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Gulf War Poetry From One Who Served by…
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Gulf War Poetry From One Who Served

by William Simmons

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This collection was previously published under the title "The Anthology of Gulf War Poetry," and little has changed in this printing, aside from the acknowledgement that this is the work of one man and not what "an anthology" is widely considered to be. This review, therefore, is very similar to the one published under the previously listed title.

William J. Simmons is a Gulf War veteran who graduated from the University of South Carolina, and wrote his collection of poems, The Gulf War Anthology of Poetry, as a tool for sharing his poems with other veterans of the Gulf War and lift awareness of war trauma and the difficulties that invariably follow national conflicts. It's a collection of twenty-one poems that chronicle the experience of a soldier as warrior, leader, family man and African-American officer. The first section deals with leadership ideologies, while the second and third sections focus on experiences on the ground in Iraq. Section four addresses the return home, while the final section considers post war difficulties and the treatment of war veterans.

In terms of poetry, there are very few quality moments present throughout the work. The danger of self-publishing is fully realized in this collection. Publishers and presses that print poems and collections of poetry exist, in part, to safeguard the poetic tradition and maintain a level of quality within the genre. It can be argued that ration of small presses has resulted in a quality decline within the last few decades, but this is a debatable digression. It could also be argued that what constitutes good poetry should be left to the ear of the listener and the aesthetic of the reader. One thing that should not be argued is whether or not poets should put forth every effort to gain a mastery of their craft in the process of developing both an aesthetic sense and a talent for writing. An inattention to craft and lack of experience with its practice has combined with a decision to circumnavigate a professional publisher has resulted in The Gulf War Anthology of Poetry.

There are serious problems present in this collection, and the most glaring issues are its lack of music and the clumsiness of its lines. The reasons for this are myriad and begin with the lack of specific detail. Making an effort to create detail not only clarifies intention. It also allows for variations in sentence syntax, and by means of this the inclusion of varied parts of speech. Varied parts of speech allow for varied language and a wider field of words to be at the poet's fingertips. In the act of selecting from a wider vocabulary, and possibly a diverse vernacular as well, the poet puts an array of musical tools at his disposal. He moves away from garage band and heads toward symphony.
Another problem that results from inattention to craft and sidestepping publishers is a plethora of syntactical errors. In the poem "Leaving Your Spouse Behind," the syntax is incorrect: "Leaving your spouse behind / It was a bit unkind" (lines 1-2). These fundamental mistakes are things that a publisher would clear up, in the event they opted to read the collection. But in the act of reading the collection, much deeper problems would become evident. A poem should be, as Dante Gabriel Rossetti suggested, "a moment's monument," a clear and carefully wrought interpretation of an experience or instant captured by means of a poet's artistic tools. Simmons does himself and his experiences a disservice by failing to develop skills, skills that would enable the ability to revise, that can lead to an effective poem. And here I discuss an effective poem, not a poem that approaches superior artistic quality.

There are specific examples that can be used to indicate where the book fails in its delivery. In the poem "Scud Fright" Simmons describes the danger presented by Scud missiles during the Gulf War:

Saddam sent his scuds mostly at night.
The patriot missiles shot down the scuds that
created a brilliant light.
But, why send the scuds at all?
Was it because the scuds were large and tall?
Maybe or maybe not. (l-6)

Numerous problems exist in this passage. The most obvious problems are grammatical mistakes, including the failure to capitalize both Scud and Patriot, and the comma following `But' should be removed. Clarity is the next major issue. Syntactically, the poem suggests that some Scuds made a brilliant light but others didn't, and yet this doesn't seem to be either clear or important. It's essential that the author effort toward specificity so that the audience can relate to the environment the soldiers called home. How can a reader relate if the picture and circumstance are unclear? Both the poem and the text as a whole lack the specificity of image, place, and feeling that are needed for a poem to be a successful work of art.

If there were any redeemable qualities present in this collection, they would be the artistic intentions Simmons forwards in the work. He discusses concerns with developing leadership qualities, the difficulty of being absent from home and the potential difficulties of returning, as well as the impact that social inequality has within a military environment. In "The Civil War Again?" he reminds readers that the north/south divide in the United States is alive and well. In the poem "Black History Month - Saudi Style" he lets readers know that cultural pride transcends borders, an indicates that a Black History Month celebration took place even during the throes of war: "It was a full house about several hundred or so" (line 19). It's important to share this information with the American culture at large, but without an effective poetic voice, the collection pulls up short and turns readers off from reading well into the work, let alone consider reading the writer's future efforts. If I hadn't decided to write a thorough review of the book, I would never have explored the text this deeply.

William Simmons's book The Gulf War Anthology of Poetry has lofty intentions and intends to be a text that can serve to provide comfort to like-minded soldiers who endured the Gulf War. Indeed, with its hand-drawn illustrations and pages dedicated to notes. it's more like a book intended for therapy, or a children's book. It would come across as a children's book if the themes weren't geared for adults. The writing, poetic method and layout would certainly appeal more appropriately to children. Simmons might consider writing creatively educational texts for children as opposed to attempting to market poetry geared to an adult audience with higher expectations. ( )
  nonooe | Mar 8, 2011 |
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