months ahead are written specifically for this publication and will appear here first, unless otherwise noted.

McCloud will sometimes write about topical issues, sometimes about his experiences in Vietnam, sometimes about education – and every thing in between.

Read his poems. Digest them.

Clip them out and save them.

I’m grateful for this partnership and after you read his work, I think you’ll see why.

David Gustafson is the not-so mild mannered editor/publisher of The Hattiesburg Post. His favorite poets are Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and Bruce Springsteen.

 

POETRY IN PRINT
By Bill McCloud

TEXT MESSAGES FROM
THE SUNSHINE STATE

It’s not a drill
I hear gun shots
They’re shooting through the walls
It’s not possible
Just know I love you
I appreciate everything you did for me
Stay safe buddy Love you
Play dead
My teacher died
Come get me
I love you forever

 

I WENT TO
SCHOOL TODAY
AND I SURVIVED

Aware of your surroundings on the way to school
Walking with friends are they really friends
Slow down to go through the metal detector
Unlock your locker alert to those around you
Entering the classroom fighting over the desk
Only halfway listening to the teacher
Backpack held up in front of you at all times
Not wanting to go to the cafeteria
Or look anyone in the eye
Watching the clock the clock the clock
I went to school today and I survived