30 August 2017

War Poetry Book Review: Kim Garcia's 'Drone'

Poetry Book Review: "Drone" by Kim Garcia

In 46 poems, across five sections and 86 pages, poet Kim Garcia offers a panoply of perspectives on how we conduct modern war at a distance. There are poems written in the voices, minds, and tongues of pilots, wives, and targets—something for everyone. And, in the midst of desert images and intellectual constructions, there are also birds and bees and honeycomb. There are slow, meticulous observations of character and terrain, followed by quick strikes of eye-opening invention.

The book was published late 2016 by The Backwaters Press. The collection, on first readings, may feel a little atmospheric, distant, or aloof. Perhaps this is due to the subject matter, or to the book's origins in a 2014 interdisciplinary conference on drones and remote warfare held at Boston College.

Garcia's titles are often presented in clipped, militaristic syntax. Consider, for example, labels such as "Kevlar, Carbon, Quartz" and "Blue Early Morning Snow, Home Front." The cover image seems a similar blend of warm welcome and cold efficiency. The soft, matte photograph reproduces an Afghan rug depicting bird's eye views of various U.S.-style drones, similar in shape to MQ-1 "Predator" or MQ-9 "Reaper." Each has a tail propeller, and bears missiles under each wing.

Mixed messages. Perhaps this is an example of "Beware Trojan birds bearing gifts"?

Careful readers will be rewarded with a more-human, less-abstracted experience of war than what may be spray-painted on the fuselage, however. Garcia infuses her language with disparate vocabularies, creating inspired moments of cross-pollenated synthesis, such as the Psalm-like "Night Flight, Night Vision." In it, what might be otherwise presented as cold technical descriptions ("white hot parts of the map") are lased with double-meaning, and even punny word-play. (Consider, for example, the dark soldier humor of "toward a corps" mispronounced as "toward a corpse.")
[…] Flying to the white hot parts of the map in mountain dark. Lidless eye

mimicking a god's trick of seeing sinners
          everywhere from nowhere, raining fire.

We are sovereign sight's living hands, dreaming drone-like
          in infrared, grids and pixel-prisons.

Tunneling toward a corps, a vector mapped
          of human warmth, pattern only. […]
Garcia's closer observations of human interconnectedness are wonderfully warm and grounded, even when her subjects are alienation and death. While her contemplations on technology are intellectually engaging, it is her depiction of human experience that lands with the most emotional punch. From a backyard porch, for example, she launches "Talking About the War" […]
while a vet under the Blue Ridge with a red
neck, red arms,takes a battered lawnmower
from his truck and mows the back lawn.

We're foreigners—we know nothing about the land,
where hornets live, the bog near the ferns,
the root run bald on one side from years of mowing. […]
And, in "Old Friends," Garcia relates the loss of Omar, a young Turkish man the poet once knew.
"[…] He would be a father now, not the young boy bowing

and touching his heart, his mouth, his forehead, when he saw me.
He loved the mystics. He had all an idealist's weaknesses, purer

than mind. I would get in a boat and sail across the Bosporus if
my friends could come back to me, still friends, still undecided

about our future.
Garcia's "Drone" is an essential addition to the growing number of 21st century war poetry collections, and delivers a truth-seeking payload to a target located smack between technological tools and human tolls.

"Drone" is available in trade paperback via Amazon and other booksellers.

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