“In ‘Jungle Surrender’ the figures in the foreground are in a semiconscious state of concern about a relationship between their offsprings, the embracing couple in the mid ground. My scout dog and I become voyeurs hidden in the jungle. The figure with raised hands represents my surrender to the memories and hallucinations of war. The mournful howl of the lone wolf echoes throughout the burning glow of the agent orange landscape.”[i]
The artist Don Cooper was born in Texas in 1944 and received his BFA in 1966 and his MFA in 1968, both from the University of Georgia. He has held a variety of faculty positions at the University of Georgia, West Georgia College, and the Atlanta College of Art over the ensuing years. His work is represented in several public collections including the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.
Cooper was drafted within days of receiving his MFA and served as a ‘scout dog handler’ in Vietnam in 1969-1970. After the war, he often painted dogs and other domestic animals but didn’t directly address images related to that war until the mid-1980’s. He felt that these paintings, including “Jungle Surrender,” were a sort of purge of the trauma of that war.
Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana in 1947. He served as an Information Specialist in the United States Army and was also stationed in Viet Nam in 1969-1970. He received an MA in writing in 1978 from Colorado State University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of California, Irvine, in 1980.
Komunyakaa has published more than fourteen collections of poetry including Dien Cai Dau in 1988 and Neon Vernacular for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994. He has held several teaching positions including the University of New Orleans, Indiana University, and Princeton University. Currently he serves as Distinguished Senior Poet in New York University’s graduate creative writing program.
“Jungle Surrender (after Don Cooper’s painting)”
“Ghosts share us with the past & future
but we struggle to hold on to each breath.
Moving toward what waits behind the trees,
the prisoner goes deeper into himself, away
from how a man’s heart divides him, deeper
into the jungle’s indigo mystery & beauty,
with both hands raised into the air, only
surrendering halfway: the small man inside
waits like a photo in a shirt pocket, refusing
to raise his hands, silent & uncompromising
as the black scout dog beside him. Love & hate
flesh out the real man, how he wrestles
himself through a hallucination of blues
& deep purples that set the day on fire.
He sleepwalks a labyrinth of violet,
measuring footsteps from one tree to the next,
knowing we’re all somehow connected.
What would I have said?
The real interrogator is a voice within.
I would have told them about my daughter
in Phoenix, how young she was,
about my first woman, anything
but how I helped ambush two Viet Cong
while plugged into the Grateful Dead.
For some, a soft windy voice makes them
snap. Blues & purples. Some place between
central Georgia & Tay Ninh Province—
the vision a knot of blood unravels
& parts of us we dared put into the picture
come together; the prisoner goes away
almost whole. But he will always touch
fraying edges of things, to feel hope break
like the worm that rejoins itself
under the soil . . . head to tail.”[ii]
[i] Cooper, Don; An artist’s statement regarding “Jungle Surrender” as contained in an e-mail correspondence with this writer, 12 July 2016.
[ii] Komunyakaa, Yusef; “Jungle Surrender (after Don Cooper’s painting)” Dien Cai Dau; Wesleyan University Press; Middletown, Connecticut; 1988; pp. 37-38.