May 16, 2008 04:30 AM
The poets came here many years ago from many places in America; they
came because they turned their backs on the war in Vietnam.
They also came the other day to a downtown bar. Time passes. I heard
one man say, "I walked here. My feet hurt." The reason for the gathering?
An anthology of their poems has just been published. The editors are
Allan Briesmaster and Steven Michael Berzensky, also known as Mick Burrs.
An anthology, launched in a bar; drink is the ink of verse. There are
76 poets representing eight provinces; one poet lives in China; a
small handful of these war-era poets have since returned to America.
A couple of dozen of them came to the launch to drink a little beer,
to share war stories, to read from their work. Richard Teleky began
with a poem about Monet at Giverny: "He knew without flowers the
world would die." A metaphor, a reminder of the fond old question of
my generation: Where have all the flowers gone? I reckon some came here.
Rae Marie Taylor read: "How shall we navigate/ these waters/ of this earth."
Ken Stange quoted from Hippokrites: "Paradoxically, the distances
from home and to home are not the same."
And there is not here.
Jacob Scheier read one of his mother Libby's poems; as he did, we all
looked at him as if we knew him from somewhere. No surprise – he is
the same age now as we were then.
Joe Nickell was introduced as the only poet anyone could name who has
appeared on Oprah and Larry King Live. Nickell is a professional
debunker of the paranormal, a skeptic by trade and inclination. No
wonder he didn't buy the war.
Daniel Kolos read a funny poem about losing his rifle during basic
training. Poets need no training in the art of losing rifles; the
rest of us, however, do.
Ellen Jaffe read: "ask a leg if it is civilian/ an arm if it is the
enemy/ an eye if it is ours/."
It still is. About these poets: for the most part, their accents have
faded; they sound like us. No surprise. It's been a long time. And it
says here that they have made us better by their presence and their poems.
During the break there were photos snapped and there was hugging and
mugging and talk. Of those old days of war, protest and departure
Peter Anson said, "We didn't want to be Americans any more."
Joe Nickell said, "President Ford offered us clemency. We stood up
and said we couldn't accept – not only did we not do wrong, we were
the conscience of America."
Why is there so little protest now? Roger Greenwald said, "There's no
outrage over anything." Peter Anson said, "The virtual world is
self-contained." The sound of an M-16 rifle is easy to mask with an
My old friend Mick Burrs said, "I was 25 years old when I came to
Canada. I was about to be drafted. I wanted to be a school teacher."
He sought status as a conscientious objector. He was denied. He came
north. That takes guts. He said, "Canada was the dream we thought
America was supposed to be." Still is.
When the poets came, they added to our literature and pool of
peaceful genes. They may also have made America harder when they
left; you be the judge. Be mindful, however, that you judge those who
chose to harm themselves rather than hurt others.
Crossing Lines: Poets Who Came To Canada in the Vietnam War Era;
Joe Fiorito usually appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Email: