Duane’s PoeTree Interview

Posted: December 4, 2017 in Poetry



Duane’s PoeTree

Today’s poets, today’s poems. Share yours, send to duanev@hotmail.com

Showing posts with label David AllenShow all posts

Sunday, December 3, 2017

David Allen responds

DAVID ALLEN: All I ever did well was write. You just have to read my poetry to see that poetry is my life. Everything that happens to me is apt to eventually become a poem. I was fortunate to make a living by writing by working as a journalist for 36 years, 19 years in the Far East. I am now retired and busy myself as poetry editor of the Indiana Voice Journal and vice president of the Poetry Society of Indiana. My poems and short stories have been published in several journals and I have two books of poetry, ‘The Story So Far’ and ‘(more)’ both available from Amazon.com or by emailing me at david@davidallen.nu. I also have a blog, “Type Dancing,” at https://davidallenpoet.net. I am also an active member of the Last Stanza Poetry Association in Elwood, Indiana.

DV: How did you ever get into the writing game? Did it start with poetry, or was that a late development?”

DA: I don’t remember a time when I didn’t write. I have boxes of old journals and poems pounded into life on old manual typewriters. The oldest are poems written in high school to elusive loves. A lot of the early poems were knock-offs of Rock and Roll tunes. I worked various jobs — dishwasher, cook, cabbie, sailor and anti-war activist,  I lucked upon a job as a reporter for a small Virginia weekly newspaper. My life as a journalist for 36 years on six newspapers in Virginia, Indiana and the Far East gave me plenty of material for my poems. I was a member of a group that printed a small literary magazine, “Old Friends,” in the Washington, D.C. area, and was a regular at the Eat Write Cafe weekly open mics on Okinawa, Japan. For a while I was editor of the group’s e-zine.

DV: Journalism and poetry are obviously very different, “fact” vs “fantasy,” but in your experience do you think either one of them has directly impacted the other?
DA: Actually they worked hand-in-hand for me. Both are considered “outsider” endeavors. Through being a reporter I learned to be an observer. And as a poet I learned how to tell stories that not only supplied the facts, but also sang. Many of my poems derived directly from what I observed as a reporter. Other poems were born out of boredom during trials. And when I was in the Far East, the reporters from Korea, mainland Japan, Okinawa and Guam often challenged each other in email haiku contests.

DV: The story that made journalist Stephen Crane famous was his first-person account of the sinking of the “SS Commodore,” which he recycled as one of his most important short stories,  “The Open Boat,” and again in the poem “A  man adrift on a slim spar.” Do you have any poems derived from your reportage that you could share with us, as well as the backstory?

DA: Probably the most memorable poem derived from a news story is my poem “The Names.” It was a news story about an event memorializing the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa. I had editors who allowed me to stray from typical reporting and I was able to use the story almost entirely intact in a poem.

George Allen White Jr.,
Edward Lewis White,
James White

American Marines who died on Okinawa.
These names are read in June,
in April the names were soldiers,
May was for sailors.

every day.

On April 1,
the reading of the names began
to commemorate
April Fool’s Day,
Easter Sunday,
Love Day,
the day the Americans invaded Okinawa,
struck back on Japan’s home soil
in 1945.

Every day
for an hour at lunch
and in the evening
they came to read the names
at a church high on a hill
overlooking the invasion beaches.
A church with American and Japanese parishioners,
with a Japanese-Canadian priest,
who spent his war in a cold Saskatchewan internment camp.
Every day
they come to
All Souls Episcopal Church
to read the names of the souls

James Preston White,
James Thomas White,
Jerry Wilson White.

They are coming to the end.
Eighty-three days,
each day of the battle.
Returning veterans,
some with wives and grown children,
sit in the back of the chapel.

Thousands of names.
12,281 Americans,
110,000 Japanese soldiers and Okinawan conscripts,
More than 150,000 Okinawa civilians.

Logan Willard White Jr.,
Thomas George White,
Charles Edward Whiteman.

Each name another soldier,
sailor, aviator, civilian
killed in the carnage that was
the Battle of Okinawa.

Listen –

James Richard Whiteman,
Mark Edward Whiteman,
Forrest Whitt,
Joseph Henry Whitaker.

Whisper them softly,
fall into the rhythm.
it’s a Jewish Kaddish,
a Buddhist chant,
a Christian prayer.

Joseph Henry Whittaker,
Marvin Jones Wiggins,
William Robert Wiggins.

Name after name.
Each man some mother’s son,
some father’s pride.
this one the class clown;
that one the brain.

Some were orphans,
no family except their platoon
or shipmates.
That guy was a Gary steelworker,
and wasn’t little Jimmy Whit
the mechanic down at the corner garage?

And what of the names read
on other days?

David Bond,
Earl Graham,
Ernie Pyle.

Wait, that one’s familiar.

Pyle, a newspaperman,
he wrote about these people,
always making sure he got the names right.
Thousands of names for the readers back home,
’til a Japanese sniper reaped his name
for the book of the fallen.

All-American names
Howard S. Schwartz,
Louis Odachowski,
Kazuyoshi Inouye.

Some of the veterans are uneasy
on the wooden church pews,
it’s hard to sit through.
The reader’s voice is hoarse,
so many names.

Robert Wiggins,
Gray Huntley Whitman,
Hugh Whittington.

So many names.
Names inscribed on a striking monument
on Mabuni Hill, where the Japanese Army
made its last stand.
The Cornerstones of Peace,
the names of the dead from all the countries,
carved into 1,200 black granite walls,
stretching to the sea
like the wings of doves.

Donald James Wilton,
Kenneth William Wilkins,
Jack Williard.

The American list is over for the day.
the veterans leave,
handkerchiefs pat at moist eyes.
Few remain in the chapel
as a new reader sits at the table.
She begins to read.

Sato Yoshiro,
Yasuoka Tomohiko,
Murakami Minoru.

More names.
These are Japanese,
a college conscript from Tokyo,
a farmer from Hokkaido.
soldiers in the Emperor’s Army on Okinawa
when the Americans came with their
Typhoon of Steel.

Pak Man-do,
Chou Che-jiu,
Song Yong.

Korean names,
forced laborers,
comfort women.

Masahiro Kohagura,
Masao Ota,
Kiyo Yamashiro…

Okinawa names,
Page after page.
It sometimes takes 10 minutes
to read the day’s American names,
maybe 25 minutes for the Japanese,
much longer for the Okinawans.
That name belonged to a fisherman from Kin.
And wasn’t that the name of the mother from Itoman
who huddled in fear
at the rear of a deep cave with her two children,
shivering with fright as death came calling,
collecting his names?

teenage girls pressed into service to tend
the wounded.
Whole families of names,
each a sad reminder of War’s toll;
each name a testament.
To what?

This person once lived.
“I existed,
I had a name,
I was somebody.”

Read our names,
remember us.

A much shorter poem, “Two Good Legs,” stemmed from another battle memorial event:

The American veteran
stood on the stage
tearful and trembling
as he talked, reliving
the hell that was Okinawa
five decades ago,
when he fought a relentless foe
and lost such young, good friends.
He tottered at the lectern
on his one good leg
and, as he tearfully

finished and turned to leave,
he dropped his cane.

As he stumbled
and began to fall,
a hand reached out
from behind and
grabbed his arm
and he turned to look
at his helper.

One of the Japanese veterans
had hobbled to his side
and, throwing down the crutch
that aided his one-legged stride,
said, in heavily accented English,

“Here, friend, let me be your other leg.”

And they walked away
arm in arm off the stage,
comrades in survival.

And here’s one from a court case I covered:


The crime lab tech said there was no doubt

the DNA from the defendant’s saliva

matched DNA from sperm samples

collected at two rape scenes.

“There’s just one chance

in 4.8 billion it could have

been someone else,” he said.

The accused hung his head.

It sucks when your own body

rats you out.

DV: One of the most interesting things about journalists is the wide variety of stories they cover as part of their regular routine. As a poet, it certainly gave you a lot of material to work with. Of your many jobs as a reporter of 30-plus years, which one was the most memorable?

DA: The job I loved most was being the Okinawa News Bureau Chief. The job sent me all over the Eastern Pacific, from Thailand to Tarawa and many places in between, especially during the 50th anniversary of the Pacific battles of World War II.

DV: Newspaper writing is strictly governed by deadlines (and by-lines and headlines and date lines! lots of lines!) and column inches. Have these habits of schedules and space considerations had any effect on the way you write poetry?

DA: I had a sign hanging over my desk in the Okinawa Bureau of Stars and Stripes. It read, “DEADLINES AMUSE ME!” I shrug at deadlines, even when I am toiling the night before the deadline for a new poem for my group’s poetry challenge. But there is usually no deadline for writing my poems. I still face deadlines for accepting and formatting poems for the Indiana Voice Journal.

DV: How has retirement changed your life as a writer? Has this been affected at all by your current editorial duties?
DA: I retired in 2010. At first, I did freelance work for a local paper, but the pay was low and I found myself sidetracked by spending time with family, traveling and gathering poems for my second book. A bout with cancer took up a year and I’ve had three since then. During all this, I became an active member of the Last Stanza Poetry Association of Elwood, Indiana, poetry editor of the online Indiana Voice Journal and vice president of the Poetry Society of Indiana. This year I have been the contest director for PSI’s annual poetry competition.

DV: You’ve been a busy dude! What is the Last Stanza Poetry Association? It has an intriguing title.
DA: The Last Stanza is a group of poets who meet twice a month in Elwood, Indiana, to share and critique poetry. Most meetings have about 10 poets from a wide range of backgrounds. Several of us are also heavily involved in the statewide Poetry Society of Indiana, formerly the Indiana State Federation of Poetry Clubs. Several of the members have published books of poetry.  A friend of mine, who often groans at my puns, says the name Last Stanza was perfect for me.

DV: Now that you have acclimated to Middle America, what do you miss most about Okinawa?

DA: It was quite a shock to return to the States after 19 years on Guam and Okinawa. It is not the same country I left in 1991. I had to learn to lock my car and house and be more cautious about the people I met. The towns here in central Indiana are dying. Abandoned homes fill many inner-city neighborhoods and many factories and mills are closed. The political landscape is scary, with politicians safe in their Gerrymandered districts and willing to sell their souls to the oligarchs. The people here are not as friendly as the Okinawans. Of course, I also miss the subtropical weather and the ocean.

DV:  I just returned to the US after being gone even longer. After teaching in Korea and Japan, I retired to Thailand. Most of my friends had told me how different the US was since they had left. Some of them bemoaned the takeover by the faminazis, and others were concerned with the rise of Trumpism (back when it was called the “tea party”).  So I was apprehensive when I came back to Farmersville, Ohio (population 1,009). On the whole, except that I’m no longer a teenager, things don’t seem very different on the social level. At least you have public poetic activities to keep you active. Thank you for your time. I look forward to your next submission.


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