18 January 2017

Poetry Book Review: 'Warcries' by Nicole Goodwin

Poetry Book Review: "Warcries" by Nicole S. Goodwin

Packed in plain-spoken language wet down with break-free, poet and Iraq War veteran Nicole S. Goodwin's 2016 collection "Warcries" is equal parts earthy, insightful, dark, and dense. The 82-page book contains more than 50 poems, which range from sniper-shot aphorisms offering pithy wisdom, to multi-sectioned, multi-page paeans to her fellow humans. There are plenty of fireworks along the way, too—including an unsent letter to Chelsea Manning.

The book is broken into three sections, an arc Goodwin has described in interviews as an awakening or coming-of-age narrative in poetry. In the first section, she illuminates her experiences as a logistics soldier in Iraq. In the second, she explores her relationships to New York City, before, during, and after her deployment. The final section illuminates various the various existences she now inhabits, in past and present: war veteran, mother, multidisciplinary artist, advocate for the homeless, citizen.

The poet says her central purpose was to paint war as "a beautiful hell."

Over the course of the collection, Goodwin's poems grow and branch to consider complex messages involving skin color, urbanity, sexual assault, consensual sex, nationality, homelessness, a parent's separation from her child, and imprisonment. First, however, she grounds the reader in some familiar, soldierly basics. Troops of every stripe and color, for example, will recognize themselves and their days in poems such as "Boots":
My feet ache from
the long, long march.

The vengeful desert sun
hangs high in the virgin sky. […]

Reborn into Atlas, I bear
heavy rusted chains.

Dead weights that fester in their
own stew!

Their aromatic horrors
lingering indefinitely.
The great equalizer of guard duty presents a recurring setting for Goodwin. In "Lightweight, Heavyweight," she relates the story of watching over a captured High-Value Target—"Number 86 on Bush II's list"—in punchy jabs and fragments. Again, the soldierly gruff is unmistakeable:
Guard duty again.

As if my name was the only one,
written in the hat. […]

If he gives a problem.
Would have to shoot.
Never took a life before.

Knew how to avoid catastrophes
In New York.

Not New York though.
Another ghetto battlefield.

Hands feel bloodied already.
Later in the book, in "Unsaid (Confession)," Goodwin compares and contrasts her guarded calm to that of some fellow female soldiers: "Boy, how those white girls would powertrip. […]"
Was like waiting for a grenade to blow.

Screeching at the inmates.

[…] I and the other black girls.
Never did that.
Never lost cool.
Not on my watch.
Not once.

Maybe 'cause we knew.
We saw.
How they looked.

The resembled us.
Family distanced by time.
This war separated us by nation.
But shade united us.
Akin. […]
In the book's final poem, "Iraq," Goodwin revisits her experience of the country as a human terrain. In my ear, her voice takes on the tone of a Biblical psalm. As they so often do, Goodwin's words beg to be read aloud, spoken in the wilderness, offered to the desert wind.
[…] Inheritors of the new ghetto.
I have something to tell you.
It shall be harsh, because it is truth.

Your playgrounds are now our landfills.
Our dumpsters, your mattresses.
All too well I know the sight of desolation.

Underneath the dust covered tracks.
Where you and I buried—your one, solitary tear.
When flickering lights were our altar posts.

We shared the same skin.
The same face.
Our shadows young-elderly, and forgotten.

Crossed and have never unlinked.
Under this sky you will die—mistaken.

My, theirs, our visits were false ones.
I collapsed in sadism, erasing.

My origin.
Once, I was born of it too.
Goodwin's work is an essential addition to 21st century war poetry: unique in voice and perspective, unflinching in calling attention to how different our experiences of conflict can be, while hauntingly reminding us of the humanity we share.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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