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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

12-4-23 pdf
December 4, 2023
11/27/23 pdf
November 27, 2023

From Vietnam to Iraq to UMass Boston

From Vietnam to Iraq to UMass Boston


Mass Media: How’d you get started writing poetry?

Kevin Bowen: Well, I wrote a bit when I was younger, then I went into army and went to Vietnam. I didn’t write when I came back; I didn’t have to words to capture that experience and writing about anything else didn’t seem to have any meaning.

Actually, both my parents were writers. My father wrote plays and wrote for the Catholic Worker and my mom directed for the Blackfriars, a local theatre company.

MM: How’d you come to UMass Boston?

KB: Actually, I started as a student here in 1969, graduated in 1972. I went away for graduate school, then came back to work at the William Joiner Center since 1984. I was there when it was [in] Downtown [Boston]. We had lots of activity there, lots of events and readings.

You could say that UMass Boston has been a part of my being. It’s had a lot to do with why I’m a writer. Teachers here have been excellent. Mark Pawlak, who publishes Hanging Loose, Ron Schreiber, who passed away a few years ago, was a teacher of mine.

MM: Did you study with Martha Collins?

[Laughs.] No, I actually never took any creative writing courses here as a student. There weren’t a lot of courses back then. I was a straight English 18th-19th century literature student.

MM: You were published in the most recent issue of AGNI. Did you have to submit like everybody else or were you invited?

KB: Yup, I had to submit just like everybody else. I’ve had stuff there before; this is the third time I’ve been in there. The poems that they published are turning points in where my work is going.

MM: Where do you see your work going?

KB: The poems in AGNI are almost like postcard tableau shots of trips back to Vietnam. I’d been working on them for a couple of years before they took a turn in this direction, beginning to be snapshots about the legacy of war long after the war machine has left.

When I sent them out they were just beginning to coalesce, now I have a whole new collection. A lot of if is influenced by the Iraq war and its continuing presence in the psyche-my own psyche as a vet, that is. In my poems, I’m looking at images from peoples’ lives, a long time after war… It’s a way of seeing what’s been taken away from us in the case of Iraq because of the immediacy of the war, the bombings and the blasts…the ways people transcend the suffering of war, what their daily lives are like. We can’t lose that perspective.

MM: Tell us a bit about where your poetic inspirations.

KB: A lot of my early work is about the [Vietnam] war. Going back to Vietnam 20 years ago, and seeing it as a country instead of a war made a huge difference in my life. I saw that people were starting to write there…and discovering the literature of south-east Asia was a big awakening. We started bringing them to campus [to be part of the Joiner Center] because we felt that getting those voices heard was so important. We’ve had the unequivocal support of the Lannan Foundation… In fact, because of that the Joiner Writer’s Workshop used to be free, but as costs have risen, we’ve had to charge for the two weeks.

MM: At $220 for one week, and $400 for two, it’s still pretty inexpensive.

KB: We try to make it affordable for everyone. There are scholarship opportunities, and it’s free for Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans who’ve returned home. In fact, we have a veteran’s writing group that are students here that meets here on campus.

MM: What’s new at the Joiner Center this year?

KB: We also have a new program with the US State Department to bring writers from Vietnam, Northern Ireland, the Ukraine and other countries to be in residency here for three months. They’ll be giving lectures, visiting classes, giving readings. Gearoid MacLochlain is the Irish writer, he grew up in Belfast in the 1970s and writes about the troubles of that time.

We’ll also host and train poets here in water puppet theater , a thousand year old Vietnamese art form in which puppets are moved over water. Chu Luong is leading that. He will be in residence here for six weeks, from April 5 to the end of May. The other writers will be here from April thru July 1 for the workshop.

MM: Will Carolyn Forche be back this year? She’s had to keep a low profile for health reasons.

KB: Yes, it’s our 20th anniversary, so we’re counting on her to be here and she’s getting more active again. And Grace Paley will be back, as well as Sam Hamill. Martha Collins will be back leading a translation workshop again, and she has a great new book out, too. So it should be a good year this year. This State Department program will be great, and the regulars will be back. The English department here has always been an anchor, in terms of attracting high quality students and producing quality graduates.

MM: Is there anything you wish to say to the students here on campus?

KB: Just that this is an incredible place. The student body here is different than anywhere else, engaged in way that brings their real life experience to the campus, which affects the learning here. It’s not thinking in a vacuum.

For example, people on campus are talking about trying to create a poetry room here. It’s a testament to how important poetry is the life of this university. I don’t know if students know the stature of the teachers we have on campus now and the stature of people in the past. The Watermark is a great journal with a history of great work and great editors. I hope you appreciate what you have here.

About The William Joiner Center for the study of war and its social consequences

The William Joiner Center was founded in 1982 as a response to the initiative of the university’s large student veteran population. Named after William Joiner, an African American veteran and the university’s first Director of Veterans’ Affairs, the center is supported by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and by grants from both public and private sources. It provides educational and other services to veterans, conducts research and makes policy recommendations on issues relating to veterans, and encourages teaching and scholarship on the Vietnam War and social consequences.

For more information, or to sign up for the Center’s 2007 Writer’s Workshop from June 18-19, 2007, go to www.joinercenter.umb.edu.