- Three Poetic Vocies
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Bright Hill Press
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Poets Wear Prada Press
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A professor emerita of French at Franklin and Marshall College, Sarah White collaborated on an oratorio, “Soldiers of Remembrance,” by John Carbon, performed at the college April 19, 2015. Ten of the poems in Wars Don’t Happen Anymore formed the libretto. It would be interesting to know which poems were chosen, as they all circle around twentieth and twenty-first century wars—the two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan—in which Americans participated.
The poet’s mother is introduced in the first poem, “My Mother Lived So Long” as living “long enough to be half-blind / in a nursing home when / the glow and rumble of Desert Storm / reminded her of a peasant girl / named Joan burned alive in 1431. // That was long ago. I was young, / she said. War was terrible. Thank God / it doesn’t happen anymore.”
The mother re-appears in the last poem of the book, “Cirque de la Lune” as hallucinating a spectral acrobat, a soldier climbing out of his tomb “in spangled tights.” And why should she not, when it turns out in “1945: The Missouri of Memory” that she lost her husband to a heart attack the September the Japanese surrender was signed. Two of her brothers-in-law also died in that war.
We see these events through the eyes of the nine-year-old poet (In “Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder”) who is puzzled by her father’s having won his airman’s wings by running a store on the ground. The young girl’s world is that of “The Girl Who could Read” who has read a Japanese fairy tale about a boy discovered inside a peach who kills ogres with the help of a monkey. She is somewhat puzzled that her cousin Frederick was killed at the Maginot Line: “If he’d had a monkey, / he might have been saved.”
Among the author’s six books, is a translation of poems by French women troubadours. It occurs to me to wonder if Sarah White applied some of their inventive rhyme schemes to her own poems, which have many internal and a few end rhymes. What I discover is a pantoum—“inscribed with our human likeness.” I quote it in full as a fine example of this poet’s strong personal understanding of war.
A veteran who has lost his faceboards my subway car.I wish I had come home another way.I can’t decide where I should lookas the veteran boards my subway carand brings the war closer to homeI can’t decide where I should lookor how to read amorphous spaces
close to home as I face him and the warWhere there should be lashes, nostrils, lipsI read amorphous spacesHe holds a coffee can in case I want to help
Without lashes, nostrils, lipsIt’s difficult for him to speakHe holds a coffee can. I want to helpHere’s my money with my dread and my distaste
It’s amazing that he manages to speakI can imagine his despairHe takes my money with my fear and my distaste.
He must be searching for a place to go
Imagine the despairSince the day he lost his facehe has been searching for a place to goon Earth, the very planet
where he lost his faceHe’d do better on a satellite or starinstead of Earth, the planetwhere the VA clinics are, and the wars
There would be mercy on a satellite or starfor a veteran who lost his faceHe’s had enough of clinics, wars, andthe woman staring in the subway car.
The Baudelairean pantoum form is loosely one of drifting lines that move downward through the...