Okinawa mental health counselor points to beauty and solace in poetry
(Today in Pacific Spotlight, Stars and Stripes talks with Raymond Keen, a mental health counselor on Okinawa who is also a poet. He recently had five poems published in the prestigious American Poetry Review.)
You’ve spent decades as a psychologist, first as a Navy officer (including in Vietnam), then as a Department of Defense school psychologist. When did you begin writing poetry?
As a college undergraduate. I was fascinated about the way poets could get away with saying anything they pleased and it still made a kind of sense. … A good poem is always a surprise and I found myself wanting to surprise people with what I wrote.
How would you answer a young servicemember who asked you why he should read poetry?
Poetry … contains a kind of honesty and directness not found in other kinds of writing. Contact with a great poet is contact with the possibilities of expression. This can be very exhilarating and deeply rewarding.
Do people turn more to poetry at certain times in their lives?
During difficult times people may turn to poetry that provides solace and beauty at the same time. The Bible is filled with great poetic writing. Of course, some poetry can be rather unsettling … The reader of poetry needs to be open and willing to be unsettled a little bit.
If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?
Right here in Okinawa. My sweet wife, Kemme, and I love Okinawa and its people! I also think it is a privilege working for the Marine Corps and Navy at the MCCS counseling and advocacy program at Camp Foster.
Wars often produce memorable poems and poets. Why?
War brings out the best and worst in human beings. The greatest crime in our society is legitimated in war, so that it becomes OK to kill the enemy. But human beings were not built to see and do the things that war require. Yet, out of war comes the stories of unbelievable courage and honor and sacrifice, as pure as anything you might encounter. The intensity of war, once experienced, can never be forgotten, and begs to be written about.
Almost everyone has a guilty pleasure. What’s yours?
What’s your most treasured possession?
The ring my father gave me just before I went to Vietnam in 1967.
And your greatest regret?
The early death of my father.
How does what you write today differ from what you wrote in college? What might today’s 20- or 30-year-olds expect to gain if they live a few more decades?
In a word, wisdom. For most people, artists and poets included, it takes many years to make sense out of one’s life and sometimes a lifetime to learn how to express the meaning and beauty of one’s experience.
I hope to get my volume of poetry — “Down in Heaven, Up in Hell” — published. Then, when I can find the time, keep writing.
Title:Mental health counselor, Family Advocacy Program, Marine Corps Community Services, Okinawa
Avocation:Poet. Recently had five poems published in the prestigious American Poetry Review, July-August 2005
Know someone whose accomplishments, talents, job, hobby, volunteer work, awards or good deeds qualify them for 15 minutes of fame? How about someone whose claim to glory is a bit out of the ordinary — even, dare we say, oddball? Call Sharen Johnson at Stars and Stripes with the person’s name and contact information at DSN 229-3305 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.