April 12, 2016

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Poetry Postcard #41: Greetings from Fort McClellan

Of all the poetry postcards, #41 had the greatest emotional effect on me. The postcard led  me to uncover a secret, one that I found profoundly disturbing.

"Beautiful Residences along Kingston Pike, Knoxville, Tenn."
But before I explain, poet Dan Kagan has been recommending the website Post Secret for all you postcard fans. Maybe you'll find inspiration in one of the secrets written on the back of a postcard and shared on the site.

This used postcard came to me from children’s author and poet Irene Latham, who blogs at Live Your Poem.

Cancelled January 17, 1944, in Anniston, Alabama.
It reads: "Greetings from Fort McClellan. This is a really beautiful camp. I found George in excellent health. Tell you more when I get home. Love, Louise."

After reading the message, I thought my best source of inspiration would be research on Fort McClellan. I would never learn who George was, but I could invent a soldier, maybe just graduated from boot camp in 1944. That invented story might make a good poem.

There wasn’t much information on Wikipedia, so I went to the next recommended site. The blog title was "If You Went Through Ft. McClellan, Alabama... I want to hear from you."

I read the post and over 100 comments, most of them from McClellan vets. What I learned on this site  stunned me.

Fort McClellan photo

Rather than write about Fort McClellan’s history, I wove together a found poem. It is constructed from the postcard greeting and portions of a few comments from Susan Katz Keating's blog post.

The poem was published last month by the current events poetry journal New Verse News. I’ll post the opening stanzas, then the link to the full poem.

Greetings from Fort McClellan, 1944-1995

This is a really beautiful camp.
I found George in excellent health.
                                    Please help.
I was stationed at Fort McClellan.
I have developed a symptom of passing out.
Doctors called it "Syncope."
None of them could figure out
what caused it.
Hi my name is: _____
I went through Basic training
in Echo 1 company. We had to go through
that building they called the Gas Chamber.
Does anybody know what type of gas
or chemical was in there?
I want to hear from you.
We were exposed to toxic substances,
big time. The McClellan Cocktail:
depleted Uranium, Sarin gas, mustard gas

Read the rest at New Verse News. Thanks to NVN editor James Penha for finding the perfect postcard to accompany my poem.

The McClellan vets have been trying for years to have their health issues recognized. The neighboring town of Anniston, Alabama was a Monsanto factory site. Monsanto manufactured PCBs in Anniston. It is documented that the company dumped chemicals, affecting the water and ground in Anniston. Because of their health problems related to the spills, the citizens of Anniston sued Monsanto and won a settlement.

60 Minutes called Anniston "America's Most Toxic Town."

However, the settlement does not cover veterans who lived at Fort McClellan, drinking and bathing in that same water, training on that ground, to say nothing of the chemical exposure that reportedly took place there.

McClellan closed in 1999.

A new bill to create a McClellan registry was introduced to the House of Representatives in January. It is titled "H.R. 411: Fort McClellan Health Registry Act." Passing the bill is a first step in helping the McClellan vets.

I encourage you to sign a petition, supporting the bill, at Change.Org.

The bill has been given only a 3% chance of passing. Opponents claim that these are "welfare vets" whose claims are unrelated to Monsanto, Anniston and Fort McClellan.

For more information:

"Poisoned Patriots of Ft. McClellan" at Law Enforcement Today


Tabatha said...

Wow, that is very disturbing. Especially because it was done so recently and the vets aren't being given help! Good job with your research and the found poem, Laura. I think this project has made you really think outside the box with your structures/forms.

Debbie Levy said...

How fascinating, the twists and turns of your postcard project! This is quite a story. You never know where a postcard or a poem might lead. . . .

Anonymous said...

What an arresting poem and, as Tabatha said, a disturbing situation. Congratulations on the publication of it, as hopefully more people will learn about this!

Linda B said...

Laura, your postcard poems have taken so many paths, haven't they, & reached others you never would have guessed. How wonderful that you persisted to find out some of the meaning of this, & also that Irene chose it & sent it. Intriguing how choices change things. I am filled with so many questions, like 'why did they have to do that testing?' and those in command either knew or were also ignorant. "How could someone willingly send others into poisonous circumstances?" I will find the site & sign it! Thanks for all. Your poem is sad, yearning.

Author Amok said...

Thanks, everyone. I'm sorry I didn't reply yesterday. I ended up leaving a day early for the AWP conference. Hectic!

Tabatha, you're so right. This was a stretch-yourself project.

Debbie, I appreciate it. I think of your "Year of Goodbyes" as a related kind of project, using letters and scrapbooks as a jumping off point for new writing.

Matt, thank you so much for supporting this post by sharing it on FB. I appreciate help spreading the word about Fort McClellan.

Linda, you've been a stalwart fan of the project. Thank you! It was important to me not to change the comments shared by these vets, but to compose them in an effective way.