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"Witchita Vortex Sutra" by: Allen Ginsberg -- An Interpretation

“Wichita Vortex Sutra” Allen Ginsberg

“What grieves me most
when I visit a military
is all the room left
for more headstones.”

Victor C. Pirtle, Vietnam Veteran --1988 --

Allen Ginsberg, with his poetry, assayed with the world of his readers to speak a language of commonality that people who read his work could relate to, personally. “Wichita Vortex Sutra” has received scholarly criticism from two sources that will be cited in this essay, which contained unsubstantiated claims concerning Ginsberg’s poetic message, in one way or another. It is the purpose of this essay to defend Allen Ginsberg’s message with my personal experience, and the experience of others of the mid 1960s Vietnam War era. It is part of this time period that Ginsberg is referring to in his poem.

Dr. Amy Hungerford, an English professor at Yale University, in the abstract to an essay that she wrote in 2005, about Allen Ginsberg’s desire to give to language the attribute of the supernatural said, “. . . Ginsberg’s work is set next to popular religious movements of the sixties that, like Ginsberg’s poetry, turned to meaningless or empty language as a privileged site of supernatural power” (Hungerford). In Ginsberg’s poem “Wichita Vortex Sutra” he speaks language that is not meaningless or empty.

The poem is full of righteous angst and anti-Vietnam War sentiment, granted, neither of which are empty, nor meaningless. It would behoove people today to read his lines anew, because the war is not over; the same war scenario is being played out today, just in a different place, Iraq--with different players, but created by the same people who brought us Vietnam and are still pulling the strings of war; we are their puppets.
Black Magic language,
formulas for reality--
Communism is a 9 letter word
used by inferior magicians with
the wrong alchemical formula for transforming earth into gold
--funky warlocks operating on guesswork,
handmedown mandrake terminology
that never worked in 1956
for gray-domed Dulles,
brooding over at State,
that never worked for Ike who knelt to take
the magic wafer in his mouth
from Dulles’ hand . . . (Ginsberg).

Here, Ginsberg is alluding to the Dulles brothers, John Foster and Allen who were two of the most powerful men in the United States, and were Secretary of State and Head of the CIA, respectively, in Eisenhower’s presidential administration of the 1950s to the early 1960s. The Dulles brothers, during the 1930s, aided Adolf Hitler in his rise to power with monetary finance to Hitler in Germany, and continued to aid his war effort with oil during WWII, in conjunction with American Oil Companies (Loftus 157). The Dulles brothers were essentially American traitors who held two of the top positions in the United States Government during the first and second terms of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953-1961, who personally installed them in these potent diplomatic and clandestine positions. Allen Ginsberg may have been privy to this unfolding drama. In 1954 Ginsberg was twenty-eight years of age, with his eyes open, watching the American and world stages of politics, espionage, in an international cold war environment.

Ginsberg, a Jew, was undoubtedly aware of the Dulles brother’s anti-Semitic attitudes. A friend and business associate of Allen Dulles was James Forrestal:
. . . it was Forrestal himself who negotiated the deal to bring Standard Oil of California [owned by John D. Rockefeller] together with Texaco to form Caltex, which later became the Arabian-American Oil Company. He even raised huge loans for the company and then joined the board of the I. G. Farben--controlled General Aniline and Film Corporation, one of Allen Dulles’s key Nazi clients. (Loftus 157)
I. G. Farben is the German chemical company that was responsible for producing Zyklon B, the poisonous gas that killed millions of Jews in German concentration camps during the Holocaust of WWII. It is no wonder that Ginsberg added references to the Dulles brothers in his poem.

John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State for eight years (1953-1961), was also instrumental in bringing the United States into the Vietnam War. In 1954 the French were at war with Ho Chi Minh and the Vietminh in Vietnam. That same year, the military base of Dienbienphu was under siege by the military forces of Ho Chi Minh, led by General Vo Nguyen Giap, the same general who laid siege to the American Marine base of Khe Sanh in 1968. At the time of the 1954 siege of Dienbienphu, John Foster Dulles met with: Admiral Arthur Radford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, had floated the notion that the United States might save the French by deploying three tactical atomic weapons against the Communists. [Richard] Nixon , along with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and others, supported Radford--and, in a public speech at the time, he even raised the possibility of making a direct American troop commitment to Vietnam should the French be defeated. (Karnow 579)
Dulles’s words were the harbinger to the United State’s ten thousand day [twenty-seven year] war in Vietnam.

Dr. Hungerford’s words that Ginsberg’s poetry was “meaningless and empty language” (Hungerford) hold less and less credibility as the facts unfold. Allen Ginsberg was telling a statement in verse that had been told by many before him--that war is dangerous and created by people in power, that effect not them, but the ones holding and firing the guns, given them by the war makers that pull the strings of war:

Napalm and black clouds emerging in newsprint
Flesh soft as a Kansas girl’s
ripped open by metal explosion--
three five zero zero on the other side of the planet
caught in barbed wire, fire ball
bullet shock, bayonet electricity
bomb blast terrific in skull & belly, shrapneled throbbing meat

These lines from “Wichita Vortex Sutra” are a realistic assessment of the horror--that the men fighting knew well, not meaningless, not empty, but full of what Ginsberg wished for in his poetry--the truth. The truth may be seen as supernatural, or a credible facsimile of it, as something beyond the lies, avarice and hate of men like the Dulles brothers and their cohorts, who all are guilty of crimes against humanity.

Another criticism of Ginsberg’s work comes from Justin Quinn, who is speaking specifically about “Wichita Vortex Sutra”: The poem is of no value for the way that it explains historical events, rather it is an exploration of the ways in which the U. S. imaginary is produced, through the mass media. . . The cultural work is freighted with moral implications because the poem is written during a time of war. (Quinn)
It is my contention that the poem is of great value in explaining “historical events” and that it is necessarily “freighted with moral implications because the poem is written during the time of war” (Quinn). To be moral at any time is a worthy pursuit, but during a time of war, morality is brought into sharper focus by more people at once than in times of peace. Unfortunately there has not been a time of peace to experiment with this last supposition, but in times of war--people such as Allen Ginsberg, who was more than a good poet, brought to the world words that were and are relevant. When Ginsberg wrote “Wichita Vortex Sutra” on 14 February 1966, the historical events that shaped the environment of the United States that was then immersed in the Vietnam War and the world had absolute relevance to our lives, and still have relevance in our lives, today. Allen Ginsberg was a spiritual person who wanted peace, and was simply pointing this out through his verse.

“Wichita Vortex Sutra” is divided into two sections, the first as a prologue that is a relatively calm introduction to the second section:

Turn Right Next Corner
The Biggest Little Town in Kansas
Red sun setting flat plains west streaked
with gauzy veils, chimney mist spread
around Christmas-tree-bulbed refineries--aluminum
white tanks squat beneath
winking signal towers’ bright plane-lights,
orange gas flares
beneath pillows of smoke, flames in machinery--
transparent towers at dusk (Ginsberg)

Ginsberg opens his poem to unfold in a kind of peaceful tour of a complacent Middle America as light fades over a Kansas scape of view. Complacent because, on the other side of the planet a war was raging, and Ginsberg’s adroit descriptions of America, indicted this complacency for what it was at the time of the Vietnam War--a lie that Americans believed en masse. It may be said that Ginsberg used the deceptively quiet opening of “Wichita Vortex Sutra” to say in verse that the smug attitude of Americans would be exposed, or at least there would be nothing that could hide them from his sight, or his words, after he witnessed the self-satisfied, sleepy aspect of the American landscape and told what he would tell with excoriating language in the rest of his poem.

Then Ginsberg gives us these lines:

Big Dipper leaning above the Nebraska border,
handle down to the blackened plains,
telephone-pole ghosts crossed
by roadside, dim headlights dark night, &
Giant T-bone steaks,
and in The Village Voice
New Frontier Productions present
Camp Comedy: Fairies I Have Met.
Blue highway lamps strung along the horizon east at Hebron. . .

Gentle and quiet Ginsberg speaks his words on the blank white of the page, but within his lulling is a foreshadowing in the line “Camp Comedy: Fairies I Have Met” (Ginsberg). Later in the poem, another camp comedy is mentioned in which there is no humor at all. Ginsberg’s words offer a view of the American Midwest landscape that it is real and gently raw, but raw all the same, as a preamble for things to come in the next lines in which he begins to speak of language:

Language, language
black Earth-circle in the rear window,
no cars for miles along highway
beacon lights on ceramic plain
language, language
over Big Blue River
chanting La illaha el (lill) Allah hu [There is no God than God Only] revolving my head to my heart like my mother
chin abreast of Allah
Eyes closed, blackness
Vaster than midnight prairies,
Nebraskas of solitary Allah,
Joy, I am I
the lone One singing to myself
God come true--
Thrills of fear.
nearer than the vein in my neck--? (Ginsberg)

These lines are the first where Ginsberg brings the reader’s attention to the idea of language, of how language is used to manipulate, and how people believe what is uttered in language that wishes to subvert the truth and freedom to discover it. The word language is mentioned thirty-five times in the poem, because for Ginsberg it is his chosen medium of communication, and he points out different ways in which it used by various people and medias to expose and impress on the minds of listeners and readers--the message of language used by those who tell it, no matter what its message, to convince and brainwash with words, the unwitting and unwary. “If the first casualty of war is truth, the weapon of choice for its destruction is language” (Watten). “The war is language / language abused / for Advertisement, / language used / like magic power on the planet” (Ginsberg). Both Watten and Ginsberg have a valid point with these statements.

All one needs do is listen to a news broadcast, or read a news article about war, and if the cognitive functions of the reader are not already compromised with believing lies or half truths about what is really happening in the world, that news language leaves out or modifies to be the truth, they soon may be. This is another example where Hungerford’s and Quinn’s hypotheses are deflated, because Ginsberg’s words are telling the truth, which renders them meaningful, and full of value, contrary to the opinions of both Hungerford and Quinn.

The idea that language is used as a weapon against truth, as Watten contends, and language is “abused / for Advertisement” as Ginsberg states are not empty, not meaningless concepts. Just as Quinn states “The poem is of no value for the way it explains historical events” (Quinn), the poem has nothing but value for the way it explains historical events, because it does so in a way that desperately needs be said--and heard, even today--especially today.

Ginsberg, in the first section of the poem creates a grounded theme with his words, speaking of the landscape, the flatness of Kansas and Nebraska. The landscape may be descried, even though the poem is written at night. Lights in far distances are plainly to be seen on the plains, but there are the absence of mortars exploding, and green and red tracers in the air from automatic weapons fire, as there were in Vietnam in the same moments.

The second section of the poem, that was actually written the day before the first section, 14 February and 15 February 1966 respectively, does not portray the deceptive calm of the first section of “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” but is brutally antithetical of section one of the poem.

The second section of the poem uses juxtapositions of scathing, excoriating language that arraigns America’s involvement in the Vietnam War as imperialist, next to the more calmly indicting language of the first section:

Face the Nation
Thru Hickman’s rolling earth hills
icy winter
gray sky bare trees lining the road
South to Wichita
you’re in the Pepsi Generation Signum enroute
Aiken Republican on the radio 60,000
North Vietnamese troops now infiltrated but over 250,000
South Vietnamese armed men
our Enemy----
Not Hanoi our enemy
Not China our enemy
The Viet Cong!
McNamara made a “bad guess”
“Bad Guess?” chorused the Reporters. (Ginsberg)

As Middle America sleeps in its complacent apathy, on the other side of the world people--real--live people--were being killed in Vietnam. In these just quoted lines from the poem Ginsberg alludes to: Vermont Senator George Aiken and Johnson-era Pentagon chief Robert McNamara -- but he just as well could be referring to Joe Lieberman and Donald Rumsfeld, Substitute a few more terms -- “Arabs” and “Muslims” for Hanoi and China; “insurgents” for the Viet Cong; “2003” [2008] for 1962, etc. -- and this section could read like a recent transcript from CNN or FOX News. (Potts)
My point is, the war is not over, it has just moved to a new theater in the Middle East. I spent three years in Vietnam, and since my discharge on 11 April 1969 there has not been one moment of peace on this planet, and the rulers of the United States have waged war in all the ways that they could/can, since. For that matter, as I look back in to history’s archive, I find no time that war did not exist, that brother was not set against brother, that racism did not exist, that sleepless nights were not had by those who knew the truth about what was/is really happening.

It may be that Ginsberg did not know how prophetic his poem would turn out to be, but the same psycho-babble language is being used today in a fiercer, more clandestine way than the heady days of Vietnam War reporting. Today, the news that is told us by the various media, is sterilized to the point of being meaningless before it ever reaches the reading or listening public, and we are the ones who pay for the wars; all of the wars. We are considered not worthy to tell the truth to; it is better for us to not know all or any of the truth about any war, any war, any more by those who perpetuate them.

In 1962 Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense under Lyndon B. Johnson, uttered the words, “May 1962 - Defense Secretary McNamara visits South Vietnam and reports "we are winning the war" (Vietnam research). This is McNamara’s “bad guess” that Ginsberg is referring to in his poem. From this point forward until 30 April 1975, when America’s involvement in Vietnam ended, the Vietnam War raged, escalated, deescalated, and was finally won by President Ho Chi Minh, and his North Vietnamese Army. Vietnam was once again unified.

The events that took place in Vietnam and America from 1962 until the time “Wichita Vortex Sutra” was written in 1966 are what Ginsberg addresses in his poem. Having lived through the turmoil of Vietnam and the unrest of the sixties era, I wonder at the research findings of both Hungerford and Quinn. To say that Ginsberg’s poem is “meaningless and empty” from Hungerford, and from Quinn that the poem “is of no value for the way it explains historical events,” is temerarious by them both. Ginsberg is correct in his poem at every turn of it:

The General guessed they’d stop infiltrating the South
if they bombed the North--
So I guess they bombed!
Pale Indochinese boys came thronging thro the jungle
in increased numbers
to the scene of TERROR!
While the triangle-roofed Farmer’s Grain Elevator
sat quietly by the side of the road
along the railroad track
American Eagle beating its wings over Asia
million dollar helicopters
a billion dollars worth of Marines
who love Aunt Betty
Drawn from the shores and farms shaking
from the high schools to the landing barge
blowing the air thru their cheeks with fear
in Life on Television (Ginsberg)

These events told in verse are true; Ginsberg did an exceptional job in capturing the feeling of the time, the fear of the time, the disquiet of the time, and the uncertainty of the time. The fear that the war would continue indefinitely, the disquiet that 58,169 American troops were dead by the end of the war, and 211,471 American casualties might become a larger number. The uncertainty of mothers and fathers who had sons of draft age, that their sons may have to participate in the slaughter in Vietnam--“While the triangle-roofed Farmer’s Grain Elevator / sat quietly by the side of the road” (Ginsberg) as America slept in uncertainty.

America has never been invaded by a hostile force, but by the hostile forces within America’s power structure that is called its government that has made monumental and catastrophic decisions for the entire population of America that have gone awry, and it continues to make the same bad decisions for the rest of us. They have gone awry because the threat of more war is always present, but war is big business in America, and it always has been:

Lincoln Nebraska morning Star--
Vietnam War Brings Prosperity
Declared McNamara speaking language
Asserted Maxwell Taylor
General, Consultant to White House
Viet Cong losses leveling up three five zero zero per month
Front page testimony February ‘66
Here in Nebraska same as Kansas same known in Saigon
in Peking, in Moscow, same known
by the youths of Liverpool three five zero zero
the latest quotation in the human meat market--
Father I cannot tell a lie! (Ginsberg)

The Vietnam War brought prosperity to munitions companies, petrochemical companies, aircraft companies, companies that made uniforms and boots for the military, survival knives and .45 caliber firearms for pilots, parachute companies,
war-ship building companies, companies that made landing craft and starlight scopes for ambush teams in the jungles of Vietnam, ad infinitum. This list goes on and on and on. The people who did not prosper were the ones paying for it all--the United States citizenry, and many gave all they could give--their lives. This is what Ginsberg was saying, writing down, and that was full of relevant meaning to the historical events.

“Wichita Vortex Sutra” is an absolutely important piece of American verse that is wholly correct in its meaning that is full of American attitude towards the rest of the world. The attitude that stands aloof to the rest of the world, even today, as it did during Vietnam. Complacency is at an all-time high in America, and will remain so as long as the grocery store shelves are stocked and the family car’s gas tank is full.

A stark juxtaposition in the next section of Ginsberg’s poem ebbs and flows with calm winds and gale winds:

A black horse bends its head to the stubble
beside the silver stream winding thru the woods
by an antique red barn on the outskirts of Beatrice--
Quietness, quietness
over this countryside
except for unmistakable signals on the radio
followed by the honky-tonk tinkle
of a city piano
to calm the nerves of taxpaying housewives of a Sunday morn.
Has anyone looked in the eyes of the dead?
U.S. Army recruiting service sign Careers with a Future
is anyone living to look for future forgiveness?
. . . Has anyone looked in the eyes of the wounded?
Have we seen but paper faces, Life Magazine?
Are screaming faces made of dots,
electric dots on Television--
fuzzy decibels registering
the mammal voiced howl
from the outskirts of Saigon to console model picture tubes
in Beatrice, in Hutchinson, in El Dorado
in historic Abilene
O inconsolable!

From the image of a horse grazing to the eyes of the dead and wounded, Ginsberg shifts reader’s gaze, reader’s attention, and reader’s visceral reactions to “mammal voiced howl / from the outskirts of Saigon to console model picture tubes” (Ginsberg). Many Americans were then paying attention to the war, but the war still lasted ten thousand days. There were five million-five hundred-sixty-one-thousand-seven-hundred-nineteen Vietnamese dead and wounded in the Vietnam War; it was all about body counts as a statistic, so the average American could have a point of reference to the war. Death is not much of a point of reference, especially with numbers like these.

War, after all, is about death and dying, not always about winning, which America did not do in Vietnam. America won part of the war, the killing more of them than us part, but America’s arrogant war machine was finally defeated by the North Vietnamese. It was a war telecast on America’s favorite pastime, watching television, with few restrictions on reporting.

The pictures that flowed daily on television screens were graphic and real. Perhaps viewers became so accustomed to seeing the brutal images, or so outraged that they took one side or the other in their opinions of what should be done in Vietnam--stay and win or get out immediately. The Vietnam War was never meant to be won and restrictions were in place for the military that were called “rules of engagement.” It is my personal opinion from stories I heard from ground troops whom I met during the war that they were restricted from winning engagements with the opposing forces, and ground that was taken one day would have to be retaken the next. Vietnam was a guerilla war, and the U.S. forces tried to fight a conventional war, but the North Vietnamese were not following U.S. rules, and they eventually beat the United States military machine, but not before the war companies who really pulled the strings of war reaped multiple billions, if not trillions of dollars manufacturing their products for war.

My own experience during the Vietnam War was one of frustration, and I finally saw that the war was not unwinable, but it was not meant to be won, and it was not, but for companies like DuPont, Sikorsky helicopter, Oil companies, and munitions manufacturers to name but a few. Ginsberg’s words were not only prophetic of things to come but his description of how language was used to dupe the American public in large numbers--to believe the lie. The lie that the Vietnam War was just, was a betrayal by the government of the United States to the people of the United States, and the combat soldier and every veteran, specifically.

Josef Goebbels, the minister in charge of all Nazi Propaganda said, “The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it.” The American propagandists were/are not above using this idea to sway the average American during Vietnam and today in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the next war that will begin, who knows where.

It is what Ginsberg calls “Black Magic language.”
Communion of bum magicians
congress of failures from Kansas & Missouri
working with the wrong equations
Sorcerer’s Apprentices who lost control
of the simplest broomstick in the world:
Language (Ginsberg)

Along with referring to a short section of Disney’s production of Fantasia called The Sorcerer’s Apprentice who loses control of a broom, Ginsberg’s poignant commentary in this allusion is pointing a finger at those who use language to tell anything other than the truth, who twist the truth until any truth that is left is one lied to. The poem may be seen as a plea for peace and peaceful language for the good of all, instead of:

World’s Largest Camp Comedy
Magic in Vietnam--
reality turned inside out
changing its sex in the Mass Media
for 30 days, TV den and bedroom farce
Flashing pictures Senate Foreign Relations Committee room
Generals faces flashing on and off screen
mouthing language
State Secretary speaking nothing but language
McNamara declining to speak public language
The President talking language,
Senators reinterpreting language. . .
Tactical Bombing the magic formula for
a silver haired Symington:
Ancient Chinese apothegm:
Old in vain. (Ginsberg)

Leaders, stirring the fear of confusion into the ears of Americans by not telling the people of the United States the truth about the motivations of its leaders for continuing a war, but by giving the reasons in artifice and machination--a made up story full of diversionary language that was a lie. This is what I believe both Hungerford and Quinn missed when they determined Ginsberg’s words to be empty and meaningless, and of no value. In the lines “World’s Largest Camp Comedy / Magic in Vietnam-- / reality turned inside out” (Ginsberg), is told in satirical tone that epitomizes the madness of the Vietnam War, and war in general--not meaningless, not empty words, but the words of truth.

The poem continues to tell of America at war, not only with another country, but with itself. After my discharge from the Navy in 1969, I returned home to Iowa. I entered Iowa State University as a freshman in early 1970. On the campus and in the media there was nothing but news reports and controversy about Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam.

College campuses across America were in a state of dangerous flux; people were taking sides, and a polarization that divided America grew further apart, daily. There were continual anti-war demonstrations on the campus of Iowa State University and all over the country at many universities and college campuses, and in the streets of America as well. There were both positive and negative activities taking place then, that is now dead or sleeping among the young of the United States, who have the most to lose, and they do not even know it--yet.

As a veteran of Vietnam, I was even more confused upon my return to the United States than I was when I was involved with the daily duties of my military experience. I had just lost three years of my life, and I came home to people who were less than sympathetic with me when they discovered that I was a veteran. I no longer knew America as it had been--just three years earlier, and when I finally read “Wichita Vortex Sutra” I realized more than ever before--that the war I had escaped from was possible because of the lies told to the people of the United States by Her self-interested leaders. I discovered that democracy did/does not exist in America, and had not existed in America for three hundred years. Those in power made policy that affected the populace, not the populace that affected/influenced the leaders.

In 1966, as this poem was written there existed a lottery for warm, able bodies at the Selective Service, that drafted young men to be targets and gun shooters in Vietnam:

boys with sexual bellies aroused
chilled in the heart by the mailman
with a letter from an aging white haired General
Director of the selection for service in Deathwar
all this black language
writ by machine!
O hopeless Fathers and Teachers
in Hué [a city in Vietnam]
do you know
the same woe too?

Just as young men were coming into their prime of life, they would receive greetings from the Selective Service ordering them to report for a physical, and if they passed that, they were ordered to report for military induction. It was a form of slavery which preyed on all young men of the time. Young men from wealthy families could often be exempted from military service if their families had political influence of some kind; others found sanctuary with a college deferment, and others still, left the country--Canada was a favorite destination to evade the draft. The latter were called draft dodgers, who after the war was over were collectively pardoned so they could return to the United States. Some chose not to return to the United States, for obvious reasons: they had had enough of the United States’ war machine mentality, and would have no more of it..

Many of the draftees of the Vietnam War were from lower income families who could not afford to pay to keep their sons from military service. An eighteen year old male, sitting at home one day is waiting for a card or letter from his sweetheart or a friend, and he receives a draft notice instead. From that moment on, he was no longer free. Because he was born a citizen of the United States, he was owned by the state; that is how the state perceived it. The state needed cannon fodder, and did not care who it was as long as it was a warm body that could pull the trigger of a rifle, or pull the pin from a grenade, or set up a claymore mine on an a ambush trail.

We were its--we were not people any more. We were treated like its--no longer human beings, but killing machines with arms, legs, trigger fingers, and eyes to spot and kill the enemy. Our minds were bent on killing and nothing but killing an enemy none of us had met, or none of us had any idea about. It was madness; it was authorized insanity. Language that someone made up, wrote down, and turned into an expedient law for the powers who made war were responsible for over fifty thousand American deaths in Vietnam; the language did not care:

O but how many in their solitude weep aloud like me--
On the bridge over Republican River
almost in tears to know
how to speak the right language--
on the frosty broad road
uphill between highway embankments
I search for the language
that is also yours--
almost all our language has been taxed by war. (Ginsberg)

These are hardly words that are meaningless and empty or with no value.
Hear the last line--“almost all our language has been taxed by war” (Ginsberg) is so true. Not taxed as income is, but taxed with mental anguish, guilt, patriotism, or however what is heard through language is made manifest in utterance or action by the hearer.

It is different from one individual to another. How far the lies spoken in language penetrate the individual consciousness, and conscience to fester there, and make the soul ill with hate, fear, violence, and dread, until one enlists in the military, or willingly sends sons in to harm’s way may be the difference.

Language is powerful, and Ginsberg knew it well. Allen Ginsberg had a respect for language and he saw in it a potential for a vehicle for speaking truth, which he called “making mantra of American language.” Ginsberg manipulated language as well, but in a way that he thought was benign, even spiritual. Another less known poet who wrote a ten thousand line long poem is Captain Dennis Philip Caron.

D. Philip was a captain in the infantry in Vietnam, and had his own platoon of twenty men. Philip was the machine-gunner, and he carried extra ammunition
beyond the maximum allowed; his troops loved him for it. His poem is called “Iron” and is a masterpiece of verse, but not one publisher in over twenty years of submissions will touch it because of its subject matter:

An ambush moon glows full over the paddy,
rain clouds play bandit in the wind
and the hour is alive with forty eyes.
The trail below is triggered--
covered like a triple canopy jungle
but not with leaf, frond, or limb:
claymore at head, claymore at heel
shoulders of rifle fire and machine-gun muzzle
waist of daisy chain--explosive series of death,
and legs of mortar fire.
The rice is heavy and hangs head bent
like clustered dragons in the night.
The monsoon blows pictures over the water:
battalions made with moon, rice, and wind. (Caron)

Philip is one-hundred percent disabled from his experience in Vietnam; we speak often. This is just one story of a survivor from the horror that was Vietnam, and out of the millions who were involved in it, many have died of suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, Agent Orange disease, and other diseases contracted in South East Asia. All Vietnam vets, whether they admit it or not are scarred from the experience to one degree or another, who came home to an uncaring population. Even the Veteran’s Administration is less than helpful. There are so many to be cared for, but without the funding needed, because the government that allocates the funds is fighting a new war now, with new casualties. Our government is quietly waiting for us to die. Ginsberg’s voice defended us, exonerated us, and forgave us for the murders we committed for a government that acted like a godfather with an army of hit-men.

Allen Ginsberg defined a moment in history with tact, clarity, and a different twist, writing verse with a loving voice that was filled with lament for the dead and soon to be dead, in just another war that had no real meaning for its being fought.

In “Wichita Vortex Sutra” Allen Ginsberg rendered intelligible a history that was becoming history even as he wrote the truth of that history, in his poem. His verse is accurate; it is a poem; it is all true; I was part of the Vietnam War as a present witness to it, and I know what he wrote has meaning; it is not empty language, and it does have value of how it depicted the historical events of that shameful period of American history that continues, today; the betrayal of truth continues.

Work Cited

Caron, Dennis Philip. Iron. Unpublished, 1996.
Dorfman, Elsa. Portrait Photographer. 1 May 2008. < /Ginsberg.html>.
Ginsberg, Allen. Planet News. Ed. Lawrence Ferlinghetti. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1968.
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< ar.htm>.
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First of all I'd like to thank you for submitting this as I found it
very interesting. I read some Ginsberg as a young man and I
must not have had the depth to understand, because I didn't
appreciate his writing nearly as much as now.

Anyway, I just wanted to say your research and work on his
poem has not gone unnoticed ...

thank you,



To tell the truth, I didn't think anyone would ever read this one. Ya know, too many words for the average reader.

Thank you for your time, and your read.

I appreciate both.


"When a pickpocket meets a holy man all he sees are his pockets."

Unknown (at least to me)

author comment

A warrior's work & testament of supreme love and sacrifice, Victor. Only you who served in the Viet Nam war could touch all levels: as poet, as an academic and as Kundalini master.

As Richard suggested, your poem has not gone unnoticed. I wait for those who served to make additional commentary. There is much here to ingest and digest, upon which to ruminate even for others who didn't, such as myself.


"I wait for those who served to make additional commentary."

Thanks, Anna,

While we are waiting, let's not hold our breath; we will surely turn blue in the face before that happens.



"When a pickpocket meets a holy man all he sees are his pockets."

Unknown (at least to me)

author comment
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