We chatted with author Michael Closz about his new book The Haunted Garden. In his debut poetry collection, Michael is living in a metaphorical garden. War-era Vietnam, here, becomes a haunted paradise—a sacred ground devastated by war. The garden’s inhabitants—the land, the people, and the animals—remain slaves to both American and North Vietnamese aggression. Check out our interview with him below to dig deeper into his story and grab your copy today!
What is the meaning of “The Haunted Garden”?
When my wife and I moved to Florida, we lived on the edge of the Ocala National Forest. At night, the only space between our house and the jungle behind us was the screened in pool. After a rain, you could hear the tree frogs and observe the raccoons and other wildlife that inhabited the forest. I once saw a Florida Panther while alligators and bears were occasionally confronted by the residents. I viewed it as kind of a haunted haven because it was beautiful and yet dangerous at the same time.
The jungle reminded me of Viet Nam so I would set up my laptop on the pool ledge and craft the poetry. When I wrote the “Prelude,” I wrote about the beautiful garden. I speak to the majestic mountains, the sea, and a host of other beauty associated with Viet Nam. This speaks to the Garden. Despite the beauty, Viet Nam has been ravaged for decades by a host of invaders; the French, the Japanese, the Chinese, and the U.S. to name a few. The haunting was furthermore associated with the curse of war itself and the dead and ghastly environment that hosted the battles.
Why did you join the Marines and what did you do in Viet Nam?
I joined the Marines because I wanted to be associated with the best. I knew the Marine Corps would challenge me from both a psychological and physical perspective and at that point in my life, it was a necessity.
In Viet Nam, I was initially an infantry platoon commander. I operated in the rice paddies in Da Nang, and the mountains in the Que Son mountain range. After returning to Viet Nam from the Naval Hospital in Guam, I was assigned to a staff position with the First Marine Division.
Just before leaving the Corps, I was promoted to Captain but never had a command at that rank.
Why did you choose poetry to tell the stories?
I think that every one of these poems tells a story. In the reader’s imagination, they will be able to expand on the verse and visualize a landscape in greater detail than the poem itself.
Did you feel prepared once you entered combat in Viet Nam?
Regardless of the rigorous training in both the U.S. and in Okinawa, Japan, I did not believe we were adequately prepared to fight the gorilla warfare that was raging in Viet Nam. There was no fighting that would warrant traditional tactics and movement. The enemy was far better prepared than we were led to believe while the environment was terrible. The snakes, rodents and other assorted animals coupled with the vast array of insects was often more gruesome and disturbing than the enemy themselves.
From an officer’s perspective, it was exceedingly difficult to motivate and take care of men in such a terrible environment under such horrid circumstances. Perhaps the greatest challenge was managing men who felt the war was unnecessary and unjust. The lack of support from the U.S. made the 13-month tour even more frustrating.
What makes your work different than other poetry pieces about the Viet Nam War?
The poetry following the war was generally simple, robust, to the point, poignant and incidental. It poured from the author’s heart and soul. There was a fair amount of guilt and hate, both for the Viet Cong, the management of the war specifically, and the United States’ politics in general.
My poetry is a subset of stories associated with Viet Nam. The story line is not incidental but descriptive. As an author, it’s difficult to point out major differences considering the subject matter. Instead of describing an incident, mine paints a picture with a subsequent and brief story line.
What motivated you to publish this work decades after the war?
The feelings and sentiment toward the Viet Nam war had all but diminished by 1995. The new soldiers fighting in the Middle East had taken over the war scene and were respected and highly regarded, unlike the Viet Nam veterans. World War II and the Middle East veterans were admired while Viet Nam vets were getting lost in the shuffle.
It was time to paint a new picture of Viet Nam vets and highlight their frustrations, disappointments, resentment and anger toward the general population and government who sent them into an unpopular war. Many were suffering from PTSD and were not acknowledged until the 90s.
Is there anything else that the reader should know about the book?
Not only does this book represent a series of stories, but a general slice of history regarding the war itself. It’s important that the reader is stimulated by both the prose and poetry that paints a picture of the frustration and the unfortunate circumstances of that point in time. Perhaps this will awaken the reader to view the general Viet Nam veteran population with the regard and respect that they deserve.