Dan Guenther is the author of four novels, most recently Glossy Black Cockatoos, the 2010 Colorado Authors’ League award selection for genre fiction. His collection of selected poems, The Crooked Truth, is the 2011 Colorado Authors’ League poetry award winner. A recent review on the Veteran Magazine blog “Books in Brief,” declares, “There is no mawkish sentimentality anywhere in this little book because of Guenther’s plain-yet-elegant language. Dan Guenther remains one of the finest poets of the Vietnam War.”
The Author: Donald Hall (editor)
The Lessons: power, clarity, elegance, and how terse images can be used for dramatic effect, irony, and subtle emotional undercurrents
In the fall of 1966, when I first discovered Donald Hall’s anthology, Contemporary American Poetry, I was in my first semester of law school at the University of Iowa, one of those disaffected, emotionally cool, spoiled, and upper-middle class youth coming of age in the late 1960s.
My writer friend Dow Mossman gave me the anthology shortly before I was called to active duty in the Marine Corps, and in it I discovered Robert Bly, Donald Justice, and James Wright. For the next three years I carried that anthology everywhere with me, from the wet and seething jungles of the Laotian border to that green checkerboard of bamboo and rice plains south of Da Nang we called Dodge City. Reading that book changed my life.
When Hall’s anthology came out, many of my friends were already caught up in the skepticism of the times, rejecting the traditional bourgeois values of their parents, and looking for answers in counter-culture art, music, and literature, including the work of poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I found most of the Beat Poets lacking in lyricism, and often governed by a pretentious rhetoric.
On the other hand, with their plain, imagistic styles, Robert Bly and James Wright offered the reader poetry of power and clarity. Donald Justice gave us honest and elegant lyric truth.
I learned a lot from reading these poets, later acquiring Bly’s Silence In The Snowy Fields (1962), Wright’s The Branch Will Not Break (1963) and Summer Anniversaries (1961) by Justice. I learned how terse images could be used for dramatic effect and to create deft ironies as well as capture subtle emotional undercurrents. Bly, Wright, and Justice became my models, lyric poets of the inscrutable, their subjects somewhat varied, but always writing poems that resonated with our troubled times, and producing poetry that dealt with our deepest spiritual wounds.