The Far Side of Lamont Steptoe

Medic knew of Lamont Steptoe but first encountered him at a Groiler Bookstore poetry reading in Boston, MA in 2014. Who was this strange articulate fast talking unassuming dredlocked Vietnam vet? I regretted not sticking around to find out.

In 2019, at the first day of the Waging Peace in Vietnam photo exhibit sponsored by the William Joiner Institute at UMass Boston, after Lamont gave an impassioned reading, we spoke. Or rather, Lamont did. Medic barely got a word in edgewise. My one question-who were you with in Vietnam-opened a Pandora’s Box of memories, stories, incidents, events, tumbling pell-mell one after another, the heated tropic past resurrected in an continuous rapid fire river of speech, Lamont pausing only occasionally for breath.  A scout dog handler from July 69 to December 70 with the 25th Infantry, Lamont walked point and saw intense combat. And was the target of racism from GIs and the Vietnamese.

Steptoe returned home a Black man deeply troubled by his role in the American war in Vietnam, and by the America that he returned to. After a time he enrolled in and graduated from Temple University, became a photographer, publisher, and has written eight books of poetry and received numerous awards for his work. He is an immensely likeable and compassionate man and a fine poet.

Recently Medic stumbled across a short film about Lamont Steptoe by Rattapallax film maker Ram Devineni. By coincidence twenty years ago Medic met Ram while walking down Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village with Rattapallax founding editor-in-chief, and Medic’s good friend, the late actor, editor, prose writer and poet George Dickerson. Ram was the financial partner and publisher of Rattapallax-at the time, under George’s aegis, a much respected literary journal. But George was pushed out as head editor, which broke his heart, and his association with Ram and Rattapallax ended. The journal morphed from hard copy to CD to tablet format. It does not appear to be accepting new submissions. The original name-taken from a Wallace Stevens poem-survives in Ram Devineni’s website.


Wikipedia: Lamont Steptoe

The Veteran, the newspaper of Vietnam Veteran’s Against the War (page 20)

Top Photo: Lamont Steptoe reads a poem he wrote based on his war experience. Vietnam veteran and poet W.D. Erhart sits to his right. photo: Brad Larrison for WHYY)