John Drury Awarded Major Poetry Prize
To most people the terms undercover agent and poet sound almost antithetical. But not John Drury, whose work epitomizes French author Jean Cocteaus statement: The poet doesnt invent. He listens. Drurys ability to see and hear recently won him the prestigious Paris Review Prize in Poetry for
The Refugee Camp
, his book-length sequence of poems.
The collection is based on his 1971-1973 experiences at the West German Refugee Center near Nuremberg, where he worked undercover for the U.S. Army, posing as a civilian in the American liaison office.
He recalls, When refugees were processed, they had to come to our office (as well as others, such as those of the United Nations and various philanthropic organizations) and get signatures. We used that opportunity to have them fill out questionnaires. If a refugee had military information (as a border guard who had escaped to the west certainly would), wed interview the person and invite him to travel to Munich to be interrogated.
The Refugee Camp
recounts Drurys observations of the events and people he encountered during his stay at the center. One of the most compelling is Section 36 of the 48-part title sequence:
Note how a man walks carefully
on pebbles by the roadside, trying to coax
the soles of his second-hand shoes to last longer.
Note how the benches in a terminal feel softer
than the stares of passing passengers
who pull their luggage on wheels behind them.
Note how the stories about fruit trees,
blossoming on a pools bank, refresh more
than the lost oasis ever will.
Note how some nights, the headlights
of trucks jab like charging horns
just before the bull gores the befuddled matador,
how some nights, an angel with two swords
or two crutches approaches without expression.
Note how random shots after midnight
give way to the shrapnel of dreams in the morning.
Note how security forces
strap on their helmets, their bullet-proof vests,
their holsters, their extra clips,
how even the police dogs wear gas masks.
This book, which will be published by Zoo Press, is not the first for the 20-year McMicken veteran. His others include
The Disappearing Town, Burning the Aspern Papers, Creating Poetry
The Poetry Dictionary
. A revised paperback of the latter will be published by Writers Digest later this year.