Monday, October 16, 2017

LIFE OF A POET - JOHN BUCHANAN

Today, my friends, we have the pleasure of returning to Guernsey, a small island in the middle of the English Channel, to meet one of our newest members, John Buchanan, who writes at  Poet at Jaybern. John was encouraged to check out Poets United by a member of his writing group, who happens to be Julian Clarke, of  Pen to Poetry, Guernsey, whom we interviewed in 2016. John has an amazing and inspiring story. Make yourself a nice cup of Twinings tea and settle in. You won't want to miss a single word.






Sherry: John, we are so happy Julian suggested you check us out. Tell us a little about yourself, won’t you? 

John: Thank you and thanks also to Julian for making the introduction.  I have really enjoyed the prompts and reading the other subscribers' poetry over the last few weeks.  I would like to thank them for the lovely comments that they have left on my blog.

As for my life, well, I guess I've had a bit of an unusual one. My parents were expatriates and I was born in Trinidad in 1964.  I was educated as a boarder at Elizabeth College in Guernsey.  This school was founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1563.  The College is the large building dominating St. Peter Port’s skyline in the image below.


Guernsey’s picturesque capital, St. Peter Port

I then embarked on a career in the British Army, starting as a soldier in the Parachute Regiment, before being commissioned into the Royal Corps of Transport, which later became the Royal Logistic Corps. I left the Army in 2003 as a Major.

On returning to Guernsey, I worked as the operations manager for a local IT company before finding my dream job heading up the logistics and contracts management for a German alumina refinery, from Guernsey. This ended following an accident in 2008.  Last year I started work again and I am now a civil servant working as a procurement officer at our hospital.


I was married in 1993 and had two children who are both now at University.  In fact my son leaving recently inspired my poem 'Empty Nest'.  We have 2 dogs and 2 3/4 cats and live 5 minutes from the beautiful cliffs of the Island’s South coast.


Guernsey’s South coast taken from Icart Point 
looking West


Sherry: I love your poem Socks, to the three-legged cat you rescued. And I understand that when you had a serious life event occur in 2008,  Socks was able to return the favour and comfort you in turn. Would you like to tell us about that time?  

John: Thanks. I'm glad you liked the poem. Socks was not actually a rescue cat, we had two cats at the time and Twizzle, Sock's sister, had been missing for a week or so when I felt compelled to have another look for her in the hedges near our house. It was then that I found Socks seriously injured, he ended up losing a leg.  Unfortunately we later found out that Twizzle had died.



Socks

I remember the day I found you
lying crumpled on the verge,
I'd been looking for your sister
when I somehow felt an urge...

There you lay twisted and broken
your life hanging by a thread;
I prayed that I'd not lose you too,
as I gently held your head.

They took your leg to save you.
As I watched you overcome
I marvelled as you learnt to walk,
then jump, hunt and run.

After I was struck down
you tucked in close beside
silently gave me the courage
my demons to deride.

You've been a good friend to me;
as I struggle to overcome
you've shared with me the strength
to survive and not succumb.

My fingers massage your scars
beneath your silky fur
and you soothe mine
with your reassuring purr.

John Carré Buchanan
20 August 2017



Socks

Sherry: I just had to include this sweet poem. I am so sorry about Twizzle.

John: As for the accident; in August 2008 I was cycling to work when a car pulled out in front of me and my life changed forever. 

The physical damage was minor, but I was left with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome which means that I suffer from severe pain in my right leg.  This pain ranges between 7- 10/10 on the pain scale and is always there.  While I managed to work for a couple of years after the accident, the combination of pain, lack of sleep, depression and the opiates my doctors had me taking resulted in me having to quit my job to concentrate on my recovery.  I might add that during this period my employer was brilliant, actually allowing me to work from my bed at home in an attempt to keep me on.

By that time I was using a wheelchair, heavily dosed on the strongest of opiates and depressed to the point of being suicidal. I had a spinal cord stimulator fitted, which allowed me do pass an electric current directly onto my spinal chord to change the pain. This led to an infection, which meant the stimulator had to be removed, a blessing in disguise. 

Sherry: My goodness, John. What an amazing journey you have made!

John: It was at this point that I realised that if something didn’t change I was not going to survive.  The doctors and psychiatrists, though extremely compassionate and well-meaning, were actually hindering my recovery with the drugs and the constant examination of events in my life.  I decided to stop seeing doctors and over the next 8 months I weened myself off the opiates and the doctors and hit the pool and the Gym.

I set myself a goal of running a half Ironman triathlon in 2015. Given I was in a wheelchair, had severe issues resulting from the last time I’d ridden a bike and found that water moving over my leg was extremely painful, this was a mega challenge.  I persevered.  At one point I realised that it was the water moving the hairs on my leg that increased the pain so I shaved my leg!  It worked, and in September 2015 I competed the 2km swim, 90km ride and half marathon in just under 6 hours.



Me on the bike leg of Graniteman 2015


Sherry: I am sure our readers' jaws are dropped, like mine, reading of this amazing transformation! Wow!

John: I immediately set a double goal of returning to work and learning to barefoot waterski in 2016, both of which I achieved.

Sherry: What a triumph, John! A remarkable story of determination and overcoming. How are you now?

John: Pain is still a major factor in my life, as is depression and sleepless nights, but I am now more able to live with it. I do not use painkillers any more, but I use my wheelchair when it’s needed.  I am no longer suicidal, but given the pain is incurable and slowly worsening, I do pray for a short life.

Sherry: It never fails to humble me, learning the challenges people somehow learn to live with and transcend. When did you begin writing, John?

John: My first poems date back to just after I left school and my early days in the army. I even had one published in the regimental magazine (Thoughts on Cyprus).  That said, it was nothing more than a dabble.
 
After the accident I realised that everything I enjoyed was physical; as such it felt like I lost everything. I sat down and listed everything I had ever done that was not physical and poetry was at the top of the list.  To be honest, at the time it I saw it as the best of a bad lot!

After I had written a few poems which I thought were half decent, I wondered how I could find out if they were any good.  By happenstance I saw a rather vague reference to poetry Open Mic on the internet, it was being held in a bar 200 meters from my house that very evening, so I went along.  


A couple of months later I set up Guernsey Poets Blog to encourage more Guernsey Poets to give it a go.  I also set up Poet at JaybernThe rest is history.

Sherry: And lucky for us, both you and Julian found your way to us! What do you love about poetry, John? What makes it sing for you?

John: That’s a bit of a tricky question. I can't profess to loving poetry. I enjoy it as a distraction from the pain, and reading a clever take on a subject is often inspiring.  That said, I have always enjoyed war poetry, and poems by the likes of Rudyard Kipling, must be the soldier in me!
Guernsey is blessed with a number of excellent poets, such as Julian, who often attend the monthly open mic.  My pain management goal each month is to attend this event and enjoy their company.

Sherry: Since only one of our members can hear your poems in person, are there three you would like to include here for us?


John: Wow choosing 3 is tricky, I will take one on each of my most written subjects, the environment, the military and perhaps something motivational. 

Let’s begin with a poem about the damage the human race is doing to the Earth.  All over the world we see destruction of primary rain forest, tundra and other unique environments.  We pollute and effectively rape the rivers and oceans.  I believe that in the end we will kill ourselves off and on a geological timeframe the world will recover, but in the meantime:

Infection


The infection started slowly,
but that did not last;
Lungs weakened by the continuous onslaught began to fail.
Life giving gas now bore pollutants which weakened the body
and made the virus’ attack deadlier still.
The beating heart now forced polluted blood
through clogged and damaged veins.
Kidneys and liver began to fail as the antigen’s onslaught
outstripped their ability to cleanse.
The skin’s surface took on an unhealthy pallor
Soars broke out, black, yellow and red puss bearing carbuncles
An unhealthy cloying stench hung around the body
And still the virus continued its attack.
Finally unable to function the fabric of the body broke down
And there hanging dead in space where the blue planet had hung
Was a smog covered grey planet destroyed by a virus called;
H U man.

John Carré Buchanan
25 February 2012

Sherry: I'm afraid I have to agree with you on all counts, John. We are taking far too long to awaken.

John: My second poem is on a military subject.  It is a sad fact of life that Soldiers serving our countries get injured.  I wrote this as one of a series of poems which start with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploding and a soldier being hurt, then recovered, repatriated and helped through recovery.  The series ends with this poem which I unashamedly wrote to encourage myself during the darkest days. It is a message of hope.  You should bear in mind that injuries are not just wounds and missing limbs, but often deep psychological traumas which, being invisible, are often overlooked and of course damage families.  This poem speaks of all three.

Singing In The Bath


He's singing in the bath.
six months,
new legs,
new face,
and he’s singing in the bath,
because he’s home.

The kids are laughing.
six months,
new legs,
new face,
and the kids are laughing,
because he still can’t sing.

His wife is smiling,
six months,
new legs,
new face,
and his wife is smiling,
because he’s singing in the bath.

John Carré Buchanan
11 March 2011


Sherry: This poem illustrates so well the impact on families of what happens to those who serve. You are right; often, the deepest wounds are not visible.

John: My third poem is something a little lighter and is based on a tool I use to manage pain. It can and has been used to reinforce goals, help people make a variety of behavioural changes. 

The Pebble


The little pink pebble
Was found on a beach
It lives in my pocket
My thoughts to impeach.

Created in fire
at the dawn of the earth
It cooled to granite
With much bigger girth

It was covered with algae
When life first began,
It saw off the dinosaurs
and the ascent of man

The rough granite texture
Has been smoothed with time
its Feldspar and quartz
Give off a faint shine.

My existence is shorter
Than this tiny stone’s
and it will be here when
I’m nought but bones

With hand in my pocket
Its cool form I feel
It gently reminds me
My life is for real.

When I feel down
As I often do
I touch its smooth surface
And admire the view

When I am low
and life’s not worth a damn
Its touch hits my thoughts,
Like a battering ram

I think of those things
that bring me great joy
of being a Father
Or when I was boy

Or think I’ll grow rich
And drive a nice car
I let it remind me
We are who we are

A negative thought
Like: “it’s been a crap day”
can turn to remembering
a romp in the hay

There’s always a friend
To give me advice
but my little pebble
will always suffice

So remember this poem
When next you’re alone
bend to the ground
and get your own stone.

John Carré Buchanan
23 Jun 2010

Sherry: I love this one, John. I am always picking up pebbles and small rocks. I especially like "we are who we are." Do you write prose as well?

John: Very occasionally. I have had several articles published in newspapers and magazines but getting the drive to write more extensively is a bit of a problem.  Penning a few poems a month is about all I can currently handle.

Sherry: I think you have the makings of a wonderful memoir in all you have experienced. Just saying......... I understand you have traveled considerably in your life. Would you like to tell us a bit about this? 

John: Sure. I was born in Trinidad and I had lived in Kenya, Sark, Guernsey and England before I was sent to boarding school at the age of 7.  A year later my brother joined me and my parents headed off for Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, then it was Mauritius, Seychelles, Gibraltar, Grand Cayman and the list went on, It made for some superb holidays.

On leaving school I spent a couple of years with my parents whilst my army career got going. During this time I went out to Hong Kong, where I worked as a labourer on a building site, and then Gibraltar, where I tended bar.

Having joined the Para’s, I served in the USA, Canada, and on the UN line in Cyprus, before being sent to Officer training at Sandhurst. 

As an Officer I served in Germany, Canada, Australia, Northern Ireland, Belize, the Balkans, Cyprus and the UK, and a couple of others.  Most of my time was spent serving as a Logistics Officer, but I also did a spell as a Primary Forward Air Controller (a P-FAC is the chap that is on the ground guiding aeroplanes onto their targets). This inspired my poem ‘The Twitcher’.



Jungle River Crossing Central America 1991


Sherry: Forget the memoir! I think there needs to be a movie! What an adventurous life you have lived.

John: My most rewarding posting was in Northern Ireland when, as a Lieutenant, I commanded a group of guys who resupplied all the outposts around the ‘Province’.  This was a dangerous and demanding role at which they excelled, and we had a lot of fun.  

I must admit that whilst having favourites is not encouraged, of all the soldiers I commanded, it is those that I was most honoured to know; indeed we still meet occasionally and several of my poems refer to them.

My wife was a dentist in the Army and in 1992 I very romantically proposed over the phone from Bosnia, whilst serving with the UN in what was an extremely harrowing tour. When I returned and she asked for her ring I jokingly offered her the phone card and said I’d already given her a ring (on the phone). Unsurprisingly that didn’t wash, but she still has the phone card!  We were married in Sark in 1993. 

My takeaway from all of the traveling I have done and the people I have met, often in harrowing circumstances, is that the vast majority of people are good, and want nothing more than to live their lives with their family and friends within their own belief structures.  The Media would have us believe that the world is an increasingly dangerous place; this is simply not true and in my opinion drives up suspicion, fear and hate.  I don’t deny that there are some seriously nasty things happening in the world, but we actually live in a time which is safer than it has ever been. 

Our single biggest threat is that of greed, and our insatiable belief that we have a right to everything. We don’t.  We are not the only inhabitants on this planet and one day our greed will come back to haunt us. My poem ‘Have a Care’ which was recently linked to Poets United’s Midweek Motif on Respect, addressed this issue.

Sherry: I could not agree more, John, especially about most people being good and wanting simple, peaceful lives. Well said.  Looking back on your childhood, can you see anything that you think led to your becoming a poet? 

John: At school my spelling was atrocious and I was actively discouraged from taking the English Literature exams. I suspect the school was worried about its pass rate record;-)

I remember reading a mock exam paper that contained two amazing poems: Robert Frost's ‘A Road Not Taken’ and Edward Thomas’ ‘Tall Nettles’. That was the first time I can remember seriously enjoying and understanding the power of poetry.  Unfortunately being a boarder meant that we were pretty much left to fend for ourselves and there was not too much in the way of 'encouragement'.  My real focus was on sport, specifically athletics, swimming and archery, and watching out for my brother who was a bit of a tearaway.

Sherry: Well, poetry found you at just the right time, I suspect. What other things do you enjoy, when you aren’t writing or working?

John: I was always a keen sportsman. I did athletics, swimming, archery, martial arts, boxing, rugby, skiing (both snow and water), rock climbing, windsurfing, kayaking and the list goes on.  Unfortunately the reality is those days have passed. Even if I wasn’t injured I would still be 53 and having to calm down a bit!

Unfortunately my life revolves around managing the pain long enough to earn the proverbial crust.  My average day is get up, hit the gym, go to work, come home and collapse.  If I am lucky I will have enough strength left to write something.  My weekends are spent recovering, although sometimes I manage to fly my power kite or go kayaking along the Island’s spectacular South coast, which is just five minutes from my house.  


Power kiting on Vazon Bay – West Coast of Guernsey

Oh and I dabble in a bit of Cake decorating, which is great when I am able to sit or stand for long periods of time, but can get a bit fraught when my pain kicks up a notch.


One of my Christmas Cakes

Sherry: The kiting looks fun - and the cake is amazing! Is there anything you’d like to say to Poets United?

John: Yes, three things, if I might:  firstly I would like to thank the administrators of the Poets United blog for providing us all with such a great platform, I know the work that this involves and I really appreciate it, as I am sure other contributors do. 

Secondly I would like to thank all of the poets who have contributed by submitting poems or simply adding a comment to a blog post; both these activities bring joy and we can’t have too much of that.

Finally, I guess I would encourage people to write about their difficulties and subjects that challenge.  That lone voice might be the first roll of the snowball that turns into a massive avalanche, or it perhaps it will give someone else a beacon of hope in an hour of darkness – Happy writing.

Sherry: Thank you, John. You are so right about the beacon  of hope. We have all felt the impact of poems from the heart that resonate, move us, inspire us, give us hope, remind us of what really matters.

Thank you so much for this amazing visit, and for sharing your story. What a story it is! There are many unsung heroes in this world and you, my friend, are one of them!

Wow, kids, I don't know what we'll do to top this. We might have to coast on its coattails for a while. Smiles. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!



42 comments:

  1. What a wonderful post. So good to know John and know the difficulties he has faced. I have noticed his poems, and have been impressed with the depth of his writing. I look forward to more of his work!!!

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    1. Hi Annell, Thank you for your kind comment, I am glad you are enjoying my poems.

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  2. a great post and so interesting to learn about your adventures and difficulties...

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    1. Hi Brudberg, Thanks for your comment, glad you found the post interesting.

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  3. wow very interesting and I am seriously impressed how with al the difficulties you face, you had the courage, the strength and determination to do the traithlon. Unbelievable. Great that you have been to so many places. I agree that greed is the major problem we deal with these days. I really love your pebble poem. I always bring back stones and pebbles from different places and sometimes carry around a favourite one.

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    1. Thank you Marja, I hope you get as much out of your pebbles as I do ;-)

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  4. I love rocks too, and for a time, I found heart rocks everywhere........John, I am very impressed with the courageous journey you are making, and admire the depth of your poetry, most especially your knowledge of environmental concerns, so close to my heart, so distressing in these times. Shine on, kiddo! You are an inspiration. Such a positive attitude!

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    1. I definitely agree with you, Sherry. John is an inspiration indeed.

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    2. Hi Sherry and Mary, Thank you for your support, I'm glad my poems are helping to make people consider the issues they address.

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  5. You made a fantastic recovery to be an athlete, more than others who are 'normal' It certainly was a courageous 'journey' through sheer grit and determination. Welcome to the club, John!

    Hank

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    1. Hi Hank, thanks for your kind comment, I just have to keep plugging away at it.

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  6. I love all these poems, and it's a most inspiring article. In spite of the pain, depression, etc., you manage to sound full of good cheer and vitality!

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    1. Hi Rosemary, Thank you, I'm glad you like my poems. All this positivity helps keep me going.

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  7. Wow, John, I really enjoyed learning more about you. You have had quite a life - with all you have experienced. Your story is really an inspiration. I admire you for getting off the opiates and back on that bicycle. Perhaps the old adage "What doesn't kill you will make you stronger" is true in your case. As I have said on your blog, I really always look forward to your depthful poetry and your unique perspectives. The poem about Socks touched me greatly. I enjoyed the poem "The Stone" and think we all probably need one!! Your Christmas cake is beautiful. It must take a lot of patience to decorate so intrically. Sherry, thanks for another wonderful interview. It really is wonderful to learn things about those who post here!

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    1. It is, isnt it, Mary? Such a pleasure to get to know the person behind the pen.............each journey so unique and amazing............

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    2. Hi Mary and Sherry, thank you both for your kind comments. Mary the cake decorating is a challenge, it does take patience, it also means sitting and standing for long periods which is a challenge for me. What I like most about it is the cake eating. I wrote a poem called 'the cake', about the time my dog finished off the cake...... it's on my blog..

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    3. The poem is hilarious, John. I think the dog figured no humans wanted it so he may as well get it out of the way. Your poem cracked me up.

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    4. Hi Sherry, Otto has passed on now but every time I think of him I get a huge smile on my face, He had a way of bringing hilarity into every day things. He was a Bernese Mountain Dog and he features in a number of my poems, if you sort on Furry friends you will see more.

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  8. Wow, my comment of this afternoon didnt post. So sorry, John. I wanted to tell you how much I admire your positive attitude, how you overcame such serious challenges, and what an inspiration you are. You are living an amazing life! Shine on! I, too, love rocks. For years, I found heart-shaped rocks everywhere..........I also love when you write about your concerns about climate change, a topic I also feel deeply about. Thank you for spreading the information.

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  9. A fascinating and life-affirming interview. I enjoyed the poems that were selected for inclusion, here. And John, what a incredible and compelling life story. Great job of this, poets.

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    1. Hi Wendy, Thank you for your kind comment, I'm glad you enjoyed the poems.

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  10. It's so good to learn more about you John. You've had a wonderful, though challenging life up to now and have certainly shown your courage. I appreciate your saying that the world is safer now. Sometimes, it doesn't feel that way. Enjoyed reading your heartfelt poetry. Am so glad it brings you joy and some relief from your physical pain.
    Thanks Sherry. You always ask the right questions to get your subjects to open up and share their lives with us. This is a most interesting interview.

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    1. Hi Mryna, thank you for your support, I'm glad you enjoy my poems.

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  11. I like the pebble poem. A little stone can give give comfort when you touch it. It has had a life long before the dinosaurs as you said.

    It is sad you are praying for a short life because you are in so much pain.Since you have overcome so much adversity I wonder if there might not be a way you could alleviate some of the pain through a sort of meditative exercise. At first, wait until you are tired from some mentally exhausting exercise

    1 close your eyes
    2 sit in a comfortable quiet place (feet up)
    3 see the pain as a large circle
    4 breath deeply and gently
    5. focus all your energy and concentration into the centre of the circle
    6.ignore everything that is happening in the rest of the circle and keep concentrating and focussing on the centre of the circle
    7.Staying still you should mentally relax neck shoulders
    fingers and toes(breathing deeply and gently the whole time)
    8.you should then drift off into a sound sleep

    I know it sounds strange but it might work for you.
    This exercise should make you feel nicely tired and then you should fall asleep. When you get accustomed to doing the exercise you will make your own adjustments to how often and when you use it.
    Worth a try !

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    1. Hi Rallentanda, Thank you, over the last 9 years I have tried just a about everything I could find both conventional and non conventional. Meditation, mind games and things like EFT do play an everyday role but ultimately they hardly scratch the surface. The routine I have developed based on a month long pain management course in St. Thomas' Hospital and my own research and experience is the best for me at this time. At the end of the day I burnt the candle at both ends and I see nothing wrong with a short bright life.

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  12. What an amazing life you've had John! A true inspiration you are! There's much to learn from you specially the positive attitude to life. May you have a painless long life. Enjoyed every word of your poems and this interview.
    Sherry, thank you for the splendid job you do!

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    1. Hi Sumana, thank you for your kind comment.

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  13. what a Bio - am amazed that Sherry could keep up!
    there is so much dynamism and energy emanating from you John which makes for a fascinating insight into the man behind the poetry. The pain provokes much need for distraction and that is what gives the pebble poem such impact. Your humanity shines through not least in 'Socks'
    p.s. I too was a boarder - aged 5 onwards - we learn some positive things from this!
    p.p.s. do you know the War Poets Association?
    http://www.warpoets.org/

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    1. Hi there Telltaletherapy, thanks for your kind comments. I have not checked out the War Poets Association, but I will now. Thanks for the introduction.

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  14. So good to have an opportunity to know you, John. Such a full and exciting life you've led! Rhyming poetry is my first love, so the rhythm of your poetry is joy to me. Thank you for sharing your life story ... and thanks to Sherry for bringing it to us.

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    1. Hi Indybev, thank you for your kind comment, I am glad that my poems have bought you joy.

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  15. John- an inspiring life -love reading your poems. Thank you. And thanks Sherry for a great interview.

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    1. Hi Thotpurge, Thanks for your kind comments.

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  16. Oh my John I am so inspired by your story....you never stop and push through whatever the block may be and I learn so much from your story and our poems....and I love that with all you have done and do, you threw in the cake decorating as an aside. A wonderful creative pursuit that brings such delight....my mom used to decorate cakes so perhaps there is lots of sentimentality with it for me.

    I do really love reading your poems John, and I enjoyed those you chose for us here....I hope that you will continue to write about your story, your thoughts....we need to know about that wonderful world you have seen and believe in the goodness of people. Thank you John and thank you Sherry!

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    1. Hi Donna, Thank you for your kind comments. I am really glad that my poems are going down so well.

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  17. Yeah, my jaw dropped at your self cure and stayed that way until I started tearing up with "Infection" and "Singing in the Bath." I use pebbles similarly, but your poem sings to me. (Truly, you must know a few musicians who could add the notes to these lyrics). John, thank you for living and for sharing inspiring poetry with us and all. You are in my prayers. (I agree with you about the memoir, Sherry, but recommend it be like this interview--story telling and answering questions mingling with poetry. I'd buy it!)

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    1. Hi Susan, Thank you for your kind comments they are very much appreciated. Maybe one day I should go down the memoir route...

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  18. I am in awe of you, John. Making a life that includes your own therapy, writing, and cake decorating, instead of staying on a path to utter desolation is an incredible feat. It had to be difficult. You have an amazingly diversified life. I am glad you found this site, and love reading your poetry. Thanks to you, Sherry, for another excellent interview.

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    1. Hi Sara, thank you for your kind comments, I'm glad you enjoy my poems.

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