New Letters Responds - A Digital Archive Curated by Megan Kipper

About This Archive

The New Letters Responds Archive is a collection of poems and essays, from multiple publications of the New Letters Literary magazine, that serve as historical snapshots. Each piece is an author’s reaction, in the form of a poem or creative nonfiction essay, to a specific event or period of history that the author experienced. They are the authors’ attempts to make sense of the things happening around them and the world they live in.

Most of the pieces are in response to a specific event. Some of these events are political, such as the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 which author J. Malcolm Garcia responds to in his essay, "City of the Dead." Other events are environmental, like the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, which Margo Berdeshevsky reflects on in her essay "Century Walker: The Tsunami Notebook." Still, other events are cultural such as the publication of Go Set a Watchman, which Janet Burroway comments upon in the essay, "The Mockingbird Syndrome." A few of these pieces are not in response to a specific event but are rather a reflection of the political, social, and cultural climate of a period of history, like Glenn North’s poem, "How to Mourn a Brown Boy."

These pieces serve as primary source documents because they are first-hand responses to events by people who lived through them. They also go beyond the surface of the events in question and reflect upon the struggles, strengths, and unifying factors that come with being human. Creative works aren’t always immediately what comes to mind when people think of historical documents. Yet, when we look back at history and wonder how people were feeling or why they reacted a certain way, documents like these can provide this insight and help us better understand those that came before us and the way we are all connected.


Table of Contents

Sonata for Tornado in EF-5 (Major): May 22, 2011, 5:41-6:13 p.m. – David Clewell

On May 22nd, 2011, an EF-5 tornado struck Joplin, Missouri, causing 161 deaths and more than 1,000 injuries. It was one of the deadliest tornadoes on record in the U.S. This poem highlights how the day started out normal for the people of Joplin, only to completely change course in an instant. It details the terror that people felt during the storm, and the moments after when they stepped out of their homes to witness what was left. The poem also addresses the way that humans can have their lives completely upheaved but they will still rise from the rubble and build something stronger and longer lasting.
-- Originally published in Volume 79, Issue 3&4, 2013.

How to Mourn a Brown Boy – Glenn North

In 2016, at the time this poem was written, black men were more likely to be victims of homicide within the United States than any other group of people. In the wake of their deaths, the focus was often on the men’s mothers. This poem provides social commentary on this injustice and the weight that these mothers carried, even while mourning the loss of their children. It also speaks to the bitter truth that mothers of black and brown boys must prepare themselves for these situations because they happen so frequently. It is dedicated to KC Mothers in Charge, a group of mothers, grandmothers and aunts, in the Kansas City area, who are committed to working to prevent others from experiencing the tragedy of homicide.
-- Originally published in Volume 82, Issue 2, 2016.

City of the Dead – J. Malcolm Garcia

The Egyptian revolution of 2011 began on January 25th, 2011. Millions of citizens participated in protests, demonstrations, marches, civil disobedience and clashes with security forces. The protestors called for the overthrow of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak. On February 11th, 2011, Mubarak resigned as president and turned power over to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. In this essay, the author recounts his visit to the City of the Dead, just outside of Cairo, Egypt, not long after the revolution. The City of the Dead was where wealthy families entombed their dead in the 7th century. At the time of the author’s visit, however, it served as a slum for over 500,000 people who couldn’t afford housing. This essay investigates how sweeping political changes often leave the lives of those living in poverty relatively unchanged, and it subtly questions how much impact reforms actually have. The essay particularly focuses on the elderly living in poverty and their awareness that they are at the end of their lives with little chance of their situation improving.
-- Originally published in Volume 78, Issue 2, 2012.

Girls Targeted in Taliban Gas Attack – Diane Glancy

On April 17th, 2009, a girl’s school in Charikar, Afghanistan was the target of a poison gas attack. Ninety schoolgirls were rushed to the hospital and at least five slipped into comas. The attack was believed to have been the work of the Taliban and thought to be prompted by the ban on women’s education within the Taliban. This poem is a reaction to both that attack and the attack on girls’ education in general. The poem investigates the power that education provides people, especially girls, and its perceived threat to those who would try to restrict access to it.
-- Originally published in Volume 82, Issue 2, 2016.

A Brief History of Hurricane Lee – Linda Pastan

On September 2nd 2011, Tropical Storm Lee formed in the Caribbean Sea and reached the gulf coastline of the United States. Despite this poem’s title, the storm never actually reached hurricane status, but it did produce rapid rainfall and tornadoes, resulting in massive flooding along both the Gulf and Eastern Coasts of the United States. This poem reflects the author’s anticipation of the storm and her thoughts on the preparation that occured beforehand. The poem also explores the attempts humans make to create protection in order to weather out the storms of life.
-- Originally published in Volume 78, Issue 2, 2012.

Yes, the Lights - Margo Berdeshevsky

On November 13th, 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) launched a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, France. ISIL claimed the attacks were in response to earlier French attacks on members of the Islamic State in Syria and Israel. The Paris attackers killed 130 people and injured over 400 more. It was the deadliest set of attacks in France since WWII. This poem is a reflection on the aftermath of the attacks and the suffering and damage left in their wake. It also considers the wounds left by war and how one goes about healing them.
-- Originally published in Volume 82, Issue 1, 2015-2016.

Applied Mathematics – Kim Addonizio

In 2011, at the time this poem was written, social justice, climate change, and environmental activism were hot topics. The science community was warning the public that the world was approaching a point in which the environmental damage from climate change could no longer be reversed. This poem addresses these topics and society's tendency to reduces everything to numbers and statistics to determine worth and whether or not a problem is worth addressing. The poem argues that these numbers and statistics are used as justification for why problems regarding the environment and social injustice continue to be ignored within the United States.
-- Originally published in Volume 77, Issue 2, 2011.

Eternal 48 Hours – Raad Abdul-Aziz

Beginning in 2004, members of the Iraqi insurgency began taking foreign hostages in Iraq. In some situations, the hostages were executed if the demands of their kidnappers weren’t met. On September 7th, 2004, four aid workers at the non-profit organization, A Bridge to Baghdad, were abducted in broad daylight. They were eventually released on September 28th, 2004. The author of this essay was one of the people kidnapped, and the essay recounts the terror he felt when he thought he was going to be executed. It also reflects on his regret for leaving behind his son and his guilt for not being more present in his son's life. The essay ends with his overwhelming relief at his release, and it reflects on the duality of people and their capacity to both exhibit compassion and also cause harm.
-- Originally published in Volume 77, Issue 1, 2010-2011.

The Mockingbird Syndrome – Janet Burroway

In July 2015, the novel Go Set a Watchman, was published, and initially reported to be a sequel to Harper Lee’s acclaimed novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Rather than a sequel, however, the novel was actually the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, and a flashback sequence from Go Set a Watchman became the premise for To Kill a Mockingbird. Its publication was met with controversy, in part because its portrayal of beloved character, Atticus Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird, as a racist. This essay is the author’s commentary on the book and how it dealt with the themes of racism. It also tackles the author’s own views on racism within the United States, and our tendency, as adults, to recognize racist behaviors in our parents that we were blind to as children
-- Originally published in Volume 82, Issue 1, 2015-2016.

Flashback - Christopher Buckley

In October 1962, the United States government learned that Cuba was assembling nuclear missiles with the aid of the Soviet Union. On October 22nd, 1962, President Kennedy ordered the formation of a blockade, and authorized the use of military force to neutralize the perceived threat. Soviet ships, bound for Cuba, reached the U.S. blockade but ultimately did not try to breach it. A tense standoff continued until an agreement was reached to remove the missiles. This event became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. In this poem, the author reflects back on this period when he was a boy. The poem details the way that the U.S. media reported on certain events but left others completely out. It also addresses the fragility of human life and how a single moment has the potential to end it in an instant.
-- Originally published in Volume 83, Issue 2&3, 2017.

The Haunting – Leslie Ann Minot

In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq in response to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the belief that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqi military was defeated, and Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, fled the country. In the aftermath, Iraq was left destabilized which led to the rise of militant groups. As a result, the United States did not completely withdraw their military troops until 2011. This poem is an ode to the soldiers who were stationed in Iraq, the violence they encountered and were a part of, and the innocent civilians who lost their lives in the cross-fire. It focuses on the high cost of war and how experiences that soldiers face often haunt them long after they’ve returned home.
-- Originally published in Volume 76, Issue 1, 2009-2010.

Century Walker: The Tsunami Notebook – Margo Berdeshevsky

On December 26th, 2004, a magnitude 9.0 undersea earthquake struck off the west coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. The earthquake created a tsunami that impacted more than 12 countries and left more than 250,000 people dead or missing. This essay details the author’s experiences, while she was in Sumatra, helping out in the wake of the tsunami's devastation. It depicts the loss, horror, and devastation experienced by the people in the areas affected. It also demonstrates the overwhelming strength of the human spirit, and the way that people can come together in the midst of tragedy, no matter where they come from or what language they speak.
-- Originally published in Volume 72, Issue 3&4, 2006.