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War Songs: Metaphors In Clay And Poetry From The Vietnam Experience

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WAR SONGS is a collection of poems written by Dr Grady Harp while serving as a Battalion Surgeon with the USMC in Vietnam 1968-69. Some 25 years after the poems were written Harp collaborated with clay artist Stephen Freedman to make the written poems visual in the form of sculpted, metaphorical clay vessels. This book is a catalogue which traveled with that exhibition.


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WAR SONGS is a collection of poems written by Dr Grady Harp while serving as a Battalion Surgeon with the USMC in Vietnam 1968-69. Some 25 years after the poems were written Harp collaborated with clay artist Stephen Freedman to make the written poems visual in the form of sculpted, metaphorical clay vessels. This book is a catalogue which traveled with that exhibition.

30 review for War Songs: Metaphors In Clay And Poetry From The Vietnam Experience

  1. 4 out of 5

    Stu Schreiber

    Quick read that is anything but brief because the author's description of this absurd war is so very compelling. Really only need a one word review: BRILLIANT Quick read that is anything but brief because the author's description of this absurd war is so very compelling. Really only need a one word review: BRILLIANT

  2. 5 out of 5

    Chase Von

    60 of 60 people found the following review helpful: Chase Von's Take On War Songs, October 11, 2008 By Chase von (California) - See all my reviews War Songs is as many have noted here, one of the thinnest book I have ever held in my hands, and like them, I have to agree it is also arguably one of the most important books to be written in recent memory. Being a veteran I personally think it should be required reading for any one who is in the military. I also think it should be required readin 60 of 60 people found the following review helpful: Chase Von's Take On War Songs, October 11, 2008 By Chase von (California) - See all my reviews War Songs is as many have noted here, one of the thinnest book I have ever held in my hands, and like them, I have to agree it is also arguably one of the most important books to be written in recent memory. Being a veteran I personally think it should be required reading for any one who is in the military. I also think it should be required reading for any one that aspires to any leadership positions in public office and yes, by the POTUS themselves. They certainly couldn't use the excuse they don't have time. I also think every able body should be required to serve in the military for a determined period of time in order to be a fully accepted member of this society. If that were to take place and regardless of one's financial situation they "KNEW" that if the balloon went up during that time in, or the time that their children or loved one's were serving, and more importantly, they too had read War Songs, I think that and that alone would put so much pressure on those who make the decisions to go to war, come under such intense scrutiny that it would have to be truly justified before this country ever participated in one again. The emotional costs and scars from wars and those who have survived them, will never be able to be accurately accessed. Nor will the emotional cost of those who have lost loved ones to this most heinous of things ever be able to be quantified. Do wars have to be fought? Certainly on some occasions. Sadly though, I believe quite frankly that we have been to far more wars than were really necessary. For those that read, the release of previously sealed documents accurately supports that statement. I also believe that they (Wars) have to be felt by all of those in our society and not just the disadvantaged poor, who often join the military with the thought of higher education as well in mind and climbing the social ladder of life. Grady was plucked out of a life of normalcy as a young man and dropped into Hell on earth without any military training. After being drafted, to survive this nightmare and keep some sense of semblance that his sanity remained in tact, he wrote poetry. Poetry that captures a birds eye view of the rawness and insanity better known to the uninitiated as war. Any one who loves any one wouldn't ever want that person to have to endure what war is about unless it was absolutely necessary and there truly was no other recourse. Though thin, this book along with the beautiful pottery that so fittingly gives the horror your reading an offset to not be totally shocked, is a both healing and absolutely human picture of really revealing the nightmare of Vietnam, and subsequently, a snap shot of all wars. I couldn't recommend this book more highly and on a side note, a friend of mine met a girl on the net, he's single so no harm in that. She wanted to meet but he told her he couldn't because he had to redeploy. When he told me about it later he said her response was, to the war? That' is such OLD NEWS! After that he was shot in the face by a Sniper and survived. Perhaps the one thing that is different about what is taking place now is the public is indeed removed from it, to such an extent, that their lives are not affected. And the military members and their loved ones are the only ones that are enduring by and large the true cost of these engagements. Which is another reason, everyone that calls themselves an American should ready this book. And yes, if not require all able bodies to serve for a period, then to bring back the draft. Your Chance to Hear The Last Panther Speak

  3. 5 out of 5

    Carole P. Roman

    Stunningly spare and eloquent, War Songs is the collaboration of Grady Harp and Stephen Freedman using both clay and words to illustrate the horror that is war. Grady Harp presents a unique perspective, he is a doctor trying to repair the damage war wreaks on humanity. Each poem is a quiet cry of pain, the senselessness of a lost cause. Finding camaraderie or even deep friendship is futile, the random hand of Ares can snatch a young life before it had a chance to live. It's as bleak as it is hop Stunningly spare and eloquent, War Songs is the collaboration of Grady Harp and Stephen Freedman using both clay and words to illustrate the horror that is war. Grady Harp presents a unique perspective, he is a doctor trying to repair the damage war wreaks on humanity. Each poem is a quiet cry of pain, the senselessness of a lost cause. Finding camaraderie or even deep friendship is futile, the random hand of Ares can snatch a young life before it had a chance to live. It's as bleak as it is hopeless, the haunting words painting a vivid picture of destruction and wastefulness, "that night after waving goodbye from the helicopter I sat and chuckled over your jokes while they killed you." War changes people, the carnage wears away our humanity, desensitizing the brain for survival, "we could stack the bodies on the truck trying to look detached." There are simple pleasures, a beer shared for breakfast, a highlight when the killings cease due to a monsoon or a laugh at the expense of a local dog named "Goddam" are all eventual victims of the enemy, small respites that are destroyed on the whim and vagaries of war. Nothing is safe. Particularly poignant is a soldier's frantic shock at being hit, or the desperate ploy to keep a soldier believing his friend still lived. "Bob" of the unfinished conversation, his abbreviated life cut short we learn that "talk is cheap," and so it seems that war makes life cheap as well. War Songs does not end when the fighting stops. The melody of pain lives on with the survivors, scarring generation after generation, that for some never heals. We need poetry like this. It doesn't glorify war, it leaves a lasting monument of its brutal reality. Coupled with Freedman's ceramic memorials, it is a reminder of its victims.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tanya Peterson

    When Grady Harp decided to share with the world his poetry that formed deep within him during the Vietnam War, he allowed us a small but very deep peek into the human suffering and tragedy that is war. This is an absolutely beautiful and very stirring portrait of war and the people it hurts. The photographs of Stephen Freedman's clay artwork add dimension to the content of the poems. Together, they create a moving depiction of war that makes the reader want to embrace and comfort those who have When Grady Harp decided to share with the world his poetry that formed deep within him during the Vietnam War, he allowed us a small but very deep peek into the human suffering and tragedy that is war. This is an absolutely beautiful and very stirring portrait of war and the people it hurts. The photographs of Stephen Freedman's clay artwork add dimension to the content of the poems. Together, they create a moving depiction of war that makes the reader want to embrace and comfort those who have lived through war and are attempting to survive its horrors. While Dr. Harp's poetry arises from the Vietnam War (an undeclared war, but very much a War), the words are applicable to any war fought in any geographic area by any human being. In 2013, we have soldiers fighting abroad and soldiers returning home, and they deserve compassion and understanding and comfort. This little book of poetry and art should be read by anyone who touches the life of a soldier.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    Elegantly simple and highly accessible work of collaboration. Harp's poems are concise and precise--but they are also complex puzzles. We associate war with men, songs with merrymaking and children. The poems in WAR SONGS are far more complex than either, successfully blending the two associations to create a beautifully layered harmonic about the dual state many of America's soldiers in Vietnam occupied as men who were still children, as children who were on the verge of becoming, or would have Elegantly simple and highly accessible work of collaboration. Harp's poems are concise and precise--but they are also complex puzzles. We associate war with men, songs with merrymaking and children. The poems in WAR SONGS are far more complex than either, successfully blending the two associations to create a beautifully layered harmonic about the dual state many of America's soldiers in Vietnam occupied as men who were still children, as children who were on the verge of becoming, or would have become had they survived, men. Freedman's sculptures, despite how enormous many of them are (six feet or more as far as I can ascertain) translate well to the page, and manage, despite being scaled down to fit the page, to overwhelm what Harp skillfully understates. The book itself (design, layout, typeface, dog-tag embossed velum pages) is a sleek, gun-metal beauty. In lieu of bullets, impossibly, there is poetry.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Hittinger

    "Pain not felt is living pain--pain felt is past pain." A slender and moving volume of twenty poems culled from the notebooks of Dr. Grady Harp while a Battalion Surgeon in Vietnam. The poems accompany images of Stephen Freedman's clay vessels, a collaborative project where Grady's poems are inscribed on the clay walls. And on some of the large urns and pots and coffin-shaped boxes, the words are not only inscribed but literally cut out of the clay creating these negative spaces of pattern and br "Pain not felt is living pain--pain felt is past pain." A slender and moving volume of twenty poems culled from the notebooks of Dr. Grady Harp while a Battalion Surgeon in Vietnam. The poems accompany images of Stephen Freedman's clay vessels, a collaborative project where Grady's poems are inscribed on the clay walls. And on some of the large urns and pots and coffin-shaped boxes, the words are not only inscribed but literally cut out of the clay creating these negative spaces of pattern and breath, especially as the word sizes vary. It's as if the clay itself were speaking or reciting the poems as the words spiral from top to bottom, around every curve and declivity. I only wish I could see the vessels in person. Some of the pictures left me breathless; I can't imagine what it would be like to see one close up. The poems are at once rightfully spare in the face of such horror, and yet the depths of each resonate with the choice and haunting images recounted. For instance, in #12, one I can't get out of my head: "War makes you do such things / as keeping an IV running on a dead body all night / so his neighboring wounded buddy / won't give up..." and then the catch in the throat when paired with those final lines "I heard a lot of one-way conversations / at night / in Vietnam." And Grady rightfully lets the soldiers speak, taking the snippets of story from the wounded as they confide in the doctor-speaker, locating the rhythm and music and imagery that makes each its own poem, as in these lines from the brief monologue of #10: "...I seen my boot / across the path and it was pumping man my fuckin' leg / oh God I didn't even feel it, Doc..." At the time of this publication and exhibit it was 20 years after Vietnam, and as both Grady and Stephen allude to in their opening and closing essays respectively, the occasion of this work and the silence-breaking to tell what was seen, what was witnessed and heard in Vietnam, draws parallels to the friends and loved ones lost to AIDS. These poems, these clay vessels are attempts to preserve and honor, to make sense of loss in the face of incomprehensible death, and within the negative space of word-skin and clay-skin, a place to heal.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    This is a very slender volume. But it is powerful indeed. More powerful still for me, since two of the guys in my high school home room died in Vietnam. It is a combination of poetry and reflections by Grady Harp, then a doctor in Vietnam, and pottery, by Stephen Freedman. The linkage of pottery and poetry works. A poignant work indeed. . . .

  8. 4 out of 5

    R.G. Stern

    Beyond Powerful “War Songs” is among the most powerful collaborations of art I have ever encountered. A collaborative effort between an extremely talented poet and an artist in clay, it casts a remarkably clear-eyed depiction (both literal and symbolic) of war, from the deeply personal Vietnam experience of a Battalion Surgeon, Grady Harp, and subsequent physical interpretation in clay by Stephen Freedman. I have always believed there are two kinds of people in the world: those who have experienc Beyond Powerful “War Songs” is among the most powerful collaborations of art I have ever encountered. A collaborative effort between an extremely talented poet and an artist in clay, it casts a remarkably clear-eyed depiction (both literal and symbolic) of war, from the deeply personal Vietnam experience of a Battalion Surgeon, Grady Harp, and subsequent physical interpretation in clay by Stephen Freedman. I have always believed there are two kinds of people in the world: those who have experienced war and those who haven’t - be it as a soldier, a damaged family, trapped civilian, or refugee. It seems to me that life changes forever for the war exposed, though this is only an ignorant judgment made passively, for I have had the good fortune of missing these horrors. It is likely difficult for many to understand the unique emotional burden of the battle surgeon. Yet perhaps it was most eloquently stated by one of America’s most honored, multiply wounded, and battle worn generals in history, U. S. Grant, describing a different grotesque war and his personal experience with a battlefield hospital: “Some time after midnight, growing restive under the storm and the continuous pain, I moved back to the log-house under the bank. This had been taken as a hospital, and all night wounded men were being brought in, their wounds dressed, a leg or an arm amputated as the case might require, and everything being done to save life or alleviate suffering. The sight was more unendurable than encountering the enemy’s fire, and I returned to my tree in the rain.” Yes, the horrors of war are myriad for all its victims. Grady Harp has eloquently exposed his own personal war and its aftermath in these short and stark depictions of fragments of his Vietnam experience. I find it difficult to view them in a literary fashion - they are too personal and to sharply defined to warrant mere literary praise. They need to be read over and over and visualized within the context of the time and place and people. This is a universal ode to the insanity of war expressed by one fine writer and should be read by anyone trying to understand that which likely cannot be fully understood by the non-experienced. But this short book is more than worth the effort. Mr. Freedman’s clay interpretations are a stark complement to the poetic imagery.

  9. 4 out of 5

    pierre

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Test

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Mercer

    I bought this book not really knowing what I would be getting, but I was very intrigued by the idea. What I got was a book of poetry that was so obviously written by a person who was baring their soul that the emotions almost seem to leap from the pages. For me, I would have to believe the act of writing this book took almost as much courage than what was displayed by the author during the times of the experience. At the end, there is an essay that describes somewhat of what I went through during I bought this book not really knowing what I would be getting, but I was very intrigued by the idea. What I got was a book of poetry that was so obviously written by a person who was baring their soul that the emotions almost seem to leap from the pages. For me, I would have to believe the act of writing this book took almost as much courage than what was displayed by the author during the times of the experience. At the end, there is an essay that describes somewhat of what I went through during the brief conflict I was involved in with the Marines - "When the capacity of a person to feel is shut down to avoid an overwhelming experience, the process is systemic." You could feel the detachment of feelings in some of Grady Harp's works, but mixed with that was the knowledge that while it may have been easier and more convenient for a person to keep these emotions hidden and bottled - Harp took the path less traveled and not only let the emotions come, but also gave them a voice through his poetry. Read this book, and that voice that sings the "War Songs" will ring many different tones in your ears, mind, and soul. Thank you, Dr. Harp, for finding, and freeing,the voice inside of you to sing. We owe you, and all those who served in Vietnam, a debt of gratitude for the blood, sweat, and tears that - unfortunately - were the instruments in the song's creation.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sherry Ellis

    War Songs is a collection of twenty poems written by Grady Harp, who served as a surgeon during the Vietnam War. They are coupled with back and white photos of the artistic creations of South-African clay artist, Stephen Freedman. The book begins with an essay by Mister Harp, which describes some of the atrocities he witnessed during the war. He then goes on to explain how this collaboration of poetry and art has helped heal the psychological wounds inflicted by the war. Each poem, titled only by War Songs is a collection of twenty poems written by Grady Harp, who served as a surgeon during the Vietnam War. They are coupled with back and white photos of the artistic creations of South-African clay artist, Stephen Freedman. The book begins with an essay by Mister Harp, which describes some of the atrocities he witnessed during the war. He then goes on to explain how this collaboration of poetry and art has helped heal the psychological wounds inflicted by the war. Each poem, titled only by a simple number, is brief - a page or less. But each is packed with raw emotion and an eloquent description of the events of the war. From Poem 8: "A silent amoeba of blood searches through obstacles of the sand and pools beside the blackened barrel . . . " The sculptures that go with the poems are clay vessels - many are covered with the lyrics of the poetry. They're a beautiful visual expression of the written word. At the end of the book is an essay written by Stephen Freedman. He explains how he was touched by the war and how his work expresses the emotions of the soul. War Songs is a poignant work of art that offers a somber reflection of war, and can serve as a coping mechanism for those who have experienced the horrors of war. Highly recommended.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ardin Lalui

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tom Yancey

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stanley Clay

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Becker

  16. 5 out of 5

    carol bushey

  17. 5 out of 5

    Richard Atwood

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michael Anthony

  19. 4 out of 5

    Betty

  20. 5 out of 5

    Susan Nase-Wulff

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rebecka

  22. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  23. 5 out of 5

    Travis Cleveland

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cameron Hayden

  25. 5 out of 5

    Erik Christian

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  28. 5 out of 5

    Martha Love

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne Grossetti

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rolf Margenau

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