01/26/14 — N.C. Poet Laureate set to speak Tuesday

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N.C. Poet Laureate set to speak Tuesday

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on January 26, 2014 1:50 AM

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Joseph Bathanti

North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti will review this year's selection for the Wayne County Reads campaign on Tuesday night at Wayne Community College.

Bathanti will speak on "The Things They Carried" at 7 p.m. in Moffatt Auditorium. The lecture will be first in a series of events centered around the book, which is a fictional description of author Tim O'Brien's experiences in the Vietnam War.

The book has become a classic story of the war in the two decades since it was published. Written as a series of short stories, it is dedicated to the "men of Alpha Company," modeled on men O'Brien knew during the war.

It is a simple, straightforward description of every day life in combat. The things the men carried range from mortars to memories and that is what O'Brien gives his readers -- unforgettable moments that the soldiers who survived will have to carry with them for the rest of their lives.

One soldier carries a Bible and a tomahawk, another comic books, and another carries letters from a girl he knows does not care for him.

"It's what they carried in the war and what they carried away from the war," said Liz Meador, an English instructor at Wayne Community College and a leader of the Wayne Reads campaign.

O'Brien uses his experiences and his imagination to create a work of fiction that reads like non-fiction. This passage is from a chapter titled "Spin":

"But the thing about remembering is that you don't forget. You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of the past and present. The memory-traffic feeds into a rotary up in your head, where it goes in circles for a while, then pretty soon imagination flows in and the traffic merges and shoots off down a thousand different streets. As a writer, all you can do is pick a street and go for the ride, putting down the things as they come at you. That's the real obsession. All those stories."

Tara Humphries, public information officer for the college, is another of the campaign's leaders. She noted the book's singular focus and yet each chapter's individual appeal to the reader.

"Each chapter stands as itself," she said.

In the chapter titled "Notes," O'Brien touches on his technique, and his experience in writing the book.

"By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself."

And from a chapter titled "Good Form":

"I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story truth is truer sometimes that happening truth."

An art exhibit at the Arts Council of Wayne County is being shown in tandem with the Wayne Reads initiative. It is made up of photos taken during the war by soldiers, accompanied by a short narrative of each photo. "A Thousand Words," will be on display there until February, then at the University of Mount Olive and Wayne Community College.