Sunday, June 10, 2012

How To Find Peace Poems by Martin Willitts Jr.

How To Find Peace
Poems by Martin Willitts Jr.
Copyright 2012 by Martin Willitts, Jr.
Kattywompus Press
Cleveland Heights OH
Softbound, 28 pages, $12
ISBN 1936715171

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Martin Willitts Jr’s latest chapbook How To Make Peace tries to find hope or uncover despair amid the carnage of conflict. Two poems in the book on facing pages best exemplify this dichotomy.

Music in the Battlefield

            Based on the water color, “The Piper of Dreams”
                   by Estella Louisa Michaela Conziani, 1914

In the lull between the shooting,
I played my flute so quietly
music notes were blackberries.

For a moment, the fields were silent, my song
drifting across barbed wire, broken wheels, dying
split open horses, to the men agonizing,
cauterizing their wounds.

The quiet finds what needs to be lifted up,
and lifts it.

Killing Fields

            “When broken glass floats” – Cambodian proverb

They plant our bodies like grain.
We are mixed with lime.
Our skin browns the ground.
Our skeletons make the earth’s chest rise and fall.

This is what it is like to be worth
less than an empty field
when tears of the defeated are glass,
and everything is broken. 

Willitts’s poems could be about any war. The first being the Civil War, Spanish American War or perhaps inspired not only by the painting, but by Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade.” War brings the need for something uplifting to the men and women who are caught up in it and as the second poem intimates it could be non-combatant civilians as well, especially those who suffered in Southeast Asia, or Nicaragua or El Salvador or perhaps those suffering from the so-called Arab Spring which is turning more and more into a cold, dead winter in the countries where uplifting has given way to the broken.

In Protocol For Primates, Willitts shows us that gorillas have more precise rules of peace and war than their homo sapien counterparts, while the opening lines of the title poem warns that perhaps animals should not trust humans:

“I know the glow of benevolence when I see it./It is easily recognized by the wild animals./They come willingly to you without regret/trusting what they should not.”

The poem, based on Quaker author Edwards Hicks’ “Peaceable Kingdom,” goes on to negate the looming threat against the wild and replace it with his definition of trust. And as Willitts often does in his poems it ends with his (our?) happiness.

Another poem, “Forty Years Later” is dedicated to Cervena Barva Press publisher/editor Gloria Mindock whose poetry on the Eastern European model is often dark and with the
exception of the last line is similar to one of her poems.

Taken as a whole these are poems take us down and then lift us up, perhaps Willitts’s intention: there is hope where despair exists.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:35 PM

    This was such an adept way of exploring the carnage of war without going off the deep end, making graceful what otherwise is anything but. It goes to show that Willitts is versatile enough to handle both the grim and more lighthearted sides of the human experience. For someone seeking a less bloody poem, I could recommend this one: It has the same rhythm and style but a much different tone.