If I had a sense of sacrifice, that was the sacrifice. I didn’t see how I’d bewriting any poetry in Vietnam. As it turned out, I did, but I didn’t figureit that way initially.
WALPOLE: Your memoir goes into depth about your multiple trips tothe war. You saw the horror, the devastation up close. How does one goabout translating such grimness into poetry?
BALABAN: There was a kind of bonehead philosophical statement circulating back then that claimed, “After Auschwitz, all poetry is obscene.” Ithought just the opposite. I thought that after Auschwitz—or Vietnam—the obligations of poetry were greater than ever, and one had to find apoetry that would address what you were witnessing. You wrote aboutwhat you saw and found somehow its lyrical thread.
Wilfred Owen said, “The poetry is in the pity.” I always thought itwas the reverse. I thought the pity was in the poetry. In other words,really right words, right rhythms, right imagery will create a sense ofbeing there in the reader who’s not there. But if you go at it trying to sayto the reader, Oh, this is horrible, this is grotesque, you’re just writingpablum. There was a lot of well-meant stuff written by good poets whomI still admire but who had never been to any war. People like RobertBly and others who would write rhetorical or sentimental denunciationsof the war, just political declamations. Strongly wrought feelings that Idon’t think make it as poetry.
WALPOLE: Are you leery of being pegged as a Vietnam War poet ratherthan simply a poet?
BALABAN: I’d like to be known as more than that. Because the tag hassuch a limited connotation . . . if you’re not interested in the VietnamWar, why would you bother with a poet who’s a Vietnam War poet? Ofcourse, even those poems I wrote during and about the Vietnam Warare about a lot more than the Vietnam War.
WALPOLE: A lot of your poems arise from travel. Can you speak to that?
BALABAN: Traveling, you’re free of yourself; you’re free of your burdens,free of your obligations. Your eyes can open up and see things in a freshway. I’ve always found that to be true, whether it’s on a trout stream in