I was a young (27) enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army when I wrote my last poetry. By then, my career as a poet had spanned more than a dozen years reaching back to my teens and earlier. I was a published poet by age 18, and had been writing with good esthetic and technical skill since an even earlier age.
Those long ago poems, and that young poet and author, deserve to be heard at last, all these many years later. Youth and love and passion never fade, so these poems (and the companion novel Jon+Merile, written by yours truly at age 27 in an old Hitler-era tank barracks in West Germany during the Cold War), come to you via memory express from far ago and long away.
In ways I didn't realize, my first enlistment was a dream. I was young, single, in great health, a handsome enough fellow, with a degree in English and a license to roam. I was stationed in the heart of Europe, working pretty much a 9-5 job (aside from the usual Army rigamarole of alerts, duties, and inspections). I owned an old orange VW van in which I could ramble as I pleased on weekends, and ramble I did, often enough, to Paris, Brussels, Heidelberg, Luxembourg, and many other interesting places. Sometimes I just took the 10:30 p.m. Friday night French troop train that stopped in Kaiserslautern. I'd take a bottle of fine Palatinate wine, sleep through the night (saving a hotel bill, because G.I.s do not have much money), and I'd wake up in the Gare de L'Est in Paris, ready to ramble all day.
I was, however, a typical soldier, far from home, and homesick. I longed to be back in the life I'd left behind, to which I wrote a novel in ecstasy, a nostalgic ode titled in manuscript simply Jon+Merile. Its hero is a young poet in a New England college town, who has a mad passionate love affair with a lonely young married woman. That novel remained a dusty manuscript until I finally published it as That's Life: A Love Affair (Jon+Merile 1973) in 2016.
The word nostalgia, in fact, from Hellenic (Greek) is formed from two words: nostos, home going, and algia, aching or pain. Soldiers stationed far from 'the World' understand it. Homer's Odyssey (750 BC) tells of a warrior struggling homeward (nostos, and you can be sure he had tons of algos or algia along the way). The entire epic is about monsters, goddesses, pirates, and sirens who got in his way. There is nothing new under the sun (Solomon, Ecclesiastes 1).
I only now realized how much the poetry I gathered in this (my final and only collection) in that same time period fit with the novel. I have published the two together (27duet) but also separately in print and e-book editions. This is an e-book edition of the poetry alone, with a its unique introduction.
Having studied literature, and being a fan of popular music, I knew even as a teenage college student that my poetry rocket would flame out by 27 and I would crash into the sea before 30. It has happened many times before--think of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and more.
Think of Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) who wrote world-class poetry in his teens. He was finished as a poet by age 19. He became a gun runner in French Colonial Africa, and died of some obscure bone cancer at 37. Think of Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, and know that young people (teenagers, twen'gers) do create great and lasting art. Edgar Allan Poe began writing verse at about age 15. Few are destined for great renown, but most start at an early age if ever they touch pen to soul and flow the glow across pages in rhyme or not.
I prepared myself over the years, knowing I would turn my creative energies to writing rich prose informed by an underlying poetry, as I have done with great passion the past forty years and counting. I never looked back. C'est la vie.
I never looked back, except at winter's door, to give this young poet and author a hearing at last, which he deserved and never got forty years ago in another century and geography.
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