THE BOOK: Shellback.
PUBLISHED IN: 2021
THE AUTHOR: Jeanne-Marie Osterman.
THE PUBLISHER: Paloma Press.
Established in 2016, PALOMA PRESS is a San Francisco Bay Area-based, Filipino American women-led, independent literary press publishing poetry, prose, and limited-edition books. The press believes in the power of the literary arts, how it can create empathy, bridge divides, change the world. To this end, Paloma Press has released fundraising books, and continues to donate a portion of its proceeds to nonprofits committed to working for racial and environmental justice, animal welfare, human rights, and marginalized communities.
SUMMARY: Shellback takes us to the heart of the author’s relationship with her father, a World War II Navy veteran and kamikaze survivor. Set beneath the tall trees and rainy skies of the Pacific Northwest, and the Pacific theater of World War II, the poems speak of love, forgiveness, and the tragedies of war. Vividly nostalgic and plainspoken, Shellback is both a tribute to the author’s father, and a longing for the closeness to him she could never quite achieve.
THE BACK STORY: My father fought in the Battle of Okinawa, the second largest battle of World War II after the Normandy invasion. Yet he never spoke to me of his war experiences until he was in his nineties. I was stunned by his descriptions of deafening gunfire, and the kamikaze that whirled through air aflame and crashed on the deck of his ship. He told me what it was like to be shot at, and of the bodies he helped bury at sea. But I was even more shocked realizing he’d been carrying these memories deep inside for decades. When he finally told me what he’d been through, I didn’t want his memories to be lost, so I began writing these poems. He was in assisted living at the time in the town where I grew up, and my visits there inspired more poems—about my childhood with him, and how he felt about facing the end of life.
WHY THIS TITLE?: “Shellback” is the name given to sailors when they cross the equator for the first time, and for which there‘s a traditional initiation ceremony. What today is mostly a fun celebration, as late as World War II it could take the form of a brutal hazing. Unfortunately, that was my father’s experience. He was forced to eat laxatives, crawl through ship’s garbage, and he was shocked with an electric rod until he passed out—this after serving his country in battle. The word also somewhat describes my father’s personality—he could be a bit impenetrable.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT?: My three themes—the relationship between parent and child, the tragedies of war, and caring for a parent in old age—are ones I think most people can relate to. Shellback’s plain-spoken style appeals to a wide audience. It especially resonates with baby boomers, many of whom grew up with fathers who, like my dad, were affected by war. It’s appropriate for young people, too, who might learn more about World War II through these personal narratives.
“Courageous, insightful, and unsettling poems about war and family ties.” –Kirkus Star Review
“The beautifully sequenced poems in Jeanne-Marie Osterman’s Shellback yield a searing portrait of the poet’s father as a Depression-era boy and a Navy World War II veteran, given to emotional coldness and barely repressed anger. Their poignancy resides in the poet’s filial devotion, her wish to understand him and care for him in his old age…With often haunting imagery and carefully clipped lines, she memorably portrays a man, his era, and a daughter’s unstinting love.”— Gardner McFall, On the Line
“Jeanne-Marie Osterman toggles between nightmarish scenes her father witnessed during World War II and the smaller but no less affecting traumas of his final months in a nursing home. Her language is spare and colloquial, with moments of irony and deadpan wit that illuminate every detail.” – Mark Bibbins, 13th Balloon
“Marked by candor and clear-sightedness, these poems resist soothing resolutions and easy solace, which is why they are sure to ring true to readers.” – Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Letters from Limbo
AUTHOR PROFILE: Jeanne-Marie Osterman was born in Everett, Washington. The most interesting place in that rainy mill town was the library. Her time in the stacks motivated her to be the first in her family to go to college, earning a BA in literature from Gonzaga University, and an MA in linguistics from San Francisco State. Jeanne-Marie’s education inspired her to move to New York City where she worked as an advertising copywriter for over 30 years. Once retired, she was able to pursue her passion for writing poetry. She is author of two chapbooks, All Animals Want the Same Things, winner of the Slipstream 34th Annual Poetry Chapbook Competition, and There’s a Hum (Finishing Line Press). A finalist for the 2018 Joy Harjo Poetry Award, Jeanne-Marie is poetry editor for Cagibi, a journal of prose and poetry. Shellback is her first full-length collection.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: A share of Shellback sales will be donated to a charity supporting Veterans with PTSD.
THEATER OF WAR
Here’s how it looked after the kamikaze hit,
my father says, holding the cruise book in his lap.
The Japanese plane looks like a ball
of crumpled paper on the ship’s massive deck.
Next to the wreckage, eleven mummies
wrapped in white canvas and the American flag.
KEEP OFF is written in white chalk along their feet.
One at a time we put them on a table. We used
a mess hall table. We weighted each man
with a cannon ball and tipped him into the sea.
LOCAL OUTLETS: The Corner Bookstore, New York City
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble;
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Connect with me at my website, http://www.ostermanpoetry.com or follow me at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.