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Brian Pohanka photo by Jim Wassel  

A Memorial Tribute to
Brian C. Pohanka
(March 20, 1955 - June 15, 2005)

The Soul of an Idealistic, Noble Soldier


Brian's memorial tribute continues from Page 2: The Great War


Psychology, Fine Arts, Travels, and Nature

Psychology

As one might have guessed, based on the commentary he sometimes made about the subjects of his studies, Brian was interested in psychology. In particular, Brian was drawn to the theories of Carl Gustav Jung. On November 29, 1999, he commented on a piece I had sent him:

Thanks -- isn't it interesting the subconscious or dream-state imagery? Archetypal I suppose. This is why [Carl Gustav] Jung is so important. I have several of his books and essays -- On Synchronicity, etc. These things have a timeless and also a moral and philosophical import....

Art

Not only did Brian appreciate poetry of the Great War era, he was also fond of music—in particular, of the classical form—and art—mainly historical oil paintings. On June 27, 1999, Brian sent me comments he made in an email reply to a friend regarding a review on a Philadelphia exhibit of Maxfield Parrish's paintings:

Interesting review -- I can see the element of kitsch, but also I have found in some of [Maxfield] Parrish's work an ethereal beauty -- looking at our world through a filter that over clarifies, almost surrealizes, the images. In some respect it reminds me of [English author J.R.R.] Tolkien's world (Lord of the Rings and all that) -- in Tolkien's world one does not sweat, get mosquito bites, relieve one's bowels in the woods -- and so on. If you know what I mean. This comes back to why I find myself so increasingly fascinated with the First World War as the ultimate shaper of our modern world -- or Western world culture anyhow. The transition from idealism to cynicism -- hope to despair -- glorification to mockery -- and so forth, on so many levels -- and the reflection thereof in art, architecture and so on -- a purposeful ugliness masquerading as utilitarianism (isn't murder and genocide the ultimate expression? Thus WWII as mere postscript of the earlier cataclysm) -- well it is where we are now. Thus a certain wistful appeal to many (Parrish posters on the wall, little ersatz Williamsburg communities, old buildings gutted but the facade maintained -- concealing the cubicle dungeons of the utilitarian workplace behind the candy wrapper-- Disney, etc.) -- that we see today in an almost visceral longing on the part of those who've grown up and been weaned on sterility, selfishness, hopelessness, ugliness, cyncism, uselessness, etc, etc.

It is easy to scoff at Parrish -- though I find this "critics" scoffing at Pre-Raphaelitism more inexcusable -- that movement was at least a reflection of its time -- like most modern people (critics especially) the pen (or wordprocessor) is dipped in bile. Still, I can see the point. I think Oscar Wilde had some humorous quips about critics.

In any case -- we [my wife Cricket and I] will have to go check this one [exhibit] out. Like Tolkien's world, Parrish's art has had a certain innocent appeal for me -- evoking something that if it ever did exist in some shape or form -- has long since been trampled into the sludge of our clinical modern world.

Literature

On April 25, 2004 Brian wrote that one of the latest books he read was about J.R.R. Tolkien:

I was at a Civil War preservation conference in Nashville. It was warm and humid there with threats of thunderstorms. I had not been to Nashville in a while.

Recently was reading a book on Tolkien and the Great War -- really more of a study of his early interest in creating languages and writing poems and stories about characters set in those fictional times, but did have some material on the First World War, and his three good friends, two of whom were killed on the Somme in 1916. Will check out your [new blog] site when I get a moment, best wishes.

Film

Besides his enjoyment of paintings, architecture, and literature, Brian also enjoyed the cinema. On December 30, 2003, he wrote:

Hope Christmas went well for you, busy here of course with family and so forth -- hard to believe another year is upon us.

Your workplace seems to do a lot of parties, that is good for morale I would think.

Of the recent movies, being a Lord of the Rings fan, of course "The Two Towers" is the one I had to see, having seen the other two.

Travels

Brian enjoyed traveling and felt fortunate to have seen many places in his lifetime. On January 15, 2001, he replied to a message in which I inquired about his favorite vacation destinations:

Well, that is a tough question in a way. I suppose I would have to say the American West -- Montana and Wyoming, Yellowstone, the Beartooth Highway, Little Bighorn, the Bighorn Mountains and so on are among my favorite places on earth. As far as Europe, there is much to see in Paris and while I am generally not fond of cities it is a pretty city, and a nice place to visit. There is a lot to see in Europe as you know -- Bavaria, Austria, Italy -- the Alps, the Dolomites -- Lake Garda -- Tuscany -- all that....

Nature

Brian loved animals, plants, and natural beauty. He felt a spiritual connection with living things and through this love of nature introduced me to writers outside of the wars he studied. Upon reading a message I sent him, he commented in his email on May 13, 1999:

<< So this is what it is in life: To find that inner joy, that happiness,
that peace. It is there in all the simple things in this world: A
blossoming flower, a little bird, a bee; the colors of the sky at dusk,
the sound of the wind through trees.
>>

When I read the above I immediately thought of a wonderful little book, written in 1883, The Story of My Heart, by the English author Richard Jefferies. See if you can locate it. I think you would enjoy it. There are passages in it of a rare beauty; idealism; sense of Nature -- spiritual -- very fine, if little known volume....

The Story of My Heart I first heard of through a chapter in a little Penguin book -- Mysticism by a fellow named Hapbold or Happold or somesuch.... I think I was reading it my freshman year in college and the next year I wrote a paper on a comparison of Thoreau and Jefferies -- for a class -- the two having some similarities and also, of course, many differences.

The book reminds me somewhat of some of [Joshua] Chamberlain's spiritual views -- but above all has a great love of Nature reflected in it, and the connection of earth and sky to soul -- it is really a series of essays or flowing thoughts -- in no ways an autobiography -- but there is much of a very profound beauty in it, I think. I see that there is a Richard Jefferies Society in England -- does not surprise me -- but he remains extremely obscure, even there, and certainly here.

I have an early 20th century limited edition version of it I picked up for a pittance -- and from time to time I pull it off the shelf and read a bit of it.

I found a copy of Jefferies' book, began reading it, and sent my impression about this fine literary work to Brian. On June 23, 1999, he wrote:

Glad you are enjoying Jefferies -- yes, there is certainly an eccentricity there -- and he is essentially writing as if he were speaking -- sort of a stream of consciousness sort of thing -- a "My Dinner With Andre" type of approach (the film, maybe you've seen it, people either love it or hate it -- I roared with laughter when I saw it).

I have never heard [Benjamin] Britten's 'War Requiem' though certainly have heard of it....

I am getting a draft in Pounds Sterling so as to facilitate joing the Wilfred Owen Society. Also reading the recently released biography of [Siegfried] Sassoon.

I may go to G[ettys]burg -- not sure. Will phone Bill [Styple] and chat with him about it. He left a message for me yesterday. Usually I am in Montana this time of year [for the anniversary of the Battle at Little Bighorn] but will go in September instead, continuing work on the re-photographic "then and now" book I am working on with Dr. James Brust -- of the Little Bighorn battlefield -- another major longtime interest of mine.

After reading a message I sent to Brian about my rock collection, he responded on May 17, 1999:

I have a few rocks -- one from the stone wall at Gettysburg, several from my former home I took when the place was sold -- and you are right in that they are about the closest thing, tangibly, to being immortal -- they will outlast us -- still being there when we are dust and ashes.

I am a collector of totems -- things that for me are the equivalent of the "medicine" that Native American peoples would carry around -- personal things, little tokens, vested with symbolism of a personal sort.

On August 2, 1999, Brian wrote to me about an illustration I sent him of the morning glories in my backyard:

Thanks -- I have always been partial to Morning Glories -- I have a wild version that sometimes grows here -- though it has been so dry I am not sure what all, if anything, will come up -- here they are seen usually later in the year.

I shared with Brian a poem I wrote about my friend's ailing cat, Chanute, and Brian—who had several cats of his own whom he loved dearly—responded on July 28, 1999:

Thank you so much for the nice poem about Chanute -- and of course it is by such things that we keep their memories alive, the dear creatures, as we keep alive the names of heroes who risked and gave so much....

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Brian's tribute concludes with:

Personal Struggles and Triumphs

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Index to Brian's Pages
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