“Welcome home!”
strangers envelope me
at a veterans’ gathering
in Bayonne.

Startled, I want to say:
I’m not from here—
And the war’s been over
for over 20 years.

Instead I grin,
basking in a greeting
seldom offered
to Vietnam vets.

Yet “Welcome home!”
seems so strange.
Sure, it feels nice—
but where’s home?

I’m no longer there
where I was born.
The world I roam
is more my home.

I was infected in Vietnam—
by malaria, Asia’s air,
the vapors of moonbeam
dancing eyes...

I smell nuoc mam in
race cyclos down Saigon
feel the spray on fishing
sailing to the high seas.

(From Earth Songs: New & Selected Poems)

A Bit About Me

I’ve never made a living from poetry, but poetry is what has gotten me through life.

When the world seems out of whack or I with it, I jot down disjointed thoughts. Sometimes a flicker of enlightenment flares. A riff of Earth’s rhythms ripples. A poem unfolds like a flower petal. And my link with Nature’s nurturing power is restored.

Being a poet was the furthest thing on my mind growing up in rural upstate New York, working at my father’s gas station and on a farm. I wanted to go to West Point and conquer the world.

Raised on war stories and dreaming of being a famous general, I joined the Army and went to Vietnam to become a soldier. Vietnam turned me into a poet and peace activist.

Earth Songs is a tribute to the world I discovered beyond battlefields, amid a war so bitter it provoked protests even by participants. With a minimum of poetic license, these poems tell a true tale—the hardest there is to tell—of a teenage soldier growing into a world citizen.

(From the preface to Earth Songs)


Life is stranger than fiction. If you don't write incredible experiences down, you wouldn't believe it. Years ago I ran into a high school classmate in a bar. "I heard you died in Vietnam," he said, amazed. Years later, citing a credit report in the wake of my wife's death, a telephone company operator told me I had died. These days I glance at the obits most mornings--so far, I'm not there.

However, I'm worried that one of these days disaster will strike before news of it is even posted. Mountainsides and highways in California on fire in places I've been. Tornadoes in Texas and Arkansas dogging me on drive across the country. Hurricanes wreaked havoc on many places I've been, including Houston, Florida, Caribbean islands and towns in New Jersey. Global climate change is no joke. Writing and talking about it is not enough. Sometimes we have to act and do things in a different way.

Preventing Nuclear War:
When Citizen Diplomacy Bridged the Iron Curtain

The times seemed desperate. The United States and the Soviet Union were squared off on opposing sides of regional and civil wars around the world. Talks on halting a new, potentially yet more devastating round of the nuclear arms race broke down when the United States government deployed its latest, exceedingly lethal nuclear-armed missiles in Western Europe aimed at Soviet military installations in Eastern Europe. Without warning, a Korean airliner that strayed over Soviet territory was shot down by a Soviet jet, killing all aboard, including a U.S. congressman.

Amid these heightened tensions, a group of U.S. scientists issued a report that computer modeling of nuclear war warned that the smoke from massive fires could block sunlight for months, creating a “nuclear winter” that could be catastrophic for life on Earth. Without warning, a Soviet nuclear power station exploded, spewing radioactive clouds as far as Sweden….

Perhaps the most important development of the late twentieth century was the geometric growth of a widespread citizens’ campaign that aimed to prevent nuclear war. Sparked by escalating East-West clashes and U.S. civil defense preparations for waging nuclear war with the Soviet Union, millions of people in both nations undertook their own efforts to halt the lethal logic of Mutual Assured Destruction, the scorched-earth policy at the Pentagon and the Kremlin….

To move the grassroots peace initiative from … stymied lobbying to positive action, another citizens’ campaign arose. This one proposed to take the case for ending the nuclear arms race to the people of the Soviet Union by organizing citizen-exchange programs and creating sister-city ties that would demonstrate that Americans and Russians could get along at the grassroots level. The aim of this campaign, which launched an international phenomenon dubbed “citizen diplomacy,” was to challenge national leaders to follow suit. Within a few years, it was embraced by U.S. and Soviet leaders and played a crucial role in dismantling the Iron Curtain of bristling walls, barbed-wire fences, and doomsday arsenals dividing Europe, and transforming Russia from a fearsome adversary into a trading partner.

--Jan Barry, A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns

Civic movements are essential to American's freedom and quality of life. Active citizens have led the way from the American Revolution to urban renewal. But fiery emotions and good intentions without skillful organization can lead to frustration. How can individual concerns be transformed into effective community action?

Jan Barry provides a pragmatic, common-sense handbook to civic action. Using case studies from his home state of New Jersey, Barry has crafted what he calls a "guidebook for creative improvement on the American dream." He dissect civic actions such as environment campaigns, mutual-help groups, neighborhood improvement projects, and a grassroots peace mission to Russia. Looking for patterns to explains successes and failures, Barry includes his own experience as a Vietnam veteran peace activist to inspire and coach fledgling activists. The result is a wealth of practical, nonpartisan information on membership recruitment, organizational skills, public speaking, lobbying, publicity, conflict resolution, and more. Rising above any particular political, social, or religious beliefs, Barry shows would-be activists how to confront one enduring truth- "Democracy is a lot harder to do than it is to talk about or fight over."

--Rutgers University Press

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