WAR ON WAR; By Lowell Jaegar; Utah State University Press; 96 pages; $10.95.
You can tell any story a thousand ways. Write simply, cover a theme in detail or couch it in obscure references that will make the reader work.
Lowell Jaegar, in his "War on War," a book of poetry about his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam, has chosen to make the reader work. His poems are frequently harsh, almost always angry and extremely demanding.
"Pay attention," they seem to tell the reader, "or you will miss what I'm saying."
Jaegar is a witness. In telling his story, he is also victim and soldier. For page after page, poem after poem, in a clear American voice, he relives what he saw, what he did, what he was and who he became. The picture is, at times, as unpleasant as the war itself, but his honesty and emotion are unquestioned.
Some wounds need be/reopened/before they heal and where the living/will not speak, the dead cannot/keep still.> "War on War" is a deceptively difficult book. Despite the great areas of white space around his words and the thinness of the volume, the message is not quickly digested or even simply discerned.
The poetry is not extraordinary, but the depth of feeling behind it is, somehow elevating it. And it is a gutsy book, full of grit and honesty that promise that a reader who is willing to stick with it will find his own perceptions have been, in some way, changed.
THE VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL; By Michael Katakis; Crown Publishers (New York); 76 pages; $15.95.
Michael Katakis has taken an entirely different approach in his examination of what Vietnam meant to generations of Americans. For one thing, he doesn't tell the story of the war in Vietnam, but rather the war at home.
The battle of mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and children and lovers and friends to come to terms with personal loss - and perhaps learn to say goodbye.> The story is told with few words.> Katakis went to "the Wall" to say goodbye to a friend he hoped wouldn't be there. He found he was one of virtually thousands of others conducting similar private searches. And he found his friend - a name and a memory on a black, gleaming wall.
Then he spent months haunting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., photographing ghostly reflections of the sorrow and joy, the chaos and peace, the greetings and goodbyes of those who visit.
His black and white photographs, taken in all seasons at all hours, each tell a story. But what that story is, like any intensely personal moment, is open to the interpretation of the viewer.
The book is enhanced by short quotes from people he met at the Wall and a longer passage about the friend he went to find.
He writes of standing in front of a panel, searching for the name:
"The black granite reflected my image and I clearly saw my fAce; then there he was. I stared for a moment, not at the name, but at my reflection. I had changed; my hair had some gray and the lines around my eyes showed experience and wear. I reached out to touch his name and felt my friend was the same, still 18. Young people who die are frozen forever in time. Everything about the names would change in time. The people who would come year after year would see their reflections in the stone, their hair would gray, their bodies age. They would change, but all these names would remain as they were, forever."
The photographs and words are deeply touching - and somewhat haunting. They are also important to a nation trying to gain perspective on Vietnam.