Viet Nam Generation Journal & Newsletter
poised for war, by Richard Wilmarth
Sabotage Press, 71 Richmond Street, Providence, RI 02906
Photographs of the Jungle, by Jon Forrest Glade
Chiron Review Press, St. John, KS, 1990
Reviewed by Bill Shields
I wouldn't mind this guy as a neighbor.
That was my first thought when I read poised for war by Richard Wilmarth. The poems are generally short, very understated, & above all, thoughtful--there's a man giving great care to each word, each event. Quietly with a tremendous wit.
While many of the poems walk the human ground of war, grasping the ennui of American culture after Vietnam & The Gulf Excursion, we also get short filmclips of Wilmarth's World:
another foolish question how can i not be happy when the most beautiful woman new jersey has ever produced is sitting next to me in my car and wants to be there and is listening to my story and is anticipating the climax
But it's his war poems I like best; they have this sense of fatigue, a pure resignation to 'em that is all too true. The poem "the haze" knows: "I wasn't much good/when everyone was dying/but I did show up/ at the funerals/although I don't remember/ many of the details"
That sense of powerlessness as the wheels of war spin hard outside of our bedroom windows is primary in Wilmarth. Glimpses of a life outside our own.
Bewildered & ashamed, we look on.
Especially so in his poem "a father thinks about the upcoming war" as it ends:
and now he doesn't know anymore because at the office they're taking bets on when this war is going to start and when this war is going to end but all he can think of are his sons and them getting the call getting the letter in the mail saying goodbye and he's angry and he's scared because he knows it's possible because he knows it's happened before
Unpretentious writing, to be sure. & very, very real. I'm a fan of Wilmarth & it's a joy to see a small collection of his work readily available.
Jon Glade has written a most honest & impressive first book about Vietnam & that long walk back from the war. His poems define Realism with an unflinching look, whether it be as a young trooper in the A Shau Valley, or as a member of a veterans rap group in Wyoming.
Sadness prevails from the opening poems:
All these years later, I think the problem was not with our film, or our eyes, or our minds, but with our anticipations. We weren't looking for beauty in Vietnam and consequently couldn't see it.
The poems are quck takes, Polaroids of the landscape. Vivid pictures of man's memory shot on a page with a macro lens. A few bleed when held. Next frame.
Glade saw and lived the futility of Vietnam; his poem "Blood Trail" is a straight, unblinking look:
We followed the blood trail and found only an abandoned pack. The Lieutenant took the cash, the men divided the food, intelligence was sent the love letters and I got the credit for a probable kill. Intelligence reported the letters were from a woman in the southern provinces. Which meant she was arrested, beaten, raped, locked in a tiger cage, forced to eat her own excrement and beaten again. If she confessed, she was executed. If she refused to confess, she was executed. It was a funny war. I shot a man. I killed a woman.
"Blood Trail" is arguably one of the best Vietnam poems ever written; it encapsulates our involvment--the American experience-- in 24 lines that rap hard on our consciousness.
Glade stays on the trail and never wavers.
I know the feeling first hand of walking thru the house at 4:00 a.m. fresh from a night filled with Vietnam . . . & I know how hard it is to write about it. Glade's courage in his work is readily apparent; he writes a hard line.
The last poem, "The Weight of the Sheets" ends with:
There are no guns in my house and no tricks up my sleeve. I'm all over that now, I claim I believe, but my wife says I curse and cry and talk in my sleep. And I know for a fact, that sometimes my scars cannot bear the weight of the sheets.
Buy two copies of this book--one for yourself & one for your son.
Bill Shields is a Contributing Editor to Viet Nam Generation. These reviews have appeared, in slightly different form, in the Small Press Review.
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