We have appointed Michael Murry as the Contrary Perspective’s “poet laureate” and have decided to bring his ” Polemical Poetry” to our readers as a regular feature that will appear every month.
From time to time established poets have written verse that is political and verges on the polemical but Michael has brought his poetry to the level of a genre or complete style of unremitting satire and exposure of the abuses of political power. Every line, every word, of Michael’s poems tears at the false pretenses of power and can reach deep inside of your own sense of injustice or bring a smile at a clever satiric swipe at a banal common misreading of power.
Michael does not use abstractions as most poets do but uses common language in an honest and direct way to communicate complex thoughts. One can easily see the deep rooted personal feelings that are expressed in his work and which lend authenticity. This is no dabbler in the poetic form but an intense and thoughtful student of the poetic genre. Read with relish!
b. traven (for TPC)
By Michael Murry, the polemical poet.
“I never saw it coming. Forty years after I had left the battlefield, my memories of death and wounding were suddenly as fresh and present as they had been in 1968. I thought I was past that. I learned that none of us are ever past it.” – Max Cleland, “The Forever War of the Mind,” New York Times (November 7, 2009).
In March of 2003, the United States foolishly blundered into another military debacle in Iraq. As the predictable disaster quickly unfolded, many Vietnam veterans started experiencing insomnia, fits of explosive anger for no discernible reason, periods of depression, and even thoughts of suicide.
Personally, I had always considered myself fortunate not to have suffered any physical or emotional wounds in Vietnam. I got out of that mess pretty much intact, I thought, and had the rest of my life to live as I pleased. Well-meaning people advised us veterans to just “put it out of your mind” and so we did. Or thought that we had done so. We discovered later that you cannot really put some things out of your mind. You can only push them down deeper into the darkness of the subconscious, where ugly things wait until their hour comes to surface again at unexpected moments.
I had read about this sort of thing but didn’t think it applied to me. But once I retired and moved to Taiwan, I found myself with lots of time on my hands and no daily commute to and from work. So I began to brood upon ugly memories. Then I got angry. Not just angry, but enraged. How could any country stupid enough to do Vietnam once ever go back and do the same damn stupid thing all over again? Not just in Iraq, but in Afghanistan as well. Not just one Vietnam but two of them at the same time. And I could do absolutely nothing about any of it.
Fortunately for me, my wife spotted the symptoms right away and told me simply: “Turn the pain into power.” That sounded like a good plan, but how does a person do that? I began to do some research into veterans groups who had started forming creative writing workshops as a means of coping with their own unwelcome memories. Some of these workshops focused on poetry and so I thought I would try my hand at that. But I didn’t know of any other veterans to work with here in Taiwan, so I had to strike out on my own. Sometime in 2004, my younger brother Jack, the high school history and English teacher, challenged me to write an anti-war poem in the particular stanza format that he provided as a guide. After a bit of fumbling around, I came up with:
Gallant band of brothers true
Country’s service is their aim
Death and maiming is their due
In where angels fear to tread
Foolish, dreaded leaders rush
Bringing power’s fearsome groan
Leaving only graveyard’s hush
This way comes the wicked pawn
Drunk with drinking conquest’s draught
Juggernaut goes crushing on
Won with honest trifles’ lure
Still so sure in dwindling light
Now betrayed in consequence
Of the senseless, needless fight
How can those who serve inquire?
Why has this rough beast come ’round,
To be drowned and born in fire?
Stillborn monster, undead thing!
How we sing your praises high!
Those whom we’ve made destitute
Still salute and fight and die
Sizzling meat now roasting slow
Do they die for reasons known?
Or for only pomp and show?
Who has wavered; who stands fast
‘Till the last good soul goes free?
Who says “he” and who says “she”?
Who but thee and who but me
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2004
Upon finishing “Bread and Circuses,” I went on to write other verse compositions in the same style, but then felt the urge to try other metrical arrangements. So I bought books on the subject of poetry with an emphasis on those which contained famous examples which I might emulate. I soon discovered, however, that what I had begun as a form of Do-It-Yourself psychotherapy had mutated into an angry polemic aimed at those miscreant political “leaders” who had demonstrated such a vast ignorance of history not just in my own youth but in my sunset years as well.
I began to identify with George Orwell’s character Winston Smith, who remarked – in the dystopian novel 1984 – that he “could not definitely remember a time when his country had not been at war.” So the endless Orwellian war continues with the citizenry of the United States seemingly unable or unwilling to recognize its true nature and bring it to a long-overdue halt.
Ten years have passed since I started writing my therapeutic polemical poetry. I feel better when I’ve written something that sounds pleasing to me and perhaps expresses an idea as well. But since my fellow Americans forgot all about the long War on Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) within only a few years of Congress cutting of funding for further misadventures, I have little reason to suppose that they will remember Iraq or Afghanistan in a few years, either. I refuse, therefore, to indulge in optimistic fortune telling – telling people what they most want to hear – and instead ply the lonely, unwelcome trade of misfortune telling.
The truth will not set you free, as some have maintained. But it might make you mad. I guess I’ll just have to live with that.