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Author Archives: Susan Morrison

Pompeii Still Lives

A recent article reveals how the brain cells of a victim in Pompeii of the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79 were found intact. The devastation of that cataclysmic event impressed my mother, Joan, a historian and poet. At age seventeen Joan wrote a poem reflecting on the every day lives of those living in that now-famed, even infamous, Italian city. What caused her grief was the mundane nature of normal people whose lives were destroyed so suddenly. This poem and others can be found in Another Troy, her recently published volume of verse. Here is a section of the poem, A.D 79.

….A girl ran through the street, her cape flapping, scared.

A noise of query rose, then fright and then despair,

A mad race for the sea now black with wind,

Then captured by the ashes of hot death

And all the businessmen and little boys were dead.

I can stand the broken gods of Troy all lost

Or all the empty temples by the sea of Greece

Poets and the philosophers of ancient worlds all dead—

But not the loaves of bread at Pompeii

            ….still uneaten.                        (February 25, 1940)

Another Troy, a book of verse about World War II, is published

I am delighted to announce the publication of Another Troy— the recently discovered World War II poetry by my mother, Joan Wehlen Morrison, author of Home Front Girl. I edited these poems which tell a unique – and true — story as this teenager loses her innocence due to the impending war and its violent arrival. I’ll be blogging about Another Troy along with Home Front Girl on this website. Enjoy these reviews–I know I did! You can buy the book at the website of Finishing Line Press, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.

Reviews

With growing solicitude at the coming of the Second World War, teenager Joan Wehlen Morrison struggled in her poems to understand the enormous realities of her time while also learning about love and romance, the passage of time, maturity – topics common to most of us at such an age, but topics troubled profoundly by the hatred and loss and violence of the 1930s and 40s. Reading these poems is remembering with nostalgia what it means to be young and setting out. Sadly, they also echo the deeper question that all of us – young and old alike – are today once again forced to ponder: what is to come of us in a world gone mad? In Another Troy, Morrison aches for answers, for truth, in the way only a teenager can.

–Steve Wilson, author of The Reaches

Did you ever own a notebook, and did you open it, perhaps at night, to write about the daily happenings of a world whose pace, magnitude, beauty, and violence staggered your imagination? If so, these poems are for you. Joan Wehlen Morrison’s Another Troy captures what it feels like to be an emerging political, intellectual, and romantic young woman in wartime—when, as William Carlos Williams famously wrote: “It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/ of what is found there.” The poems in Another Troy see beauty and brokenness and honor both. “The moon is a bent feather in the sky” in one poem; “there is an empty orchard in Flanders/Rotting in the rain” in another. Tender and aware, these poems cannot help but imagine foreshortened futures, so that when Morrison writes that the “wind was like a boy’s breath,” we wonder if the boy is at war, and if he will live to see adulthood. In other poems, the poet scrutinizes her own life, imagining “this girl in the blue dress and Juliet cap — / I will be utterly disappeared.” Luckily for us, Morrison’s poems have not disappeared, and when she writes, “I am a moving window[,]” I feel lucky to have been able to glimpse the world through it.

–Cecily Parks, author of O’Nights and Field Folly Snow

Prepare to be charmed and enthralled by these beautiful, sincere poems full of artistry and verve. Joan Morrison, born in 1922, confronts the realities of war and love in witty and learned verse. “But darling, platonic as I know we are,/I fear, against all reason, I still want to be/Immensely Epicurean with you,” she writes. Her work transcends the passing seasons of a nation and a life.

–Tina Kelley, author most recently of Rise Wildly and Abloom & Awry (CavanKerry Press)

 

So Lonely in the Rain

Joan at summer camp on September 1, 1939. You can see what wrote exclamation marks after the date.

My mother’s book of poems, Another Troy, is forthcoming. Joan’s writings reflect on war and loss. Here is a journal entry about Memorial Day from when she was age 14 on May 30, 1937: “This is Memorial Day and it rained. Daddy and I went out for a walk and when it rained went under a tree near the statue of the Unknown Soldier. He looked so lonely there in the rain (the Soldier, I mean), and there wasn’t even a wreath to mark the day. It seemed so pitiful. So I picked a little flower from the tree and ran in the rain to lay it at his feet. And I’m sure he knew I did it and was glad that someone remembered him on this day. It was only a little flower, but I’m sure it meant as much as a wreath. I’m glad I did it, as I’m sure the Soldier is ….”

Another Troy: Poems by Joan Wehlen Morrison to be published soon

The gorgeous cover and photos of my mom and me about fifteen years ago

Delighted to announce the upcoming publication of Another Troy–the poems of my mother, Joan Wehlen Morrison, that I’ve edited. Reserve your copy today to celebrate National Poetry Month. And many thanks to Steve Wilson, Cecily Parks, and Tina Kelley for their lovely blurbs. Here’s a poem for your to enjoy today:

April 17, 1941 [Age 18]

Paris must have fallen on a night like this,
All honey-fresh scented and sleepy.
I felt her breathe just now.
Troy must have fallen too, in spring.

Here is where you can order a copy of Another Troy at Finishing Line Press.

I’m so honored to share the generous blurbs contributed by three amazing poets whose work I revere.

With growing solicitude at the coming of the Second World War, teenager Joan Wehlen Morrison struggled in her poems to understand the enormous realities of her time while also learning about love and romance, the passage of time, maturity – topics common to most of us at such an age, but topics troubled profoundly by the hatred and loss and violence of the 1930s and 40s. Reading these poems is remembering with nostalgia what it means to be young and setting out.  Sadly, they also echo the deeper question that all of us – young and old alike – are today once again forced to ponder: what is to come of us in a world gone mad?  In Another Troy, Morrison aches for answers, for truth, in the way only a teenager can.

–Steve Wilson, author of The Reaches.

 

Did you ever own a notebook, and did you open it, perhaps at night, to write about the daily happenings of a world whose pace, magnitude, beauty, and violence staggered your imagination? If so, these poems are for you. Joan Wehlen Morrison‘s Another Troy captures what it feels like to be an emerging political, intellectual, and romantic young woman in wartime—when, as William Carlos Williams famously wrote: “It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/ of what is found there.” The poems in Another Troy see beauty and brokenness and honor both. “The moon is a bent feather in the sky” in one poem; “there is an empty orchard in Flanders/Rotting in the rain” in another. Tender and aware, these poems cannot help but imagine foreshortened futures, so that when Morrison writes that the “wind was like a boy’s breath,” we wonder if the boy is at war, and if he will live to see adulthood. In other poems, the poet scrutinizes her own life, imagining “this girl in the blue dress and Juliet cap — / I will be utterly disappeared.” Luckily for us, Morrison’s poems have not disappeared, and when she writes, “I am a moving window[,]” I feel lucky to have been able to glimpse the world through it.

–Cecily Parks, author of O’Nights and Field Folly Snow

 

Prepare to be charmed and enthralled by these beautiful, sincere poems full of artistry and verve. Joan Morrison, born in 1922, confronts the realities of war and love in witty and learned verse. “But darling, platonic as I know we are,/I fear, against all reason, I still want to be/Immensely Epicurean with you,” she writes. Her work transcends the passing seasons of a nation and a life.

–Tina Kelley, author most recently of Rise Wildly and Abloom & Awry (CavanKerry Press.)

 

 

The Lost Diaries of War–A Dutch Re-Discovery

The New York Times reports how “forgotten Dutch diarists of WWII…speak at last.” Not only Anne Frank recorded her tragic experiences, but many other everyday folks did as well.

“Petronella Jacoba Margaretha Venema-van Nijnatten, recounts events including her arrest, along with her mother, by the Germans during a house search.”

Over 2,000 diaries were collected after the war and are only now getting their just due. They include all points of view, even one woman who admires the Nazis. Joan would have particularly loved the diary of a 10-year-old girl. In the original NYT article by Nina Siegal and , you can even flip the pages of her little book.

10-year-old “Leni Bijlsma collected poems in an album that was filled with contributions from friends and family.”

A Little Fir Tree Wishes You a Merry Christmas!

Christmas Tree at Marshall Field’s Department Store

My mother, Joan, wrote this Christmas poem when she had just turned 10.  Merry Christmas from 1932!

The Fir Tree

I am a little fir tree,

As green as green can be,

And if you’ll put the trimmings on me,

I’ll be your Christmas tree.

Now hear the Fred Allen Christmas Show from 1932.

Grateful and Thrilled

I’m delighted to announce that Home Front Girl has just won two awards from Literary Classics: Gold Medal in Historical Young Adult and the Words on Wings Book Award (only four books get a Top Honors, which this is).
My mom, Joan, would be thrilled. I’m so grateful.

 

Home Front Girl is Finalist for Book Award

I was delighted last year when my mom’s diaries in the book I edited, Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America, was released in paperback. That meant more people could enjoy my mom’s amazingly precocious insights into God, nature, love, and war. I submitted the new edition to book awards and currently it is a finalist for a Literary Classics Book Award! I’ll know more in a few weeks, but I’m so excited for Joan–only wish she could be here to share in the exciting news.

Home Front Girl is a finalist for a Literary Classics Book Award!

On the other hand, Joan herself was a bit skeptical of awards. Here she is at age 15, describing how she found out about an award she won.

Sunday, June 19, 1938

This edition from the 1930s was illustrated by Rockwell Kent

Well, I won first prize for my essay on Martin Luther today! You know, the one I sat up till 2:30 for last Saturday. Well, I won! I was so surprised! It was announced in church and I was sitting in the choir blissfully counting my feet (two of them), when I heard an acolyte whisper, “Joan Wehlen, she’s here.” And Pat poked me and I got up to receive the prize. It was a book, Moby Dick, signed by Father Carr and Mr. Hebley and inscribed “First Prize.” So there!

Today was the last Sunday School Sunday of the season. Prizes for perfect attendance given out. Little crosses. Of course I didn’t get one! Not for perfect attendance. Of the 15 who had perfect attendance so far, only seven were there to receive their prizes. Very embarrassing. You know, I promised to split my prize if I won it with Mrs. Love as she dictated some Martin Luther notes to me, but I couldn’t rip up the book, so I guess I keep it.

I also have some exciting news about more writings from Joan, which I’ll share soon!

Friends with your mother….

Stephanie Piro’s cartoon from Home Front Girl from The Militant Recommender [http://militantrecommender.blogspot.com/]

I was so delighted to receive this comment out of the blue the other day from someone who had just picked up Home Front Girl.
I checked your mother’s diary out of the library, thinking I would skim it just to get a general impression of the era from a young woman’s point of view.  Instead, I read and enjoyed every word.  Your mother was an excellent writer, even as a teenager, and she had such a funny, vivacious, and clearly infectious spirit, but was also profound and occasionally somewhat prescient. 
Anyway, it was a delightful read, and I felt like I would have been friends with your mother if our lives had crossed.
P.S. There are way too few accounts of the WWII years on the homefront and the ones that do exist tend to focus on the same few themes: Rosie the Riveter, rationing, etc. Thanks for doing your part to expand the repertoire a bit.
Thank you for these kind words–Joan’s presence still makes itself felt, not only in the lives of her family and her friends, but strangers throughout the world.

Diary By Teenage Girl Found

Renia’s diary. Her sister said that she stashed it for decades in a safe deposit box because she could not bear to read it. Credit Brian Harkin for The New York Times

In an incredible story in The New York Times,

It will now be published in various languages. Read the heart-breaking story of her sister, her young boyfriend, and the material in the novel.

Diaries by anyone–famous or private, young or old–can tell us so much about a time period. Read this book.

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