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Longtime Teaneck Teacher Gives Voice To WWI Soldier Poets

Alice Twombly
Alice Twombly Photo Credit: Alice Twombly Facebook

TEANECK, N.J. -- Alice Twombly, a former longtime teacher at Teaneck High School, will present "World War I in Poetry: The Voices of Poet Soldiers" on Friday, Oct. 21, at the Teaneck Public Library.

The presentation will show how the view of the war changed, as the war progressed, as seen through the voices of British soldiers, and a few Americans, Twombly told the Daily Voice.

She said the poems provide a contrast between when soldiers first entered the war and their rapid realization of what that war really meant. Early on, the poetry reflects a lot of bravado, as the war is seen as a chance for glory. But soldiers soon saw its devastation, and soldiers were maimed, disabled and sometimes abandoned.

One of the poets Twombly will cover is Wilfred Owen. The subject of his poem "Strange Meeting" is two soldiers meeting after death, realizing one had killed the other.

Friday's event is a distillation of a six-week course Twombly taught at the Learning Collaborative.

"When I taught it, people were just in tears, reading this poetry," she said. "I thought that I'd like to revisit it."

Part of her inspiration is also the timing, and also her mother.

"These are the years commemorating the 100 years since the commencement of World War I, in 1914," she said, "and Armistice Day, in November 1918.

"Nobody expected it to last as long as it did. It was the first that was called a world war."

Both the scale of the war -- nearly 20 million civilians and soldiers were killed -- and the nature of the war were also different, Twombly added. It was the first war that used chemical warfare, for example, and bombing and trench warfare were common.

"My mom was born in 1903, so it had resonance for me, to do this reading," Twombly said. Additionally, her mom had been a regular at the library's Friday Morning Group lectures.

"It was the high point of her week."

Twombly has now given a number of lectures at the library, in memory of her mother, who passed in 1997.

Twombly taught AP English and Shakespeare at Teaneck High School. She currently teaches courses in literature at the Learning Collaborative, is a field specialist for Teach For America at Fordham University and is the co-curator of "Thursdays are for Poetry" at Classic Quiche.

She's also had her poetry published, won prizes for her photography, and appeared in one-woman and group shows in the metro area.

The presentation will begin at 10:30 a.m., in the library auditorium. The program is part of the library's Isabelle & Sol Hermalyn Lecture Series.

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