Some time ago I asked Helen Pinkerton to tell me more about R.L. Barth, the poet, editor, publisher and Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War. She obliged and over the weekend wrote a lengthy account of her dealings with him, concluding like this:
“I increasingly admire his poems about his Vietnam experience, as you do, and believe that he has written the best poetry to come out of that war.”
What may appear to be a left-handed compliment is not. True, little of literary worth came out of the war, poetry or otherwise, but Barth’s work, much of it collected in Deeply Dug In (University of New Mexico Press, 2003), is well-crafted, sharp and pointed, like a good knife.
One of his poems came to mind when I read this post by Cynthia Haven, which in turn reminded me of the time I saw Jane Fonda in person. It was November 1970, and I was a freshman at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. The day before, Fonda had been arrested by police when she flew into Cleveland. Her speech I remember only as an orgy of collective self-righteousness. Go here to see her police mugshot, taken more than a year and a half before this better-known photograph of her seated in a Hanoi antiaircraft emplacement.
Barth’s poem is “Movie Stars”:
“Bob Hope, John Wayne, and Martha Raye
Were dupes who knew no other way;
Jane Fonda, too, whose Hanoi hitch
Epitomized protester kitsch.”
Barth exercises exquisite tact in his choice of a final rhyme.