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 ….”
Author Archives: Susan Morrison
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
I had a wonderful time sharing Joan’s story with the perfect audience recently: the UT Austin OLLI LAMP (Learning Activities for Mature People) program.
My friend, the writer PJ Pierce, asked if I would speak about Home Front Girl. I was delighted to!
Not only did PJ provide a lovely introduction, but other dear friends were in attendance: Estelle and Don Singer. I’ve known them since time began (or so it seems). And I met PJ and them by chance in the parking lot before the talk.
Don had agreed to take on the “challenging” role of “Frazier,” in my mom’s book. Normally my husband, Jim Kilfoyle, embodies fully that deeply imagined character ;-). But as he had to teach, I asked Don to fill in. And he obliged me so generously!
Here’s the dialogue we acted: a male friend, Frazier, and Joan are walking down the hall together in early 1939.
He: “Do you believe in heaven and hell, Joan?”
I (overcome by conservation of matter): “No, I’m afraid I don’t. I suppose that disagrees with you?”
He: “No, it doesn’t. That’s good. I don’t either. What do you believe in?”
Me: “Oh, I don’t know—conservation of matter right now. It’s awfully compelling.”
He: “Yes, it is. I guess I believe in that, too. But doesn’t that disprove immortality?”
I: “Oh, I don’t know. It means we’ll live again in flowers, doesn’t it?”
He: “Yes . . . Mr. Mayfield (Bio Sci teacher) makes it all so personal, doesn’t he? . . . You know—I wanted to be cremated.”
I: “Oh, do you? I used to want to, too, but now it seems as though I’d be cheating the Earth . . . you know.”
He: “Yes, I know.”
I: “I did want to be cremated, but now I feel a sort of duty toward the Earth . . . Of course it seems awful to rot away in the . . .”
He: “Yes . . . but I suppose . . . I saw a cremation once!”
Me: “Oh—what was it like?” (I wanted to asked how it smelled, but he thinks I’m crude as it is.)
He: “Oh, it was behind a glass wall and it shriveled up and . . .”
I: “Oh—Oh!” (thinking rotting in the cool sweet earth is more natural)
He: “And then . . ..”
And so we reached the locker room and I staggered to Modern Dance.
Don and I had the audience in stitches.
It was a lovely audience, embracing my mother’s precocious political insight and warm and ironic humor. I felt she was with us as the event took place. Everyone was so lovely–thank you, PJ, for asking me!
Home Front Girl which came out in paperback recently has received another honor: the Literary Classics Seal of Approval! Along with that, their new review of the book has praised Joan as
an extraordinarily bright and insightful young girl growing up in Chicago at the advent of the second world war. She had a profound love of literature, an introspective outlook on relationships with the opposite sex and was an extremely gifted writer. After Joan’s passing in 2010, her adult daughter (award-winning author, Susan Signe Morrison) discovered Joan’s diaries and other collections of her writings, which she skillfully compiled into the literary treasure Home Front Girl. This book offers a wonderfully unique and genuinely honest glimpse into the life of a precocious young girl during the tumultuous time leading up to and during World War II. A fascinating and entertaining read, Home Front Girl is equal parts wit and grit. Readers of all ages will delight in the verbal meanderings, assertions, and contemplations of Joan Whelen Morrison as they follow her through her early teens on up to young adulthood. Recommended for home and school libraries, Home Front Girl has earned the Literary Classics Seal of Approval.
You can read the entire review here. Joan would be thrilled to know her words resonate decades after she wrote them.