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A small press for poetry of meaning
Focusing primarily on poems having measure or form, and exclusively on poems manifesting something in mind.
New title from Scienter:
announces its first publication since 2009:
R. L. Barth’s No Turning Back; the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.
32 pages including front and end matter. $12.50
In this sequence of poems, Barth explores the elemental qualities of human nature, laid bare in the arena where those qualities are most exposed—War. The poems trace, in short vignettes, the doomed defense by French forces of Dien Bien Phu, a fortified position in the northwestern area of Vietnam. This 1954 battle with numerically superior Viet Minh forces precipitated the withdrawal of France from Vietnam and the partition of Vietnam into northern and southern political spheres. It was a precursor to the U.S. involvement that became the Vietnamese War. The pride, arrogance, and cowardly betrayals that led to the devastating French defeat are contrasted with the fatalistic courage of French troops who fought to the end against impossible odds.
R. L. Barth is the author of many books of poetry, including: Deeply Dug In; Battlefield Prayer; Small Arms Fire; Reading the Iliad; A Soldier’s Time; and Looking for Peace.
Commentary by Helen Pinkerton, author of Error Pursued, Taken in Faith and the forthcoming Collected Poems 1945-2016:
In his latest collection, No Turning Back: The Battle of Dien Bien Phu, R. L. Barth uses all the sharp-edged resources of the traditional epigram to comment on the epic story of the French military disaster at Dien Bien Phu, Spring of 1954, in the first Indo-China war. The traditional epigram, which is built on piercing, often ironic, insights, is a fine weapon for this purpose. The poems focus, detail by detail, on individual important events in the siege or on high commanders in etched cameos, followed by epigrams that comment on a single soldier's suffering, mortally wounded and lying in the mud. Or, even, on a chaplain or on prostitutes.
Barth's earlier books, Deeply Dug In, A Soldier's Time, Simonides in Vietnam, and Forced Marching to the Styx, dealt with his own experience as a Marine in Vietnam during the American part of the war, after the French defeat. His collections contain some of the finest poems ever written in English on the direct experience of modern war.
For the reader, the biographical and historical notes Barth provides are essential, since the French war with the Vietnamese is hardly common knowledge to American readers. However, once the cast and events become familiar, Barth’s epigrammatic comments on each of them come into clarity. For example, he writes of the attitude of some units of French Legionnaires, posted at one of the major defense strongpoints, already weakened:
"Foreign Legionnaire on Béatrice: The Siege Begins: 13 iii 54:"
Our bunkers: gone. Our trenches: gone.
We had no camouflage.
Our strongpoint was a kind of con
Pierced by the first barrage."
The soldiers' perception of being deceived summarizes a powerful theme of the poems as a whole, as the French military, from commanders to privates, realize that they are, through mistakes made in planning, doomed to a costly and shameful defeat.
Barth's epigrams bring the full scope of the longest war in American history forcefully home to his readers.
Poets Scienter has published include:
Mark S. Bauer
Suzanne J. Doyle
X. J. Kennedy
T. S. Kerrigan
For details, see the "Titles" page.
To order, please see the "How to Buy" page.