28 October 2014

Giving the Gritty Gift of Military-themed Poetry

A collection of poetry is like a comic book, or a pamphlet of daily meditations: Easy to pack. Easy to read and re-read. Easy to pick up and put down. (Poetry is both transportive, and transportable. Discuss.)

The right poem can also stick with you for years. It doesn't have to be "great," as defined by some professor's syllabus or publisher's list of best-sellers. But it does have to be shared.

Because, when it comes down to it, finding that one poem means that the writer successfully communicated something—a joke, a thought, an image, an experience—from his or her life, to yours. Why not try to multiply that connection to even more people?

Fellow traveler and military poet Fred Rosenblum sent me a copy of his poetry collection "Hollow Tin Jingles," published earlier this year by Main Street Rag Publishing Co.

Like me, he's exploring his military experience and engaging others through short, one-page poems. He's big on wordplay and small on capitalization. He seems to gravitate toward sardonic humor. Unlike me, however, he's a Vietnam War-era veteran, a former U.S. Marine and mortarman. He enlisted in 1967.

Some of the poems in "Hollow Tin Jingles" were first written in the 1980s. Others are more recent. Rosenblum retired in 1998, and says in interviews that he's only recently hit kind of a publishing groove.

Rosenblum has had poems appear in the first two volumes of "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors," an annual series published by Southeast Missouri State University Press. He's also had work published elsewhere, including the Spring 2014 issue of Consequence magazine, as well as the 2013 issue of Blue Streak: A Journal of Military Poetry.

Rosenblum's poetry delivers not only the experiences of combat, loss, and suffering in Vietnam, but also unadulterated doses of music, drugs, and sex downrange. Such details may seem foreign and exotic to veterans of more-recent conflicts, but—like all war stories—they ring true ... or true enough. It was a different time, and a different place. Everybody has their own war.

You can find samples of Rosenblum's poetry at his publisher's website, as well as other venues on-line. This isn't a very traditional review, I know—if it's even a review at all. But I do want to share a poem here that has resonated with me—one to which I've returned again and again. I'm O.D. envious of what Rosenblum manages to pack in these few lines. It appears on page 40 of "Hollow Tin Jingles":
by Fred Rosenblum

I was kicked
in the head of a scramble
to take cover
in a rainwater ditch

with a pusillanimous soul
our hands
tembling in the transfer
of effigies
and menthol

huddled in the mud
replete with petitions
to a Lord who would randomly
select of us for death

huddled on the line
near a C-130
her crippled wing surrender
atilt on a tarmac
oily-black billows of smoke.
In a May 2014 interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Rosenblum says that he doesn't write for therapeutic reasons:
I'm not really a student of the healing-through-art school of thought. It really hasn't worked for me. There are workshops all around the country where people go to write and they find it therapeutic. It's just not that way for me. [...]

What I get out of it is I'm able to give a voice to people who can't spill their guts. It also gives me a chance to talk about something that I know and to play with words at the same time.
I'd like to think that there are many Fred Rosenblums out there, dropping their words like shells into tubes—dialing it in, walking it in—until they find their targets.

Seek out their work. Find a military-themed poem or two that resonates with you. Share it with others. Talk about the reasons why.

Give voices to people who can't spill their guts.

1 comment:

  1. I love Fred. I met him last year when he spoke at a conference and bought his book and was blown away by it. He is such a great person and a great writer. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.


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