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Daneen Wardrop


Poems - Prompt - Bio - Review - Interview

Daneen Wardrop

Sarah Emma Edmonds

See me now: I'm a slave boy in the rebel camp. Paint rubs off my hands, and one of the other negroes says, "I'll be darned if that feller ain't turnin' white." I add more silver nitrate.

I write down the position of fourteen ten-inch mortars, and seven eight-inch siege howitzers, tuck the paper in the inner sole of my shoe. On picket duty I step into the darkness, and step again one more time, I'm gliding through forest back to the union side.

See me now: I'm an Irish peddler woman, practice a brogue. In between the picket lines I find an abandoned house.

And inside there's red ink that I use to line my eyes, mustard that I make into a plaster for blistering my face, and pepper I sprinkle into a handkerchief. So I can cry on caprice. I pull out earthenware, clothing, quilts, add them to my wares.

In the reb camp I spot a salesman I've seen before, loitering behind the union lines selling newspapers. He's talking about Yankee fortifications, he doesn't notice me.

I'm a nurse--quick, remember--man or woman this time?

I'm a nurse and I hold the one hand a soldier has left. He shifts toward death's all-shifting.

Pull back the tent flap.

Inside, warmth from the bedroll swells toward you, thin smell of bread, sweat. The tent flap in hand, you feel the grain?

Last year in Washington, McClellan and others interviewed me, a Canadian, to determine my patriotism. A phrenology test confirmed large bumps of secretiveness and adventure-love. I was hired.

I write with ink the color of skin.

I write on paper the color of skin, see me now.

Paint rubs off my face--

Back on the union side I spot him again--that newspaper salesman, in our camp, detestable spy. I finger him.

Pass back and forth each side of the line, as a hand in a coat sleeve.

That half-mile between yank and reb lines, I live there, search for left biscuits, butter, tea, and once a whole pie still warm. I eat with one leg crossed over the other.

See me now, but really you don't. You put on your coat and each time I've served dinner to reb officers, sweating under black makeup. Straighten the seam at your elbow.

Who was it held a thumb to stop a spurting artery for three hours while the soldier put his affairs in order, finally had to undo the thumb, and he died in three minutes?

If the cuff chafes your wrist I've found a soldier leaning against a tree, clear-eyed, ready to die, who recognized me and I her, for women, and she asked me to bury her and keep her cover, and I did.

See me now. The wig tilts. The voice cracks. I don't doubt doubt, I ride across the line of it.

I don't seem to be what I am, and the seeming is your weight.

Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman

You may wonder why I didn't use my Soldier name
when I got this ring engraved, but use my name from back to home,
Rosetta. I like the way Rosetta Wakeman look next to my regiment name,
Co. H 153rd N.Y. Vol., engraved under it,
in those letters that mind me of Castles and moats and such.
And me in and out of the turrets.

I send it to you, Mother, to keep for me.

Someday I'll get out and buy me a farm in Wisconsin.
On the Prairie
. I'll turn up and hoe that prairie.
This ring will Spark between reins,
these small fingers no one notices. They think it fine
I guard rebs at Carroll Prison.

Right smart building for a prison.
Rebs behind bars want to go home.
Not me, I like to go asoldiering first rate.
I like to go adrilling. I think a Skirmish drill
is the prettiest drill that ever was drill.

In the prison they hold three Women. One is a union Major,
she rode her horse and gave orders to the men.
What officer wouldn't ride and give orders
if they is worth a pair of wool Socks?
But they put her in prison.

Marched past the Capitol building they is putting up.
Just a Shell and no top. Like a giant ring.
Too big to use.


Been over a year since I seen a single face I know.
I hear Henry Austin and Cousin Peter Wilder was in town
with the 109 N.Y. regiment over 'cross the river.
I went and found them and you better believe I had a good visit with them.

They tell me hay is doing good this year,
hens is laying on and off.

Their faces peel and any minute I think they will say
"Rosetta," just to keep from busting
but they hold in and say Private Lyons to me. So we talked old times
just as if our old times was about the same as ever.


On the Spreading prairie nobody will tell me how to do.
I will Dress as I am a mind to for all anyone else care.

Nobody will get into an affray like me and Father.
I am going to raise me some pigs or chickens
and no bother. I will raise what I have a mind to.

I don't believe there are any Rebel's bullets made for me yet.
Nor I don't Care if there is.


I send home a tintype.
How do you like the looks of my likeness,
my face all Serious? Now, don't I march?
I wear full uniform, them winking buttons, cap on Smart,
in my arms that bayonet is good
as a hay rake, and more Shiny.

I am as independent as a hog on the ice.

I want to hear what you think of the tintype.
Father can look at it sometimes.
Do you think I look better than I did
when I was to home?


I never did so good in my life.
I don't hurt much, except once when I move too fast.

Tell me, did you peel that hemlock that blowed down in the sugar place?
What size is that hay barn that you built this summer up on the hill?

Tell me, because I need to know.

We head further south, messes of Swamps and trees with jungle moss.

Mother, can you send me a strong box with a key?


The likeness you sent of brother looks like him,
but the artist didn't half finish it off and it rub some and that made it look bad.

I would like to stand over him with a loaded gun and fixed bayonet
and learn him how to take a likeness.


Mother, do you still keep the ring?
I like the Rosetta engraved nice in it,
cost me 75 cents. I want to see it someday
on my hand that was Soldier.

Did you see the part, Mother, about the iron box?
I need it for my things.

Did the Sugar maples last through the ice storm all right?
Do you remember to feed the Chickens that wander over the south hill?
A little one always gets caught in the ravine
and can't scratch her way back.


All I ask, Mother, is send me one box,
iron hinges and a key. I want to keep my things Safe
and not Stole by my good friends.

I don't hurt much except Nights when I try to sleep.


I eat but the taste is gone out of it.

The eyes in the swamp is gators.
Some boys use them for target practice.

Just a box, Mother, with iron hinges.

I have enjoyed my self the best
since I have been gone away from home
than I ever did before in my life.


When I buy my home on the prairie I'll get me some Chickens.
No one can Shoot nor ever be sick again.

Mother, wear the ring for me.

Here all they care about is, shoot them gators.

It will be a home where no one is going to be lonesome for nothing,
rhubarb out the back door, lilac out the side.

On the damn prairie.
I won't allow no bastard to lay down and just not get up.

We'll have Butter three times a day.
You can visit all you want.


Phantom Limb

Lowell, one of my favorite men, sits propped in bed, white face, white neck against the white tent wall.

The ice this morning over all the tents. Camp one great single-ice-sheet, turrets simple and glowing.

Lowell talks as if we're brother and sister, I feel warm for moments.

I think of saviors as those the wind sticks to, flying hair crests and levels about them.

No saviors here, but I remember them in my picture books to home from when I was little.

Yes, I wring my fingers, for the warmth.

Lowell had his right arm amputated.
Then his left.

At twilight the deer come to us. Of course their eyes are not compassionate but you do think such things in the reflection off the mauve snow.

At night I hear the Lost Battalion stepping soft as twilit deer carefully around our tents.

The men of the Lost Battalion speak fourteen languages. They don't know how to give orders to each other. But they stay here to guard us.

When he first saw his right arm on the floor Lowell thought, Good, There is the pain, and here am I.

I get used to it, amaze myself with my cast heart.

Poor Lowell told me one arm will itch and he'll try to scratch it with the other arm.

If I was missing a hand, an arm, another hand, well--

Once I forgot to put my apron on and couldn't remember if my body was hanging on the hook.

I talk nonsense sometimes, but of course I know I'm doing it.

Eight steps lead to this flap.
Two cardinals trim the elms.

The Lost Battalion will never find their commander, I don't think they know which side they're on.

They'll guard us as long as we need them, which is for eras. They mix up their cuffs with their collars.

They can say hello and sleep well interchangeably.
They say, Gut, when they walk stumblingly and Dieu!, when at ease.

A new shipment of jams coming in. Up at the Armory once we had ice cream.

To think of good things. My aunt Nettie's sewing box covered with coral-pink flowers. Mama's bracelet she'd let me spin on her arm when I was little.

Actually, the wind. My face in it.

Right outside the flaps there, the wind curves around a corner. A horse rushes to overtake something.

The smell of decay intense as vinegar. Blood that runs unembarrassed.

Forget the hole in the abdomen you could put your hand through to the other side. Forget the glossy, glossy skin on the stump.

And does the phantom limb yearn for its body?

Forget the man from Andersonville who cannot remember his name, who walks and stares--he came to us, his face green, mold growing on it.

And do I yearn for--what?

Another prisoner says he wants to go back to the front to fight, that the rebels had boarded him eight months, and he's anxious to go back and settle his bill of fare!

You start to breathe the cough.

You start to look at your own arms strangely.

Though ghosts, the deer don't blame anyone for it.
They get their bodies back during the day.

The wind might blow away their ears, might blow off every single cap of a color.
It might leave the men their skin.

I need to check the cardinals today to see if they remember how to dress in wings.

May it please the wind not to take them.

Next week Lowell will go to the Stump Hospital, that's what they call it.

He knows. He reaches for me to ask for water. Reaches with his eyes.

I see his cupping fingers.


-from Cyclorama 



The poems in this collection were inspired by many sources: paintings, memoirs, panels from a cyclorama, panel from a panorama, letters, engravings, diaries, songs, illustrations, and photography. Direct quotations have been italicized. Sources include the following:

"Sarah Emma Edmonds": memoir from 1861-1865, Soldier, Nurse, Spy, 1865.

"Sarah Rosetta Wakeman": letters from 1862-1864, written by Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, collected in An Uncommon Soldier, edited by Lauren Cook Burgess.

"Phantom Limb": "The Case of George Dedlow," attributed to S. Weir Mitchell, Atlantic Monthly, 1866. (Sophronia Bucklin in her memoir from 1862-1865, In Hospital and Camp, 1869, mentions the "Lost Battalion" that speaks fourteen languages; Anna Morris Holstein in her memoir, Three Years in Field Hospitals of the Army of the Potomac, 1867, mentions the soldier who wants to go back to the front because he has a "bill of fare" to settle.)


Poems - Prompt - Bio - Review - Interview

Prompt: Google “rare historical photos” and see where you land or just follow this link to a host of interesting photos from our past. Scroll through the images and take note of those that catch your eye. Don't stop and look at them too long; let the first impression be the primary impression.

Now go back to the images that most attracted you and make a few notes as to what is particularly startling about each image. It could be that the image is of someone you recognize doing something that surprises you. It could be that the composition of the photograph is particularly attractive. It could depict an event in history you were previously unaware of. Whatever it is, it’s yours, and you are now, accountable to it, in much the way Daneen Wardrop feels accountable to her speakers in Cyclorama.

Now, pick a character whose voice you feel you can fairly easily emulate in your poem, and I'd choose an image that you can immediately attach a narrative, real or imagined, to. As in “Sarah Emma Edmonds” write in the voice of one of the characters in one of your photographs. Inhabit this voice and narrative for 20-30 minutes. Don’t worry about line breaks. Just write in prose paragraphs and enjoy imagining you are someone else. The persona poem is one of the most popular but difficult modes in poetry. But it’s also one of the most fun. Enjoy!


Poems - Prompt - Bio - Review - Interview

Daneen Wardrop is the author of three books of poetry, CycloramaLife as It, and The Odds of Being.  She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the Poetry Society of America Robert H. Winner Award.  Her poems have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, AGNI, The Iowa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and elsewhere.  She has also authored several books of literary history, including Civil War Nurse Narratives.  Wardrop teaches American literature at Western Michigan University.


Poems - Prompt - Bio - Review - Interview

A Review of Daneen Wardrop's Cyclorama by Adam Tavel, first published at Plume 

It is a strange irony that despite all of our war documentaries, battle reenactments, and tourist traps, the American Civil War remains a half-told tale. The valiant sacrifices of everyday Americans—particularly those made by women, Native Americans, and African Americans both enslaved and free—are usually overlooked among the strategizing of generals. In a series of compelling persona poems, Daneen Wardrop’s recent collection Cyclorama strives to remedy this failure of conscience. (For those unfamiliar with cycloramas, Kimiko Hahn offers this pithy explanation in her introduction: “The cyclorama is a technological ‘trick,’ a series of panels that surround a viewer 360° so he or she can experience an event or scene. Think of it as an early virtual reality.”) Told primarily from the perspective of women directly engaged in the war effort, Wardrop’s monologues bristle with tension, verve, and viscera, as she conjures the lives of cooks, domestics, prostitutes, and female soldiers passing as men in order to see direct action. Sustained by its meticulous rendering of character and its exotic motley of voices, Wardrop’s Cyclorama pays tribute to those unsung souls whose toil and sacrifice lifted the Union cause to victory.

Wardrop’s figures, though obscure, challenge the gendered and racial narratives we make of war. “Sarah Emma Edmonds,” the book’s opening poem, is also one of its strongest, centering on a woman who served the Union by passing at various times as a slave and male soldier, and whose very existence undermines the mythology of male heroism. Here and elsewhere, Wardrop’s long, conversational lines stretch across the page and rely on the sentence rather than the line break as her central propulsive force; occasional italics indicate quotations from primary sources. As the poem unfurls, Edmonds catalogs the various ruses she employs as well as the menial tasks she fulfills to buoy her fellow soldiers. The poem’s delight in espionage gives way to defiance, however, the more Edmonds meditates on the ever-present specter of death. While the poem’s second-person address remains hermetic—one never quite deciphers who the “you” is intended to be—this reader senses Wardrop herself speaking through Edmonds, particularly in the poem’s closing lines, where the true cost of war is laid bare, preparing us for the carnage to come:

Who was it held a thumb to stop a spurting artery for three hours while the soldier
put his affairs in order, finally had to undo the thumb, and he died in three

If the cuff chafes your wrist I’ve found a soldier leaning against a tree, clear-eyed,
ready to die, who recognized me and I her, for women, and she asked me to bury
her and keep her cover, and I did.

See me now. The wig tilts. The voice cracks. I don’t doubt doubt, I ride across
the line of it.

I don’t seem to be what I am, and the seeming is your weight.

Wardrop captivates with her unexpected narratives and keen attention to diction, which captures the shifting demands of each voice she inhabits. In “Women’s Sanitary Corps,” we follow the washerwomen who “enter this log-steepled tent,/white on the outside, but on the inside the deep maroon/of thick-spackled, internal things,” and struggle to make sense of the daily suffering they witness. “Public Woman” profiles the mercurial personality of a prostitute whose emotional comforts are just as valuable as her erotic talents, and the poem’s dense images and coy admissions are reminiscent of Norman Dubie’s vibrant personas:

For the shy ones: I lost my husband to a cannon, let me lean on your shoulder.
For the rugged ones: now.

They like my bright handkerchief:
ochre hand, carnelian ear, fire hip.

Say scandal and I will say egg.
Hold your nose at me and I will say butter.

My crinolines, the roan horses under my dress.

One of the most evocative scenes in Cyclorama occurs in “Union Camp Music,” where underage Union enlistees engage in a battle of the bands with their Confederate counterparts, who are encamped on the river’s distant shore. Finally, the song “Lorena” brings both groups together in a brief moment of transcendent joy, and Wardrop’s ear for colloquial lyricism in the poem’s dreamy finish makes for one of the book’s best passages:

And we’re in the middle of our own voices gone honeyed and howling,

and I’m singin’, damn it, sure as singers pull air,

and it may be that Mary brushes her hair at home, hand tracking the gleam,

and it may be that this blast of mouths, this flaring of bells

sure as the sun can never dip so low, as our faces turn

the orange of clouds, a pitch that shapes and holds us

I’m here to tell you, that this singing,

that this damned singing troubles,

that this singing troubles


Two of the least effective poems in Cyclorama appear early in the collection and suffer from excessive exposition and strained sentiment. “Susie King Taylor,” the book’s second poem, celebrates the bravery and endurance of an African-American laborer, but Wardrop’s command of the voice falters:

The government hasn’t paid our black soldiers yet, of course they will never pay us black women.

First mission—our boys leave for Edisto and the camp turns lonesome, we know some of them won’t come back.

Its language stilted, the poem becomes predictable; the poet’s own moralizing compromises Taylor’s voice. Similarly, “Off for the War / Home from the War” confuses since its first section appears to be in the form of a letter from a wife to her husband at the front, while its second and third sections seem like diary entries. Regardless, the poem bogs down with Victorian gestures of longing. “Before you went, husband, you said the war will be over by next weekend,” the speaker naively complains, and later, she laments melodramatically, “Foot soldiers walk to their hearts./Officers ride a wave of remembering/that all blood is knowing.”

These poems aside, Cyclorama is a vast and noble achievement. While there has been no shortage of project books in American poetry over the last decade, Wardrop’s historical monologues have particular resonance at a time when questions of identity and power dominate our national discourse. Just as the book’s fourth and final section turns its gaze to the Gettysburg cyclorama as a muddled relic—part novelty, part wailing wall—complicit in the making of war mythology, Wardrop’s last poems acknowledge and accept their own artifice. Prescient but free of demagoguery, the restless phantoms in Cyclorama cry out for affirmation in one of 2015’s best books.


Poems - Prompt - Bio - Review - Interview

An Interview with Daneen Wardrop by Simon Thalmann, first published at Michigan Live

Daneen Wardrop recently was awarded a prestigious $25,000 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship for poetry. She is the author of four books, including the book of poems, "The Odds of Being" (Silverfish Review Press, 2008), which was awarded the 2006 Gerald Cable Book Award.

A professor at Western Michigan University — where she teaches American literature — Wardrop's most recent book is "Emily Dickinson and the Labor of Clothing" (University Press of New England, 2009).

Wardrop also has received the Robert H. Winner Award from the Poetry Society of America and the Seattle Review Bentley Prize for Poetry. Her poems have appeared in the Kenyon Review, the North American Review, the Virginia Quarterly Review and elsewhere. We caught up with her by e-mail to ask her about her work.

MLive: How did you begin writing and why did you stick with it?  

Daneen Wardrop: It seems like I've always been writing — I think the timeline of my memory is coextensive with my writing life. I remember in first grade making a newspaper, copying each one in pencil, including my attempt at drawing photographs. It was probably just a few sentences, some kind of creative nonfiction. I went door to door selling them to neighbors for a penny each. Luckily there were a few kind neighbors — they supported the arts!  

ML: Who or what are the major influences on your work?

DW: Music, family, history, to name a few. I think certain rhythms are inexorably carved into my body over years of listening to musicians like Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix. My brother and sister and I played music together through childhood and adolescence, and I retain a sense of how wonderful it felt to shape a song.

When it comes to poets the influences are legion, but I'll name a few: Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Tu Fu, Li Po, Gwendolyn Brooks, Marianne Moore, Wang Wei, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Muriel Rukeyser and Theodore Roethke.

ML: What is your process for writing like? Do your write fast or slow? Are you more of a stream-of-consciousness writer or are you more methodical?

DW: I write when I'm half asleep. That may sound flip, but it's mostly true. A poem almost always starts when I'm drifting off to sleep and a cadence begins to sound. The progress of my craft has been to trust that cadence or voice more and more fully and to transcribe it more and more exactly.

The rewriting part of the process — and I revise to nearly Sisyphean lengths — is very conscious. At the revision stage I feel more like a translator, trying to interpret the half-dream so that a potential reader has a way in.

ML: What kinds of literary structure do you find common in your work and why do you think you gravitate toward those particular forms? Is it a conscious or unconscious decision to use them when you use them?

DW: I'm almost licentious in trying out many different forms — sonnet, villanelle, prose poem and more. The sonnet, for instance, is especially useful as a container of difficult emotion, as many poets have pointed out. The prose poem is useful, at least for me, in keeping the diction unaffected, down-to-earth, honest in a no-frills way.  

Probably the literary structure that's helped me most is from traditional Chinese poetry. The structure, the lü-shih, was instrumental in finding the shape of my book of poems, "The Odds of Being," much of which is, at least in an oblique way, about East-West connections. As I understand it, the lü-shih makes a kind of couplet where each of the two lines mirrors the other exactly, not only in terms of the basic number of words but in terms of syntax, as for example in these lines, spoken in a kind of dialogue:

"A beautiful spirit seeks out the court of Qiaozhou."
"A noble mind loves the calyx of the lotus."

There is something both subtle and declarative about using language that way. The structure places two different, sometimes almost opposing, statements next to each other in equal and interacting relationship. The tension and attraction between the two lines is, in my opinion, exciting, and creates a magnetic field. 

When I was working on "The Odds of Being" I wanted to represent Chinese culture with reverence and immediacy, and the lü-shih was one of the patterns that felt almost visceral, the effect present, palpable. Of course, it's a more natural form in the original usage because Chinese characters are more grammatically elastic than English words.     

ML: What kinds of themes or images do you gravitate toward in your writing? Why? Do you use them consciously or do they appear unconsciously?

DW: I don't exactly choose themes but I do find myself consumed by certain matters. The topic of war seems to have chosen me. My family of origin was a military family, and though my father never spoke of his service the reality of military engagement was everywhere present on the different posts we lived. 

In my upbringing the rupture of warfare was both palpable and oblique at the same time. Something like that probably happens for many of us as citizens of the 20th and 21st centuries, with conflicts overseas residing both unconsciously and consciously for us in our day-to-day lives.

ML: What do you think is your best work and why? What projects are you working on now?

DW: Friends who are kind enough to read my work seem to cite pretty much the same poems as their favorites, so those are probably the best. But for me personally the best work is that which helps me do what feels like breaking into the void with new language, finding signification that builds new realities. Those poems are often raw, sometimes ungainly works, but they're personally cherished.  

I'm working now on a book of poems about the Civil War. Each poem is spoken by a different persona, such as nurse, immigrant, slave, woman soldier. Many of these personae came to me after studying 19th American paintings, political cartoons, songs, medical articles and more. The book manuscript has the working title of "Cyclorama," which is a large, circular oil painting of many panels, popular in the 1880s.

ML: Which writers or books do you think people should be reading now?  

DW: Well, I want to put forward the names of some local creative writers with national reputations: Kalamazoo poets Nancy Eimers and Bill Olsen are wonderful writers whose poems shimmer with vitality. Kalamazoo fiction writers Jaimy Gordon and Bonnie Jo Campbell have been justly lauded, each having written unflinching, beautiful books. All of these people have had books come out in the last year or so, or will soon in 2011. There are so many fine southwest Michigan writers. Our community is full of talent that should be shared, savored, read aloud and read to each other.  

As for non-Kalamazoo writers, when it comes to poetry I love Charles Wright's books. As for fiction, I'm a devotee of much of Sherman Alexie's work as I find it both profound and very teachable in the classroom. Of nonfiction, the best I've read in years is Craig Childs' wondrous nature book, "The Animal Dialogues."

Poems - Prompt - Bio - Review - Interview


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Daneen Wardrop

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