Book Bag: ‘Coming Home in Viet Nam’ by Edward Tick; ‘The Commoner’s Catalog for Changemaking’ by David Bollier

Staff Writer
Monday, April 11, 2022

Coming Home in Viet Nam
by Edward Tick; Tia Chucha Press


As he details in the introduction to his new book, writer and psychotherapist Edward Tick was a fervent opponent of the Vietnam War in his teens and as a young man. Yet the war’s impact on a generation of young American men also motivated him, beginning in 1975 as young doctor, to begin counseling former soldiers to try and help them process the emotional and psychological scars of war.

Tick, who lives in Belchertown, has spent much of his adult life in that practice and has written a number of books, such as “War and the Soul,” detailing his views on how veterans struggling with post traumatic stress disorder can best be helped. And for the last 20 years, he’s led trips to Vietnam for veterans, their family members, peace activists and others as a means for vets to find reconciliation.

He’s now documented much of that experience in a poetry collection, “Coming Home in Viet Nam” (using two words for the country’s name more accurately reflects Vietnamese pronunciation, Tick writes).

His poems in turn reflect the stories he’s learned from the Vietnamese friends he’s made, he says, as well as the experiences of returning U.S. veterans and his own observations of the country, especially the ways in which the Vietnamese have embraced American visitors.

“Poetry allows others’ voices to sound through ours,” Tick writes. “Some of our most moving experiences in country have been shared poetry readings in which veterans’ hearts and souls speak and survivors from each side grab the others’ verses to exclaim, ‘You story is my story. We are the same.’ ”

In work such as “Song of the Vietnamese Women,” he touches on the country’s long history of resistance to more powerful nations — China, France, Japan, the U.S. — as well as what he calls the untold stories of civilians, especially women and children, caught up in the Vietnam War.

“I will grow my rice besides your craters. / I will place my body before your tanks. / I will give my hands to stop your helicopters / and give my legs to cut your wire … I will give my father, my husband, my sons, / and bless their leaving though I never see them again. / I will pray you return to your mothers’ arms / and forgive you though you take everything I have.”

“Praying,” in turn, considers the experience of a U.S. veteran who has dark memories of his combat experience, in particular a terrifying close-quarter battle “at the smoking bottom of this mountain” when he “pray[ed] so hard” for his life.

Now, though, the veteran remembers a better occasion, a return trip years later to that same mountain, where this time he was surrounded by Vietnamese as friends — people who “took my hands and called me Uncle / and monks bowed to me as if I were a saint / and I embraced their dead as my true brothers / and God’s loving eyes gazed through my torn and / mending heart.”

“Coming Home” includes poems connected to specific parts of Vietnam, including past battlegrounds: the Central Highlands, the Mekong Delta, and the “Iron Triangle,” the Viet Cong stronghold not far from the old South Vietnamese capital of Saigon. Across these regions, there are now only remnants of the war, from crumbling earthen tunnels to the wreckage of a U.S. plane, to guard towers at the DMZ — the old border between North and South Vietnam — now “manned by spiders.”

Other poems point to remaining scars, such as Vietnamese debilitated by the effects of Agent Orange, the defoliant the U.S. sprayed from the air during the war. But there are many new human connections. One of them is between Tick and his goddaughter, a woman named Nguyen Thi Ngoc whom he met in Vietnam in 2005 when she interviewed him for her college newspaper.

“The Red Bicycle” is Tick’s heartfelt tribute to that relationship, written from Ngoc’s perspective. The narrator recalls the old bicycle her aunt used to help carry sacks of rice and bullets to Vietnamese troops during the war — and now on her own red bicycle, she pedals to meet Tick “under my load of schoolbooks, questions, hope, / down strange streets, between cyclos, motorbikes, fumes, / to be sure I do not miss you.”

Tick relates that when he read some of these poems in Hanoi some years back, at an anniversary celebration in Vietnam’s capital, a woman approached him afterward and said, “You are an American man, but you give truthful voice to what we Vietnamese woman sacrificed and suffered. Then indeed there is hope for healing between our countries and our planet.”


The Commoner’s Catalog for Changemaking: Tools for the Transitions Ahead
By David Bollier; Schumacher Center for a New Economics


Author, activist and independent scholar David Bollier says he was intrigued as a teenager when he discovered the “Whole Earth Catalog,” the counterculture magazine of 1968-1972 that offered product information and essays pertaining to ecology, alternative education and self-sufficiency as a means for building a different kind of life. Steven Jobs once referred to the publication as “one of the bibles of my generation.”

Bollier, who lives in Amherst, has produced his own version of that work with “The Commoner’s Catalog for Changemaking.” It’s a compilation of many new projects and ideas from around the world (and in the Valley), designed to create a more locally based, democratic and sustainable way of life — one built on shared efforts and equity, not cutthroat competition.

Those kind of projects are needed more than ever, Bollier writes: “The world we have inherited is no longer working. It’s bad enough that the future of the planet and civilization as we know it are threatened. And yet there are many hopeful signs, too.”

“The Commoner’s Catalog” is published by the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, a nonprofit group in Great Barrington. Bollier is the director of the center’s “Reinventing the Commons Program.”

His book offers snapshots of many cooperative efforts to protect the environment, produce and distribute food, prevent land speculation from pricing people out of their neighborhoods, and more.

For instance, what’s known as the Milwaukee Water Commons has forged connections in the last several years between nonprofit groups, residents, businesses and city officials to develop better ways of protecting waterways in and around the city.

Meanwhile, a coalition of Indigenous groups in Peru has formed the “Potato Park of Peru,” a 35,000-acre reserve and biocultural heritage area that protects some 2,300 varieties of potatoes grown there. That project prevents biotech companies from stealing the seeds, Bollier notes, and allows farmers to raise the crop by their traditional methods.

Closer to home, Bollier cites Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield as a good example of a progressive arts organization that’s developed a distinctive performance style while also forging close ties to the town and to Native Americans who have long lived in the area.

The ensemble’s artistic practice, he writes, “has blended into everyday life itself, creating the open, honest, meaningful experiences that it calls ‘living culture.’ ”

More information on the Commoner’s Catalog is available at bollier.org.