Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Poems by Gary Fincke
Cervena Barva Press
PO Box 440357
Somerville, MA 02144-3222
Price: $7.00

Gary Fincke’s chapbook of poems brings back to this reviewer memories of another era, a time when the US Government was pursuing another unfathomably insane war, not unlike the one it is currently pursuing. It was a time, like these times, of a divided nation ruled by arrogance, a time when the nation’s young, even those in elite colleges, were beaten and even shot for voicing their opposition to the war’s insanity. The first poem is titled “Kent, Ohio.” Fincke recalls that horrible day at Kent State “where thirty-five years ago/ I survived the guardsmen’s volley.”
It may be difficult for those who have not lived through those years to understand just how divided the nation was in those years. Though the nation was hardly ripe for revolution, the prospect was talked about seriously in dorms and coffeehouses around the nation. Espousing ideals of love and peace was often met with a hatred that was palpable and personal. Here are the opening lines of “Mother’s Day, 1970:”

“They should have shot you too,” my uncle said
After I chose between the protesters
And the blunt authority of the Guard.
Sick of my mutton chops and thick mustache,
He hated how I thought I knew the world
Better than he did without picking up
A gun or grenade or the requisite
Gumption to wear a uniform with pride.

George W. Bush’s monumental blunder of a war will prove to be more disastrous in its consequences and it has certainly divided the nation. But, other than members of the military and their families, Americans have not been asked to sacrifice anything. During the Vietnam War, a young man had to try to wrap his head around the fact that the government wanted to send him off to die in an enterprise that was morally bankrupt, an enterprise which even its architects, we found out much later, had realized by 1967 was doomed to failure. Since admitting mistakes is something politicians are not wont to do, the war continued for another seven years. This had the effect of twisting up my and Gary Fincke’s generation to no small extent:

I hitchhiked, believing in the Kingdom
Of rootlessness(------------------------
-------------------------------------) saying
Nothing to bored or curious drivers
About my history of Presidents
By name: Kennedy, the office-buyer;
Johnson, the quitter; Nixon, the liar,
who had called my classmates “bums” and killed them
Three hundred yards from my classroom at Kent.

--“All Through May, 1970”

Also found in Fincke’s lines are signs of the transformation America was undergoing, signs of what was fast disappearing:

Some nights my father would drive us north where
Farms were turning into streets of houses.

--“The Fire Landscape”

A sense of dread in the form of the Selective Service System hangs over Fincke and his friends during their last semester in college. Some poems flash forward to pay respects to the dead, those classmates who later died in Vietnam, or in car crashes, or in a jeep in basic training. But death was impatient and didn’t feel compelled to wait for semester’s end:

Early in an evening of remembering death,
I tell my friend that after the Kent State shooting,
After students like me went home and waited out
Our anger, the police came armed to Jackson State
Like a recreation of the Ohio Guard.
They herded those students, I tell him. They backed them
Against the front wall of a dorm and suffered stones
And bricks until they opened fire as if they’d loved
The headlines from the week before, (-------------
Almost five hundred times, I say, they hit that dorm
Two dead, twelve wounded, all of them “nigger students”
According to the cop who called in the shooting,
That speaker’s nickname was “goon,” something history
Can’t make up, his casual slurs, on tape, leaching
Into the voiceless future to poison language,

--“The Casual Slurs”

Toward the end of the book the language quiets, grows beautiful. One reason America is so divided today is that many people don’t understand what was actually happening in the 1960’s and 70’s. This is even true of many who lived through those years. THE LENGTHENING RADIUS FOR HATE could help provide a way toward that understanding. All I’m saying is give it a chance.

-- Richard Wilhelm, Ibbetson Update

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