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Sunday, 5 August 2012

Poetry brings Civil War to life



Poetry brings Civil War to life

August 5, 2012
By Rachel Molenda - Journal Staff Writer (rmolenda@journal-news.net) , journal-news.net


MARTINSBURG - Kenneth Postalwait is an unexpected character. A mild-mannered and well-traveled roofer, one wouldn't suspect he is also a poet.

Postalwait is beginning to write Book 5 of his series entitled "Red Hawk: Civil War Journals" this year in conjunction with the war's 150th anniversary.

"Red Hawk" began as a serial in a small-town newspaper in Seguin, Texas. Telling his epic story entirely in poems, Postalwait wrote a new portion every day for four years.

The main character, Red Hawk or Ronzel, begins his story by telling the tale of the Battle of Bull Run. While Postalwait acknowledges that there were battles in West Virginia before Bull Run, he maintains that Ronzel would not speak of them for fear of consequences his family members there might face.

"He doesn't want to incriminate anybody, get any of his family in trouble," Postalwait said.

Family is an important element in Postalwait's work. He uses the experiences of his own ancestors, some of whom fought in the war on both sides, to give his work life.

"I had family that fought on both sides. One member was killed on Allegheny Mountain," Postalwait said.

Postalwait grew up in a military family. He was born in North Carolina, but "learned to walk and talk in Texas," he said. With a father in the Marine Corps, Postalwait has always known the ins and outs of a military life and has used his father's experience as inspiration for Ronzel.

"That's where I got the basis of the character. My father's job, among the many duties that he had, he was the officer of the graveyard registration," Postalwait said. "(I did that) out of respect for what he did and ... the soldiers (who) now are serving."

Drawing comparisons between the Civil War and both Gulf wars, Postalwait described his character's political stance as "pro-American."

"He wants America to be united. ... He believes they should be able to settle this politically and not shoot each other," Postalwait said.

Postalwait is starting to network with local educational organizations, such as schools and libraries, in order to reach out to the students and the community at large.

"I want this to be a teaching tool for kids. It teaches creative writing, history, poetry and ... philosophy," he said.

While Postalwait has no formal training in creative writing, he has been writing poetry since high school. He told of a poem he wrote in response to a fellow student being killed in a car accident as his writing's catalyst.

"I wrote a poem about it, and I gave it to the teacher. It moved her so deeply that she left the room," he said. "When she came back and got her composure, she said, ... 'Later on, your children or grandchildren will be studying the poems of Ken Postalwait.'"

"That was a very high bar, so all of my life I've written poems," Postalwait said.

- Staff writer Rachel Molenda can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 215, or rmolenda@journal-news.net

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