Exclusive interview with "Dr. Edward Tick"
Dr. Edward Tick explores invisible wounds, healing, and restoration after war in his upcoming poetry book Coming Home in Viet Nam
In addition to being a psychotherapist, activist, and journey leader, Dr. Edward Tick is also a lifelong writer and poet. For over four decades he has worked with veterans, helping them realize the transformative power of healing and reconciliation. In the following interview, Dr. Edward Tick discusses his upcoming book, Coming Home in Viet Nam; and his first-hand experiences with the healing properties of writing and poetry.
Tell us about your background and career working with veterans.
I have been working with veterans for over 40 years. I began as a young psychotherapist in the mid-1970s seeing Vietnam War vets in crisis. This was about five years before Post-traumatic Stress Disorder was created as a modern diagnosis in 1980. Not having to serve in that war and protesting it myself, I was seeking to fulfill “alternative service” to my generation and our nation. I also felt we had not fulfilled the protest movement goals. Not just end a war, but we had promised to “bring the boys home.” They weren’t boys, they weren’t home, and we were not giving them what warriors need to return to society.
I became committed to this work as a lifelong calling. After about a decade of the best therapy I could give, I realized that our country and health care systems do not know how to restore people after war. I began researching and utilizing worldwide warrior traditions for healing our vets. I have been utilizing and writing about holistic healing of war wounds ever since and it is an ongoing commitment. By now I have worked with veterans of almost every American war large, small, and unknown from WWII to the present.
My annual journeys to Viet Nam began in 2000 as another holistic attempt to bring healing of war wounds through immersion in, reconciliation, and atonement with former foes. These journeys have brought immense healing for veterans and civilians from both sides and wisdom about how we can indeed heal the invisible wounds of war. Veterans from the recent sandbox wars have accompanied some of these trips as they want to heal and reconcile but are unable to return to their war zones.
Coming Home in Viet Nam is the culmination of years and years of writing poetry. When did you begin writing poetry?
As an unusually serious, well-read, and lonely child, I began writing poetry in grade school and became committed to it in high school. I vowed that whatever else I would do with my career I would always write poetry and use it as a psycho-spiritual discipline for steering my way through life. Poetry is the language of the soul. With it, we can achieve the deepest and most sincere penetrations into the quality of life, heart, culture, spirit.
I have been writing poetry about warriors and the war experience for as long as I have been working with them—over 40 years. This in part lets me clean out emotional toxins and stories I absorb through this challenging work and offer witness to the public unaware of these deep matters.
I have led 19 annual healing journeys to Viet Nam since 2000 – only halted by the pandemic. I have written my way through each one. Further, Viet Nam is a highly literate and cultured country. They love poetry and all the arts, so the genre fits the work well. I urge our veterans to write poetry and I organize poetry readings between their veterans and ours when in Viet Nam.
Why did you choose to tell this story through poetry?
The travel writing style I use is called haibun. It is an ancient Japanese form used by wandering poet-priests that consists of a travel narrative interspersed at the high moments with haiku. I immediately and intuitively began using that form when I began to travel to Viet Nam – an Asian form for Asian culture. I used haiku my first few trips then expanded to include other forms as well.
Poetry can penetrate our depths, provide wisdom, give us vicarious experience, allow us to penetrate and portray others’ souls, paint the world in lyricism that reflects its beauty, horrors, and all our emotions.
What surprised you most about writing this collection?
My biggest surprise was this – I witnessed and facilitated so much transformational healing leading these journeys to Viet Nam that I knew I had to write a book about it. I had thought it would have to be nonfiction but reviewing my numerous travel journals I realized I had already written that book – in poetry – and that poetry could carry more heart and soul than prose, which would be best for this story.
When did you realize you wanted to eventually publish your poetry as a collection?
I am grateful to my publisher Luis Rodriguez and his press Tia Chucha for inviting this full 20-year collection. Since beginning these journeys in 2000, I realized there is so much that Americans need to know regarding war, our vets, the Vietnamese, and their healing after war. I have published prose on this subject. I had organized my poetry focusing on Vietnamese women for a smaller book and submitted it to Luis. Bless him, one of a writers’ serendipitous experiences! Luis knew my work with veterans from his own work with them and gang members in prisons. He invited the full collection. So, I knew I wanted to publish my poetry about Viet Nam but am blessed that the full 20-year collection was invited by someone who appreciated the full scope of my work.
Based on your experience, what are some of the healing properties of writing poetry?
Poetry and its composition are loaded with healing properties.
Poetry works by imagery. Our psyches speak in images. We are traumatized by painful and destructive imagery. Poetry allows us to explore and release the negative imagery in safety and replace it with positive, life-affirming imagery.
Writing poetry can be cathartic. Violence survivors need and deserve practices that enable them to release their old toxic emotions, purify internally, and replace those with the good.
Writing is mid-way between the actual experience and our daily lives. It allows both writer and audience to safely encounter each other and the stories on the bridge of poetry while remaining safe and grounded.
Traditional cultures have always used the arts for warrior healing and in fact many required warriors to have an art form to balance the warrior energies and behaviors. Many samurai warriors were haiku poets or landscape painters. Native American warriors used many arts – songs, painting, drumming, dancing – for strengthening and healing. Warriors need life-affirming arts to cleanse, heal, give witness, experience themselves as creators. Trauma survivors benefit from an expressive form into which to dump their memories and emotions and transform them through the arts.
Poetry is a powerful means for sharing and community building, and for discovering what is universal in our experiences. In our poetry readings in both English and Vietnamese in-country, commonly a vet from one country will leap up and grab the poem of a former foe, read it in his own language and declare, “His story is mine! This is my poem too! We are the same!” Sharing poetry enables former foes to enter a universal brother-sisterhood of warriors. Then, as Tam Tien, a Viet Cong veteran said to my group, “From now on we must be the lips and tongue of the same mouth telling the world the same stories.” We become so through our poetry.
Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
My three areas of expertise are warriors, Viet Nam, and Greece. I am always seeking the most comprehensive tools for growth and healing. I am presently finishing a non-fiction book entitled The Future of Ancient Healing. It explores the holistic, mythological, cultural, and psycho-spiritual origins of psychology and medicine in ancient Greece, how we can use it, and what we can learn from those practices today. This book is almost completed and will be published next year. And, as in Viet Nam, I have written my way through lifelong study and three decades of journeys to Greece. I also have a completed lifetime collection of poetry from Greece entitled Love and the Sea that I seek to publish.
To learn more about Edward Tick, his poetry, and his work with veterans, please click here.