November 18, 2016

Writing War & Peace, November 12

Bertha Rogers, the impresario of the Bright Hill Literary Center of the Catskills, organized this event as the “First Annual Day for Veterans & Communities.”  All the readers were veterans who had served in the US military.

I had met Marc Levy through our mutual friend & Vietnam veteran Dayl Wise, who with World War II veteran Jay Wenk had also been scheduled to read but were unable to be here. Marc has a detailed website, Medic in the Green Time, that not only includes his own work — writing & photography — but that of other veterans.  He read a number of pieces from his experience in Vietnam -- about being on patrol, portraits of young Vietnamese boys & girls, on making GI coffee & eventually "Heading Home."  He also described his project of recording his dreams, both of Vietnam & post-war, including one with Donald Trump in it. His poems are descriptive, deeply personal, event secret, & always moving.

Suzanne Rancourt is a veteran of both the Marine Corps & the Army. She read from a large manuscript of loose, un-paginated sheets, bedizened with multi-colored tabs & stickies. The poems were interwoven with her commentary on her life & musings about art, writing & healing, including on her experience of being raped & her own murderous rage in reaction to a break-in at her home. She said that a lot of these poems hadn’t been read out before. She also discussed her experiences as a practitioner & scholar of Express Arts. At one point she had members of the audience randomly choose poems from her unbound manuscript & her poem “On My Way Home” ended up being read twice, a message perhaps from the poetry gods.

Like Marc, Richard Levine is also a Vietnam combat veteran & began his reading with some poems from that experience, including the grimly descriptive “Field Bandage” & “Triage.” He also read from his 2012 Bright Hill Press chapbook A Tide of a Hundred Mountains the poems “A Mother Welcomes a Son Home from War” & “Disturbing the Peace” about 2 veterans in a bar in Brooklyn. He also read some new pieces, “Fire a Village,” “Graceland” a chilling piece about seeing someone who looked like a comrade who had been killed in Vietnam (with references to Michael Herr’s Dispatches & “the rock’n’roll war”), & “Reaching to the Horizon” about the war 30 years after.  Richard divides his time now between Brooklyn & upstate New York.

I read a variety of pieces that addressed war, both that of Vietnam & our more recent invasions, & peace, beginning with an old rant “Richard Nixon Must Die” & ending with the painfully current “When Donald Trump Farts” — perhaps the two poems could be mashed up into one mega-political, anti-fascist epic, “When Donald Trump Farts Richard Nixon Dies” (or any combination thereof).

I was proud to be a part of such a program of poets & artists whose work I admire, especially that of the indomitable pink-haired Bertha Rogers.

The Bright Hill Press & Literary Center is a whirling literary & artistic vortex located at 94 Church St., Treadwell, NY — check it out when you can.

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