Introduction

Introduction

 

I am Tim Bagwell. I am the author of these poems.

The anger in them is mine. While the title’s reference to crafting them with a knife is, indeed, a metaphor, it is apt as the frame of reference in which I wrote them. The pain is real. I claim it. I live it daily. I use “knife” in the title to specifically convey to you, the reader, that these are not “nice” poems; these are not written to entertain anyone. They are an attempt to keep me alive (not a metaphorical statement) and to wake you up to what war does to people who are “lucky” enough to survive physically.  I want them to cut as I have been—and continue every day—to be cut.

I am a Marine Corps combat veteran of the American war in Vietnam. I enlisted at 17 and I was out of combat—and Vietnam—by age 19, meaning I have lived with post-traumatic stress my entire adult life. I was suffering from the disorder before it had its modern name, but it has always been part of the mental debris of every combat soldier who physically survived war no matter whether they talked about it or not.

I find the depth and tenacity of my anger enormously sad. As a general rule of my daily life, I hate people. It is what war taught me. I try to be good. I try to do good. But I always, always expect to fail. I always, always, expect others and my culture’s institutions to fail me. That is what war taught me. I try daily, hourly, to direct its demon forces, rooted and constantly replaying just below mindful consciousness, to push me to do everything I can to stop war, to never quit toward achieving this life goal; to fight and fight and fight to bring about a world where war is as publicly repugnant as an adult playing with his or her own feces.  I can conceive a world where it is so. I know it is possible. I do not believe war is anything but human choice.

In 1954, when I was four, C. Wright Mills published a book in which he presciently said the power elite running this country had already begun to turn to the military to run the world. This was the era of the “Cold War.” But, now, that “war” is over and yet feel how accurate Mills’ statement continues to be:

“…men in authority are talking about an ‘emergency’ without a foreseeable end. … The only seriously accepted plan for ‘peace’ is the fully loaded pistol. …  Peace is a mutual fright, a balance of armed fear.”[1]

Since September 2001, this fear has been renamed the “Global War on Terror.”

I vehemently argue there is a better way. We must change both our capitalist economies—which values monetary net worth above human beings—and our philosophy of life. Our world is falling apart and we are the people doing it. The US is the largest arms dealer on the globe, all of us are killing the earth with our waste, and we have absolutely no sense of our continuing overpopulation. It is time we change.

I stand with Grace Lee Boggs:

“To make a revolution, people must not only struggle against existing institutions. They must make a philosophical/spiritual leap and become more human human beings. In order to change/transform the world, they must change/transform themselves.”[2]

I do not write passive poetry—a stylistic preference that has been and no-doubt will continue to be a point of critique.  Nor, do I feel anti-war poetry can be prettied up without losing its power to motivate people to action. While most of my “war” poetry can be considered passive and non-directive because it is my history, my anti-war poetry is everything except passive. If this is a problem for you, you will not like my work. If you like to have your poets play with their words, don’t read mine. I have a poem, included here, entitled “Political Bukowski” and, while it is not my most directive anti-war poem, it is animated by the straight-talking spirit of Charles Bukowski. I hope and intend that all of my anti-war poems are so forward, clear-spoken and boldly directive.

Ann Jones, in her just released book “They were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars—The Untold Story,” understands the tremendous need for clear language, language that must hurt to read because it comes from war. “It’s a perfect conspiracy of silence,” she writes, arising from America’s refusal to look straight into the ugly face of what war is and what war does. 

“… an inability to use plain English to name what happens in war when we’re so well trained to speak of war in the elevated locutions of patriotism, heroism, and godliness that have little to nothing to do with the thing itself. The worst we can say of war is that it is ‘unspeakable,’ which in fact it is not. But we don’t speak of it because that would involve so many nasty words we don’t want to use and elicit so many things we don’t want to know, so many things we think we can’t do anything about now that the government answers only to the powerful few … ” [3]

There are few secular books I have come across that have had a lasting impact on the world.  One of those few is Henry Durant’s The Battle of Solferino[4], which articulated the ideas and ideals underlying today’s Red Cross and Red Crescent. That single slim volume motivated a world-wide organization that we all should cherish and actively support.

Says Hazard (sic) Adams in The Offense of Poetry:  “… great poetry is itself offensive and … readers must confront and pass through the offense, which is a moment of challenge, crisis, and decision generated out of the prevailing cultural view of language …”

 I can only hope my words might have a similar impact. I’m trying as transparently and creatively as possible to stop war. For me as a poet, whenever my politics and pretty words clash, I go with the politics.  For this reason, I don’t like Brian Turner’s Insignia[5], but I love the ending of Bertolt Brecht’s “The Interrogation of the Good”:

“Hear us then: we know

You are our enemy. This is why we shall

Now put you in front of a wall. But in consideration of your merits and

good qualities

We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you

With a good bullet from a good gun and bury you

With a good shovel in the good earth.”[6]

 

Again, the poems that follow are my poems, my words, my pain. I do not apologize for a single one, but nor do I ask anyone to “like” them. If you want entertainment, don’t look to me. I write them so that you—whoever you are, where ever you are—and I will act, daily, to stop war. If these poems do not do that they are worthless words.

I hope they are not, but only your actions—you changing you and your community for the better—will make them so.

 

Tim

 

P.S.  If you want to tell me about your actions, write me at bagwelltimothymarvin@gmail.com


 


[1] C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite. 1956/2000. Oxford University Press, pps.184-5.

[2] Grace Lee Boggs, p. 292, The Verso Book of Dissent. Edited by Andrew Hsiao and Andrea Lim. New York: Verso. (Italic in the original.)

[3] Ann Jones, p. 96, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars—The Untold Story. New York/Chicago: Dispatch Books and Haymarket Books.

[4] Henry Dunant. A Memory of Solferino. Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross. 1939/1959.

[5] Brian Turner, Pps. 64-65. Phantom Noise. Farmington, MA: Alice James Books, 2010.

[6] Quoted in Violence by Slavoj Zizek. London: Profile Books, p.33.

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