Jan Barry

Singing Out

How big would the war
Memorial wall be
If it listed all the names
Of soldiers who died of suicide ¬–
Able, Baker, Charlie…
Jacob David George
Three tours in Afghanistan
Jeffrey Lucey
Marine vet of Iraq invasion
Theodore S. Westhusing
Col., US Army
Who wrote in Iraq
“Death before being dishonored”

I couldn’t write about
The first Vietnam vet I knew
Who killed himself –
I couldn’t write about him
I couldn’t write his obit
Because newspaper policy prohibited
Reporting suicides
I didn’t know what to do
With that—that—that—muzzling

The second vet I knew
Who killed himself
Was found with a copy
Of one of my writings
In his wallet –
We cannot protect our buddies
We cannot protect our friends
With words alone

We need to change
Our apocalyptic, hellacious
Hell-bent, death-dealing culture –
Our flag flapping, sword saluting
Sworn to secrecy
Stiff upper lip, suck it up
He-man, iron man military mindset

We need to transform
The “death before dishonor”
Code seeded in our souls –
To singing out for life,
For a lifetime
Singing out
To challenge, to change
Our dancing with death

Basic Training

I was primed to strut my stuff
In basic training –
I already knew the drill
From Boy Scout camp –
But I wasn’t prepared for
The abrupt lesson
In abandoning fallen comrades

“Listen up!” Sgt. Cutter,
Combat medic badge sparkling
On his chesty chest, shouted
One morning in formation –
“One of you dickheads slit his
Wrists last night –
Next lily-livered loser
Who wants ta slit your weak-ass wrists –
I’m handing out razor blades!”

Saving Art

Up the Hudson at the Clearwater music festival,
Hip crowds skip through rain puddles.
A thundercloud looms over the river.
A sudden gust blows art work out of our booth.
I chase pieces of Combat Paper—pieces of
Veterans’ lives—across the muddy grass.
I have to save them, before the monsoon hits.

Singing Out

Basic Training

Jan Barry

As a war veteran, writing poetry and doing nature photography and artwork on outdoors scenes help me focus on what I enjoy about life. Another creative outlet has been teaching communications courses at various colleges, including my alma mater Ramapo College, Rutgers University New York University, St. Thomas Aquinas College and Bergen Community College.

I began writing short sketches and sketching military scenes on scrapes of paper as a soldier in Vietnam. Posted to the US Military Academy after a tour in Southeast Asia, I resigned from West Point to become a writer. That move grew into a career as a journalist, with way stops as a protester with Vietnam Veterans Against the War. I also took up writing and publishing poetry, helping create small press operations to publish Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans (1972); Demilitarized Zones: Veterans After Vietnam (a 1976 collection of art and poetry); and Peace Is Our Profession, a 1981 collection of art and writings by veterans and civilians.

As my journalism career progressed, I periodically published collections of my poetry on various topics, including Earth Songs, Earth Songs II, and Life after War & Other Poems. After retirement as a staff writer at The Record of Bergen County, NJ, I got involved in Warrior Writers, where for the past decade I’ve coordinated workshops and programs for veterans and family members in northern New Jersey. Those workshops spawned a collaborative anthology of art and poetry, Sound Off: Warrior Writers NJ (2017). I also participated in several Warrior Writers poetry readings, including at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, NJ, New York City Poetry Festival, Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck, NJ and other venues.

About the same time that I retired from newspaper work, I got involved with veterans’ art groups, including Combat Paper, Frontline Arts and an art workshop at the Secaucus (NJ) Vet Center, displaying art work at various galleries, including the Brennan Courthouse Gallery in Jersey City, Grounds for Sculpture Art Gallery in Hamilton, NJ, Frontline Arts in Branchburg, NJ, FDR Library in Hyde Park, NY and other galleries from Washington, DC to Reno, Nevada.

Press about Jan Barry:
This is Not War Story features Jan Barry.     Film Review
The Historic Vietnam Veterans Protest in Washington: Lessons for Today Features Jan Barry
Revisiting Hearts and Minds  Interview with Jan Barry.

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