Born to middle class parents in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, Sylvia Plath published her first poem when she was eight. Sensitive, intelligent, compelled toward perfection in everything she attempted, she was, on the surface, a model daughter, popular in school, earning straight A's, winning the best prizes. By the time she entered Smith College on a scholarship in 1950 she already had an impressive list of publications, and while at Smith she wrote over four hundred poems.
Sylvia's surface perfection was however underlain by grave personal discontinuities, some of which doubtless had their origin in the death of her father (he was a college professor and an expert on bees) when she was eight. During the summer following her junior year at Smith, having returned from a stay in New York City where she had been a student ``guest editor'' at Mademoiselle Magazine, Sylvia nearly succeeded in killing herself by swallowing sleeping pills. She later described this experience in an autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, published in 1963. After a period of recovery involving electroshock and psychotherapy Sylvia resumed her pursuit of academic and literary success, graduating from Smith summa cum laude in 1955 and winning a Fulbright scholarship to study at Cambridge, England.
In 1956 she married the English poet Ted Hughes , and in 1960, when she was 28, her first book, The Colossus, was published in England. The poems in this book---formally precise, well wrought---show clearly the dedication with which Sylvia had served her apprenticeship; yet they give only glimpses of what was to come in the poems she would begin writing early in 1961. She and Ted Hughes settled for a while in an English country village in Devon, but less than two years after the birth of their first child the marriage broke apart.
The winter of 1962-63, one of the coldest in centuries, found Sylvia living in a small London flat, now with two children, ill with flu and low on money. The hardness of her life seemed to increase her need to write, and she often worked between four and eight in the morning, before the children woke, sometimes finishing a poem a day. In these last poems it is as if some deeper, powerful self has grabbed control; death is given a cruel physical allure and psychic pain becomes almost tactile.
On February 11, 1963, Sylvia Plath killed herself with cooking gas at the age of 30. Two years later Ariel, a collection of some of her last poems, was published; this was followed by Crossing the Water and Winter Trees in 1971, and, in 1981, The Collected Poems appeared, edited by Ted Hughes.
Raymond A. Foss (1960) was born in Westfield, MA, the oldest of five children. After moving to Claremont, NH at 16, he attended the University of New Hampshire, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1982 and a Master of Public Administration in 1984. He graduated from Franklin Pierce Law Center in 2004. He started writing poetry while serving on the Barrington, NH School Board in 2000. His first reading was for an assignment from the Reading Specialist to each board member to bring a piece of poetry to share at the April 20, 2000 School Board meeting in honor of National Poetry Month. When one of his first two poems received a favorable reaction, he began to write poetry more regularly. He created the site Poetry Where You Live in February 2004.
He was so right echoing in my mind in the sanctuary in the power of words, especially the power to hurt the ability to cut to the quick to leave lasting deep permanent scars so hard to mend, to heal the old saying is that sticks and stones are the enemy that names cannot hurt, leave lasting damage but oh if it were only so, if imprudent or malicious words were like water running off a leaf in the rainforest, even a torrent no threat but they are like water that erodes reverberation, exacerbation, water that corrodes, eats away at the foundation the core of a person, their sense of worth, or being, a word can cause wounds deep raw wounds when words can save, lift up, build the body join people across deep chasms of history love, the source of the word, the gospel, the good news, an equal measure of our heritage bringing joy, happiness, comfort these too are our choice based on the turn of the tiller the rudder of our tongue
A picture may speak a thousand words but some stories, told well living without pictures Visual words, conjure images, memories, loving connection singular moments, common emotion language of nature, of religion of family, or all of us visual words weaving a tapestry drawing the listener in with the cadence, the rhythm, the song in the visual words
Trying as best I can in the writings that I put down to capture the touch, the feel, the smell, the image a trigger, a pull using ever visual words
Something of the real world something to which all can relate bringing the words to life in the senses, the color, the light
As if a photograph, words on the printed page harkening to the thing, the feeling, the state the touch, the taste, the person, the place that we could bring them to mind
No hidden agenda, no message obscure nothing out of place just something to hold to bring back to life in the words, the image in space
Maxine Hong Kingston began writing at the age of nine ("I was in the fourth grade and all of a sudden this poem started coming out of me"). She won her first writing award-a journalism contest at UC Berkeley-when she was sixteen. In 1976 THE NEW YORK TIMES praised her first book, THE WOMAN WARRIOR, comparing it to Joyce's PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, saying, "It is an investigation of soul . . . Its sources are dream and memory, myth and desire. Its crises are crises of the heart in exile from roots that bind and terrorize it." At the age of thirty-six, she was a celebrity, winning the National Book Critic's Circle Award. Other books would follow, and the praise would continue to be unstinting. In 1980, she was named a Living Treasure of Hawai'i by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai'i.
In 1991, following a massive fire in the Oakland-Berkeley hills that consumed Maxine's house and the only copy of her manuscript-in process, THE FOURTH BOOK OF PEACE, and as the first President Bush was ordering the invasion of Iraq, she began offering writing and meditation workshops for veterans, to help them give voice to their experiences and work toward personal peace. As she'd hoped, the writing became a process of healing and renewal not just for the veterans but also for Maxine. She drew on the experience of these workshops in THE FIFTH BOOK OF PEACE.
In 1997, Maxine Hong Kingston was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Bill Clinton. In March 2003, she was arrested for crossing a police line at the White House as part of a CODEPINK action to protest the Iraq War. She retired last year from her career teaching literature and creative writing, mostly at UC Berkeley, where she was known for offering personalized instruction to each student, even in auditorium-sized classes, encouraging "real communication."
Maxine Hong Kingston performs a duet book reading with Gulf War I veteran Sean Mclain Brown
Introduction to Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace
Tell the Truth, and So Make Peace
All my life, I have wanted to keep soldiers safe from war. During World War II, my cousins in uniform stayed at our house on their way to and from military bases in California, the Pacific, and Europe. I heard veterans—including my mother, a refugee, a medic—talk story about the war that was killing and maiming right now as they spoke. Listening to people who had lived to tell the tale, I believed that it was the telling that kept them alive. They had survived hell and come back to warn us at home.
As Odysseus, the archetypical warrior, made his way home, he nar- rated his journey—setting off to war, waging the long war, coming home—to listener after listener. The story grew until, finally home, he could tell the whole tale and become whole. We tell stories and we listen to stories in order to live. To stay conscious. To connect one with another. To understand consequences. To keep history. To rebuild civilization.
About twenty years after our war in Vietnam—the Fall of Saigon, the Vietnam War, the American War—the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh gathered war veterans and their family members in retreats for making peace. In Noble Silence, they meditated: eating mindfully, walking mindfully, hugging mindfully, and hearing the Bell of Mind- fulness. Walking meditation is the specific antidote to the march that soldiers learn in basic training. On hugging, Thich Nhat Hanh said, “When you hug one Vietnamese person, you hug all Vietnamese people.” I thought, When you hug one American, you hug all of us. In the circle of the community, someone would sing or speak or dance; the entire sangha bowed to him or her.
Singing, hugging, dancing, we were a community. But it is in words that each individual reveals a unique mind. The veterans needed to write. They would write the unspeakable. Writing, they keep track of their thinking; they leave a permanent record. Processing chaos through story and poem, the writer shapes and forms experience, and thereby, I believe, changes the past and remakes the existing world. The writer becomes a new person after every story, every poem; and if the art is very good, perhaps the reader is changed, too. Miraculous transforma- tions! So, I added writing meditation to Thich Nhat Hanh’s program for veterans.
We practiced writing in community. We would not have to write alone. We had one another to write with, and to write for. If you felt like quitting, you’d look across the table or garden or terrace or grove, and see the others bowed over their notebooks and laptops, and you kept going.
People who care what we have to say surround us. They draw the stories out of us by their wanting to know. Toward the end of the day, I evoke Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassionate listening: “We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world.” And each one reads aloud a new story, a new poem.
The veterans did their most dramatic writing when I presented the First Precept, which is a vow against killing: “I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.” A moral ethic helps shape and form thoughts about the war chaos. The drama is not just in the battle scenes but in the moral conflict. Worried that the veterans would not take instruction from me, a non-veteran, I invited writers who had had war experience to help me teach. Larry Heinemann. George Evans. Wayne Karlin. Ho Anh Thai. Le Minh Khue. Fred Marchant. Grace Paley. Every one of these good- hearted artists affirmed that the written word gives life.
As the writers became skilled in knowing others’ points of view, they enlarged the definition of veteran. A veteran could be a woman; a veteran could be a deserter; a veteran could be a civilian who had served in war; a veteran could have been a member of a street gang; a veteran could be a survivor of domestic violence; a veteran could be a peace activist. All manner of persons identified themselves as veterans and came to join the regulars, who argued for a while, then let every one belong. Wars affect all of our lives.
Our workshop/community/sangha has been meeting for a dozen years. There have been about 500 participants, counting people who met in the retreats on the East Coast and in Southern California. Nowa- days, about thirty of us (never quite the same thirty) will gather in Sebastopol, California, once each season. A veteran from the other end of the country will set his clock to Pacific Time and meditate when we meditate, write when we write. This book is a harvest of conver- sations among multitudes. Most of these writers have met one another face-to-face. Nearby or at a distance, we inspire and influence one another, reading one another, editing, translating, giving feedback. We even appear in one another’s tales.
If there is one thing the writers in this book have in common, it is that they are rebels. They had been assigned to war; they had volun- teered and almost lost their lives. No more volunteering. No more fol- lowing assignments. Suspicious of institutions, they have no name for our group. So, in this book, various writers call us: The Veteran Writers Group, the Veteran Writers’ Workshop, the Veterans Writing Sangha. I have not edited for uniformity. Let stand Viet Nam or Vietnam or Viêt Nam, Tet or Têt, Danang or Da Nang, Ha Noi or Hanoi, Communist or communist, terrorist or Terrorist, Hell or hell, God or god.
This community of writers began its work during Gulf War I and has continued meeting and writing to the present day—as the war against Iraq continues. All these years, these faithful writers have paid attention to wars past and to wars ongoing. Their stories and poems are immense in scope, and in heart, and—amazingly—full of life and laughter. They carried out our motto: Tell the truth.
And so make peace.
Kingston, Maxine Hong (editor). Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace (Koa Books, 2006).
This poignant collection, compiled from Kingston's healing workshops, contains the distilled wisdom of survivors of five wars, including combatants, war widows, spouses, children, conscientious objectors, and veterans of domestic abuse. Vetrans of War, Vetrans of Peace includes accounts from people that grew up in military families, served as medics in the thick of war, or came home to homelessness. All struggle with trauma — PTSD, substance abuse, and other consequences of war and violence. Through their extraordinary writings, readers witness worlds coming apart and being put back together again through liberating insight, community, and the deep transformation that is possible only by coming to grips with the past.
William Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1914. He received a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Kansas at Lawrence and, in 1954, a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. During the Second World War, Stafford was a conscientious objector and worked in the civilian public service camps-an experience he recorded in the prose memoir Down My Heart (1947). He married Dorothy Hope Frantz in 1944; they had four children.
In 1948 Stafford moved to Oregon to teach at Lewis and Clark College. Though he traveled and read his work widely, he taught at Lewis and Clark until his retirement in 1980. His first major collection of poems, Traveling Through the Dark, was published when Stafford was forty-eight. It won the National Book Award in 1963. He went on to publish more than sixty-five volumes of poetry and prose. Among his many honors and awards were a Shelley Memorial Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Western States Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry. In 1970, he was the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (a position currently known as the Poet Laureate).
Stafford's poems are often deceptively simple. Like Robert Frost's, however, they reveal a distinctive and complex vision upon closer examination. James Dickey, writing in his book Babel to Byzantium, notes that Stafford's "natural mode of speech is a gentle, mystical, half-mocking and highly personal daydreaming about the western United States." Among his best-known books are The Rescued Year (1966), Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems (1977), Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer's Vocation (1978), and An Oregon Message (1987). William Stafford died at his home in Lake Oswego, Oregon, on August 28, 1993.
It is time for all the heroes to go home if they have any, time for all of us common ones to locate ourselves by the real things we live by.
Far to the north, or indeed in any direction, strange mountains and creatures have always lurked- elves, goblins, trolls, and spiders:-we encounter them in dread and wonder,
But once we have tasted far streams, touched the gold, found some limit beyond the waterfall, a season changes, and we come back, changed but safe, quiet, grateful.
Suppose an insane wind holds all the hills while strange beliefs whine at the traveler's ears, we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love where we are, sturdy for common things.
At the Bomb Testing Site
At noon in the desert a panting lizard waited for history, its elbows tense, watching the curve of a particular road as if something might happen.
It was looking at something farther off than people could see, an important scene acted in stone for little selves at the flute end of consequences.
There was just a continent without much on it under a sky that never cared less. Ready for a change, the elbows waited. The hands gripped hard on the desert.
At The Un-National Monument Along The Canadian Border
This is the field where the battle did not happen, where the unknown soldier did not die. This is the field where grass joined hands, where no monument stands, and the only heroic thing is the sky.
Birds fly here without any sound, unfolding their wings across the open. No people killed – or were killed – on this ground hallowed by neglect and an air so tame that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.
For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid
There is a country to cross you will find in the corner of your eye, in the quick slip of your foot--air far down, a snap that might have caught. And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing voice that finds its way by being afraid. That country is there, for us, carried as it is crossed. What you fear will not go away: it will take you into yourself and bless you and keep you. That's the world, and we all live there.
Every War Has Two Losers, documentary based on the work of William Stafford
Leroy V. Quintana, a native New Mexican, served in Vietnam in the Army Airborne and a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol unit in 1967-68. His poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Two of his poetry collections, Sangre and The History of Home won the American Book Award. Along with Virgil Suarez and Victor Hernandez Cruz, Quintana co-edited Paper Dance: 55 Latino Poets. Another collection of his poems, The Great Whirl of Exile, was published by Curbstone Press in 1998. Quintana is on the English faculty at Mesa College, San Diego.
Armed Forces Recruitment Day Albuquerque High School, 1962
After the Navy, the Air Force, and the Army, Sgt. Castillo, the Marine Corps recruiter, got a standing ovation when he walked up to the microphone and said proudly that unlike the rest, all he could promise was a pack, a rifle, and a damned hard time. Except for that, he was the biggest of liars.
You have stopped for a break, stand up to put your gear on and hear shots, see the flash of the muzzles. You have been followed. The whiteness of the branches that have been cut along the way tells you you're on a new trail, but the sergeant is a stateside G.I.: barracks inspections, rules and regs. You are probably surrounded. There are five others beside you. You are twenty-three. You look quickly around you: the sky, the trees. You're far from home. You know now that your life is no longer yours.
To cross a river meant leeches. A company of NVAs crashing toward you would be a troop of baboons. A green snake named Mr. Two Step, for the number you'd last after bitten. It was said the NVAs carried flashlights. One night frightening scores of them turned out to be a swarm of fireflies. The whir of birds' wings turned out to be artillery rounds. Threw stones at a cobra once, the sun going down. Fire at it and the VC would know our position. A VC moving slowly in the elephant grass happened to be a water buffalo. One night they overran the compound. Loaded down with grenades, AK-47s from North Vietnam, mines strapped to their chests: these were only the mosquitos. The VC only a little more than a whisper's reach away, we called in the Cobras. They came in hissing, cannons twice as fast as the old gunships. It was also said the VC kept chickens leashed to strings. So easily frightened they were perfect warning. One night, shivering uncontrollably with fear, knowing I would have to kill whatever was out there, walking slowly, scratching.
Home Finally Going Home
We landed at Ft. Lewis, got measured, issued new dress uniforms and sent to the Mess Hall, choice USA steaks. A sergeant said Pass me the salt, boy to a corporal, and he did. Outside, the buses waiting to take us to the airport. We were home finally going home.
Poem for Our Dog Afraid of Thunder on a Rainy Day
I know what it is like to be so afraid on a rain-soaked day such as this. On a rain-soaked day such as this in Vietnam I prayed fervently. In Vietnam I prayed fervently shivering uncontrollably in the mud. Shivering uncontrollably in the mud as men whose duty it was to kill me filed by. As men whose duty it was to kill me filed by only a little more than a yard away. Only a little more than a yard away on a rain soaked day such as this. The type of day that dogs don't understand.
Quintana, Leroy V. Interrogations (Burning Cities Press, 1990)
In a time of long, overly researched discursive narratives constructed on borrowed pathos, Leroy Quintana has given us this tapestry of small moments that explode and fragment. His poetry seems to have been written through old eyes, a mature heart, with a perspective untouched by the contemporary flare for ego and surface intellect. A youthful telling sparked by a need, however, is what gives these earned words and revelations their energy and weight. These are poems where the various characters walk out of the white space to assume a real life. There's flesh on each metaphor.
Yusef Komunyakaa, author of Dien Cai Dau
The cover of this book features a watercolor made from a snapshot of Quintana's Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol. The short poems inside make art of the brief glimpses of his tour in Viet Nam. The collection of sharp, sudden poems from Viet Nam mounts to a longer moral address to former President Bush written just after the Gulf war. Introduce your students to the details of jungle fighting, the perspective of a Chicano soldier, and the mature view of a poet who was a soldier once.
William Wantling was born in Illinois. At the age of 17, he joined the Marines and applied for combat duty. He was wounded and suffered from severe burns. In order to endure the pain Wantling was given morphine to which he became addicted. He was dishonorably discharged in 1955. Wantling’s life following the war was one of mishaps, addiction and incarceration. However, he remains one of the most respected poets of the literary underground. He died of an overdose at the age of 41.
Can you be a pacifist after you’ve killed too many
and if one is too many where do I stand with my score
Questions for Reflection: “Sure”
Who might be the person that Wantling is referring to in his poem?
How might this individual have become a pacifist?
What do you think Wantling is saying when he uses “score” at the end of the poem?
How does the title of Wantling’s poem figure into the poem’s meaning?