This time of year is an interesting one for me. As this is the first November that I have spent in Georgia, I am seeing how similar things are - but different. Canada is where I am from and Thanksgiving already happened on October 8, and now Americans are gearing up for Thanksgiving on November 23.
Canada's history of Thanksgiving dates back to 1578 when an expedition led by Martin Frobisher in search of the Northwest Passage was beset by storms and disasters, scattering the ships. When the surviving ones collected again at Frobisher Bay in what is now Nunavut, they held a thanksgiving ceremony. In 1604 Samuel de Champlain arrived with his men and they also gave a feast of thanks. When New France was handed over to the English in 1763, the people of Halifax held a Thanksgiving. After the American Revolution, those in the 13 Colonies who were loyal to England moved to Canada and brought with them their Thanksgiving traditions of turkey, pumpkin, and squash. At the time, Canada was comprised of Upper and Lower Canada and both celebrated Thanksgiving on different days. After Confederation, a day of Thanksgiving was held in April 1872 to commemorate the recovery of the Prince of Wales. After the end of World War I, it was decreed that Armistice Day and Thanksgiving would both fall on the Monday in the week in which November 11 occurred. In 1957, Parliament set the date for Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October, giving us the holidays that we use today.
Whilst the above is accepted as historically accurate, it is not a complete depiction. Context matters and Thanksgiving bears a complex and problematic legacy. These explorers, settlers, trappers, invaders came into a land that was already inhabited by many nations, each with their own languages and traditions. While Thanksgiving seems affirming to some, it serves as a reminder of invasion and colonisation to others. The images of the Europeans and Indigenous Peoples sitting together to share a meal is a comforting fiction that ignores a reality of genocide, of outlawing the traditional practices of the land's inhabitants, and the systematic violation of familial and clan ties.
When we turn our thoughts to November 11, again, it's important to recognise that the version of history that we are often taught is limited in its scope, to the point of being almost dishonest. There is a proud history of Indigenous people of North America serving in the Armed Forces in America and Canada. In fact, American Indians are the "ethnic group" to have served in greater numbers since the revolution.
In Canada and Australia, we celebrate November 11th, except we now call it Remembrance Day whilst Americans call it Veterans Day. At 11 am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month 1918, WWI was officially declared over.
In countries such as Canada and Australia (where I lived for almost six years), the poppy is used as a symbol of remembrance. This tradition began in 1921 due to the efforts of the American Moina Michael when she was inspired by the poem In Flander's Fields, written by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.
For this #WritingWednesday, we're going to focus on the American poet Yusef Komunyakaa, a poet who takes on the complex realities, who isn't afraid to complicate socio-cultural mythologies widely accepted as factual. Komunyakaa was born in Louisiana and grew up during the Civil Rights era, serving during the Vietnam War. Komunyakaa has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievement from the Academy of American Poets, and he is a Distinguished Senior Poet in New York University’s graduate creative writing program.
Komunyakaa takes on complicated, difficult truths in American culture as his subject matter, sometimes indirectly in order to extract meaning from seemingly disparate events. His style will often use the syncopated rhythms of jazz and blues, music that created contexts in which to address bigotry and racism, to give voice to pain and heal wounds.
The poem below, "Facing It," was published in his collection Dien Cai Dau (Vietnamese for "crazy in the head"), published in 1988.
Facing It - Yusef Komunyakaa
My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way—the stone lets me go.
I turn that way—I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.
Sometimes writing about big things (war, the loss of a loved one, holidays, traditions) leaves us blocked. Pick an object. Observe it. Start by describing your experience with it. How do other people interact with it?
Set the clock for 20 minutes. The only rule is to write nonstop until the timer goes off. We edit later after it has had a chance to sit for a bit.
Whatever your aims, we can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us: