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When Bruce Weigl, like W. Ehrhart, returns to Vietnam in the s, as the guest of his former enemies, he meets his Vietnamese counterpart in the NVA, a poet named Pham Tien Duat, whose duties in the field included the task of reading and writing poems for his fellow soldiers as they traveled up and down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. To inspire them in their long struggle and to help them endure the decades-long toll of insurgent warfare, the constant specter of death far from home, and its enormous hardships, the North Vietnamese looked to poetry: what individual soldiers wrote themselves, and what was written for them, including the poems of leaders like Ho Chi Minh, which were widely memorized and recited.

We had Playboy and USO shows that featured starlets with bad voices, flashing cleavage and dancing in miniskirts. Pham Tien Duat.

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After the experience of return to Vietnam, Bruce Weigl, Kevin Bowen, and John Balaban were among many Americans who worked on translations of war poetry from both north and south Vietnam. One of the most poignant of subsequent publications was Poems from Captured Documents , a bilingual edition of Vietnamese and English representing a collaboration between Thanh T. Nguyen and Bruce Weigl. This institute played a vital role in initiating and sustaining postwar contact between American and Vietnamese writers.

The contrast between these poems by many North Vietnamese authors--some named, some unknown, some probably dead or imprisoned-- and those written by American combatants is sometimes painful. Yet on 23 February , an unknown soldier writes a friend:. The poems use traditional Vietnamese rhyme and meter with all of their untranslatable compact music.

Veteran's Highway and Other Poems: Charles Breslau: Books

Ehrhart is still trying to grasp the tangled experience of the Vietnamese he fought. Like Kevin Bowen with his old enemy, Ehrhart, too, begins to play—laughing at his ineptitude:. The people Balaban met in Vietnam, those who were trying to mitigate the conditions of war, as well as various dissidents and people on the scene from many nations, form an abundant subject in his poetry and prose.

It is not a boat on which one can easily embark. I give the full text:. This pervasive sense of mutilation echoes in Vietnamese poems. Everyone left inhabits a world of lopped intimacy. In addition to these bitter poems, John Balaban turned to translation. His bilingual edition of Ca Dao is the only one in both Vietnamese and English that preserves many of these folk poems, some of unguessable age: the habit, more than a thousand years old, of making ca dao remains as easy and natural for them as knitting or baseball might be to ours.

In the middle of a shooting war, where his tape recorder occasionally picked up mortar fire , Balaban recorded about 35 singers and about ca dao.

About 5, ca dao are extant at any given time. In the following example, the love of country is vivid and clear:. Making poems is not something that only Vietnamese peasants do. Poetry throughout Vietnamese society stems from the Confucian belief that no more important practice exists in a state.

If what is to be done cannot be effected, then society falls apart. The poems are quite difficult to render in English. When you glance at the Vietnamese mirrored above the English text, you quickly see that the Vietnamese syllables Vietnamese is a monosyllabic language occupy two-thirds to half the space that English translation requires. John Balaban describes the intricate and punning rhymes of the originals, the exigencies of their cropped meter. Besides the ingenious rhyme, there is the formidable barrier imposed by a tonal language. In addition to rhyme at fixed intervals within lines and at the ends, the pitches, or tones, are as predetermined as the verbal rhyme, and must fall in fixed patterns of steady, then rising and falling, and falling and rising patterns.

Any reader not knowing an Asian language is familiar with the bewilderment caused by most transpositions of Asian classics into English, in which usually the better the resulting English poem the greater its distance from its language, culture, and customs. Helpfully, Balaban offers an on-line posting of some of his original tapes, and text with which to follow his songs.


Appy, Christian B. Ehrhart, W.

Phillip Mahony, Macmillan: NY. Nguyen and Bruce Weigl; Song of Napalm ;. Winning Hearts and Minds , eds. His emphasis on the unique ethics of this generation of soldier poets is immensely valuable. She taught war literature and film for many years at Vassar College, from which she retired in September 1, David Connolly A poem by combat veteran David Connolly, published in Lost in America , focused on the Irish revolutionary history of his antecedents--showing how his generation found themselves as soldiers on the wrong side of wars of national liberation.

In all the senseless acts of racist hate, I felt the growing fears. Ehrhart A second influential anthology of Vietnam War poetry, edited from five thousand submissions by W. They tape grenades under their clothes, and carry satchel charges in their market baskets. Even their women fight. And young boys. And girls. After awhile, you quit trying. Ehrhart Bottom: Gen. He pats the bed and points to my shoes. His voice tells me this is a man accustomed to being obeyed. But this is not my country. The general pats my arm and dozes off, serene as any aging man content to have his grandchild sleeping near.

This time the Perfume River. There are no catcalls, whoops, none of the things that soldiers do; the most stupid of us is silent, rapt. For a moment we all held the same thought, that there is life in life and war is shit.

At fifteen she has tried to conceal her age with make-up, says her name is Cher. Across the room, her dresser has become an altar. Looming largest, photos of her three children, one black, one with green eyes, one she still nurses, then a row of red votive candles, and in front, a Buddha, a Christ, a Mary. She holds my face to her breasts, rocks me. There is blood still under my fingernails from the last man who died in my arms. I press her nipple to my lips, feel a warm stream of sweetness. I will sleep for the first time in days.

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Those nights I held your mother against me like a half-broken shield. Bui doi. I blow the dust off my hands but it flies back in my face. John Balaban with child survivor of village massacre, whose flight to the US he is overseeing Does another difference lie in the Vietnamese culture of We , versus the American culture of I , which played out in contrasting ideals of patriotic sacrifice?

I quote in full: The enemy opened the cell doors a few minutes each day.

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The small prisoners—three and five years old—crawled out into the sun. On the perimeter a calf chewed on grass. The small prisoners told each other it was an elephant. Hearing this the guards broke into laughter. Then tears fell down their cheeks. Her tongue, bitten in two while she had burned, strafing his ears, saying without mercy, I love you.

But now, see this prisoner two-thirds our height, grey-faced, legs caked with mud, ribs showing, his rotten teeth outsize in his shrunk skull. We killed his children and left his country a sump of chemicals and upturned graves. Ten years in the jungle, hammered by two-thousand-pound bombs. He said, We had the Chinese for a thousand years, and then the French, the Japanese.

You are merely the most recent.

Civil War Poetry

Roseanne S. Are you an emerging writer in Greater Victoria? CH-W: What made you choose a peony specifically as opposed to a different flower? What makes the peony an important symbol for you? The flower centre is a stellar pink. Later in the season, when the seed pods open, there are two vivid colours of seeds: the fuchsia ones, slightly smaller and a little wrinkled, are aborted, and will never germinate; but the bright indigo ones are viable.

The fuchsia seeds are possibly a decoy for seed predators birds or insects — their brighter colour is attractive but they are not nutritious, so if the predator tastes then rejects them they might not try the indigo ones, which are interspersed among the fuchsia.