Civil War Letters

Upon a visit to the Special Collections Department in the University of Iowa’s Main Library, I was able to uncover a marvelous book of Civil War letters (Call #: MSC 541 Box #1 and #2) authored by Mr. Charles Thomas Ackley, a Union soldier from Iowa. Reading Ackley’s letters gave me a very realistic look into the life of a typical Union soldier from the rural Midwest.

Ackley was born in Pittsfield, New York on July 23, 1833. In 1855 he moved to Iowa and started a farm near Marble Rock. He was married in 1863 to Elizabeth Thayer (The recipient of his Civil War letters). Later that year Ackley enlisted in Company B of the Seventh Iowa Volunteer Infantry of the Union Army. The letters that he sent home to his family in Marble Rock date from January 17, 1864 to July 5, 1865. While he served, Ackley saw intense action and fought in many battles during the war. Although he was not injured, he did contract diseases that hindered him for the rest of his life. He was discharged in July 1865.

While reading Ackley’s letters I found many things to be very interesting. One such aspect I found particularly stunning was his “quite comfortable” living conditions. Through his letters he explained he lived in makeshift barracks with 50 other men. They had a coal stove to keep them warm in the winter months. He slept on bunks with 3 beds on each, spanning about 4 feet wide that had “plenty of straw on them.” I found these conditions to be a little appalling; however, during the time period Ackley seemed very impressed.

Ackley’s personal relationship to his wife and children is another fascinating detail that can be observed. Times of love, distrust, guilt, and even undeserving feelings are scattered bountifully through his many letters. This was a very captivating trail to follow, in my opinion.


The Ku Klux Klan in the 21st Century

In Trethewey’s poem Incident she describes a cross burning conducted by the Ku Klux Klan.  Back when she was growing up, demonstrations like this were commonplace throughout the South, but we do not hear much about the Ku Klux Klan nowadays.  However, here is a story that proves that groups of Klan members still exist.

A man in Ohio was arrested on April 2, 2012 for menacing an African American and threatening him with a gun.  The man was with a group of about nine others that were all wearing Ku Klux Klan robes.  Thankfully nobody was injured in the altercation. 

This shows that, although the Ku Klux Klan is much less prominent in society now, there are still occasional incidents that should not be taken lightly.

You can read more about this event here

Annotated Poetry: Scenes From a Documentary History of Mississippi (Continued)

Scenes From a Documentary History of Mississippi
by Natasha Trethewey

3. Flood

They have arrived on the back
of the swollen river, the barge
dividing it, their few belongings
clustered about their feet. Above them
the National Guard hunkers
on the levee, rifles tight in their fists,
blocking the path to high ground.
One group of black refugees,

the caption tells us, was ordered
to sing
 their passage onto land,
like a chorus of prayer—their tongues
the tongues of dark bells. Here,
the camera finds them still. Posed
as if for a school-day portrait, children
lace fingers in their laps. One boy
gestures allegiance, right hand over
the heart’s charged beating.

The great river all around, the barge
invisible beneath their feet, they fix
on what’s before them: the opening
in the sight of a rifle; the camera’s lens;
the muddy cleft between barge and dry land—
all of it aperture, the captured moment’s
chasm in time. Here, in the angled light
of 1927, they are refugees from history:
the barge has brought them this far;
they are waiting to disembark.

4. You Are Late

The sun is high and the child’s shadow,
almost fully beneath her, touches the sole
of her bare foot on concrete. Even though
it must be hot, she’s takes the step; her goal

to read is the subject of this shot—a book
in her hand, the library closed, the door
just out of reach. Stepping up, she must look
at the two signs, read them slowly once more.

The first one, in pale letters, barely shows
against the white background. Though she will read
Greenwood Public Library for Negroes,
the other, bold letters on slate, will lead

her away, out of the frame, a finger
pointing left. I want to call her, say wait.
But this is history: she can’t linger.
She reads the sign that I read: You are Late.

Read More and Blog More

There have been many blogs written about or by Natasha Tretheway as well as Native Guard, but this blog in particular stood out above the rest. The blog is titled, Read More/Blog More Poetry by Lu and was published in February of this year. It was very upbeat and I think advocated the book of poems very well. It even reached out to audiences that aren’t fans; people who think poetry is boring or hard to understand and explain that this book will open up your eyes to new horizons. Although Tretheway did not personally create this blog, Lu is a strong supporter and fan of her writings. She gives insight on how the poetry covers a sense of history, culture and family and talks about how the book is broken up in to three different sections. I think this blogger does a great job in showing why we are reading Native Guard in our class and why other audiences as well as the classroom should read it. My favorite part of the blog is the poem she puts at the end of her blog titled, “My Mother Dreams Another Country,” it is a great way to close and reflect on her work.

“My Mother Dreams Another Country”

Already the words are changing. She is changing
from colored to negro, black still years ahead.
This is 1966 – she is married to a white man -
and there are names for what grows inside her.
It is enough to worry about words like mongrel
and the infertility of mules and mulattoes 
while flipping through a book of baby names.
She has come home to wait out the long months,
her room unchanged since she’s been gone:
dolls winking down from every shelf — all of them
white. Every day she is flanked by the rituals of superstition,
and there is a name she will learn for this too:
maternal impression – the shape, like an unknown
country, marking the back of the newborn’s thigh.
For now, women tell her to clear her head, to steady her hands
or she’ll gray a lock of the child’s hair wherever
she worries her own, imprint somewhere on the outline
of a thing she craves too much. They tell her
to stanch her cravings by eating dirt. All spring
she has sat on her hands, her fingers numb. For a while
each day, she can’t feel anything she touches: the arbor
out back — the landscape’s green tangle; the molehill
of her own swelling. Here — outside the city limits –
cars speed by, clouds of red dust in their wake.
She breathes it in — Mississippi — then drifts towards sleep,
thinking of someplace she’s never been. Late,
Mississippi is a dark backdrop bearing down
on the windows of her room. On the TV in the corner,
the station signs off, broadcasting its nightly salutation:
the waving Stars and Stripes, our national anthem.

Natasha Tretheway

30 Second Bunnies


30 Second Bunnies is a series of episodes that re-enact many popular movies in 30 seconds or less. These episodes are fun ways of summarizing many of your favorite movies. All of these episodes can be found on the writers website The series originally started back in 2005 when the creator of the website created a 30 second clip of “The Exorcist“. Since then there have been many more short films created. The site has won two Webby Awards for Online Film and Video/Animation, as well as the People’s Voice award in that category.

Community partner: Art Share

One of the organizations that is partnering with The Derek Project is Arts Share, a group in the Division of Performing Arts at the University of Iowa.  Its main goal is to share the University’s performing arts resources with schools and other groups in the state of Iowa.  They do this in a number of ways, including hosting classes, workshops, readings, and other events.  Most of its staff are faculty and graduate students in the Division of Performing Arts, the School of Art and Art History, and the Writers’ Workshop. 

It is quite an extensive project, with five major programs: Dance, creative writing, music, theatre, and visual arts.  As of today, it has visited 74 of the 99 counties in Iowa and continues to grow.  You can learn more about Art Share here.

Natasha Trethewey – Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

Award winning poet, Natasha Trethewey, grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi, a coastal region that suffered very extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While she personally no longer lives in the area, much of Trethewey’s family still resides in Mississippi’s Gulf Coast and has been recovering ever since the hurricane struck. Trethewey states that the region’s future can be directly associated to how its past is remembered; to reflect on her own personal memories of the Gulf Coast and how her family has entered the rebuilding process, Trethewey published a recent memoir, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Contained in the work are poems, letters, and photographs. She believes that, through her poems and writing, she has been able to make peace with Hurricane Katrina.

In “Liturgy,” a poem included in Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Trethewey describes some of the devastation from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

“To the displaced, living in trailers along the coast, beside the highway, in vacant lots and open fields; to everyone who stayed on the coast, who came back – or cannot – to the coast;”

As can clearly be seen in “Liturgy” and throughout Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Trethewey still very deeply cares about her home state of Mississippi. Her roots and heart will forever be in the Mississippi Gulf Coast.