26 October 2016

Poetry Book Review: 'Uniform' by Lisa Stice

Book Review: 'Uniform' by Lisa Stice

Lisa Stice is my favorite kind of war poet: One who interrogates differences among civilian, service member, and spouse. One who offers explanations, as well as explorations. One who constructs bridges with curiosity and compassion, but who remains clear-eyed and short-form in her engineering.

Stice is a U.S. Marine spouse. An equal partner in patriotism. A practical shield-maiden. In a poem titled "On Duty," she writes …
walk on your Marine's left side

the protected place
opposite the theoretical sword

you may hold his left hand
if he's not in uniform […]

be his shining medal
always faithful

to love all things holy
in this sacred institution

be respectful and kind
in your wooden fearlessness.
Reading her words, she's definitely someone want you'd want to have fighting on your side—if not in same foxhole, then at the same table at one of those insufferable military formal dinners. She's got a keen eye for observed detail and custom, a bayonet-sharp sense of snark, and a field-stripped ability with the written word and line break. I want to sit with her, near the punch bowl, and lob thought grenades into the night.

"I am married to the Marine Corps," Stice briefs in a one-page introduction to her poetry collection "Uniform," published earlier this year by Aldrich Press. "It's quite a different sort of marriage than the one with my husband, who was already a Marine when we married […]" She continues:
The Corps culture promotes silence and leaves little to no room for compromise. I understand that some silences are justified within the Corps, like not disclosing where and when my husband will deploy […] Other silences I do not understand. For Marines and their families, speaking up about frustrations is viewed as unsupportive and, sometimes, as unpatriotic. My husband can even face consequences for my speaking up.

I would like to begin the long-needed conversation …
Stice often experiments with something akin to erasure poetry, stringing together phrases not entirely unravelled from their original contexts. In a timely poem titled "Concerning Politics," for example, she collects threads of officious advice regarding acceptable Corps behaviors. Note how the breaks create poetry out of the prosaic, and how the last line lands with a boom:
[…] no campaigning for partisan candidates
no fundraising activities or canvasing
no service in clubs or speeches at gatherings
no uniforms when acting as spectator

partisan posters and signs should not
be visible to the public at your residence
take care not to post or link material
with opinions about public officials

but you may vote for whomever you choose.
In approximately 50 poems, three sections, and little more than 80 pages, Stice distills life on the home front of a military marriage before, during, and after deployment. Stice plays deftly with language and layered-meaning, and just as proficiently with sparse jargon and vocabulary. Her work is accessible and her impacts immediate. Her rounds are on target. These are poems that help illuminate what military life is like—without glorification, and with plenty of humor. Any one of her poems would be the start to a beautiful and useful conversation.

I leave you with a personal favorite, titled "Hush-a-Bye." Again, watch how she rocks the breaks. Again, listen for the (distant) boom:
26 miles away
Marines play drums:
missiles and mortars.
My heart,
my daughter's breath
our rocking
fall in with the
at ease.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.