The Gifts of Poetry and Service

When I first became aware of the poet Kari Gunter-Seymour, it was through Gyroscope Review’s submissions for the spring 2016 issue. Her poems about having a son who served in the US military in the Middle East took my breath away, as it did for my co-editor, Constance Brewer. We ended up publishing some of her work in that spring issue, as well as in our fall 2016 special Honor Issue. We could see that her poetry sprang from a deep well of extraordinary experience combined with a vast reservoir of strength and love.

So, when a physical copy of Kari’s chapbook, Serving (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2018) arrived in my mailbox at home in Minnesota this spring as a gift to both Constance and me, I was absolutely surprised and delighted. I texted a photo of the book to Constance, who lives in Wyoming, and told her I would mail it to her when I was done.

Then I left for Switzerland. I didn’t have time to read Kari’s book before I left. That’s how the week after the Fourth of July found me on my deck in my own peaceful back yard reading her poems, my heart clenched. These 17 poems, including the three we published, create a heartbreaking picture of how a parent lives with the choice of their child to serve their country only to return home with pieces of themselves shattered. It talks about how parents then serve those adult children – giving them a couch to crash on, helping with childcare, listening –  while the memories of earlier years flash in and out of each day. The child a parent remembers never disappears, but is overlaid on this grown child with adult needs, adult worries. The juxtaposition is jarring. This work examines how all of us serve each other throughout our lives, one way or another, when we love each other. 

As I sat on my deck that afternoon, trying to figure out how to talk about this book, I realized it wasn’t just the book that needed to be discussed. There are a lot of ways to serve – military service, parenthood, emergency response, volunteering, and making art that reframes issues. Poetry can be a powerful vehicle for getting stories out there in a way that reporting and fiction cannot; the way words are shaped into a glimmer of something more, the way they bullet through a page, can bring a reader to their knees. The moments, seemingly disconnected, that come together in a final stanza can vault the way a reader thinks into an entirely new place. 

That was certainly my experience as I read Kari’s gift. My thoughts were shot off into new territory, my awareness of PTSD increased. Our servicemen and women deserve more from us – more listening to what they need, more immediate services for health issues including mental health, support that is not just a panacea that makes those who offer it feel better. As poets and writers, we are called upon to offer a vision that speaks beyond ourselves. As human beings, we must never walk away from the chance to serve each other.

I am grateful for Kari’s gift of poetry that makes us understand, just a little, how sacrifices ripple far beyond the people making them.

You can find a copy of Kari Gunter-Seymour’s chapbook, Serving, HERE.

Read her work in past issues of Gyroscope Review HERE.