The title certainly got my attention. The “Once Upon a Time” evokes any number of movie titles – epic films. And “Vietnam” carries so much weight still. When I learned from Neren’s Preface that he, himself, was not in Vietnam, I was (rightly and wrongly) suspicious. Could he write an authentic series of poems? I love the idea of creating a story out of a book of poems. Neren is clearly aiming for a kind of epic.
This is the story of a Vietnam Vet who has come home with an unseen wound. He has gone insane and for this unseen wound, he gets no sympathy (even less than the regular soldiers who returned) and even less by way of help. At first, Neren’s carefully orchestrated and clean prose put me off. How could one write clean poems about Vietnam? But he won me over. The form contrasts with the topic and serves the story well. One day, the children with the ice cream and balloons decide our protagonist has had enough and they leave him (read: his mind) in peace.
These are thoughtful poems contained in a coherent collection. Should I ever have the opportunity to work with The Things They Carried again, this will be a great companion piece.