THE WORDS THEY CARRIED: KEVIN POWERS’ THE YELLOW BIRDS

This is as close as I’ve ever been to being in the army.

Just came back from a cool book event sponsored by Texas Monthly & Texas Book Festival, one of the better writers that they have spotlighted in a while, Kevin Powers, a veteran of the Iraq war, a poet, and Michener fellow. Powers’ new novel, The Yellow Birds, is based on his own combat experiences. The event was at Lambert’s downtown, so the drinks were flowing and a good crowd filled the room. In fact it was impossible for at least half the attendees to actually see the author as he read and answered questions by Texas Monthly editor Jake Silverstein. Jake did a good job and everyone was sold on the book, if they weren’t already before they arrived. I mean, with that swell NYT review by Michiko Kakutani, hey, why be cynical? It was good to see Michener Center big daddy-o James Magnuson (also an author and Hollywood writer of note) beaming with pride. Powers joins an esteemed fraternity of book writers who have seen the beast in all its horrid glory, and to his credit, he answered one question about how his combat experience informed his writing about war by saying, in effect, “If you’ve been in combat, you can’t help but be anti-war.” I might have added something edgier, like, “unless you’re a moron or a monster,” but then again, that’s just how I roll. And he seems like a really polite, modest guy, and I’m a little rough around the edges.

One of my favorite anti-war stories is Homer’s The Iliad. Yes! Sure, ostensibly it’s all about the glories of war, and the Greeks were very much all about both (glory & war), but if you read it deeply, you can’t help but see it’s all about the folly, stupidity and moronic futility of war. I mean, think about it: While there certainly IS a good deal of fighting in it, a good deal of the narrative is taken up by Achille’s extended temper tantrum, refusing to fight because his HONOR has been slighted. If you don’t believe me, check out The War That Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander. Great book. Read that, then reread The Iliad. You’ll see. Here’s the NYT review of that book.

Back to Kevin: It was a big day for the author today, as he was also featured on NPR today, along with Brian Castner, as a member of the new breed of war writers, but then again, I imagine he’ll have lots of big days in the near future.

More cool news: I asked Magnuson if there was anything new with a favorite writer of ours, Denis Johnson, and he said Denis will be here for an event soon, before the Texas Book Festival. That’s something I really look forward to, every time it happens. If you’ve never seen Denis Johnson speak, you are really missing something. And if you’ve never read a book by Denis Johnson, not even Jesus Son, Nobody Move, Train Dreams, Tree of Smoke, or Fiskadero, or any of his anthologies of poetry, man, I don’t know if I even wanna talk to you. Denis Johnson, by the way, is not army material, however, his Tree of Smoke is undoubtedly one of THE great novels of the Vietnam conflict.

As you can see above, I’m a pretty serious fan of The Iliad. OK, not THAT SERIOUS. I’m not in a Trojan War reenactors club or anything. I bought the helmet during the aborted staging of my play, titled MARATHON, which is a retelling of the Minotaur myth but set in Marathon, TEXAS, not in the Grecian Isles. I withdrew my script for the play after a disagreement with some of the other principles. There is still, maybe, some sort of musical theater piece or monologue with music or so called “Marathon Song Cycle,” but that is a different project. Long story, not a pretty one.

One of my songs in particular seems appropriate for this post. It was demoed with GarageBand, here at my tiny desk studio in South Austin. The second song, also recorded here with my GarageBand set up, isn’t necessarily appropos, but the cover art fits. The song is also a story in my new novella, which is shopping around for some lucky book publisher at present. And then there’s number 3, GIRL FROM ARMAGEDDON. A real cracker, an atom blast of metallic anti-war snarl. But you gotta sample that one on CD Baby. Sorry, baby, but it’s worth a buck, seriously. Check it out here.

STONES IN THE COFFIN

Headless Supermodel.

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