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My Secret Wars of 1984 by Dennis Etzel, Jr

Price: $16.00

My Secret Wars of 1984 by Dennis Etzel, Jr Artwork by Elaine M. Rodriguez

To read My Secret Wars of 1984 is to ride an old wooden rollercoaster through a spacious gallery of stained-glass windows, all their colorful shards having been stolen, shattered, then chewed into shape: what we have here are gorgeous and wise assemblages of sharp, scavenged graffiti. Ricocheting from Pac-Man to Topeka to institutional structures to AIDS awareness to Reagan, Dennis Etzel, Jr. masters the skills of fragmentation and disharmony without losing one bit of torque. Sharpen your political acumen on this poetry-memoir of the highest order—and discover much pleasure in the process.

—Amy King, author of The Missing Museum

The sentence inscribes a trauma, bumps over a secret, and accretes toward continuance, which is life. In My Secret Wars of 1984, Dennis Etzel, Jr. constructs little sentence survival packets, brimming with Reaganite Cold War fear and the inescapable “I am” of a teenage boy in a threatening world. Our Superhero of Fragility threads these lines with tenderness, wit, and humor, and comes out the other side more whole than before.

—Allison Cobb, author of Green-Wood

The world of 1984 has a deft tenacity in the hands of Dennis Etzel, Jr. This book blends the personal to the greater political as only the best possible memoir can do. We are all in this world together and the strangest things occur, sometimes when other strange things occur, and I thank Mr. Etzel for his brilliant, sharp reminder.

—CAConrad, author of ECODEVIANCE

Some years brand our history: 1861, 1968, 2001; others are best known as fictions, like 1984, made famous by George Orwell in the real year of 1949. The actual 1984 featured Ronald Reagan's race against Walter Mondale, the discovery of the AIDS virus, dead U.S. Marines in Lebanon, and Prince's Purple Rain album. It was an era in which popular culture and foreign policy came together in Star Wars. Dennis Etzel, Jr., then a teen-ager, played a part in that history. His mother came out as a lesbian in the conservative city of Topeka, Kansas. In prose poem boxes, with sentences arranged alphabetically, the confinement of these years is enacted and challenged. Using sources that include Orwell's novel and Lyn Hejinian's "Rejection of Closure" (another artifact of the 1980s), Etzel re-constructs the era and proposes some ways out, foremost among them feminism. Using the language of that era, Etzel pries opens its boxes of secrets.

—Susan M. Schultz, author of Dementia Blog, vols. 1 & 2 and Memory Cards: 2011-2012 Series (Singing Horse Press)

“My fellow Americans,” Ronald Reagan joked during a microphone sound check in 1984, “I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” This was the same year that the infamous “Doomsday Clock” of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists was set to three minutes to midnight, the closest the clock had come to the zero hour of annihilation in 31 years. How did we get out of the 1980s alive? Dennis Etzel, Jr.’s My Secret Wars of 1984 attempts to answer this question, documenting a year in which the young poet was surrounded by the apocalyptic millennialism of the Reagan administration at the same time that his mother was coming out in conservative Topeka, Kansas. Deploying language appropriated from comics, gaming, and political speeches of the era, Etzel frames these texts with urgent appropriations from work in poetics and gender studies that he would read later in life—when he, indeed, had survived the ’80s. Even when the young poet of 1984 revels in pop culture escapist pleasures, he discovers that it is impossible to transcend political reality. Amid the kinetic “flash of red and yellow” of his comic books, he admits, “I still hear my father’s warplanes.” Etzel’s masterful merging of the personal and political is matched by an equally vital attention to the politics of poetic form. Unfolding in wildly appropriative, politically astute prose poems totaling 366 sentences—one for every day of that leap year—My Secret Wars of 1984 offers a moving account of a young boy’s effort to find a new language for public and private worlds constantly under threat of extinction.

—Tony Trigilio, author of The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood)

Dennis Etzel Jr. lives with Carrie and the boys in Topeka, Kansas where he teaches English at Washburn University. He has an MFA from The University of Kansas, and an MA and Graduate Certificate in Women and Gender Studies from Kansas State University. His chapbook The Sum of Two Mothers (ELJ Publications 2013) and My Secret Wars of 1984 has work which appeared in Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, BlazeVOX, Fact-Simile, 1913: a journal of poetic forms, 3:AM, Tarpaulin Sky, DIAGRAM, and others. He is a TALK Scholar for the Kansas Humanities Council, and volunteers for the YWCA in Topeka, Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge, and other Kansas spaces. Please feel free to connect with him at

Elaine M. Rodriguez is a Kansas-based artist, illustrator, and freelance graphic designer. Her work has been featured in XYZ magazine as well as other local venues and exhibitions. Elaine earned her degree studying art in both Kansas and Arizona. Through subtle design and evocative line-work, she hopes to draw you into the subject that a poet, author or she herself conveys. She has loved storytelling through visual and verbal mediums as long as she can remember.

Book Information:

· Paperback: 102 pages

· Binding: Perfect-Bound

· Publisher: BlazeVOX [books] 

· ISBN: 978-1-60964-223-5



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