National Writing Project

From Grief, Poetry: Expressive Writings from the Westside Tragedy

By: Robert Lamm
Publication: The Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 1
Date: Winter 1999

Summary: In the context of a trauma that followed a massacre at an Arkansas middle school, Lamm makes a case for the power of poetry writing as therapy in times of crisis.



On March 24, 1998, an entire community was plunged into deep sorrow. At Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, thirteen children and two teachers were gunned down senselessly, allegedly by two classmates...Shock and grief were pandemic in Jonesboro.....On the local television news programs that followed, the tragedy was explained in the prose of journalism. At the end, however, came something different, not typical of a newscast: a poem was read by the anchorperson. A viewer had sent in a poem expressing a mixture of shock, grief, outrage and spiritually, trying to make sense out of the senseless. Whatever the verses lacked in technical skill was more than compensated by the heartfelt message...Over the week that followed, poetry about the tragedy became a regular feature of the evening news.

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