A Burst of Life

By Susan E. Wagner

We’ve all seen grenades explode on television or in the movies. It’s dramatic. It can make changes in a story and in real life.

Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem, Grenade, provides a vivid visual to the reader. A Vietnam veteran, who served in the army as a reporter during the war, Komunyakaa’s complex and powerful poem caused an immediate physical and emotional reaction in me.

The Vietnam War defined my entire childhood. It was on the news every night and in every Sunday newspaper. From sixth grade on, we discussed it in school. It was almost always our current events.

So, when I felt such a powerful reaction, I knew I needed to dig deeper. Everyday, I reread the poem. Because the imagery is so concrete, I took from individual words, phrases or a sentence, to jumpstart my daily journal writing.

The imagery triggered memories of childhood, which became poems. It felt raw as I wrote and though I’ve edited the pieces, they largely retain that rawness.

This technique is used in poetry/biblio-therapy, where under the guidance of a professional, you respond to something you’ve read. It’s a powerful tool for self-discovery. But it’s not just therapeutic. It’s a tool often used at conferences and in writing workshops because it’s so effective.

I love Grenade because it makes me feel I am right there with these men. It has undeniable immediacy. The poem describes the seconds before and the aftermath of a grenade explosion. It isn’t necessarily beautiful, but it is powerful. It contributes to our understanding of war and its effects on both soldiers and civilians. And that has great value.

The poetry therapy technique I used has enabled me to discover new things in my own past and to empathize with the difficult circumstances in the lives of others. I have experienced the same technique in workshops where you respond as a character from your own book or story. It’s interesting how it affects character development.

I highly recommend you read the poem and other works by Professor Komunyakaa. Also, try free writing for ten minutes, using a word or phrase from the poem. It can be personal or in the voice of a character. It may generate new material for you too.

Some of the poems generated by Grenade will be in my upcoming Unmuted book that focuses on families. See the first book in the Unmuted trilogy, Unmuted: Voices on the Edge, at Amazon.com.

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