Voices from the Titanic: Discovering History Through a Poet’s Eyes



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by Allan Wolf

T

o me publishing a book is one of the most personally gratifying of human achievements. But even more gratifying is publishing a book that someone else actually reads. So thanks.

Although New Found Land has been recognized by many as poetry, I usually take care to use the term “verse.” In fact those savvy folks in the publishing world have even coined a name for this popular genre, calling it the “verse novel.” Members of the book sales and marketing field may snidely (if correctly) note that a book with “A Novel” written after the title will automatically sell better than a book with “A Collection of Poems” written after the title. “Poetry,” they say, “is a hard sell.” True or not, a verse novel is not simply a collection of poems called “a novel.”

As a poet I am drawn to this form for the same reasons that as a child I was drawn to poetry. I like how the snippets of the narrative emerge and fall into place as if I am reading a jigsaw puzzle. And I have an innate love of how lines of verse turn. Their shape is not mandated by the dimensions of the book’s page. Their shape is determined by something more mysterious, some sort of magic that comes from the words themselves. These line breaks are a constant graphic reminder that the words have been worked by the hands of man, like taking in the sight of a freshly ploughed field. The intentional furrows are a testimony to human ingenuity.

The image of the plough is important to my point. The word “verse” derives from the Latin versus which literally means “having turned.” Poet Robert Wallace goes on to explain that “As a noun [versus] came to mean the turning of the plough, hence furrow, and ultimately row or line. Thus, the English word verse refers to the deliberate turning from line to line that distinguishes verse from prose.” †

To read a verse novel is to watch the words of the story turned into furrows, the lines emerging in the wake of a tiny invisible plough. What better medium could there be to relate the story of Lewis and Clark’s Herculean struggle to inch their way across the continent and back?


Writing Poems by Robert Wallace (Little, Brown and Company, 1982), page 8. I cut my teeth on this great book in graduate school. It’s a must for any serious poet.
The Undertaker
Informational Text (From Encyclopedia Titanica).
Literary Text from WATCH

John Snow, The Undertaker, pp.44-45.


Documents: Record of Effects; Affidavit

Audio/Visual: Various Photos; Spoken Word--Disc 2, Track 7


Activity: FIRST read the following pieces: Jock Hume, The Second Violin, pp. 354-355; John Jacob Astor, The Millionaire, pp. 10-11; Oscar Woody, The Postman, pp.83-84; Frankie’s Gang, pp. 155-156. THEN attempt to place a name to each body described in each Record of Effects.
Compare, Connect, Synthesize, Comment, Question:

What are the similar themes? How do they differ?



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