EVERETT — Jeanne-Marie Osterman wrote a memoir in narrative poetry to keep her father’s memory alive.
Osterman is the author of “Shellback,” a new book of poems that pay tribute to her dad, John D. Osterman, a lifelong Everett resident and Navy World War II veteran who survived a kamikaze attack aboard the USS Nevada.
As April is National Poetry Month, Osterman will read from “Shellback” for the Everett Public Library’s Everett Poetry Night on April 20 via Crowdcast.
“Many of the poems take place in Everett,” said Osterman, an Everett High School graduate who now lives in New York City. “My father lived in Everett all his life — 98 years. But the soul of the book deals with the tragedies of war, and the challenges of caring for a parent in their old age.”
John Osterman was a pioneer logger who helped found the first shingle mill in Granite Falls. It’s now the Miller Shingle Co.
After he was drafted in 1944, Osterman sailed to the South Pacific where he fought in the Battle of Okinawa — the second largest battle of WWII after D-Day — in which 100,000 Japanese and 50,000 Americans were killed. For his service, he earned two battle stars.
A kamikaze crashed into the USS Nevada on March 27, 1945, killing 11 and wounding 49. The debris from the plane missed Osterman by just 20 feet, his daughter said.
After the war, Osterman returned to Everett to raise three daughters with his wife, Fran. Jeanne-Marie is his youngest.
In “Shellback,” Osterman remembers her father from her mid-century childhood to his death at 98 in 2017. The book is set in her Pacific Northwest hometown and the Pacific theater of World War II. Her poems speak of love, forgiveness, tragedy and grief.
“Shellback” — the title is slang for a veteran sailor — is a plainspoken portrait of a World War II naval combat veteran.
Osterman, 68, writes about the nostalgia of her childhood days trying “to be his boy,” followed by the nightmares her father witnessed during World War II. With a daughter’s devotion, she then writes about wishing to understand him and caring for him in his last years.
“My father never spoke of his war experiences until he was in his 90s when he told me of some of the horrors he’d witnessed,” she said. “Like many of those who served, he wanted to come home, get back to normal and forget the war.
“I asked him once, ‘What was war like?’ ‘Noisy,’ he said. ‘The guns were as long as the Doug firs that line I-5.’”
Osterman said her book is a tribute not only to her father, but to all of the men who served in World War II.
‘As this ‘greatest generation,’ who fought in WWII dies out, I wanted to pay tribute to how bravely they served,” she said. “The poems in ‘Shellback’ are meant, in part, to help us remember the sacrifices they made — simple and ordinary men like my father.”
Osterman is donating a portion of book sales to the Walter Reed Society in support of veterans suffering from PTSD.
Lisa Labovitch read Osterman’s book and loved it. Labovitch is a history specialist at the Everett Public Library. She can relate to Osterman’s narrative style of poetry.
“It was very compelling,” she said. “There was a lot of trauma in her family that came out of World War II, and the way she incorporates it into her work is brutally honest. She writes about how her father’s what seems to be PTSD from his experiences in the war affect their relationship. It’s a vivid picture.”
Labovitch said the poems also illustrate both father and daughter’s deep roots in Everett.
The Everett poems are “Canyon Creek Logging, 1937,” “Ours Was A Divided Town,” “Rains of Yesteryear,” “‘57 Olds,” “On the Stillaguamish River,” “The String,” “Bikini Express” and “Da Vinci Theater” — but Osterman meant for the poems to be read in order.
Also the author of the poetry collection “There’s a Hum,” Osterman’s poems have appeared in Borderlands, Cathexis Northwest, 45th Parallel Magazine, The Madison Review, Bluestem and SLAB. She was a finalist for the 2018 Joy Harjo Poetry Award and the 2017 Levis Prize in Poetry.
After graduating from Gonzaga University, Osterman received a master’s degree in linguistics from San Francisco State University. She retired from a 30-year career as an advertising copywriter in New York City so she could focus on writing poetry.
She has studied poetry with the late William Packard at New York University, Cornelius Eady, Mark Bibbins at New York’s 92nd Street Y and with Matthew Lippman. Osterman now works as a poetry editor for Cagibi, a journal of prose and poetry.
Her father was living at the Sunrise View Retirement Villa when he told her about the war. She visited him three times per year.
“I’m so glad he told me,” Osterman said. “I always loved him, but this put me in awe of him. He held those war experiences in all those years — and they were almost lost.”
Osterman has donated a copy of “Shellback” to the Everett Public Library and the library at Everett High School, her alma mater. Her hope is that her father will be remembered in her poems.
“I think of my father as a part of Everett history,” she said. “He was a pioneer logger, founder of the area’s first shingle mill, combat vet of World War II. He was an ordinary man, but in some ways, extraordinary.”
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; firstname.lastname@example.org; @sarabruestle.
If you stream
The Everett Public Library presents “Writers Live: Everett Poetry Night” at 5 p.m. April 20 via Crowdcast. Jeanne-Marie Osterman and Steve K. Bertrand are the two featured poets, whose work is inspired by their lives and experiences in Everett. Osterman is the author of poetry collections “There’s a Hum” and “Shellback.” Bertrand is the author of more than 35 books — many of them featuring haiku collections — including the latest “Old Neanderthals.” Register at www.crowdcast.io/e/everettpoetry. A link to the event will be emailed after registration. Call 425-257-8000 or go to www.epls.org for more information.
By Jeanne-Marie Osterman
Paloma Press. 82 pages. $16.