“I like to say that I started my undergraduate education and menopause at the same time,” says Mary Hennessy, who’s currently a graduate English student at North Carolina State University. In her “other life” as a RN, she says, she worked in many disparate areas in nursing: Army Nurse Corps, oncology, and Hospice of Wake County. After a tour of duty in the military, she was trained as a nurse anesthetist at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
“A friend of mine, Becky Gee, and I went to a Writer’s Workshop at Meredith last summer,” she says. While she had written some fiction and nonfiction, she had never tried to write poetry. “I had the idea that poetry was sacred ground. I still do. I signed up for Betty Adcock’s workshop because I had heard her read and I was awed by what I heard and by the woman doing the reading. I started writing a few poems with Betty and a small group of women.” She then took a class with John Balaban, the poet-in-residence at N.C. State. It was while taking his class that Hennessy wrote her winning poem. “Now writing poems is all I want to do,” she says.
Hennessy says that the poem, “1967: Brooke Army Medical Center,” was written after Sept. 11, when her son called home and wanted to talk about a response to the violence. Memories of the Vietnam war came back during that phone call. “I have lived long enough to know that a response is going to cost somebody,” she says.
Hennessy has been published before, in The Independent, The News & Observer and Windhover, the literary journal at N.C. State.
“The opening stanza of this poem lifts the Vietnam helicopters from Apocalypse Now as entrée into the stateside medical ward where the war’s ‘leftover boys’ are treated for their wounds,” begins judge James Applewhite. “The scenes seem immediate, as if now, implying perhaps how long it takes for some things to heal. Some things never do, of course, like the paralyzed or amputated limbs that condemn some to wheelchairs. Still, these men (‘really, they were just boys’) battle to get back whole personhood, with their wheelchair races, trips out to bars, negotiations with prostitutes. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves, and the poem admires and wonders at them without feeling a diminishing pity. This poem is compassionate without being reverential. Its narrative and its attitude coincide in a feeling of authenticity.”