Sunday, December 23, 2012

What I'm Reading: Every Seed of the Pomegranate

59ยบ ~ solid gray skies, no wind to whisper of


Back in October, David Allen Sullivan contacted me and asked if I'd review his book, Every Seed of the Pomegranate (Tebot Bach, 2012).  This kind of request makes me uneasy b/c I do not consider what I do here to be reviewing, so I let him know my approach.  I'd be glad to read the book, but I don't do professional reviews and I don't post about books that don't connect with me.  Today, I connected with Sullivan's book in a serious and heavy way.  It is a testament to the voices of the Iraq War, voices on all sides and surrounding the war.

This is the kind of book where it is imperative that one read the preface before diving in. The poems are set on the page to denote the speakers.  There are several "angel" poems in the voices of the archangels Gabriel, Raphael, Michael, and Azrael, who makes an appearance in the long poem "The Black Camel."  Iblis, the name given to the devil in the Quran, receives the last word of the angels. The voices of the angels are centered and italicized.  Poems in the personae of Americans are justified left; poems in the personae of Iraqis are justified right.  Poems written as Sullivan himself are justified left but indented to be separated from the American personae poems.  That might seem complicated, but once I started reading and grew used to the typography, it flowed quite well.  Also, the poems all take the form of linked haiku.  Given the weight of the subject, I was grateful for this form, as I was able to absorb small bits of the atrocities of war at a time and breathe out in between the stanzas.

Here's the kicker of the preface; Sullivan is not a veteran of the war.  Instead, he teaches at Cabrillo Community College and this book grew out of the fact that so many Iraq War vets had returned to the classroom and as many were telling their stories, Sullivan realized how little he knew of the "U.S. military, Iraqi history and literature, and nearby Arab cultures."  As he set about learning these subjects, the poems rose up.  Also of importance is that Sullivan recognizes his discomfort in writing about a war in which he himself did not participate.  In the preface, he mentions meeting poet Brian Turner, as many know an Iraqi War vet and author of Here, Bullet.  Turner responds to Sullivan's uneasiness with, "This war is being ignored by almost everyone. ... If citizens don't educate themselves and take an interest they do a great disservice to the vets.  Write if you're called to write."  Sullivan is and does.  The end of the book contains an extensive set of notes, detailing Sullivan's research.

These are poems of careful attention to detail, poems filled with nouns and verbs and stripped of any excess.  Again, I find this befitting of the subject matter.  In a way, I find these poems a wonderful echo of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, which pushes the subject matter of war through the excess of details.  In both extremes, the reader is unable to look away and must confront what one human may do to another in the name of war.

Here is an excerpt the voice of "Rana Abdul Mahdi" detailing a helicopter attack on Sadr City.

............................................and I felt the heat
.................................lay a heavy hand on me,
.........................................as if I was drowned

......................in head scarves.  Looked down.
...................Skin strips struck to my shredded
.............................................burqa.  My sister

.........................................crumpled in prayer.
......................Her red insides had spilled out.
..............................Nothing but blood moved.


Just a few pages later, we get the voice of "Lieutenant Colby Buzzel, Sniper Stryker Brigade."

When Hondo went down
I saw blood filling boot treads
where he'd been talking

trash a nod earlier.
My fingers plugged the geyser
at his neck, but dead

he served as my shield.
I drew my sight, figured out
where the sniper sat,

then grabbed my Big Mac
and belly-crawled up a drain.

I have given up thinking humans will ever learn enough from war to end our warring ways; however, I know there will always be poets and writers to bear witness, and that comforts me, even if their words fall on blind eyes & deaf ears.


2 comments:

Quintilian B. Nasty said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sandy. I'm almost done with The Alphabet Not Unlike the World by Katrina Vandenberg, so I'm scouting for a new collection.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Ah, Q., you beat me to Katrina's new book! It's on my list. :)