Reading the poetry collection The Drum That Beats Within Us by Mike Bond brings to mind the concept of “warrior poet.” The phrase came to my mind unbidden, and then I had to go searching around for why it did and what the common understanding might be.
I found a definition at Urban Dictionary. Like others, it cites words at the ending of the 1995 movie Braveheart, which told the story of Scottish nationalist and hero William Wallace: “In the Year of our Lord 1314, patriots of Scotland — starving and outnumbered — charged the fields of Bannockburn. They fought like warrior poets; they fought like Scotsmen and won their freedom.”
The two words seem almost contradictory. A warrior poet is simultaneously tough and tender. He can lead other warriors into battle and be a ferocious opponent, giving no quarter, and return to the campfire after battle and recite both epic poems and love poems. He is a man who fights to the death and has the tender, feeling soul of a poet.
The poems of The Drum That Beats Within Us aren’t about a warrior poet as much as they’re written by a warrior poet. Bond wages war against environmental degradation and the plight of native Americans; he writes loves poems; and he struggles to make sense of contemporary life.
And here, in a poem simply structured, he combines several thematic elements.
What does he see?
This battered earth,
bright with poison.
Flying so easy
life so dangerous and hard.
Does he hate
Or only scorn us?
Or is he simply waiting
for us to die?
You follow that crow as he flies and hovers above “this battered earth,” including the striking metaphor of “green lawns / bright with poison.” And the crow may simply be waiting for humanity to wither away.
Bond is a poet, novelist, ecologist, and war and human rights journalist. His novels include Snow, Saving Paradise, The Last Savanna, Killing Main, House of Jaguar, Tibetan Cross, Assassins, and Holy War — all largely based on his travels and experiences while a reporter.
The Drum That Beats Within Us presents us with a world gone awry, a world in which the warrior poet has fought, and a world in which only love survives. And that waiting crow.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish