Gail Brant is not about to let the years slow her down.
More recently, she was named Indiana Senior Poet Laureate in a national writing competition.
And, while some people might think a poem by an elderly woman submitted to a poetry contest would be traditional and syrupy, Brant’s winning poem was far removed from such stereotypes. "Too Late I Know My Brother" touches on the friendship of two soldiers from diverse racial backgrounds who become brothers in battle.
“My son’s experience during the Vietnam War inspired me,” Brant said in her East Cross Street home. “Donald was a radioman in the Air Force and was stationed for a while in Biloxi, Miss., where he was appalled at the treatment of blacks by the local people. He became good friends with one of the young black men he met there.”
In the poem the two men go into battle together. One steps on a mine and dies in his young friend’s arms.
“My son felt bad for him,” Brant said. “The description of their friendship is true. The event is not. My son came home safely from the jungle.
“We are a family of soldiers,” she added. “My late husband, Edward, was also in the Air Force and my grandson, Michael Smith, was a Marine who served during Desert Storm. My great-grandson, Anthony Smith, served two tours in Afghanistan.”
The award was presented by Amy Kitchener’s Angels Without Wings, a private literary society in Monterey, Calif. The poem will be published in an anthology, “Golden Words.” The contest was for poets 50 and older. More than 900 poems were submitted by 219 poets for the 2011 contest, according to the society.
There was a $3 entry fee per poem and the national runner-up winners received prizes of $500 and $100, respectively.
“It was the first national contest that I have entered,” said Brant, who grew up on a farm near Lapel. “I’ve dabbled in poetry ever since I was 12 years old. I’d write poems for friends’ birthdays and about our great Lapel High School basketball team. I even had a poem about our 4-H Club girls in the local Lapel paper.”
But writing poetry took a back seat to raising her three children and career as real estate broker and public accountant with the family business, Edward Brant Accounting. After her husband died five years ago, she decided to return to college to earn her bachelor of arts degree. While there, she got involved with the school’s literary magazine and published a few more poems.
Brant is a member of the National and Indiana State Federation of Poetry Societies. The local chapter meets every third Wednesday at the Anderson Public Library. Her entry into the “senior poets” contest was through a notice in the organization’s newsletter.
“She is an amazing, down-to-earth poet,” said Glenna Glee, president of the state organization and an Anderson resident.
“She has a real talent of taking the voice of somebody else on just about any subject and doing something special with it,” Glee, 93, said. “She’s a great addition to our group here in Anderson.”
Too Late I Know My Brother by Gail M. Brant
I never really noticed him before. He was just there – a tall dark shadow in the ivied hall. I didn’t see his dignity, his gentle air, The firm determination of his jaw. He looked like all the rest of them who lived beyond the track. I never really noticed him. His skin was black.
And then, one day, the trumpets blew and drummers beat a cadence for our marching feet. And gray ships sailed across the sea and cannons roared and shrapnel flew And I was there. And so was he.
I never really noticed then, his skin was black. We were just two lonely soldiers far from home. And we could talk and we could walk down common yesterdays, And share each others’ dreams of days to come. For he was brave when I was most afraid. And he would laugh when I could only cry. When I would curse, he bowed his head and prayed. When I dared not, he gave me strength to try.
And then, one day, the enemy charged up our hill and overran the outpost that we kept. But just before we reached our line, his big boot touched a hidden mine; and while the battle around me raged, I held him in my arms and wept.
—David Allen for The Herald Bulletin. Story republished with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.