Poems in the Keys of Life By Kerry “Doc” Pardue

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Kerry “Doc” Pardue is a 100 percent service-connected disabled veteran. He is a former combat medic who served with the Scouts in the 2/47th Infantry of the 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam from March 1968 to March 1969.

He tells us that he began to write poetry “to bring about healing” and “to deal with PTSD.” And that he learned two things in Vietnam: Men will die, and no matter what he did, he couldn’t change that. His writings have taught him, Pardue says, that “we did the right thing by going to Vietnam.”

When Kerry Pardue received his notification to report for his physical, he decided “it would be better for me to pick my field rather than be on the front lines as an infantryman.” Why he assumed that would happen, he doesn’t explain. The recruiter suggested that he go for medic training, and that most likely he’d be stationed in some nice hospital. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? The recruiter didn’t inform Pardue that medics also served with the infantry in the thick of the fighting.doc_pardue

As a result of his decision to become a medic, the poems in Poems in the Keys of Life: Reflections of a Combat Medic (PublishAmerica, 100 pp., $29.95, hardcover; $14.99, paper; $9.95, Kindle) are not about serving in that nice hospital, but about combat. There are titles such as “In the Heat of Battle,” “Playing Chicken with Mortars,” “Gooks in the Wire,” and “Daddy, Why Didn’t You Tell Me About War?”

Here’s a representative poem, “Happy Thanksgiving”

May your turkey be plump

Your potatoes without lumps

Your gravy nice and smooth;

And may your pumpkin pie

Stay off your thighs

I wish all Vietnam War poetry was this straightforward. It is not.

I respect honesty and good old American values. That’s what the reader gets in this small book of poetry.

Kerry Pardue’s website is kerrypardue247.com

—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 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