, Gloucester, MA

January 22, 2013

My View: A pledge and a lesson in Newtown

My View
John Ronan

---- — No recent public event has generated more debate or news coverage than the tragedy at Newtown.

The national discussion, continuing in Congress and at the White House, on op-ed pages and in churches, in barber shops and town meetings, in schools, taverns, coffee shops, and in the quiet of our own living rooms, is at once necessary and healthy.

Poetry has a place in the national conversation. Everyone remembers poems from childhood and school and can still quote them. We revere poetry even if we don’t read or write it, although many, many do read and write poems, certainly here in Gloucester.

Poetry is important, whether confessional – on love, remorse, dreams, aspirations, or anchored outside the self, in the objective hooks of people, places, or events. If the hook is public, well known, the product becomes a civic poem, part of the chronicle of the time, part of the discussion. I believe poetry has an obligation to be civic, to help shape public experience: a lost fishing boat here at home or tragedy far away.

Like most states, Connecticut requires schools to set time aside for the Pledge of Allegiance.

After Newtown, I thought often about those first graders pledging to the flag every day, curious what those children might have been thinking about the adult vocabulary, the high ideals.

I wondered if they believed or understood the words; I wondered if I believed or understood the words. The result was a civic poem.


The kids weren’t thinking of Aurora, Oakland, Tucson,

They had not pledged themselves to weapons, and being kids

Could never remember Blacksburg, Columbine, Binghamton.

The earnest boys and girls of first grade

Weren’t linking patriotism to firepower and stripper clips,

Nor Christmas to domestic terror, cowardice, Congress –

Hadn’t learned the rhetoric of re-election and leadership,

Nor yet had alphabet enough to fathom madness.

Hands over their hearts, the kid-citizens

Called out justice, allegiance, republic,

The lofty thoughts of American civic prayer

Made a persuading faith by the pitch of children:

Simple witness and common sense, the mix

Of law and love, indivisible communion on a dare.

John Ronan is a former poet laureate or the city of Gloucester and host of the show “The Writer’s Block” on Cape Ann TV.