I won the War Poetry Prize for 2009, the second time since 2004. It was announced just after Veterans Day at the following link:
I’ve put the 3 poems up on the War Works page here; they’re also easy to find by googling “Robert Hill Long” war poetry. And on YouTube, I’m reading them in my backyard. (I don’t endorse watching the video, but listening may help guide your reading of the texts.) There’s some nice background music–the neighborhood jays and crows, someone firing up a lawnmower. You might faintly hear my pond fountain, where a hummingbird occasionally bathes in mid-air.
In this month of holidays after Veterans Day, let’s consider how war goes on despite the poems, the fall colors, the ordinary music of jays and crows and pond fountains.
About the 3 poems:
“Wolverine and White Crow” is a documentary poem–the story is based on an encounter with a Cheyenne in a Eugene park where I was writing one summer day. Save for Leroy White Crow’s name, which is fictive, and some of the dialogue, 90% of the information in the poem, including the police stop, is factual. I tried to buy him some food (I was there to write, after all), but he kept telling me his story–in part to wear me down to buy him a drink, but in part simply because I was willing to listen, to not judge, to ask questions when invited. Clearly PTSD, but layered onto a personal/cultural history that includes poverty, alcoholism, the rez, the iron road of ‘manifest destiny’ that runs over the bones of many tribes. This poem is now subtitled to add “readability:” http://universalsubtitles.org/en/videos/Oq5epLf6RF4n/info/
“Motivations” is fictive, but I hope a fair representation of what turns a lot of veterans into wards of the VA. In this piece I’m trying to show the paradox of the sound mind/memory, and the cruelty of desire, in a mostly broken body: the callow warrior transformed by paralysis into a weeping philosopher. For a real-world take on this, google “paralyzed vets” or go to Paralyzed Veterans of America here:
“Insurrection and Resurrection,” too, is fictive. It concerns a different
sort of paradox–what it must be like to survive into old age in another, mostly benign country/climate that does not contain the place of tragedy and struggle that marked your life forever. Unlike Leroy White Crow, this character is an Ancient Mariner who has no one to tell his story to.
Make peace a daily habit.