Since the missus is gone and we’re dealing with Microkhan Jr. all by our lonesome, we’re gonna post today’s NtHWS Extras installment a bit earlier than usual. Don’t worry, there are non-book goodies to follow today—but those are more easily written when the kid is napping.
Today’s focus is the poet laureate of the Ledo Road: Sgt. Smith Dawless. He was beloved for his ability to capture the suffering of enlisted men in verse, most notably in the famous “Conversation Piece”. After the war, Dawless published a collection of his poems. The one that’s always stuck with us, because of the chilling way it captures a pre-Vietnam case of PTSD, is “Wail of a Beaten Woman”. After a lead-in describing that the poem is meant to be heard in the voice of a woman who’s hubby “was sent home from India because he had an uncontrollable desire to beat people,” the grimness truly begins:
My war-weary Willie is back home again,
Afflicted with strange paranoiac desires
Acquired in locations exotic.
Embittered, frustrated, he cannot relieve
His desperate nervous condition
Unless he is staging and amateur bout
With me on the floor of our kitchen.
Sounds depressingly familiar, eh?
It wasn’t until after we’d published Now the Hell Will Start that we learned of Dawless’s intriguing backstory. In 1931, as a Stanford undergrad, he published some erotic poetry about his male lover. He was forced to leave the university due to the backlash. His object of his literary affection, Harry Hay, would later go on to found the Mattachine Society.