02/05/14 — Poet laureate helps Wayne Reads kickoff

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Poet laureate helps Wayne Reads kickoff

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on February 5, 2014 1:46 PM

Wayne County Reads selection, "The Things They Carried," is a seminal work of fiction, North Carolina's poet laureate said Tuesday night, and one of the best war novels ever.

Joseph Bathanti spoke before a gathering at Wayne Community College as the kickoff for the annual Wayne Reads campaign. The book by Tim O'Brien is the focus of this year's series of programs.

It is a unique look at the Vietnam War from the point of view of an infantryman. But O'Brien openly tells his readers that some of the events and people in his book are real and others are made up, creating what Bathanti called a "semi-autobiographical" work.

By blurring the lines between what really happened and what might have happened, O'Brien is able to reach for a higher truth, what Bathanti called "a psychic truth" that goes beyond the mere recording of events.

"I believe it is one of the most brilliant books of the 20th century," Bathanti said of the novel, which was published in 1990. "What amazes me about the book is that you'd swear it was not fiction."

In line with his view of the truth, O'Brien dedicated his work to the characters in it, something unique in literature, Bathanti said.

The book is actually a "broken novel," Bathanti said, because it is a collection of short stories that are connected by its characters.

Good fiction reads like non-fiction and good non-fiction reads like fiction, Bathanti told the audience.

Bathanti has a special interest in war fiction. As poet laureate, his platform is helping veterans express themselves through writing.

It is a proven fact that writing about their experiences in combat is therapeutic for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, Bathanti said. He has been across the state, helping veterans find their voice. He was to lead a writing workshop at the college today.

Bathanti said he expects to see many books, some fiction some non-fiction, come out in the next few years as veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan learn to express themselves through the pen.

"Either you control the memory, or the memory controls you," Bathanti said, quoting a number of veterans he has worked with.

The next event in the Wayne County Reads series will be a presentation by author Frances O'Roark Dowell on her book, "Shooting the Moon," a young adult novel that describes how a young girl deals with her father's deployment.

It will take place Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Wayne County Public Library on Ash Street.