Afterword…from the book

I’ve had several people comment that the afterword to Poems from the Battlefield is interesting, that it provides a different kind of context and that I should post the text here.

I’ve thought it over quite a bit and have balked.  As I organized the pieces for the collection, I vacillated between having an introduction, a preface or an afterword. I decided on the afterword because I believe poetry should be able to stand on its own, without the analytical assistance of the author.  I wanted readers to enter the book with only their tabula rasa, allowing the words and photos say what they will.

Perhaps it is contradictory, then, that I have agreed to post the latest version of the afterword here and that I also have posted analyses of the poems here.  I justify my decision by noting the afterword is rather brief and that it doesn’t give away the entire book–no commentary should ever be able to do that to poetry or art.

The analyses on these pages also do not offer the crafted messages–the actual poetry–meant to strike a chord in the psyche as no other genre can.

And of course, the book’s photography and quotes are not represented on this website.

Should I ever come out with another edition of the collection, I would once again re-write the afterword but call it a foreword, as is more traditional in second editions.

I doubt I would attempt a second edition, though, because then I would feel compelled to revise the poems…for the x-th time.

It is far too easy for me to get stuck in cycles of endless revision, when what I really need to say is, “Okay.  This is the end.  This piece is done…for now.”

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Afterword

Though the context is historical, and though the parks and monuments referenced honor soldiers who died more than a century ago, Poems from the Battlefield is an exceedingly present, personal collection operating on several levels:  the literal, the historical, the sociological, the psychological and the metaphorical.

Many of these poems are my attempt to reconcile the incongruity between fighting for national values and the deliberate killing of neighbors and loved ones.  I have thrust myself into unknown characters—fighters, civilians, nurses, families, friends—because that is the only way I know how to truly connect with history.  And even after having written these poems, donning imagined costumes of our ancestors, I cannot fathom how as a country we could have allowed ourselves actually to war with one another.

In some poems, you will see relationships between the past and the present, our historic struggles with our current domestic climate and the fear that prevents us from being our best selves.  You will read a few reflections on visiting battlefield parks and hopefully understand how those visits still are such relevant springs of learning.

And you will see violence and anger and torture, because those are what war is about.

These were the themes most difficult to express, because these were my connections to a personal battlefield, my experiences with violence, crime, PTSD, manipulation, harassment, mismanaged mental healthcare and depression.  Editing and publishing these pieces have been exercises in pain and courage, sadness and catharsis, hurting and healing.  But even with all this, I know my suffering measures not even a minute to the years of pain our civil conflict caused.

There were many times I thought of abandoning this project all together—too personal, I thought.  Too poorly written.  Too liable to bring up history I do not wish to recall.

But there is a difference between recalling and re-living.

We must always recall.

We must never re-live.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt

June, 2009

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