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TONGUE OF WAR: FROM PEARL HARBOR TO NAGASAKI

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This book, which won the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry, selected by B. H. Fairchild, is inspired by historical situations and accounts letters, oral histories, news reports, etc., of individuals from both sides of the Pacific theater of World War II, including the home fronts. Barnstone writes that he intends Tongue of War as ''a love letter to the World War II generation.'' But he explains, ''I see the sequence as a history in verse in which I allow the readers to inhabit multiple and warring perspectives on the War in the Pacific, including the Pearl Harbor attack, Hiroshima, and the conflict in between.'' Pulitzer-prize-winning writer Robert Olen Butler writes, ''Barnstone has revealed humankind's capacity both for evil and for redemption with a power that few writers have ever achieved.''


For the past fourteen years, I have been researching war letters, diaries, histories, oral histories, and interviews with soldiers, scientists, politicians, prisoners of war, comfort women, and citizen survivors of the War in the Pacific. From these sources, I have written poems that try to bring alive the experiences of the individual participants in all their variety, limitations, and complication -- showing their anger, their mutual racial hatred and fear, their suffering, and their attempts to make peace with events of unspeakable horror. I see this sequence as a love letter to the WWII generation. It doesn't gloss over the war profiteering, the execution of prisoners, the torture, the massacres of civilians, the rape and the sex slavery, but rather seeks a broad understanding of the pressures and the perspectives of those who lived through this extraordinary period. The discourse of hero and villain elides our common humanity. According to Japanese aesthetics, the object is of most interest before or after the climax (the flower bud, not its full bloom), whereas in the West we tend to emphasize epiphany. The man who was a hero at Iwo Jima was a scared teenager who beat up his younger brother and who came home and fought his memories and alcoholism. The villain who massacred civilians was beaten by his stepfather and spent years trying simultaneously to hide and to atone for his past. Our lives are a moral continuum, not something to be judged by our best and worst moments. Tongue of War is the story of the War in the Pacific told from the worm's eye view, and it is a story that I hope will help my readers better understand our common humanity.

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