John Stevens Berry Publications
John Stevens Berry has published his fourth book, and second book of poetry. His first book, Darkness of Snow, included poems that were anthologized, and had received awards from the Academy of American Poets. His second book, Those Gallant Men, was a prose Vietnam memoir, and was chosen Book of the Month by the Military Book Club. His third book, The 12th Victim, was bought by SHOWTIME, and is now a four part docuseries. His new book, Foot Soldier, is a free verse memoir of a life fully lived. The book chronicles Vietnam, courtroom experience, and growing up in small town Midwest. Poet Bill Kloefkorn wrote, “Berry gives us poems made of iron…..his poems are strong and true”. The musician Britton Buchanan has composed, performed, and recorded, “Captain Berry’s Blues” based on the book. A number of readings are scheduled.
“I couldn’t believe how powerful his poems were—they packed a real punch. His poems about PTSD are spare, powerful, and well-crafted. Foot Soldier is an amazing introduction to his writing.” -Twyla Hansen as quoted in Omaha Magazine, August 22, 2023, article, “Of Bronze, Iron, & Ink.”
“Berry, a veteran of the Vietnam War, reflects on his life through poetry.
Split into five sections, this collection of poetry focuses primarily on the author’s experiences as a soldier during the Vietnam War, and on the lasting impact the horrors of war can have on a person. Berry’s writing is evocative, deft at setting a scene while also conveying emotion. The work is strongest when the poet examines the consequences of war or laments the futility of so much life lost; in “Easter Sunday, 1969,” the speaker asks, “Angel Wing Cambodian border. / Brief fight. / Other guy dies. / Is that Easter? / Do we live because someone bled? / Don’t know. / But it brings a man to his knees.” In “Operation Ranch Hand,” Berry describes the utter destruction caused by war tactics: “And if no pencilneck cares / about the wildlife that lost their habitat, / are they at least interested in the 150,000 / Vietnamese children with severe birth defects?” Similarly, in “Ars Moriendi,” the speaker ponders, “Is there an art of dying? / A good death? / An absolution?” Though the pieces centering his experience as a soldier and veteran are the most powerful—featuring spare prose and unembellished imagery that reflect the stark and brutal realities of war—the rest of the anthology mostly veers away from this mode, instead concentrating on Berry’s childhood, loved ones, and mythological deities. The verses in these sections can feel more like classic, traditional poetry, allowing the author to showcase his skill at crafting descriptive imagery, as in “Of Sun and Moon,” where Berry writes, “Moon, icy witness to morality, / Gives shadow to the passing of the flesh, / And proves the instant.” Overall, this is an honest and moving assemblage of excellent poetry.
An engaging and expressive collection of autobiographical verse.” – Kirkus Reviews
Prayer for My Child
not yet born
If not the stunning grace of unicorns,
These miracles as rare: At Gia Lai
A small boy walks on water. Who’s to say
This miracle is lessened by the horns
Of that cool water buffalo beneath?
Insistent Presence, leave him room to pray!
Yet smartly field a thunderbolt gone stray,
And sometimes, at my father’s grave, a wreath.
Let him move, as I move, through shatter-cane
In this Nebraska heat. Or murderous rain
In rice fields, under fire, alive and wry.
Or if a daughter, may You fortify
Her vision that she see both truth in thorns
And loveliness, more rare than unicorns.
Easter Sunday, 1969
Angel Wing Cambodian border.
Other guy dies.
Is that Easter?
Do we live because someone bled?
But it brings a man to his knees.
my dad’s World War I greatcoat,
smelling of damp old wool,
hung in the basement.
He did not live long enough
to hear about my war
so I never got to tell him
about kerosene-fueled burning shit
or rotting bodies amid the diesel.
He wanted his boys to be officers.
Said where there were outhouses,
the enlisted lines were long.
Officers got right in.
And he told me the best smell
was bending to kiss a sleeping child:
sweat, wind, sun, and child hair.
The Platte, not the Mekong
Not a four acre farm to provide one meal a day.
Just the flash and blaze of lightning and a hay stack.
Still, I slap leather which isn’t there
for my pistol which isn’t there,
for reassurance, which, for a split second,
Corn fields, not rice paddies.
Steel irrigation systems, not ba gia
with her ancient legs walking in place
on treadles, and handle arms made of bamboo
to move water.
After war, you are never quite
where you belong.
Darkness of Snow
Darkness of snow, cold moon on rifle stock;
Heavy in lethal silence, bright with sleet,
Trees shimmer, and the stirring birds repeat
The movement of the brittle leaves. The shock
Of slow wind, edging lifelessness to me
Quickens my stare into the snow that stills
Dark forms, that may be deer, on darker hills,
Increases, till I can no longer see.
My knowledge ends with visibility!
Snow fades on fresh, crystal tenacity
Lost against heat and blindness. When I turn
It is to blindness. Other snowflakes burn
New loss against me. I remain the same
In chill monotony of change: a name.
Those Gallant Men: On Trial In Vietnam
“Those Gallant Men: On Trial in Vietnam” by John S. Berry is a compelling account that sheds light on the gripping events surrounding the Green Beret case during the Vietnam War. As the military trial attorney for a crucial defendant, Berry offers a unique perspective on the intricate strategy and dynamics of the litigation. In this rare and insightful book, readers delve into the political machinations and complex relationships between the US Army, the CIA, and the Green Berets. With meticulous detail, Berry unveils the untold stories and explores the challenges faced by those involved in the trial. “Those Gallant Men” is a captivating exploration of a pivotal moment in history, providing a deeper understanding of the Vietnam War’s complexities.
The Twelfth Victim: The Innocence of Caril Fugate in the Starkweather Murder Rampage
“The Twelfth Victim: The Innocence of Caril Fugate in the Starkweather Murder Rampage” by Linda M. Battisti and John Stevens Berry Sr. delves into a haunting and controversial chapter in American crime history. In 1958, Charles Starkweather shocked the nation with his brutal spree killings, claiming the lives of eleven individuals in Nebraska and Wyoming. At his side was his fourteen-year-old girlfriend, Caril Fugate, whose involvement in the murders remains a subject of debate even after fifty years. Battisti and Berry, through meticulous research, uncover the harrowing truth of Fugate’s experience—a victim both of Starkweather and a flawed Nebraska justice system. The authors expose the legal injustices and manipulation endured by Fugate, highlighting her coerced testimony and denial of a fair trial. “The Twelfth Victim” is a shocking and poignant account that reveals a true story of denied justice in a murder case that captivated the nation.