Kendall: Tony Barnstone is a prize-winning poet, translator, literary critic, and scholar, and Professor of English at Whittier College, California. Tony hails from a distinguished family of poets and artists, has lived abroad in several different cultures, and has incorporated all of that into his work. He’s also worked with multimedia productions, using graphics, animation, translations, and music, as well as his own written material. Tony, thank you for taking time to share your perspectives about writing personally difficult material.
Tony: Thank you, Ken. Looking forward to it.
Kendall: I appreciate our interchange prior to today, and your help in shaping the direction of our conversation. I’m especially blown away by your book of poetry Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki. I had to keep my seatbelt fastened the whole time. As a former clinician, I’m interested in the meaning and effects of psychological trauma. As you know, the focus of my essay in this issue of MacQueen’s Quinterly is healing to write and writing to heal. I want to talk to you today about the New Voices Project that is just underway, your book Tongue of War, the process of writing trauma and other difficult material, and the payoff for you as you have undertaken these very difficult projects.
Could we start with the New Voices Project, about purpose, method, format of the project itself, not just the book?
Tony: Well, it’s not just my project. I was brought on as a contributor, but I’ll sum it up as best I can. It’s an ambitious multimedia project that presents authors with documentary materials from the Holocaust and asks them to convert those materials into art in such a way as to bring the reality of the Holocaust to life for a new generation of readers and viewers.
There will be a book connected to the project and teaching materials. The idea is to make it something that can go into the classroom, so that it could be taught in a variety of classes, not just literature classes.1
The key thing here, I think, is that the method is one that has been central to my own creative practice for several decades. It’s a documentary method. That means the work of art is very much a window onto the truth of history to the extent that we can know that truth, working from archives, photographs, and other documentary materials, and reacting to them. It’s the creative work of art that somehow gives life to that historical moment.
Kendall: The core part of the book, as I understand it, is a set of images and writing in response to those images. The writers are given a picture as a writing assignment. Would you be willing to show us the historical documentation that you received, and then read what you wrote in response to it?
Tony: Of course. This project has been in the works for a number of years, so my memory might be a little fuzzy about how I got this particular assignment. I think that I was given a choice of several different options, and once I weighed in, the editors assigned the particular photograph to me. The key thing is to understand that this is an attempt to create a chronology of the Holocaust starting with Hitler’s rise to power, the Weimar Republic, and moving up to World War II and the Final Solution.
My particular assignment was [a photograph of] what’s called The Beer Hall Putsch, and this, for those who don’t know, is that moment when, inspired by Mussolini, Hitler attempted to take over the Bavarian government and install himself as an autocrat. He brought his Nazi soldiers to surround the Beer Hall, where one of his rivals was giving a speech. And at that point he tried to create a coup. It failed.
Although it failed, it really took this rising star of German politics, Adolf Hitler, and presented him as an immensely charismatic, immensely powerful speaker, who held the audience in the palm of his hand and moved them with his call that the Revolution had come.
Even though he was arrested and a number of the Nazis were killed, and he was sent to jail for a number of years (although he didn’t serve out the whole term), it set him up in many ways for his later rise to power. And then, of course, when he went to jail, that’s where he dictated the text that was later to become Mein Kampf, My Struggle.
Kendall: When I look at the picture [you were given], I see it takes place outside, presumably in front of a beer hall, and there is a large crowd standing around. It looks like kind of a rowdy political gathering. How do you see it?2
Tony: I see an orator in a long black coat surrounded by people in hats. I see lots of individual faces, each almost like dabs of white in a Seurat pointillist painting. And then darker clothing which creates an impression of a sea out of which these flecks of foam emerge.
I see the mass transport of the trolley car in the background, and I see the old style buildings, and it gives me the historical moment. I see it’s all in black and white. I see the guards in the front with their helmets and their rifles suggesting power, but also attempting to create crowd control. And it reminds me very much of that two-line poem by Ezra Pound, “In a Station of the Metro.”
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.3
I really see the diminishment of faces into a design. This is very much like the way Andy Warhol takes an object out of life such as the Campbell’s soup can and makes it a subject for art. One of the things he did in a silk screen called Thirty Are Better Than One—his joke on undermining the idea that the uniqueness of the individual work of art is more important than mass reproduction—goes against the idea of “the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction” as Walter Benjamin describes that trope.4
In 100 Cans, Warhol gives us a whole series of rows of Campbell’s soup cans, and what you see is just like when you go to the supermarket. The individual product disappears. The lines of red and white become stripes across the different cans and the individual gold metals in the center become a whole pattern, a kind of grid of gold coins.
And so what you see is the individual becoming mass. And that’s very much what I saw [in the photograph], the individual losing him or herself to the mass hysteria that was eventually to give rise to the successful Nazi takeover of Germany.
Kendall: Would you be willing to read the Beer Hall Putsch poem?
Tony: I’m happy to.
The Beer Hall Putsch
A pistol shot into the ceiling, storm
troopers surround the hall, and Hitler shouts,
The revolution’s come! It’s taking form
like the white froth of faces tossed about
upon a darkened broth of coats and dresses,
faces upturned to listen to the speaker
who claims they’ve been diluted, and addresses
how to make a stouter brew: The weaker
racial seeds will be plowed and harrowed, earth
thrown on their heads, their faces drinking in
the rains of heaven. And if they rebirth
like plants, we’ll cut their legs off at the shin
and tie them up and serve them barbarously
with pitchforks to the heart and knives to chop
them skin from bone. We’ll soak the spirit free
in yeast and boiling water, add in hops,
and make Germany into a purer brew.
All we need is you, and you, and you.
Kendall: That’s such a powerful last line in that I can’t help but relate it to today.
Tony: Well, we are at a time that some academics describe as the incipient phase of civil war. Where autocracy is on the rise, disinformation is on the rise, and we have a kind of decentralized civil war, where intellectuals and politicians, minorities and religious groups such as Jews find their synagogues bombed, find their people assassinated, find their homes invaded.
This is the beginning of what could lead to the end of democracy in America, sadly. This may be the last free election we ever have, coming up in a few days.
Kendall: And it is certainly good reason for the New Voices Project to exist. You’re no stranger to writing about war. The method you used with “The Beer Hall Putsch” seems based on what’s called the documentary method of poetry. I’d like to read, if you don’t mind, just an excerpt of what you wrote to me about your research for Tongue of War:
I spent fifteen years researching war letters, diaries, histories, oral histories, and interviews with American and Japanese soldiers, scientists such as Oppenheimer, politicians such as Truman, and citizen survivors of the Rape of Nanjing and Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
That’s a huge process. That’s enormous. I have two questions. Before we get into all the details of that, please start with another thing for me, and this comes from my own interests. Whatever drew you to researching and writing Tongue of War?
Tony: Yeah, it’s a very good question. Well, at that time my wife was a Japanese citizen, who later became an American citizen. Born in Japan, but raised in America. My father is Jewish, my mother is Greek Orthodox, but she converted to Judaism, so let’s put it this way: I’m Jewish enough to have been flayed into a lamp shade by the Nazis. And so from that kind of double perspective, much of my early life was in a state of a turmoil, trying to think, “How do I deal with, or do I really want to deal with, the Holocaust?”
Which had such an impact [on my family]. We came over in the early twentieth century. Our cousins back in Poland almost certainly died in the Holocaust since more than ninety percent of the Polish Jews did, and then on the Japanese side of my family, the great trauma, the great massacre was Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And before that, of course, the firebombing of Tokyo, in which more than a hundred thousand people were burned to death alive by napalm. And other fire bombings of other cities. How do you deal with that?
Well, the thing that sparked it was a dinner I attended on campus with a visiting guest. He was Brigadier General Paul Tibbets [pilot of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima].
Kendall: About what year was this?
Tony: 1995. Well, he was—let’s put it this way—he was a true believer. In that dinner we did get to talk about the dropping of the atom bombs on the two cities. I guess, as a shy but at the same time brash young faculty member with my own particular background, I felt I had to ask the question: “How do you feel about having dropped a weapon of mass destruction upon a civilian population? How do you deal with that?”
His response was, “If you could have seen the patriotism we felt at that time, you would never ask that question. In total war everyone is guilty, even babes in arms, and they all deserve to die.”
Statements like this were so clearly necessary for him to be able to deal with the personal trauma of having killed a hundred thousand people, right?
Kendall: Yes. Tony, just as a side note: I’ve studied PTSD amongst Vietnam veterans. One of the single occupational groups that has the highest rate of PTSD isn’t the foot soldiers. It’s the pilots of the B-52s, who were thirty-thousand feet detached from what they did, and yet they feel it as much or more [than most of those who were on the ground].
Tony: In fact, the pilot of the weather plane that scouted out Nagasaki, Claude Etherly reacted afterwards with such terrible guilt that he began to do things like, going off to stores and shoplifting, obviously so that he would be arrested, essentially feeling the need to be punished.
Tony: Yes, self-punishment. Absolutely true. Of course, there’s going to be the flak, and there’s going to be the fighter planes and so on, trying to knock you out of the sky, right? But it isn’t face to face.
You know, it’s interesting. They’ve done studies of empathy to try to determine how many people need to die before people stop caring. Not that they really stop caring, but they stop really feeling it.
Kendall: They compartmentalize it up, shut it down.
Tony: Yeah. I often ask my students, how many do you think it is? They say, oh, I don’t know, forty, a hundred, a thousand? It’s three. If three or more die, people stop caring. Kill one person, people worry about it. Kill two people, a mother and child, people worry about it. Kill three, it’s a statistic.
And yet, nonetheless, it may be a statistic, but as you say, those who are in the planes feel that statistic. Maybe because they themselves are making that larger statistic, they’re not just reading it in the paper.
Kendall: And one of the interesting things about that, Tony, is that people like you’re describing may be completely unconscious of those feelings of guilt, and it may be surfacing later in weird ways. Most PTSD symptomatology isn’t clearly correlated to the [specific] incident in which it was incurred.
Tony: Ah, yeah, you carry it in the body, and any stressful situation can bring it to life again. You carry it in the mind, too. You can easily go back to the moment, triggered by almost anything, you know.
The thing that I saw over and over again in oral histories, and in discussions especially with the children of World War II veterans, or grandchildren, the most common thing they said is, “My father never said a word about it. He shoved it all deep down inside, and didn’t want to talk about it.” People wanted to come back [home]. They wanted to raise a family. They wanted to have a normal life, but because they shoved it all down deep inside, they ended up taking it out on themselves, as you say, often through self-harm, through alcohol. Perhaps sometimes through spousal abuse or other kinds of expressions of the internal violence they felt, that sometimes they couldn’t control and they inflicted upon their loved ones.
Kendall: And sometimes, less obvious things, like becoming a workaholic. You know, the single biggest spike in admissions to the VA hospitals for PTSD cases [after the war] occurred at the age of sixty-five. Retirement age.
Tony: They could no longer throw themselves into their work, yes?
Kendall: Exactly. And that’s what fired you up about this project—your conversation with this person [General Tibbets, the bundle of PTSD-fueled denial who blamed his victims] who offended you.
Tony: The weird thing about it is that maybe I was offended, but even more, I felt for him. I felt for his need to have this perspective. In the sense that, and the real question I asked myself is, well, that’s what you say. What would someone say who was on the ground at the time? What did Oppenheimer say? What did Gandhi say? What did Truman say? And that’s where I began to do these dramatic monologues, looking to try and find out what other people would say. So as to create many different visions of those key moments in the war. And I ended up doing the whole Pacific war from Hiroshima to Nagasaki in that book.
[Kendall touches on how other writers treated World War II and mentions the Men of War series.]
Tony: I read every interview or series of interviews. Oliver North actually had a series. Not my favorite guy but nonetheless he had a series. And also there were lots of oral history projects; there’s a really good one, a project over at Rutgers, “What Did You Do in the War, Grandma?” And of course, I read all the war books from Catch 22 to The Naked and the Dead, the fictional ones [that] I could.
But I was much more interested in documentary histories, the diaries, and the letters, and my own interviews with either veterans or their family members.
Kendall: You describe the wide variety of the people that you interviewed ... and you describe your documentary method as a translation of documents into a language that readers can access more directly. You say:
...and as I was researching through the documentary method, I always had in mind Theodore Adorno’s declaration that after Auschwitz there could be no poetry. Yet Charles Reznikoff wrote his poetry using the documentary method.
So let me just ask you the obvious question that comes up amongst literary folks: what are the ethics of telling historical stories?
Tony: That is a very good question and a very problematic one. I think that the answer to that question changes over the decades. And it’s not just for poets. It’s also today for fiction writers and journalists and filmmakers: Who can tell what story?
And at the same time, there’s the other question: if you limit the story you tell, what’s outside the frame? What stories are you excluding? And so, one of the problems of dealing with something as large as the Pacific War was: What do I exclude, and what do I not?
I largely focus on Japan and the United States. But with forays into China, Australia, Indonesia, the comfort women that the Japanese armies kidnapped and raped from Korea and elsewhere. You want to include the stories of civilians and soldiers, of patriots and warmongers, but also of conscientious objectors and victims, and a wide variety of approaches to this war, so that you can see it almost like a kaleidoscope. You can see the war fragmented into different voices, which nonetheless correlate together. You have to find your own way of seeing it.
Kendall: Hold onto that word “fragment.” We’ll come back to that.
Tony: But the ethics of it also tie into—you know, it comes down to journalistic ethics, really: To what extent are you putting your moral perspective on the story you’re telling? You can’t really take your perspective out entirely, right? I can’t really be somebody who—if I’m speaking in that poem in the voice of Hitler, [I’m not gonna be pro-Hitler and] I’m not gonna be pro-Holocaust.
Or in the voice of a Japanese officer who, in his oral history, talks about how in China as a part of the process of becoming an officer, he and his other fellow wannabe officers had to take their swords and chop off the heads of Chinese prisoners. If I’m gonna speak in that voice, I’m obviously not gonna be pro-chopping-off-people’s-heads.
Kendall: How can you not do it ironically?
Tony: Exactly. There has to be some understanding of the audience perspective. It’s possible that people will read what I’ve written and take the opposite perspective. They might be the Neo-Nazis, and they might read entirely against my intention. But I believe that, journalistically, it might be that the pictures I’m presenting may add up, I hope, to a larger humanity, but that’s not always what the audience takes away. So my ethics are to try to do no harm, but at the same time to understand through empathy, what pushes people towards power, towards torture, towards massacre, towards seeing other human beings as less than human. And through that, coming to understand that not all Germans are devils, right?
There’s something that I think about often [which is Donald Keene’s contrast of Japanese esthetics with American esthetics]. This is a big summation, but [he argues that typically in Western aesthetics] we have a tendency to focus on the apex, the moment of triumph: When you win that Heisman trophy, or when you become president, or when you win the Pulitzer Prize, or whatever it is. The rose at its full bloom. But in Japanese aesthetics it’s actually more interesting to think about the bud about to bloom or the rose that’s beginning to wilt (or the cherry blossom, as the case may be). And that’s how I think about humans.
We have a tendency to think of people: This is the moment when you chopped off somebody’s head, essentially because of the way you’ve been trained as a soldier. What happens later? How do you become a human being again? How do you have a family? How do you process your guilt? Or this was the moment when you were the hero who saved your friends at Iwo Jima. Well then, later on how did you process that? How did you process the trauma? How did you deal with that violence inside your body, and the fact that you were no longer the hero on the hill, but someone trying to live a life, carrying those wounds inside your mind and body?
And so that’s really in some sense what the human aspect of the project is: Trying to find an ethics that doesn’t simply present the apex, but tries to present the larger causes and the consequences [that can lead a person to rape, torture, participate in Holocaust, or if they are lucky, to a radical empathy].
Kendall: We’ve talked a little bit about your motivations leading you to take on a massive project, like war in the Pacific. We’ve also talked about the ethics of telling historical stories.
But there are also methodological issues. How you got there. Issues about the length and the method and the difficulties involved in doing this work. Is there anything that you could tell us about doing projects of that size and intensity?
Tony: I’ll say that the first thing I did after having dinner with Paul Tibbets, I went home and wrote a free verse poem about it, and I set it aside. And then I said, well, that’s not good enough. [Hearty laugh.]
And then I began to do some historical research to find out what other people would say. I found a book called Children of Hiroshima that had interviews with children who survived, and other documentary sources. And I began to write more poems. I ended up writing about twenty poems, different visions of the bomb drop on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and then I set that aside.
And finally I said, the truth is, I’m a coward. The truth is, I don’t feel capable of taking on the larger subject, which is World War II. [Hiroshima and Nagasaki were key incidents within that war and couldn’t be understood without a larger context.] And so I got my courage together, I said I’m going to take on the war. But I decided to take on the Pacific war, not the whole war, because it had too many theaters. To be honest, I was a bit ethically nervous about trying to take on the Holocaust. I think that was gonna be a whole book. [In that sense, the New Voices Project brings me full circle.]
Kendall: I’m trying to wrap my head around this process and what it would mean to do all that. [...] There’s just so much.
Tony: Well you know, you have to make your choices, and ultimately it’s like putting together an anthology. You have to determine what’s gonna be your representative story. I could write the whole book about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, or about the Rape of Nanjing, but they end up having a few poems each, and they become part of the precursor period, or the Island campaign, or the period at the end of the war that included Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fire bombing of Tokyo. So you end up trying to come up with a larger story like any historian has to do. It’s documentary but also you have to tell a story—we talked about fragmentation—that brings the fragments and puts them back together again.
[It’s like the philosophical trope of perspectivism. You can’t know the ultimate truth, but you can collate points of view until you get multiple partial truths that cohere—like a cubist painting.]
Kendall: Sort of like a kaleidoscope in that every part is moving and stands in relationship to every other part eventually.
Tony: Absolutely. [It’s the Uncertainty Principle applied to history.]
I had to determine the form of the poem. I ended up writing formal poetry, and doing the same for “The Beer Hall Putsch.” And the other thing is, I was looking for historical sources. So maybe I’ll talk first briefly about the question of form.
One of the problems of taking an historical document and turning it into your work of art is, ethically, what have you done? As the artist. Are you just really almost like a radio or a TV or an iPhone that’s streaming the voice of the past? And if so, how does the medium of you, the artist, change the signal that’s coming through you?
One of the problems I found with the free verse poems I originally wrote was that it was very very clearly, very very strongly, the voices of the people who went through these traumas. So what was I doing in this picture?
One of the things I wanted to do was to put some work into it. So I might turn it into a sonnet, or a villanelle, or into another form—and there’s one poem that uses haiku, and so on—with the idea that the frame of art can allow people to understand it as literature, not merely as a window onto the past, and that gives you a certain distancing; in the same way that, if you watch a documentary about the war, the titles, the framing, the way the storytelling happens in the documentary tells you it’s not life at the same time as it is life.
[And that distancing is necessary when dealing with traumatic events in art.] Because, as you know, simply presenting horror—like those horrible horror movies where they have people ... do horrible things to themselves (I never wanna watch those things, right?)—those things are actually traumatizing. Well, that’s not what documentary poetry should do. It should engage your humanity, your empathy, but also give you a little bit of distance, a little bit of even beauty.
I’ll give you an example of one of my models for this: Kim Addonizio’s poem about a photograph by Lee Miller of dead prisoners in 1945. Lee Miller, the great photographer, was also a lover to Man Ray and friend of Picasso, and this photo is of prisoners’ bodies piled up one on top of another at Buchenwald. Very hard to look at. Addonizio wrote this sonnet about it in her very first book, The Philosopher’s Club:
On Opening a Book of Photographs
I look at them until I feel immune,
a pile of bodies photographed by Lee
Miller, nineteen forty-five, their strewn
limbs, at first random, now obviously
framed—four legs, like spokes, ray out
across the page. That checkered rag—a dress,
maybe, or only a piece of cloth—I doubt
it covers a woman. The others’ sex
is easy: they’re men; their faces, and
two exposed penises, nested in shadowed
groins, look tender, peaceful, like that hand
curled on the chest, as if it knows
where it rests. But it doesn’t. However I
tell this, they’re not redeemed. There they lie.5
Incredibly powerful poem. Almost brings me to tears. What’s really important for me is how Lee Miller takes the incredible photograph, and actually turns it into a work of art. That might almost seem like a desecration. You’re making a work of art out of the bodies? But no, the fact that it’s become this work of art, incredibly framed, incredibly designed, makes it more powerful.6
I think something similar happened when Addonizio reworked the photo into a sonnet. The key thing is, she’s saying: However I tell this, they’re not redeemed. Whatever I say, I can’t go back in the past and save these people. There they lie.
There they lie, dead at Buchenwald, murdered by the Nazis. But there they also lie, in the sense that they lie to us. They lie to us that they’re present to us. No, that’s the past, captured in a photograph, captured in a poem, captured very much like the New Voices Project ... it’s a lie. It’s the lie of art. It’s the lie of history. It’s the lie of any documentary method that re-presents, not represents but re-presents, re-makes present that which is actually past and un-redeemable. But hopefully, in such a way that we can change our present.
Kendall: Thank you, Tony Barnstone, for sharing your timely and important work with us. It has brought you (and us) right up against the wall of what it means to be human. While our artwork may not redeem those injured, what we can do is labor towards wrapping our heads around that huge mystery of what we’re about as humans, trying to make some sense of it to inform our actions today and tomorrow. And that’s what I see your work doing. We will further address the issue of Form in the second half of this interview.
Word Count: 280
Links below were retrieved in January 2023.
- Additional details about the New Voices Project (“the book, the enquiry, and the mission”) are available at:
- Photograph Number 06830 (Munich, 9 November 1923) captioned: “A large crowd gathers in front of the Rathaus to hear the exhortations of a Nazi orator [possibly Julius Streicher] during the ‘Beer Hall Putsch.’” Photo Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of William O. McWorkman.
- Ezra Pound (1885-1972): “In a Station of the Metro” first published in Poetry (April 1913), reprinted in Pound’s collection Lustra in 1917, and in his book Personae: The Collected Poems of Ezra Pound (New Directions, 1926).
- “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935), cultural criticism by German Jewish philosopher and essayist Walter Benjamin (1892-1940). As described by Wikipedia, this essay “proposes and explains that mechanical reproduction devalues the aura (uniqueness) of an objet d’art. That in the age of mechanical reproduction and the absence of traditional and ritualistic value, the production of art would be inherently based upon the praxis of politics....”
- Kim Addonizio’s first book, The Philosopher’s Club, was published in 1993 by BOA Editions, LTD.
- Lee Miller (1907-1977) was a former-Vogue-model-turned-war correspondent, “the only female combat photographer in Europe during World War II and the first female photojournalist to bear witness to the horrors of the German concentration camps” (The Women’s Studio).
Miller’s photograph of deceased prisoners at Buchenwald was published in a story with the header “Believe it” in UK Vogue in June 1945; the photograph resides in the Lee Miller Archives with the title “Horrors of a concentration camp, unforgettable, unforgivable.”
is a prolific poet, essayist, literary translator, and editor, whose work has appeared in dozens of American literary journals. The son of a poet and a visual artist, he was born in Connecticut and raised in Indiana, Vermont, and Greece. He has also lived in Spain, Kenya, and China, and currently resides in California where he is Professor of English and Environmental Studies at Whittier College. He holds a Masters in English and Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California at Berkeley.
Barnstone is the author of more than 20 books, and a music CD of folk rock/blues songs in collaboration with singer-songwriters Ariana Hall and John Clinebell (Stormbarn Music, 2012). The CD, Tokyo’s Burning: World War II Songs, is based upon Barnstone’s book Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki (BkMk Press, 2009), which won the John Ciardi Prize in Poetry among other awards.
His most recent book of poetry, Pulp Sonnets (illustrated by Iranian artist Amin Mansouri; Tupelo Press, 2015), is based on 20 years of research into classic pulp fiction, gothic literature, B movies, and comic books. Barnstone’s other books of poetry include Beast in the Apartment (Sheep Meadow Press, 2014), The Golem of Los Angeles (winner, Benjamin Saltman Award in Poetry; Red Hen Press, 2008), Sad Jazz: Sonnets (Sheep Meadow Press, 2005), and Impure (University Press of Florida, 1999). A volume of his selected poems was translated into Spanish by Mariano Zaro, Buda en Llamas: Antología poética (1999-2012)/Buddha in Flames: Selected Poems (1999-2012), bilingual edition (Mexico City: Ediciones El Tucán de Virginia, 2014).
Barnstone is a distinguished translator of Chinese literature, as well as co-translator with Bilal Shaw of Faces Hidden in the Dust: Selected Ghazals of Ghalib (White Pine Press, 2020), from the Urdu. The editor of several world literature textbooks, he also edited the anthology Republic of Apples, Democracy of Oranges: New Eco-Poetry from China and the United States (University of Hawaii Press, 2019). With Michelle Mitchell-Foust, he co-edited two anthologies published by Everyman’s Library: Poems Dead and Undead (2014) and Monster Verse: Poems Human and Inhuman (2015).
His literary awards include The Poets Prize, the Strokestown International Prize, the Pushcart Prize in Poetry, The John Ciardi Prize, The Benjamin Saltman Award, and fellowships from the NEA, NEH, and California Arts Council.
Among Barnstone’s multi-media projects: The Radiant Tarot: Pathway to Creativity, a collaboration with artist Alexandra Eldridge to create a deck of tarot cards, each of which consists of original artwork and a double sonnet, in addition to a manual on how to use the deck to generate creative writing (fiction and poetry).
A complete list of publications as well as information about the author’s collaborative and multi-media works are available at his website:
Author’s first-person bio with more details about his background:
⚡ Impure Poetry, an essay by Tony Barnstone in VerseVille (2018)
⚡ Tony Barnstone discusses his work and development as a poet with Mariano Zaro for the PoetryLA interview series (18 October 2013).
⚡ Meet the Creative Writing Fellows: Tony Barnstone at National Endowment for the Arts; includes his poem “The Forge” (Seaman, USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor) from his book Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki
⚡ Tokyo’s Burning: World War II Songs by songwriters John Clinebell and Ariana Hall (working together as Genuine Brandish), who were commissioned by Tony Barnstone to translate his book Tongue of War into 15 songs (with help from producer Andrew Bush).
“What if history had a human face? What if the people who lived history could speak to it? This CD is an attempt to amplify the smaller voices, the human voices, of those who lived through the war and help them to sing history to us.”
⚡ Tokyo’s Burning Interview with Tony Barnstone by Ann Bemen, a discussion of the music CD Tokyo’s Burning which is based on Barnstone’s book Tongue of War; in The Museum of Americana (24 August 2013).
“White Lily” (the story of a “comfort woman”) is among the tracks on the CD.
grew up in the lemon groves in Southern California, raised by assorted coyotes and bobcats. A former firefighter with military experience, he served as traumatic stress therapist and crisis consultant—often in the field. A nationally certified teacher, he taught art and writing, served as a gallery director, and still serves on the board of the Sasse Museum of Art, for whom he authored the museum books Fragments: An Archeology of Memory (2017), an attempt to use art and writing to retrieve lost memories of combat, and Dear Vincent: A Psychologist Turned Artist Writes Back to Van Gogh (2020). He holds national board certification as an art teacher for adolescent to young adults.
Recently, Dr. Johnson retired from teaching and clinical work to pursue painting, photography, and writing full time. In that capacity he has written five literary books of artwork and poetry, and one in art history. His memoir collection, Chaos & Ash, was released from Pelekinesis in 2020; his Black Box Poetics from Bamboo Dart Press in 2021; The Stardust Mirage from Cholla Needles Press in 2022; and his Fireflies Against Darkness and More Fireflies series from Arroyo Seco Press in 2021 and 2022.
His shorter work has appeared in Literary Hub, Chiron Review, Shark Reef, Cultural Weekly, and Quarks Ediciones Digitales, and was translated into Chinese by Poetry Hall: A Chinese and English Bi-Lingual Journal. He serves as contributing editor for the Journal of Radical Wonder.
Author’s website: www.layeredmeaning.com
⚡ Kendall Johnson’s Black Box Poetics is out today on Bamboo Dart Press, an interview by Dennis Callaci in Shrimper Records blog (10 June 2021)
⚡ Self Portraits: A Review of Kendall Johnson’s Dear Vincent, by Trevor Losh-Johnson in The Ekphrastic Review (6 March 2020)
⚡ On the Ground Fighting a New American Wildfire by Kendall Johnson at Literary Hub (12 August 2020), a selection from his book Chaos & Ash (Pelekinesis, 2020)
⚡ A review of Chaos & Ash by John Brantingham in Tears in the Fence (2 January 2021)