It is my pleasure to introduce a friend and local poet, Dennis Maulsby. I know Dennis because we both belong to the Border’s writing group. This group has been around for over 10 years. It started out at the local Barnes and Noble but migrated to Borders a few years back. Because it is a public group, our demographics change frequently. Dennis has been a great addition. The group has been a success story, in that several members have published. So if you happen to be in the Des Moines area around 7:00 PM on a Tuesday night, feel free to stop by and join us.
Dennis has published in several publications and I think of him as our local poet laureate. He writes mostly about his experiences while in Vietnam and I felt this would be appropriate so close to July 4th.
Virginia – Where are you from?
Dennis – If I was to respond typically, I would say: I was born and raised in Marshalltown, Iowa, graduated from Marshalltown High School (1960), and Grinnell College (1964), Grinnell, Iowa.
Responding as a writer, I would say: I was from war. I was driven to writing after a year in Vietnam that featured the battle at Kai San and the Tet Offensive.
Virginia – What do you write?
Dennis – Most of my poems and short stories deal with that experience. All my Vietnam poems spring from the personal emotional impact of that war and its relentless memories. Some of the poems have some elements that I did not experience directly, but relate to veterans’ common experience, both as soldiers and civilians.
My memories of Vietnam have not dulled with the years. At night in dreams, or in pensive moments, they have refreshed themselves too many times. Perhaps, this is the way it is with all veterans.
There is no question that PTSD plagued me. My first six months after being dumped back into civilian life were hell. I learned that this was an affliction that must be worked constantly, like an alcoholic – once scrabbling day at a time. In casting around for ways to cope, I discovered creative activity pushed the demons back. Writing has been the best.
Virginia – How long have you been writing?
Dennis – Ten years ago, I joined a writers’ group and the creative writing process has been the most successful therapy. I can only speculate on the reasons. However, I believe writing to have an almost limitless canvas, especially in English.
There are over a million words in the language, as compared to French, for example that gets by with somewhat less than four hundred thousand –pauvre Francais. The various combinations, arrangements and permutations of a million words with new ones being added everyday must be almost infinite. Certainly, enough to last my creative lifetime – so, I am a poet, a short story writer and perhaps, a novelist.
I started building a literary resume by submitting individual works, both poetry and short stories, to journals I thought matched my style.
Virginia – How many books/poems have you published so far?
Dennis – There are lots of rejections, but sometimes lightening would strike. My writings have been published in the last eight volumes of Lyrical Iowa, the annual anthology of the Iowa Poetry Association. Others have appeared in the Des Moines Register, The Hawkeye, Peregine, The North American Review, Tapestries, Types and Shadows, Fiele-Festa, and The Hawai’i Pacific Review. Some on Internet sites including Writetherapy, Speaking Leaves, Words on a Wire, Brick & Mortar, Voices in Wartime and the International War Veterans’ Poetry Archives. In May 2004 my poem 6 June, Omaha Beach was featured with a musical background on National Public Radio’s Themes & Variations. Listen for yourself: http://iwvpa.net/maulsby-d/omaha-be.php
My first book of poetry, Remembering Willie, and all the others was published in 2003 and won the Military Writers Society of America Silver Medal Award.
Remembering Willie is included in the Veterans’ archives of The Library of Congress and is on display at the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum. From Remembering Willie:
Memory of a Eurasion Working Girl
I hope she knew why I was so quiet,
When we held hands at night in her strange land,
Uninvited and lost.
It must have made her uneasy, watching for cues
From this twice her size round-eyed male creature,
So large pored and hairy.
Blood-warm breeze felt so comfortable.
Her perfume riffing in the air,
Set time for the music.
That evening she pierced my blind stare,
And helped me lay down my mountain of stored up death,
So weary with the weight.
Whether she was aware or not,
She did what women have done for soldiers
These thousands of futile years.
Fingers entwined our primal spirits touched
And I remembered
What my soul should look like.
I write often – both poetry and prose – because I must.
Virginia – What is your writing day like?
Dennis – Most of my early ideas come from 3:00 to 4:30 AM sweat-soaked dreams about my experiences or nightmarish variations on them, some from daydreams or flashbacks.
At this time, the process is more normal and poetry/story ideas come from the observation of people and places, imagination and research flesh out the details. I have recently completed drafts of a book of linked short stories and a book of poetry.
Virginia – What are you working on now?
Dennis – I’ll be retiring from my day job on July 31st, 2009 and plan to work on the drafts until they are ready to submit. I have a list of 147 small presses. Do you think those will be enough?
I also have developed a one to two hour (your choice) workshop. In a relaxed group setting, participants discuss some very old forms of Japanese poetry (Tanka, Haiku, and Senryu) and how they evolved. Once grounded, we examine how they impacted American poets and how American poets have impacted them (The American Sentence). We practice writing a few lines while simultaneously looking for ways the forms can give us insight into the poetic moment. And, how looking for these moments may improve our other poetry and our prose. Email me, if you are interested. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I have had great good fortune of being supported by several exceptional local writers’ groups.
Virginia – Do you have some words of wisdom for us unpubs?
Dennis – Writing the material was good therapy, but reading to a group increased the healing value by several orders of magnitude. My first group encouraged me to assemble my book and helped with the editing and layout. I owe them a lot.
Don’t be afraid to write honestly. Sometimes that requires you to go mentally naked with friends or relatives, or to violate the restrictive cultural codes we were taught. I would also recommend the summer workshops at the University of Iowa. They have a Summer Writing Festival consisting of one week or weekend workshops on most every type of writing (poetry, novels, short stories, screenplays, memoirs, children’s books, etc.) all taught by experienced authors. People come from all over the world for these sessions. Check it out (http://continuetolearn.uiowa,edu/iswfest/).