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REVIEWS: Peace and War and Peace
Peace and War and Peace
The Heart in Transformation
Mitchell D. Ginsberg
Text length: 208 pdf pages (6" x 9")
Softcover ISBN: 978-1-938459-54-2 $18
eBook ISBN: 978-1-938459-56-6 $12
The selections in this collection are reminiscent of the free verse of old, often-quite-indecorous, rambling blues. In their totality they offer us text that is somehow simultaneously prosaic and poetic, strikingly powerful and sweetly tender, gently nuanced and stunningly blunt, inspiring and challenging. To adapt Charles Baudelaire’s description of a new form of writing he termed a poetic prose: these texts, musical although lacking regular rhythms or definable rhyme schemes, are supple and jostling enough to accommodate themselves to the soul’s lyrical movements, to musing’s fluctuations, to sudden leaps of consciousness.
Peace and War and Peace offers a tribute to peace and a careful vision of war, rage, and violence. Fresh, inspiring, superb!
Joseph L. Kieff, Literary Critic.
Peace and War and Peace is a masterful collection of meditative poems on violence and war and love. Each of its poems offers the opportunity for one's consciousness to be deeply transformed. This compelling volume, while constituting a most sober reflection on war, reflective of a lifetime of experience and study, is an illumination upon the sanctity of life. A most fitting example is the poem, Anger, and its dedication to the Venerable Thich Quang Duc, the great spiritual warrior of the Vietnamese People.
David Slier, Ph.D., Fellow, American Academy of Traumatic Stress, provides combat-related treatments at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. Dr. Slier, a Marine Combat Veteran—Vietnam ’67, coordinated and participated in the memorial service at the Naval Medical Center San Diego, 2 July 2010, commemorating Vietnam-War-related events on 2 July 1967, the single worst day of causalities for the Marine Corps in the Vietnam War.
“Why war?” asked Freud. “Why not peace?” enquires Ginsberg. Investigating this issue, he brings along his immense knowledge of Eastern and Western philosophies, although leaving them deliberately in a chiaroscuro background. Instead of proposing a treatise, he writes in evocative verses and aphorisms. This freedom of poetry goes hand in hand with the rigor he brings to his object. Ginsberg consistently presents his work and himself as a reality-in-process—not unlike Mondrian (assiduously reworking his impeccable abstractions) or Montaigne (infinitely reworking his precise self-observations).
Ginsberg peeks through the forest as he also focuses upon the trees (and even the twigs): our emotional ups and downs, clarities and confusion, symptom-formation, the unconscious, aggressivity and self-aggression, our lethal compulsion to repeat painful patterns, so resistant to change, and the work of psychotherapy to handle such a lifelong task. With his own acute sense of civilization (and its discontents), Ginsberg looks upon societal development (or lack thereof), in the light of our staccato development of self-awareness and self-understanding. He nods to the multiple selves (that point to our elusive self), to the I/you dyad (to “others” and to our ever-so problematic attachments). In so doing, he portrays in suggestive strokes the flux of our moods, as they interweave with the language, the culture, and the society in which they arise. He underscores the feelings and the emotions of our dark side, in shame and guilt and guilt and shame, rage and anger and anger and rage, along with the defense mechanisms inherent in them. Without denying these, he looks for the synergy of our dark side with our “better angels,” whenever we feel and act, moved by humility, peacefulness, compassion or love.
To limit this comment to Western history, we may suggest in broad strokes that some philosophers (Kant, Hegel, et al.) wish to construct systems of thought. Others (Nietzsche, Derrida, et al.) shun the systemic and the universal to make the case for the particular. Ginsberg seems closer to Pascal's style: His poetic presentation shares with Pascal the conceptual art of the “fragment,” the fragment as it aims, in pointillistic manner, to convoke the reader to co-construct an ineffable coherent whole. Thus, reading the free poetry of Peace and War and Peace is therapeutic inasmuch as it invites the reader to participate in an art of life and to enjoy the “music of the spheres.”
Alain J.-J. Cohen, Professor of Comparative Literature and Film Studies at UCSD (University of California, San Diego) and member of SDPSI (San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute).
Ginsberg’s poetic voice in Peace and War and Peace is quite wonderful. There is a very calm and vibrant rhythm to the movement of both sound and meaning. And there are hints—no, a membrane, the vibration of the instrument—that resonate with the voice of Sufi poets, in being both profoundly intimate and, at the same time, universal and impersonal.
I love this cover and the appeal to compassion for those caught up in war and the deep injuries suffered. It frames these poems beautifully.
Ginsberg has the ability to describe the world from numerous perspectives. Although each perspective appears to have a specific source, the sentiments in each poem are so profoundly universal that even the most personal of confessions proclaims a truth of humanity. He portrays his emotions as well as his observations based in historical fact, psychology, and political science, as well as the experiences of human life. Some of his poems step through language barriers. Ginsberg uses words and phrases from different cultures and languages (which he subsequently translates into English for the reader) to further examine his own thoughts.
The primary accomplishment of Peace and War and Peace is the gentle, but unavoidable self-reflection that the reader experiences. By highlighting known (and subtle) truths of society, the world, and human nature, his poems insist that the reader turn inward toward his or her own personal truths, as well as seeing the world through Ginsberg’s eyes. At once self-reflective, informative, and activist, his poems create an experience for the reader that forces one to think about human nature and the importance of peace. Ginsberg seldom criticizes specific events directly, but rather explains the universal problems of war, the damage that society both inflicts and ignores, as well as the beauty and tragedy that comes from human life. Although the book does not proclaim to be overtly existential, his work supplements the work of existential, humanistic, and transpersonal studies and their perspectives of human nature. All of these points of view are evident in these reports on a lifetime of observation, experience, and emotional helping.
Each poem carefully explores a specific aspect of experience, be it a battlefield in war, a personal feeling of loss, a moment from a love relationship, or an observation of an individual’s responsibility to society. In a time when information is frequently contradictory and analysis often muddled, Ginsberg’s poetry encourages his readers to slow down, reflect, and open their minds to the inner and outer world.
The poems are well-written, well-conceived, and easy to understand. Ginsberg displays a singular ability to describe complex concepts and experiences in few words with the aim of creating vivid and deep understanding for the reader. Social activists, writers, psychotherapists, and those participating in psychotherapy can glean a great deal of insight and inspiration from this poetic collection.
Carrie V. Pate, Saybrook University.