Eleven days after war erupted in the Persian Gulf, Poets Reading Inc. had its first reading of 1991, an open forum with no constraints on subject matter. Not surprisingly, the words spoken that night alluded more to war than anything else.
"We were overwhelmed with the amount of poetry discussing the war and the feelings people had about being left behind," said the group's co-founder, Michael Logue. They described "having their loved ones somewhere far away with no idea if they would return, and if they did, if they'd be alive or in a body bag."
As a result, Logue and fellow poet Meg Reed decided to publish an apolitical journal of poems about the conflict and plan an April 20 reading of the new works in Fullerton.
"The book will really be the collective experience of those of us watching the Gulf War from home, rather than a military perspective or the story from the war zone" told daily through news media, Logue said in a phone interview from his home.
Logue is trying to get the journal published nationally. Failing that, he plans to have it printed by Poets Reading Inc., even if he has to pick up the tab. "The worse that could happen is I could lose all my money on it, and I'm willing to take that risk because I believe in it," he said.
More than 30 poets have said they will submit writing for the journal, and anyone who wants to may send submissions, Logue said. Among those poets committed, he said, are Harold Norse, who has written a biography of poet Charles Bukowski; Gerald Nicosia, author of a biography of writer Jack Kerouac, and Robert Peters, a UC Irvine English and literature professor.
The journal will accept all points of view, stressed Logue, who founded Poets Reading Inc. in 1988 with his fiancee, Tina Rinaldi. The nonprofit group stages three local poetry readings a month, has published a book of poems by Upland writer Dawn Allred-Viotto and is vigilant about remaining apolitical, he said.
"We're not going to select poems for the book based on their political purpose, but on the quality of each piece. And we want to maintain the balance. If we get 80% in favor of the war, we'll try to reflect that in the makeup of the book."
Initially, the project was planned on a modest scale as a "small binder," Logue said. But response has been so positive that "in the past three days, it's mushroomed into this all-consuming thing and kept me on the phone for 10 to 12 hours a day.
"Poets have said 'it just so happens I have two or three pieces (about the war) I hadn't known what to do with, and this is great.' They are just overjoyed to have a place to put this poetry."
Cal State Fullerton student Mira Ingram, who has sent to Logue a poem she wrote in January about how the conflict has fractured some of her relationships, said she would value the opportunity to share her work and hear that of others in the April 20 open reading.
"Just after the war began, I had a friend tell me she couldn't talk to me about it anymore because our opinions differed so much," Ingram said. "I felt locked out."
Logue said the reading, to include works selected for the journal and other war-related poems by all who wish to participate, will end with a candle-lighting ceremony "as a kind of farewell to the 20-plus thousand who have died so far in this war and a prayer for the safe return of all who have survived.
"It's not a peace rally or a protest or a demonstration," he said, just a way to close the reading to honor those fighting the war. "I think it'll be a really powerful night that a lot of people will remember for a while."
Submissions for a journal of poetry about the Gulf War may be sent to Poets Reading, Inc., P.O. Box 1522, Fullerton, Calif., 92632-1522. Deadline is March 16. An open reading of work from the journal and other war-related poems will be held at 8 p.m. on April 20 at the Fullerton Museum Center, 301 N. Pomona Ave., Fullerton. Admission has not been set. Information: (714) 441-1820.