Monsoon Blues by Elijah Imlay

Elijah Imlay’s Monsoon Blues (Tebot Bach, 88 pp., $14.25, paper) is a collection of poems drawn from the author’s experiences as an Army bandsman stationed at Camp Eagle in Vietnam in 1971. Imlay has arranged the poems chronologically, which results in a cogent poetic narrative of his time in the war zone. He uses a variety of styles in this book of short poems, making it fun to read.

This is a welcome book, as the literature of the Vietnam War relating to bandsmen is limited. The only other worthy published effort that leaps to mind is by Richard E. Baker, who went to Vietnam to play coronet but ended up setting ambushes.

When I tell people that I often stood formation in the early morning in Vietnam in the near darkness on a wet parade ground and had to leap out of the way to keep from being run over by a marching band playing a Souza march, that tale is often pooh-poohed. But the fact is that seventeen Army bands were stationed in Vietnam during the war. Imlay played clarinet with one of them.

In Monsoon Blues, we meet Imlay’s friend Bird, the man responsible for organizing a rock band to tour fire bases. We hear a lot from Bird. His is a voice worth hearing, conveying what it was like to be in the jungle with the First Cav.

Elijah Imlay

The book is arranged in four sections; each packs a punch. “Playing with the Band in Nam,” which appears near the end of the book, is my favorite poem.

It beings: “We sit on a hill/watching a firefight/while we eat supper”  One of the bandsmen plays “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” but the soldiers far below cannot hear “the throb of music/that rises out of their horror/into the sky’s abyss/from where they fall.”

The beautiful, fiery orange cover features band instruments and a bandsman, rather than the usual helicopter and beleaguered grunt that often adorn the covers of books dealing with the Vietnam War. The poems do not let down the hopeful reader. Buy and read this unique book of excellent poems.

—David Willson

Vietnam: Memories in Verse by Ken Williamson

Ken Williamson was an Army photographer in 1969. His fine photographs are on the front and back covers and throughout his new little book of poetry, Vietnam: Memories in Verse (Photo Gallery on the Net, 34 pp., $14.95, paper).

There is a great color photograph of Williamson taken at Cam Ranh Bay in 1969. He had just learned of his assignment to 815th Engineers in Pleiku. Later he was transferred to the 26th Public Information Detachment, USACAV. The color photos are a strong part of the book.

Williamson traveled the entire country of South Vietnam to document the operations of Army Engineers. He returned to Vietnam in 1998 and 2005 to revisit and photograph some of the places he’d photographed in 1969.

“The poetry in this book is a result of his emotional reunion with one of the most beautiful countries in the world and his coming to grips with the war no one wanted,” Williamson writes. No one? Someone must have wanted it.

The book begins with a four-page essay, “Why Poetry?”  In it Williamson writes: “I never thought of myself as a poet.” He credits a group, the Poet Warriors, with inspiring him to write poetry. He says he believes “there is a cleansing of the soul when one writes poetry.” Sometimes that happens when reading poetry.

There’s a baker’s dozen of short poems in this book. They cover a variety of subjects including the tunnels at Cu Chi, an orphanage, Highway 19, Hanoi, boots, Agent Orange, and napalm. One poem bravely offers up the idea that perhaps it was not a good idea to drop an A-bomb on Haiphong Harbor to put an early end to the war.

Williamson also includes short, cogent prose pieces that set the stage for the poetry and the photographs.

Soon another book by Williamson will be available: Saying Goodbye to Vietnam. This one will be comprised of 275 photographs taken in Vietnam in 1969, along with letters Williamson wrote home to his wife.  Because of the quality of Williamson’s photographs and his clear prose style, I look forward to that book.

The author’s website is

—David Willson

Once Upon A Time in Vietnam by Jerry Neren

The back cover of Once Upon A Time in Vietnam by Jerry Neren, (Pearl Editions, 104 pp., $14.95, paper), a fine book of poetry, informs us that the author “served in the United States armed forces.” No details are given about his service.

This small book, the winner of the 2010 Pearl Poetry Prize., features a beautiful and tragic cover by Marilyn Johnson that shows a stag in the forest with an arrow through his neck. This prefigures the tragic event that is at the center of the one long poem that makes up the book.

Neren’s Preface tell us that “the story tracks a young man from the time he is drafted into the Army right out of college; suffers a complete mental breakdown during his tour of combat duty; continues to struggle with his mental wound up to his return home; and finally finds a way to reconstruct his demolished life.”

The reader encounters “soldiers poisoned by Agent Orange” in the first section of the book, set in Basic Training, which gave me a jolt. That seems soon to me, both historically and in the hero’s time in the Army.  The phrase used to describe the victims of Agent Orange hit me hard: “their insides devoured like plankton by a whale.” I know firsthand how that feels.

Jerry Neren

The poet creates two characters: Eugene and Dominick, classical music-loving friends who graduate from college, are drafted, and are sent together to Vietnam. Dominick is killed. Eugene goes crazy. He then languishes in VA care from age 24 to age 41, that chunk of his life lost forever.

The story of Eugene and Dominick is told in four sections: The Prologue covers boot camp. Part One, “The Battle Front,” deals with how the killing is done in Vietnam. Part Two takes us to the “Home Front,” and deals with war wounds. Part Three briefly shows us the “New World.”

This beautiful, lyrical narrative poem touches many of the same bases that many memoirs and novels and short stories do, including Agent Orange and the taking of human ears. But in this poem we get “oceans of Agent Orange” and “necklaces made of human ears.”  We learn the story of Eugene, who, like a chameleon, “took on the color of Vietnam: the color of insanity.”

If I were still teaching college course on the Vietnam War, I would make Once Upon a Time in Vietnam a required text. It is both accessible and relentless in communicating the insanity of war as only a fine lyrical poet can.

Neren out-Whitmans Walt Whitman with his lists of the bad things that happen in war. Neren ranks right up there with Whitman as a poet of war. There is no higher recommendation than that.

—David Willson

Returning Soldiers Speak edited by Leilani Squire

The prose and poetry in Returning Soldiers Speak: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry by Soldiers and Veterans (Bettie Youngs Books, 160 pp., $16.95, paper), a small anthology edited by Leilani Squire, includes testimony from veterans of World War II through the war in Iraq. Squire facilitates weekly creative writing workshops at the West Los Angeles VA Hospital and Wellness Works in Glendale.

I first looked at the book’s table of contents for clues for how it was organized, perhaps in sections pertaining  to a particular war. But the table of contents left me in the dark. Next I read Squire’s introduction, but found no clues there either. So it was only after reading the entire book that I discovered how it was organized. Returning Soldiers Speak starts with pieces related to World War II, then pieces about the Vietnam War.  And so it goes.

The World War II entries were strong and affecting, but I was primarily focused on the Vietnam War sections.  So I read John Rixey Moore’s story, excerpted from his memoir, Hostage of Paradox. This small piece of that huge book focuses on his search through a wilderness of devastation and carnage for a lost Starlight Scope.  Nobody has written better of how we laid waste to Vietnam than Moore has.

Leilani Squire

Next I read the poetry of R. S. Carlson, one of the best Vietnam War poets. He has three powerful poems in this anthology. I recommend Carlson’s book, Waiting to Say Amen. It is a fine one.

Jeffrey Alan Rochlin has four poems in this anthology. “God Bless America” is one of the most powerful poems I have read. Quoting from it does not do it justice, so I suggest buying this book so you can read it.

The book also contains one of the most honest and well-written short pieces on the Vietnam War that I’ve ever read, “Titles,” by Earl Smallwood, Jr. He was brave to write this, as it deals with a very sensitive Vietnam War issue—the fact that most of those who served in Vietnam were not grunts, nor were they Green Berets, Rangers, Marine recon, or SEALs. There were men and women, too—WACs, who spent their tour as clerk typists. How many were there? Solid statistics are elusive, but there were thousands.

As this entry shows, upwards of eighty percent of those of us who served in the Vietnam War were not in direct combat. We supported the combat troops. Smallwood does a brilliant job representing those unsung folks and describing the steps he took to ensure he would be a clerk typist in Vietnam, not a grunt.

“Dogface Soldier” by William Galloway is one of the best modern military stories I have read anywhere. This story is a model of good, clear, powerful writing—storytelling at its best. I would love to read a book written by Galloway. His story of a soldier with a bad attitude—an attitude so bad that his superiors would not ship him out to Iraq—really hit home.

I have tried to give a flavor of this anthology and how worthy it is. The high price that warriors pay for America’s commitment to war is evident on every page of this fine book. I thank those men and women for making the effort to tell their stories in this excellent, hard-hitting book.

The book’s website is

—David Willson

Last Lambs by Bill Bauer

Bill Bauer’s National Guard unit was activated during the race riots of 1968. He was sent to Vietnam the following year. Bauer served in the 4th of the 9th Infantry along the Cambodian border in Tay Ninh Province. For the first four months of his tour he wrote daily combat reports “in the office of the general at the headquarters of the 25th Infantry,” he tells us in the second edition of Last Lambs: New and Selected Poems of Vietnam (BkMk Press, 120 pp., $14.95, paper).

There is a great cover on Last Lambs, which I assumed was a photo of Bauer. It turns out that it’s not him, but is a famous photo by Mark Jury, “GI at Fire Support Base Wood.” I was slightly disappointed as I’d hoped this manly specimen was a poet.

There are sixty-four poems in this small book. It starts with an extensive author’s note in which Bauer tells us why he wrote the poems. “I am a poet by nature and writing poems from life is what I do,” he says. “I wrote these poems in anger at those who perpetuate the war out of arrogance, self-promotion and greed.”

Some of these poems appeared in Bauer’s earlier books, The Eye of the Ghost and Promises in the Dust. Bauer writes small poems packed with verbal power with images that stick in the reader’s mind. The poems in Last Lambs have titles such as “War God,” “Ambush Patrol,” “Sniper,” “Shrapnel,” “Second Tour,” “War Dog,” “What the War Was About,” and “Stung.”

Reading “Stung” provides a sense of how Bauer delivers a poem.

Scorpions maim by instinct

Once stung, so too those stung

Like brother scorpion,

I hide in nightmare jungles,

finger curled to ambush

men of power and gold

who order other men

to kill and maim:

I, who strike in daydreams

without remorse or fear

now that I am numb

                 Bill Bauer

There is a four-page interview with Bauer in the back of this book in which he connects the book’s title to William Lederer’s A Nation of Sheep. The interview contains a reference to the Animals’ classic song, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”

This is about the only time that Bauer’s book intersects with the usual clichés of most Vietnam War novels and memoirs.

There is also a list of questions for discussion and a five-page section of “special terms.”  Agent Orange leads the list and is well explained.

I taught a Vietnam War class at a community college for many years. If I were still teaching that course, I would use this book as one of my texts. I highly recommend it to poetry readers, to veterans who wish a refreshing and different take on the tour of a grunt—and especially to teachers looking for something special with which to challenge their students.

Bauer’s website is

—David Willson

Coming Home by John Wilson

John Wilson served as a Navy journalist in Vietnam supervising radio news for the Seventh Fleet’s Saigon Detachment from during his 1968-69. tour of duty. After Vietnam, Wilson worked in law enforcement for thirty-two years. He is the author of 203 Reasons Not to Vote for Barack Obama, and is working on two more books about the Obama Administration.

Coming Home: Reflections of Vietnam (CreateSpace, 98 pages, $5.77, paper) contains forty-two rhymes and verses (the unkind might say doggerel) that deal with many of the perennial concerns of Vietnam veterans. I keep a detailed list of recurring motifs I have encountered in the hundreds of books by Vietnam veterans I have read. I wondered how long it would take me to get a reflection on “baby killer.” I did not have long to wait.

I first encountered it on the back cover. To wit: “Those who survived returned home to the sight of protests, flag burning, chants of ‘Hell no, we won’t go,’ and unfeeling questions of ‘So, how’s it feel to be a baby killer?’ The author goes on to tell us he was asked this question at his first job interview after he returned. The reader encounters this story again at the end of the book in the four-page epilogue.

Wilson leaves the question unanswered. I would have liked an answer. If I’d been asked that question in a job interview, I would have asked a question or two back. Something like: “How does it feel to send us over there to kill babies?” Or: “What part of the necessity of war to kill don’t you get?”

These sincere, heartfelt rhymes decry flag burning (I lost track of mentions at about eleven), the treasonous Jane Fonda, hippies, protesters, and no parades or appreciation from the American public. That oldest of clichés even showed up, the friendly Vietnamese barber who is a VC at night, treacherously slitting throats of those he barbered during the day.

Wilson bravely acknowledges that there were Vietnam veterans who demonstrated against the war, including members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. But he then says that they committed slander against “our troops.” Presumably, he means against themselves, as they are one and the same.

For those who are eager to read a book of rhymes dealing with these and other familiar concerns, I suggest you read this book. If you do, you’ll be treated to rhymes such as:

This was Vietnam

And a war that we could win

But instead we chose to lose

By Presidential pen.

I am going to order Wilson’s book on Obama.

—David Willson

Do You Hear God Talking? by John Nicolazzo

John Nicolazzo is a Vietnam War veteran. He also is a retired boxer and an ex-boxing coach who “has been battered and beaten by the trials put before him,”  as he notes in Do You Hear God Talking? I Do and So Can You by John Nicolazzo (CrossBooks, 98 pp., $8.99, paper). Nicolazzo tells us that God is the author of this collection of prose and poetry, and that he “had the privilege of being selected to write the words down.”

The book is arranged in sections: “Inspirational Messages Spoken to Me by the Holy Spirit,” “Poems from the Holy Spirit,” “Praise and Worship Songs to Our Creator,” and a conclusion.

On page eighty-five Nicolazzo talks about his  “troublesome sleep stemming from my Vietnam experiences.” This is the author’s most direct reference in the book to “the horrors of the war.”

He tells of a miracle that happened while he was dreaming about being back in Vietnam pursuing an enemy soldier. Nicolazzo got him in his sights and pulled the trigger. He then awoke in his own bed, smelling gun powder, having been gunshot. “Blood was gushing out,” Nicolazzo writes, saying he was “filled with an unexplainable peace.”

No gun is mentioned in this section. So how did he get shot? We are not told. No bullet or bullet fragments were ever found. The author simply says, “this was truly a miracle.”

Vietnam veterans looking for a book of prayers and meditations from the hand of a Vietnam veteran need look no further. Join with John Nicolazzo as he explores his connections with God and his Savior, Jesus Christ.  

—David Willson

Taps on the Walls by John Borling

John Borling, the author of Taps on the Walls: Poems From the Hanoi Hilton (Master Wings/Pritzker Military Library, 176 pp., $19.95), is a retired Air Force Major General, an Air Force Academy graduate who spent 37 years in the Air Force. He was a POW in Vietnam for more than six-and-a-half years. 

The poetry in this book was composed during his captivity and was “mentally composed and memorized over the course of his imprisonment,”  Senator John McCain says in the book’s Foreward. Borling explains in his moving introduction that this poetry helped save him during his imprisonment. He was treated as a “war criminal” for many years, and communication was not allowed between prisoners, so they devised a tap code to use on the walls. Borling tapped his poems.

“Each man had to find his own way to use time,”  Borling says. His method was to “mentally create poetry.” 

Borling had had a “good dose of the liberal arts” at the Air Force Academy. He had always loved English literature and had acquired “a modest appreciation of poetic structure and pattern.” Those skills stood him in good stead during his long imprisonment in the Hanoi Hilton.

I’ve been highly interested in POW literature since it began coming out in the 1970’s because of my awareness that Richard “Skip” Brunhaver was imprisoned in the Hanoi Hilton. He and I grew up in Yakima, Washington, in the 1950’s only a few blocks apart, and he was only two years my elder. I’ve hoped for years that he would produce a book about his time in captivity. I’m beginning to think that will not happen, and am glad to have this book.

Very little of the poetry in this book is directly about the experience of being imprisoned in the Hanoi Hilton. This is not a criticism of the book. When I first held the book in my hand and examined the cover—which features a barred cell window surrounded by rusty eroding concrete walls—I imagined the book would contain poems and observations using the nicknames of the prison guards and describing how those guards chose to make the lives of the POWs miserable. There is none of that in this book. Most of the poems relate to flying and freedom, which makes perfect sense.

Gen. Borling

The book is arranged into four sections:  “Strapping on a Tailpipe,” “POW and Other Dark and Bitter Stuff,” “The Holidays and Hollow Days,” and “South East Asia Story.” All four sections contain worthy poems.

My favorite poem in the book, austere and powerful in its imagery, is “Beneath Thin Blanket.”  In it, Borling confronts his captivity head-on, expressing resolve in the face of horrifying circumstances. I’ll just quote a bit of it to give a sense of its power:

Sick lungs suck deep, asthmatic deep

It’s cold controlless shakes

Across the chamber

Beneath thin blanket.


This poem made me feel the cold, the isolation.

The tour de force poem of the book is a very long one in the “Southeast Asia Story” section. It’s not John Milton’s Paradise Lost, but it is almost as demanding of the reader in its use of special language and in its abstruse and arcane imagery and language. It will help if the reader is a flyer. A glossary of eight pages is provided at the end of the book, and I’m grateful for it, but it let me down a few times. I found myself wishing for footnotes. 

The author’s advice to read the poem aloud is useful since some of its meaning is made clearer by doing that. And, anyhow, poetry is best heard in the air, off the page—kind of like an airplane, no longer parked, but airborne.

I love how the poet uses and elevates real American speech to the realm of poetry. Such as: Me and my jalopy, drink our fill, bend your ear, high horse, hair shirt, hunky-dory, green stamps, max no-sweater, not too hairy, me and the horse I rode. Not to mention hundreds of other wonderful all-American references, including Johnny Cash’s great song in which his mother tells the kid not to take his guns to town.

Of course, the kid ignores his mother’s sage advice. All of us could have benefited from listening better to that mother. Johnny Cash, by the way, is another fine poet who served in the Air Force.

A few of the expressions remain mysteries to me—not a bad thing with poetry: multi-boobs, props to feather, pass was bunny, we’ll Aqua-Lung, some shoe clerks laughed and like a greased owl leaving. Wonderful expressions.  Borling’s genius with the language is in full play throughout this magnificent poem.

Borling provides the reader with a two-page Afterword in which he briefly talks about his trip to Vietnam with his wife in 2002 when he met General Vo Nguyen Giap, the famed North Vietnamese Army commander. They spoke French and General Giap “took my hand and together we walked into his conference room,” and they spent an hour together.

Borling describes “a strange warmth between them.” Perhaps that warmth came from their both being poets, rather than from their both being generals?

This is not the usual book of “poetry” by a Vietnam veteran. It is poetry, not doggerel. It challenges the reader and takes him to worlds that he has not inhabited or experienced, which is the goal of all fine poetry.

I highly recommend this book to those who are looking for a very different take on the POW experience. There is actually no universal POW experience, just as there is no universal Vietnam War experience: each is different.

The book’s web site is

—David Willson

Remembrances of Wars Past edited by Henry F. Tonn

Henry F. Tonn is a semi-retired psychologist who lives in Wilmington, North Carolina. His Remembrances of Wars Past: A War Veterans Anthology (Fox Track, 216 pp., $24.95, hardcover; $17.95, paper), is a beautiful book with a classy cover designed by Kevin Morgan Watson. Looking at that cover, I had the thought, “A soldier in heaven.”  No doubt that is a result of my early Norwegian Lutheran origins. Valhalla, my Viking forbears called it. 

This anthology contains twenty-two pieces of prose and twenty-three of poetry. Tonn, the editor, tells us that this content covers “a wide variety of wars, with the Vietnam wars and the Iraq wars being most represented.”

The table of contents seems to divide the book into three sections: nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. However, the page numbers after the individual items indicate the pieces are scattered throughout the book.

As a reference librarian for over thirty years, I always look for order in an anthology. Can this one easily be used to answer a reference question?  Not really. Next I assumed that the pieces were grouped by war. There was no way to tell that from the table of contents, so I dipped into the book. I found no internal headings indicating which war attached to a piece. Titles sometimes contain a clue, such as “Bass Fishing on the Mekong” by Russell Reece. Without reading it, I surmised it was Vietnam War-related.

The second piece in the book is “Buchenwald Diary”  by Henry Tonn from the verbal history of Richard Daughtry. Does Tonn mean oral history? I believe so. I guessed that this piece related to World War II.  Each piece is labeled at the top of its first page as fiction or nonfiction. The poetry selections are not labeled.

I went through the book item by item, trying to figure out which wars were represented, how well-represented they were, and what American wars were not represented. It was a hard and unnecessary slog. The editor should have done this job for the reader, my reference librarian-self kept telling me.

Henry Tonn

I noticed while doing my war tally that Tonn, perhaps a nonmilitary fellow, had his name on several pieces. There were no poems with his name attached to them. Tonn’s photo on the back cover shows us an older man, perhaps a member of the “Greatest Generation,” or an elderly member of the Vietnam War Generation who had other priorities during the war than serving in the military. Good for him.

As for the subtitle, “A War Veterans Anthology,” I noticed that there is no apostrophe in “Veterans.” Does that mean that the editor is a war veteran who put this book together? Does it mean that all those authors included are war veterans? I read the authors’ biographies at the back of the book and discovered that many authors are military veterans and many are not. So it’s not really clear what the subtitle means.

I was bemused to find that Henry Tonn’s name was listed as co-author on a piece entitled, “A Veteran’s Interview Concerning Agent Orange.” This was a piece I was familiar with. It is an interview between Robert McGowan and Steve Hussy of Meridian Star Press. Rob McGowan had sent me this piece when it came out as I also had an Agent Orange-related cancer. McGowan has since died of cancer so I can’t discuss with him what we think of how Tonn treated or rewrote this interview.

Rob McGowan

Even in this edited and rewritten version, Rob McGowan’s powerful words brought tears to my eyes as though he’d spoken to me from his grave. I miss my friend every day, and I appreciate that Tonn included this interview, as well as Rob McGowan’s great short story, “The Two Things I Wanted.”

In the final analysis, all anthologies must be judged by the quality of the writing in the book, and whether it  reaches the stated goals of the editor. Tonn writes: “There was a bias toward well-written pieces dealing with some aspect of armed conflict heretofore under-reported.” These pieces are well-written. The “heretofore unreported” dimension is harder to measure.

Tonn promises the reader that the forty-five pieces cover “a wide variety of wars, with the Vietnam and Iraq wars being most represented.” That statement is half right.  By my count, of the forty-five pieces in the book, twenty-four are clearly focused on the Vietnam War or Iraq.

The next largest group, unsurprisingly, is about World War II. Ten of those. Three deal with America’s Civil War. There’s one Sarajevo story.  One Afghanistan poem. One piece about a war between Brazil and Colombia by Spencer Carvalho that knocked my socks off. One piece dealing with Zapata. That leaves a few pieces I couldn’t connect to a particular war. 

Tonn tell us that over a period of three months he received 500 submissions. He says that the high volume of submissions provoked him to “a full-blown panic attack.” I pondered whether this anthology covers “a wide variety of wars.”  I took down from my reference shelf Alan Axelrod’s America’s Wars:  A Wiley Desk Reference.

The cover blurb says it includes “lively narrative histories of more than 100 North American wars, skirmishes, and military expeditions.” That puts things in perspective. Thirty-seven of the pieces in Tonn’s book deal with four of America’s wars. The others deal with one war each or generic war or anonymous war. 

Tonn could only publish from what he was sent. He promises that the forty-five pieces cover “a wide variety of wars, with the Vietnam and Iraq wars being most represented.” That is half right.

Tonn could only publish from what he was sent. But I wonder why there wasn’t even one piece dealing with the Korean War, the American Revolution, all of our Indian wars, World War I, or the Spanish American War and America’s many other imperialist conflicts.  I only bring up these other American wars to question Tonn’s claim of covering “a wide variety of wars.” The variety is not wide. If he had included the Peach War, Shay’s Rebellion, and the War of 1812, that would have been “wide.” 

Overall, the quality of writing is high in these pieces. “Insanity is Contagious” is a brilliant piece by Kristin Aguilar. Byron Barton’s story, “Checkpoint,” had me on the edge of my seat. Carvalho’s “One Bullet” made me want to read an entire book by him. His voice and his story were extraordinary. Diane Judge’s two poems made me want to read an entire book of her fine work. One of Judge’s poems (“Faith”) deals with Agent Orange and says more about that subject than some three hundred page books I have read.

The stories by Robert McGowan and Susan O’Neill are brilliant. Please buy their books to get more. As fine as the stories they wrote that are included in this book, they have other stories that are even better.

Horace Coleman

Disclaimer: Rob McGowan and Sue O’Neill are friends. Horace Coleman is also a friend. His poem “That Saigon Night” is great, but it is just a taste of his fine work. Please buy and read Coleman’s book In the Grass, one of the best books of poetry dealing with the Vietnam War. It was published by Burning Cities Press, a short-lived house that published some of the best Vietnam War literature, both prose and poetry.

I’ll leave the rest of the prose and poetry for you to discover on your own. It is all worthy of your attention and discovery. I have done my part to lead you to it.  Now drink, please.

The best purpose this anthology can serve is to motivate people to do what they can to end war. Another useful purpose would be to motivate readers to buy books by those authors in the book who have books and who are worthy of more attention—writers who have risked much for the experience they write from.

If you have the stomach to read more about a few of America’s wars and the butcher’s bill for them buy Henry Tonn’s book and read it and give it as a gift to anyone you know who is gung-ho to join up and march off to yet another new American war.

One more disclaimer: Rob McGowan emailed me asking me to submit some pieces for consideration for inclusion in Tonn’s proposed anthology. I sent him some. He emailed back and expressed interest in one. We back and forthed about it  for a few weeks, and got into a couple of wrangles. He had ideas for “punching up” my story to make it funnier. I told him I didn’t want my story to be any funnier than it was already.

We also got into a wrangle about my biographical piece that mentioned my authorship of REMF Diary and The REMF Returns. Tonn said that he didn’t know what “REMF” meant and that readers would not know and that my information on that would not be included. I told him that was my brand, what I was mostly known for. At that point I told Tonn that we were done and that was that.

Now the anthology is out. Rob McGowan is dead. Sue O’Neill and I are still on the right side of the grass.  Rob and Sue each have a piece in the book, and Rob also has that odd transmogrified AO interview in there. I’m reviewing Tonn’s anthology, and doing my best to give him and his book a fair shake. The Great Karmic Wheel rolls on. Life is sweet.

The author’s website is

—David Willson

Love Poems for Cannibals by Raymond Keen

Raymond Keen spent three years as a Navy Clinical Psychologist, with a year in Vietnam from July 1967 to July 1968. Love Poems for Cannibals (CreateSpace, 166 pp., $9.95, paper) is Keen’s first book of poetry, although he has published poetry in twenty-two literary journals. The book consists of about 140 pages of poetry with a few prose pieces at the end, about ten pages worth.

The book is arranged in eight sections. The first, “The Vietnam War is not dinky dau. (1967-1968),” was of the most interest to me as a Vietnam War veteran and author. There are a half dozen poems presented in this thirteen-page section. I loved them all.

The section starts off with a long poem, “Dream Frag of Robert Strange McNamara.”  It’s a dream come true for this veteran, a poem in which McNamara deservedly gets fragged for his part in designing and prolonging the Vietnam War, which resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands. Of course, McNamara lived a long, healthy life, and cashed in on the war with a best-selling and self-serving book of too-late apologies.

The poem begins powerfully, with the lines, “McNamara, with his shit-eating grin/McNamara shit out of luck,” and gets better from there. Keen displays a “Keen” facility with Vietnam War jargon, used to great effect. In a short space we encounter: wasted, R&R, ticket-punching, Donut Dollies, rack, FUBAR, skull fuck, absofuckinglutely, and Dogpatch.

The other poems in this strong section also demonstrate Keen’s poetic and effective use of language. These poems take place at 1st Med Battalion, some of them in the neuro-psychiatry hut, in Danang.  My favorite in this section is “Grabass With China Beachball Here In A Sitdown: On Point With The REMF.”  Because I am the author of the novel, REMF Diary, this poem held a lot of interest for me, and I read it with great care.

It starts off this way:We got it covered/Here in the rear/Because we’re in the place you want to be./Here in the rear we are AKA/The Rear Echelon/Mother fuckers./Do you have a problem with that, Bushman?

Raymond Keen

Actually, the grunts did have a problem with that, as attested to by rants in hundreds of memoirs and novels written by combat troops about REMFs and their entitlements: good food, sex, beach volleyball, air-conditioning, regular mail, clean sheets, etc. Keen addresses that and more in this great three-page poem.

I enjoyed the poems in the other sections of this book, too, often sensing the influence of the Vietnam War in the words and tone of poems such as “Still Life with Shit in a Wine Glass,” “Irony Is The Cross Upon Which Meaning Is Crucified,” “In the Ronald Reagan Lounge,” and “Why Aren’t More People Screaming in the Streets, America?”

I highly recommend this beautifully written and edited book.

The cover features a watercolor by Francesco Clemente called “Fire.” Keen chose this amazing painting of a clown-like human face for the cover, he tells us, because “it embodies the mysterious luminosity, exquisite vulnerability, and a bit of the enigma of being human. I only hope that some of these poems come close to doing that.”

They do come close, and for that reason, I want you to buy and read this fine book of poems.

The author’s website is

—David Willson