Last summer, at the Humber Writer's Workshop, my friend Scott (not me, another one) made the cute assertion that poets must be inferior to prose writers because they can't even fill up a page and don't have the ability to connect sentences properly.
It seems unnecessary to say this, but having learned to write through poetic construction, I'll always get behind the succinct turn of phrase over the ponderous paragraph, and so, with that in mind: Kevin Powers.
Billed as one of the first pieces of literature to come out of The Iraq War, it's definitely a novel, but with a poetic understructure that reminds me of Ondaatje or Patrick Lane's "Red Dog, Red Dog". The latter, a favourite of mine, describes and meditates on growing up violent in Vernon BC, mid 20th Century. A bit tangentially, there's a review of Red Dog on Quill and Quire, where it seems the reviewer has little appreciation for the beauty of terror, misery and pointlessness.
Power's "The Yellow Birds" is as much a cathartic endeavour for Powers and other former soldiers as it is a contemplative attempt to offer to a civilian audience some means of accessing the beauty, terror, misery and pointlessness of The Iraq War.
I made the "mistake" of reading much of the book over several sessions at bars with pints. Well, not a mistake at all, but all successful war literature (when combined with booze) makes me nostalgic for the path cut short 2 decades ago. And as such, "The Yellow Birds" kept on hitting me hard.
Recognizing that I've laid out the qualifier that I'm hardly objective about the book (not that anyone who has ever known me would see this as likely), there were a few passages that really hit hard, resonating with middle-aged, beat-up-by-living me as much as my recollections of young-asshole grunt me.
"If I ever floated... out where the level of water reached my neck, and my feet lost contact with its muddy bottom, I might realize that to understand the world, one's place in it, is to always be at the risk of drowning."
"An embedded photographer snapped pictures of it all: a private snaking his barrel in a ditch, the dead boy, as yet uncovered, gazing thinly toward the blue sky that had cleared itself of clouds high above the orchard. I thought that he had no regard for the significance of what he saw. But now I think maybe he did. Maybe his regard was absolute."
"His eyes were closed. It was getting dark, but he didn't move. He waited, as if waiting for whichever last shadow would cause evening."