My Long Journey in Baltimore by Lawerence E. Mize

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Lawerence Mize enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1966, and did a tour of duty as a combat medic with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. He then served as a police officer in Baltimore for close to thirty years, retiring in 1999 as a sergeant.  In the early 1980s he was troubled by PTSD and dealt with that problem by writing the poetry collections Tortured Soul (1997) and Dead Men Calling (2002).  Both of those works are based on his experiences in Vietnam and helped him cope with the issues he was having with PTSD.

Mize’s latest collection, My Long Journey in Baltimore (Dorrance Publishing, 92 pp., $23, paper; $18, e book), contains eighty pages of poetry. The titles of the poems give away their subjects. “Cu Chi,” “Dead Men Calling,” “Screaming Eagle,” “Memories of Nam,” “My Gun,” and many more poems deal with his war, his family and his career in law enforcement.

 

Here are a typical few lines from “Screaming Eagle”:

Walk in the vills

Down beaten paths

Worm through the tunnels

I’m here to kick ass. 

I’m young and I’m strong

As hardcore as they come,

Humping in the Nam.

Keep Charlie on the run. 

Morphine syrettes, filling sandbags, big orange pills, PTSD, baby killers, cowards at home, rats fleeing to Canada, traitors should be shot in the head, napalm canisters—all of that rhetoric flavored the poetry with the politics of the time.

Read this book and weep. That’s the kind of book it is. I read it and wept myself and for myself.  Of course, these days it is a rare book that does not provoke me to tears because of the medication I’m taking—or the subjects of the books.

I recommend this book for anyone looking for poetry that captures the extreme language of the 1960s.

–David Willson

Hollow Tin Jingles: Poems By Fred Rosenblum

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Fred Rosenblum went to Vietnam in 1968 as a nineteen-year-old Marine. He served with the 1st Marines in I Corps “from the triple canopies in the Annamese Cordillera to the sun-bleached savannahs that stretched and spilled out into the South China Sea,” he notes in his book of poetry, Hollow Tin Jingles (Main Street Rag, 80 pp., $14, paper).

Rosenblum has presented us with fifty poems in this small book. A few of the titles give the flavor of what these image-rich poems deal with:  “Cherries,” “Rotor Song,” “Green Smoke,” “Shelled,” “Rifles in the Rain,” “Mosaic of Lies,” “Hard Corps,” “the Patriot Zombie.”

I encountered my favorite line in the book in the poem, “In The Road to the Ruins of Hue City:

I remember the bastard that day

pitching cans

of ham and moms

at old papasans peddling out of the city

I love how this poem puts the frosting on a dead-on portrait of a sergeant who is evil, “an obese porcine caricature/shaven head and handlebars.”  I love the “moms” resonating against the “papasans.”  The moms in question the oft-cited ham and lima beans, the C-Ration meal more commonly referred to as “ham and motherfuckers.”  I had not seen the “ham and moms” contraction before, and I loved it.

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Rosenblum

Rosenblum includes a two-page short story in the form of a poem about three Marines: Spunky, Gator and Doc smoking ganja and eating cookies that Spunky’s mom sent in the mail.  “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” is playing. The scene evokes three young men enjoying a moment decades ago.  By the time they enjoy this moment, Otis Redding, the singer of the song, is already dead in a plane crash. Death hangs over this little story in every line, as does over most of the poems in this book.

It is a great thing that some forty years after our war poets are reflecting and summoning up quality thoughts about it—thoughts powerful enough to stop us in our tracks, make us scratch our hoary old heads, and think the occasional new thought about that long-gone experience that lies slumbering in our old bones, only to seep out when we least expect it.

That’s how Rosenblum’s poems hit me, hard like a seasoned two by four to the head. “Truth comes by blows,” a great writer once said, and Rosenblum hits hard.

I kept a list of the words and cultural references that worked to make these poems great. Here’s a sample:

Theodore Cleaver, love beads, The Doors, “We Gotta Outta This Place,” Pall Mall Amphetamines, Ho Chi Minh’s revenge, trophy ears, “Proud Mary,” defoliation, napalm, shit burning, bloods dapping, thousand-yard stare, John Wayne, chik-chak geckoes, gibbons, parrots and coppersmith barbets, the Beatles, Coca-Cola, the Velvet Underground, CCR, The Kinks, Raggedy Anne, and orange poison mist. This list constitutes a rough poetry of its own.

Then there is the anachronistic and seemingly obligatory reference to “Hanoi Jane, who would not make her ill-fated trip to North Vietnam for a few years yet.

I don’t want to give the impression that Rosenblum just plays the same tune that other Vietnam War writers have. His great poem, “Mosaic of Lies,” calls to account the so-called “Greatest Generation” leaders who lied to us.  “the D.C. tube steaks lied to us/painted our sons and brothers for war/presidents congressmen secretaries generals.”  This poem alone is worth the price of the book.

My job as a reviewer would be so much more fun if all of the Vietnam War-related books were this well produced, designed, edited and written. The book even has one of the greatest of covers for a Vietnam War book of any kind.

Hollow Tin Jingles  sets the bar high for quality in Vietnam War literature.  I would ask prospective authors to please read this book before you think you have something new to write on this subject.  Pause and reflect.

—David Willson