Poetry Review — Hurled into Gettysburg

Hurled into Gettysburg by Theresa Wyatt is a collection of poetry reflecting on Gettysburg — the battle, the people, and its legacy.  Wyatt earned her Master’s Degree in Art Education. She primarily worked with students-at-risk. Her longest tenure was with the NYS Department of Corrections. Wyatt’s poetry has appeared in the American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine, Earth’s Daughters, Hektoen International Journal, Spillway, steel bellow, The Buffalo News, The Healing Muse and The Medical Literary Messenger.

Most Americans are familiar with the Civil War from high school history lessons and most have some understanding of the war, its causes, and the aftermath.  Being raised in the North but now living in the South I see how the war remains a geographically polarizing issue one hundred and fifty-five years later. The enormity of the battle and war remains out of reach in many people’s minds. The Battle of Gettysburg produced over 50,000 casualties. Battle casualties in this range would be seen again in WWI before registering the deserving shock and sense of loss. The Civil War is responsible for the greatest loss of American lives in any war fought in our history.

Wyatt visited the Gettysburg battlefield and was awed by its events and those affected by the war, the battle, and the sense of history.  She avoids the battlefield poetry that grew out of WWI and focuses on the people. There are tributes to the Underground Railroad and those who facilitated its path to freedom.  There is also mention of those who help feed the starving soldiers and paid the price for their kindness. The wounded, some recover, others linger waiting for death. The wounded are treated with primitive medical care.  Death is common, some from the lack of understanding some from the sheer numbers that require medical care. For some, there will be a happy homecoming. For others, peppermint is a fragrance not associated with happy times or Christmas.  We are reminded that both sides were Americans and even the leaders of both sides came from West Point.

It was the war that redefined America as an undividable union under a central government. It ended slavery and left wounds that did not heal quickly.  It is said that the South did not recover for one hundred years as slavery mutated into Jim Crow. Now, what is left of the war? In the South, there is outrage over the removal of statues of Southern Generals.  The Stars and Bars are slowly fading from view and state houses. Wyatt captures this theme in the poem “Camp Letterman.” Here it is not a statue or a battle flag. It is the site of a field hospital, the first of its kind, used to treat both Union and Confederate soldiers.  It was a symbol of humanity and care. Now a hotel sits on that location with a supermarket and pancake restaurant nearby. Looking at the map of the area the monument of the camp sits across the street from a McDonalds. This seems to be telling of America’s memory and sense of history.  Flags and Generals are remembered. Humanity is forgotten and covered over.

Wyatt experiences and expresses that sense of awe that many may feel perhaps at a cathedral or a wonder of nature; It is emotionally overwhelming. Her visits to Gettysburg are more than seeing a piece of land. It is the history that radiates from the field. It is almost like seeing the ghosts that lived and died there.  It presents itself as something almost too big for words and can only be expressed in poetry. Wyatt captures the spirit, the people, and the pain that was Gettysburg.

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