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Posts Tagged ‘bruce weigl’

Every April, I look forward to the National Poetry Month blog tour hosted by Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit. Serena is always challenging me to read more poetry and encourages everyone to just give it a try. If there is one thing I’ve learned about poetry over the years, it is that there really is something for everyone in the genre.

This year as I was contemplating my post, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit some of my favorite poetry collections. In no particular order, here are my top 5 favorite poetry collections:

From my review:

Dien Cai Dau, which means “crazy” in Vietnamese, is a collection of poems by Yusef Komunyakaa about his experiences as a soldier during the Vietnam War.  I first read this collection in a college English course on literature of the Vietnam War, and after re-reading it last week, I’ve concluded that it’s my favorite poetry book dealing with the war.  Komunyakaa is a master of words, describing his experiences and observations in a way that isn’t as gritty and raw as some other writings by Vietnam veterans but still shows the horrors of war and the struggle to survive.  He tells it like it is but does so with much emotion.

From my review:

Song of Napalm is divided into three sections, each of which deals with memories of his war experiences and indicate a progression toward dealing with the ghosts he carries with him and striking a balance between the need to remember and the need to return to the land of the living.  Weigl’s memories are so vivid and filled with emotion that they bring the war to life, and I could feel some of his pain.

From my review:

Delights & Shadows is a collection of quiet poems touching upon such themes as memory, aging, death, and nature. Kooser obviously spends a lot of time observing his surroundings, and many of his poems bring ordinary objects or simple moments to life. When Kooser looks at the world, he sees things that many of us would miss, and the descriptions of what he sees are fascinating.

From my review:

Catalina exemplifies everything I love in a poetry collection.  While I have no idea whether these poems are autobiographical, it certainly seems as though Soriano exposes her soul in these stanzas.  They affected me deeply with their heaviness and their beauty.

From my review:

Although there is diversity among the poetic styles and the poets’ experiences, each of the poems in The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry lead to the same conclusion:  that war is hell.  It makes me wonder how many of these poets were poets before, and how many used poetry as a way to deal with the loss, anger, and haunting memories tied to the war.  Some of the poems made me feel like I was staring into the poet’s soul.  I am in awe of men and women who can put such awful tragedies into words, and I believe that war poetry is among the most powerful and vivid, bringing to life the internal and external struggles in a way that non-fiction and prose cannot.

Have you read any of these collections? If so, I’d love to hear what you thought of them. If not, I hope you will consider giving one or all of them a try! Happy National Poetry Month!

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Song of Napalm is a collection of poems by Vietnam veteran Bruce Weigl, another one of the books I read in a college course on literature of the Vietnam War.  Weigl came to our class and read from the book, explaining the inspiration for some of the poems.  Like Yusef Komunyakaa’s Dien Cai Dau, Song of Napalm is a powerful testament to the brutality of war and its long-lasting impact.

Memory is a common theme in Weigl’s poems.  He recalls his time in Vietnam — as a soldier, a grieving friend, a man seeking release with a bar girl.  In “Surrounding Blues on the Way Down,” he learns that a seemingly innocent Vietnamese woman could be carrying weapons, and he remembers struggling between a desire to help her and the need to learn the ropes as a soldier.

I have no excuse for myself,
I sat in that man’s jeep in the rain
and watched him slam her to her knees,
the plastic butt of his M16
crashing down on her.
I was barely in country, the clouds
hung like huge flowers, black
like her teeth. (pages 13-14)

Song of Napalm is divided into three sections, each of which deals with memories of his war experiences and indicate a progression toward dealing with the ghosts he carries with him and striking a balance between the need to remember and the need to return to the land of the living.  Weigl’s memories are so vivid and filled with emotion that they bring the war to life, and I could feel some of his pain.  “Song of Napalm,” a poem dedicated to his wife, stands out from the rest.

But the lie swings back again.
The lie works only as long as it takes to speak
and the girl runs only as far
as the napalm allows
until her burning tendons and crackling
muscles draw her up
into that final position
burning bodies so perfectly assume.  Nothing
can change that, she is burned behind my eyes
and not your good love and not the rain-swept air
and not the jungle-green
pasture unfolding before us can deny it. (pages 34-35)

If I am haunted by the images in that poem, I can’t imagine how those who witnessed such tragedies deal with the memories.  Weigl’s poems have given me a new respect for those who have served our country and an understanding that many of them do not truly know what to expect when they go to war.  In “Elegy,” Weigl writes:

Into the sunlight they marched,
into dog day, into no saints day,
and were cut down.
They marched without knowing
how the air would be sucked from their lungs,
how their lungs would collapse,
how the world would twist itself, would
bend into the cruel angles.

Into the black understanding they marched
until the angels came
calling their names,
until they rose, one by one from the blood.
The light blasted down on them.
The bullets sliced through the razor grass
so there was not even time to speak.
The words would not let themselves be spoken.
Some of them died.
Some of them were not allowed to. (page 70)

Song of Napalmis full of pain, sadness, and grief, but it also is about survival, strength, and endurance.  It feels as though Weigl wrote these words to stay sane, that he needed to write about his memories so that he could live with them.  The poems are easy to understand, so readers who tend to steer clear of poetry for fear they won’t “get” it need not worry.  This is a must-read collection, with poems that hit you in the gut, make you grieve for the loss of innocence and the loss of life, and make you appreciate the human spirit and desire to live.

Disclosure: I purchased my well-worn copy of Song of Napalm.  I am an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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