Tipping Point by Fred Marchant

Tipping Point by Fred Marchant is a collection of poetry broken down into five parts and published by Word Works after winning the 1993 Washington Prize.  Readers may wonder what a former Marine Corps Lieutenant and one of the first honorably discharged conscientious objectors would have to say about the Vietnam War, especially having only served two years.  This collection is a journey through the memories of childhood, adulthood, and military service, and beyond.

From Vietnam Era:

“. . . The papers
+++++ you heaved you imagined
grenades, and that the porches they
+++++ landed on the burst into flame,” (page 21)

Hard slaps and punches to his mother’s face from his father, feeling outcast in school being overweight, and a number of other adolescent anxieties scream from the pages.  But the most poignant lines of loss and anguish and even anger occur in his poems of the Vietnam War.  However, many of these poems are about inner turmoil and dealing with that struggle on a daily basis.

From Elephants Walking:

“On the news there was the familiar footage:
+++++ a Phantom run
ending in a hypnotic burst of lit yellow napalm.
+++++ I knew the war
was wrong, but that was why, I claimed, I should go,
+++++ to sing the song
of high lament, to get it into the books.”  (page 28)

From Tipping Point:

“and trousers which were not
+++++ supposed to rip, but breathe,
+++++++++++ and breathe they do — not so much
of death — but rather the long
++++++ living with it, sleeping in it,
+++++++++++ not ever washing your body free of it.”  (page 35-6)

Whether Marchant is discussing family history, struggles with illness, or his service in the Vietnam War, images leap off the page, billowing the smells of sweat into readers noses and making them squirm in discomfort. It is this discomfort the poet wishes for readers to feel as the narrators struggle with their own moral discomfort and struggle to come to terms with their decisions and situations beyond their control. Overall, Tipping Point by Fred Marchant reveals the dilemmas each of us deals with regarding personal, social, and political events, but it also teaches that individuals have a “tipping point” when principles must be take precedence or be set aside.

© Leslie Bowen

About the Author:

Fred Marchant is the author of Tipping Point, which won the Washington Prize in poetry. He is a professor of English and the director of creative writing at Suffolk University in Boston, and he is a teaching affiliate of the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

This is my 14th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

This is my 12th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.