Documentary poetry combines historical research and poetic expression, often seeking to represent, through poems, the experiences of people whose stories have been pushed to the margins of history.  Docupoetry units at MLWGS have centered on the 1928 hurricane dramatized in Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, the Vietnam War experience as related to Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried, and veterans’ interviews studied by students in Military History.

Documentary Poetics

Documentary poems range from being built entirely from words found in the source document(s) to being inspired by source material yet entirely in the poet’s words, with many variations in between. Regardless of where the poem falls on this continuum, the intention is to represent authentically the story the document(s) tell.

The Poetry River site offers further resources for learning about docupoetry.

Related books available from the MW Library include the following:

  • 811 FIS – Kettle Bottom by Fisher
  • 811 JOR – M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A by A. Van Jordan
  • 811 KOO – Blizzard Voices by Ted Kooser
  • 811 REZ – Holocaust by Charles Reznikoff
  • 811 RUK – poems from Book of the Dead in Collected Poems by Muriel Rukeyser
  • 811 TER – Capturing the Dead by David Nathan Terry

Oral histories for related activity in Military History

Like the examples of contemporary war poetry we discussed, the soldiers represented in these oral histories (collected through The Veteran’s History Project and archived by the Library of Congress) served in conflicts from the Vietnam War to the present, including the Persian Gulf War and Iraq War. A transcript of their interview or substantial text document is available online for each soldier.

  • Connie Rose Spinks (b. circa 1983; transcript and photos) – Army Reserves; enlisted at 17; six months of language training prior to being activated in 2003; injured after less than two months when a suicide bomber’s vehicle exploded beside her convoy; Purple Heart was presented to her by Denzel Washington. Despite her injuries, she conveys hope and optimism in her interview.
  • Nicole Cabral Ferretti (b. 1981; transcript) – Army Reserves; enlisted at 21; activated in 2003; MOS was in carpentry and masonry, but served primarily as a driver which included being assigned to clean-up detail after a suicide bomber attack. Her interview provides insights into being the only female in her platoon, healthcare for soldiers, and how service influenced her and her beliefs.
  • Raffi Armen Bahadarian (b. circa 1978; notebook and photos) – Marine Corps Reserves; Armenian American whose grandparents fled the Armenian Genocide; parents emigrated from Lebanon when he was an infant; grew up in Pasadena, California; served in Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office while in reserves prior to being activated for service. His notebook provides insights into the training he received, his relationships, and his beliefs.
  • Stephen Robert Boeckels (b. 1974; transcripts, photos, discharge papers) – Army; grew up spending summers in South America; fluent in Spanish; West Point graduate; discharged for violating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” His interview provides insights into his prep school and West Point years, as well as his experience while serving and with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
  • Ingrid Lim (b. 1965; transcript) – Army; psychologist; born in Jamaica, she joined the Army ROTC in college shortly after becoming a citizen. Her interview provides insights into contrasts between Persian Gulf War and Iraq War, including living conditions and the threat of chemical warfare.
  • Vincent William Patton III (b. 1954; transcript) – Coast Guard; retired Master Chief of the Coast Guard, a post from which he advocated for the end of discrimination against gay and lesbian soldiers. Prior to this position, he had served as a shipboard radio operator using Morse Code, a rescue swimmer, and a recruiter. His interview provides insights into discrimination in the military, the tenacity involved in rising to the top, and how his service influenced him and his beliefs.
  • Jan K. Lewis (b. circa 1954; transcript) – Air National Guard; drafted in 1972 before he graduated from high school; started as mechanic, then cross-trained as boom operator, and after earning the education prerequisites for pilot training, he completed pilot school, earning his wings in 1982. His interview provides details about planes and being in planes in various roles.
  • Steven L. Bobb, Sr. (b. circa 1950; transcript) – Marine Corps; enlisted in 1968; ammo tech. As a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, he could not be drafted. He recalls in detail an accident he witnessed when a young soldier picked up a live rocket and it exploded in his hands.
  • Charles Edward “Chuck” Creel, Jr. (b. 1945; transcript) – Air Force medic in Vietnam, later rejoined as medic in Army Special Forces. His interview provides vivid details from his service in the dispensary and of his volunteer work in Buddhist and Catholic orphanages in Vietnam, as well as how his service influenced him and his beliefs.
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