Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Toad's Favo(u)rite: The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

Peggy Goetz here to share a poem with you all. I have so enjoyed learning about poetry from all of you!

Picking my favorite anything has always been a problem for me so I get around that by saying “one of my favorites.” Also I am not sure it is really a favorite as much as one that had an impact on me.

My history with poetry is rather thin compared to many. From my early years I remember my parents reading “A Child’s Garden of Verses” with the counterpane and the birdie with the yellow bill. Later I recall my dad liking to give dramatic readings to us (a captive audience) of poems like “The Ancient Mariner,” “Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree,” and “The Raven.”

I don’t recall any of my teachers being brave enough to try to teach us poetry even through high school.

My first year at university, however, I took a class called 20th Century Poetry. And it was the first time poetry really made an impression on me. I still found it all rather mysterious, but I did get a glimpse nonetheless.

(If you had told me then I might ever write poetry of any kind, I would have laughed at you. But that was long ago now.)

There are several poems from that time that somehow stuck with me. Since someone else will probably pick “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost and ee cummings might seem obvious, I will share the first poem that I remember having a heavy meaning that made a strong impression on me.

It is short, which I like. It is also stark and unflinching. 
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.

                                                                                                                           See more HERE

The poem was published in 1945 and is about the death of a gunner on a World War II American bomber.

Jarrell gave this explanation, according to Wikipedia:
"A ball turret was a Plexiglas sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24, and inhabited by two .50 caliber machine guns and one man, a short small man. When this gunner tracked with his machine guns a fighter attacking his bomber from below, he revolved with the turret; hunched upsidedown in his little sphere. The fighters which attacked him were armed with cannon firing explosive shells. The hose was a steam hose."
Reviewers at the time called the theme of the the poem a condemnation of the dehumanizing power of the State, graphically illustrated by the violence of war. 

The poem makes a clear, strong statement despite its brevity.  It is not one I would want to hang on my living room wall or recite for the beauty of its language, but it is one of the poems that had a strong impact on my young mind.


Kay L. Davies said...

The title of the poem sounds like something Kipling would have written if he had been around for WWII.
You're right, it packs a lot of punch, and would certainly have made a strong, lasting impression on a young person.
I was born in the first wave of the post-war baby boom, when my father returned from duty in England. I'm surprised I never saw this poem before. Thanks for introducing us to it, Peggy.

Outlawyer said...

Thank you, Peggy. I had not read this poem before. It is very powerful. K. (Manicddaily on Wordpress.).

Susan said...

This poem hit me too--its topic, its spareness, the s-t-r-e-t-c-h of each image. Yes, indeed. You can almost hear the guns and the wwoosh of the hosed water. Gag reflex plays into the impact of this amazing poem, short as a life at war.

Marian said...

WOW, Peggy. soooo powerful! thank you for sharing this poem and poet; with both i was unfamiliar. WOW.

Susie Clevenger said...

I hadn't read this poem before, but I can certainly see how it stuck with you. It is so powerful and brings to mind so many images of war in such few words. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Maude Lynn said...

I hadn't read this before. It's amazing.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Wow, Peggy, I didnt know about those spheres with men curled up inside - how horrifying. A short poem that packs a wallop. It reminds me of how Johnny Got His Gun impacted me when I read it when I was young.

Kay L. Davies said...

Peggy, I just had to search Randall Jarrell, and read about him. I discovered he admired Kipling a great deal, so that might explain why the title of this poem made me think of Kipling.

Peggy said...

Wow thank you all for the comments. And think you Kerry for getting it all up for me. It is still a pretty amazing poem I think. Perfect for college freshman in 1965 too. I have been around off and on lately. A busy time of year here. Thank you Toads!!

Kerry O'Connor said...

There are a few poems about war which really remain in the consciousness because they speak of the violence of conflict rather than a specific war. As I read this, I believe it's message is as current today as it was when written. I found the reading to be very moving, thank you for sharing that with us as well.

I was sad to read that your first introduction to poetry did not occur at school.

Marian said...

honestly i wish i had read this poem as a young person.

Ella said...

This poem does pack a punch! I think impact is what moves us~ It is so timely and moving how war still effects us all. I can't imagine all they endured! Thank you Peggy for bringing his voice into focus! A moving poem and post :D

Mary said...

This is an amazing share, Peggy. I had not realized this was a favorite of yours. It has a strong message and is worth thinking about.

Margaret said...

Unflinching in its honesty and lack of hope. Sent chills down my spine - especially when paired with the video. Thank you and I love this "Favo(r)ite challenge! I think we should keep it rotating a few times.

Ella said...

I finally had a chance to watch the video-so emotional! It really affected me~

I agree with Margaret maybe we should keep this challenge and rotate it. I couldn't really select a Favo(r)ite poem either~

Peggy said...

So glad so many read this. I could not think of a favorite either when I first started writing this. So I went for impact instead of favorite. My childhood experiences with poetry were all at home with my parents--my dad loved to read us poetry. But somehow I did not want to write about the impact of "Birdie with a Yellow Bill" or "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner." As I said this poem from my first year of university really stuck with me. Yes I think we should keep this feature going. I am sure we could all think of another poem to write about.

Kerry O'Connor said...

I see no reason why we cannot continue with this feature if our members are all willing.

Scarlet said...

Beautiful share Peggy ~ Poems on war really touch me ~

Marion said...

I cannot think of "ball turret gunner" and not recall the masterpiece, bittersweet novel "The World According to Garp" by John Irving. I smile just thinking of how the main character was conceived. If you haven't read it, it's a MUST read. xo

Peggy said...

I loved that book Marion. It has been a long time since I read it. A real classic I think.

Hannah said...

Wonderful reading and post, Thank you,Peggy for sharing your favo(u)rite!!!