The new collection of poetry and prose from Hemmings (The Truth about Onions, 2017, etc.) features surrealist fables of wartime.
The three-part structure (“A Future War,” “On the Home Front,” and “III”) corrals a large cast of characters. In the first and strongest section, poetry predominates, and it explores the theme of violence via scenes of combat. References to the “Soldiers of Ark,” a force of fighters in a popular video game, seem well-matched to real-life current events: enemies bury land mines in the sand; drones fly over bazaars and mosques. Are these poems about a video game, or do they use such games’ imagery to portray “real” war? In the end, it doesn’t matter, as they present the shock of extreme action in a way that’s both poetic and emotionally credible. A distant figure is mistaken for a sniper or a mercenary, for example: “In the heavy ozone cast / of breathlessness / I kneel next to the girl / I shot.” One strength of this war story is that women maintain an active presence throughout: they’re victims of war but also supporters, protesters, hosts, and soldiers. One woman, who gives the troops shelter, decides that she will lead a charge, wanting to be remembered as a “solar flare.” Some lines highlight the author’s expertise with metaphor, such as, “Father was a bruise behind the vitreous eye.” On many pages, including some that address some experience of “home,” the narrator looks back at the world from beyond death. This isn’t an easy task, partly because it involves a reconnaissance with the self: “Sometimes we lit matches to expose our faces, to remember what we looked like while alive.” Floating through a kind of parallel universe while looking for fallen comrades, the speaker senses the strange isolation of death itself. The final section alternates blocks of Esperanto with English, telling the story of a boy growing up and away from his parents in heightened, dreamlike sequences. As such, it doesn’t quite fit with the other sections, but it still has creative merit.
An alluring, well-composed look at conflict.