Talking Poetry with James Burns
I forget what Internet connection was the neuron network between me and James, but he is one of my few acquaintances that, after meeting on Facebook, we actually met in real life. It was while he was traveling on a cross-country train trip, just for the heck of it, seeing America in a different way. After sharing a few of these interviews, I sent him some questions about his poetry, and his time around the military and after. In true poet fashion, he sent me back some short, yet interesting and poignant, responses.
Q: First, please share a brief bio (100–200 words) encapsulating your military experience, as well as touching on your writing credits.
A: My time in the US Navy was brief — one year of active duty. I was stationed at Lakehurst, NJ. [At the time my father referred to me as a “damned reservist”]
I grew up as a part of the US military community in Coronado, CA. My father served as a CPO in the US Navy and his last duty station was at NASNI.
For three years my brother and I owned a game store near Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. Most of our customers were military, and this factor renewed my interest in the military community. We decided to sponsor a conference to encourage members of the military community to write about their experiences.
I have been writing poetry for nearly 50 years. I started writing poetry in the summer of 1968. I took creative writing classes in college as part of my efforts towards a two year degree in English, which I completed in 1976. [AA English June 1976 San Diego City College]
Q: On my shelf, I have a copy of your chapbook, Brilliant But Brash. In it, there is a poem that goes:
“The final juxtaposition on the written page/The forecast storm of populist rage.”
I’d really like to know what you were thinking at the time you wrote those lines, and if that meaning still holds, or it it’s changed since the time you gave me the book?
A: I was thinking of the upcoming election and the dissatisfaction of Donald Trump voters.
Q: War poetry has a long and storied tradition, but many of your poems don’t deal directly with the military/military action. How much does your time in service influence your poetry?
A: My brief military service does not appear to influence most of my poetry. I do have an interest in military history.
Q: What are some themes you find yourself returning to over and over in your poetry? Are they connected with your service? Why or why not, do you think?
A: I studied war poetry as a part of my AA English degree. My instructor was a combat veteran of WWII. He had a deep understanding of the poems he shared from the two world wars. Some of my poems deal with war and its consequences. I have no direct experience with war. My mother did. She was in Britain during WWII and her family lived in Southampton, Coventry, and London.
There are many recurring themes in my poetry. Nature and man. War. Love and lost love. [To name a few]
I do write about The Long War, which I view as part of The Great Game. I am not an expert on the subject matter, but a few of my acquaintances are.
I’ve written about war because I care about veterans. I care that they make it home. I want our government to make careful decisions about the use of our armed forces.
Q: You and your brother organized the Sangria Summit: A Military Writers Conference. Can you tell me a little about that? What were some of the challenges? What were some of the takeaways? Will there be another conference in the future?
A: Isaac Cubillos organized the writing conference. His efforts were well received by our attendees and speakers. Isaac is a talented man and a good friend.
We provided input into the event and sponsored it. We are unlikely to hold a physical reunion of the Sangria Summit writing conference. Many of the Sangria Summit alumni are Facebook friends, and we keep in touch with respect to writing projects.
Q: What are some of the common narratives concerning veterans that you’ve seen in the news/entertainment media?
A: Common themes: Coming home. Dealing with the direct consequences of war. The military and civilian divide.
Q: Who are some fellow military/veteran writers you might recommend?
A: Authors I recommend:
Kelly Kennedy, author of They Fought For Each Other
Randy Brown, aka Charlie Sherpa, author of Welcome to FOB Haiku
Eliot A. Cohen and John Gooch, authors of Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War
Simon Anglim, author of Orde Wingate: Unconventional Warrior
Q: Any links to your works you’d like me to include.
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