Victor Enns’ collection, Afghanistan Confessions, is voice poetry that draws on the violence, chaos, death, and wholesale desecrations that mark the dimensions of war as experienced by soldiers on the ground. Written in the confessional mode, the poems emanate affective energy, and are compulsively readable. It is poetry for readers who wish to probe the unlapsing dominion war wields over those who pursue it, over those who must grow more or less accustomed to its atrocities and its ugly realities. It unapologetically presents mind and perception under the influence of war’s effects, beyond the domestic domain of ideological argument, as one of its speakers declares, “[t]his is my third tour, and I still want more/heat, dust, challenge and blood”. This collection’s presentation of war, its glimpses of sublime transfiguration, is endorsed in an afterword by Neil Maclean, a veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan, which lends this sympathetic and intriguing collection even greater credibility. It is honest, unflinching, and fully alive as an account of 21st Century war, a subject matter to which the poetic of voice seems especially suited under Enns’ pen.
The collection offers distinct, though relational, lenses on war. It is up to readers to draw comparisons and meanings from the streams of observations, thoughts, emotions, and memories that gather in the wake of conflict and culture shock, up to readers to adduce from the several voices perspectives worth holding onto. It may be that Albert, the soldier with whom the collection begins, is greener in war, as seen in his encounter with an unjust, irredeemable social order, in the poem “damnation”. However, he is well-read in history, and can invoke the past to interpret the foreign landscape around him. At times, he is keen to observe historical and mythical patterns, such as in the poem “oral traditions”, a meditation on the relation between violence and political rhetoric. Nevertheless, there remains plenty to assimilate in a God-fearing context, as the prospect of divine intervention impels him to contemplate what form it may take, when untranslatable codes only cause hesitation in one’s trigger finger (“translating scripture”). Trigger-happy Jimmy, on the other hand, was dissatisfied with what a traditional life might offer him, joining the war out of sheer boredom (“conquistador”). His meditations find inspiration in melodies of hard-rock icons from home, providing the rhythms and scores for pushes into action. He sees himself as a soldier unique from any shown in film (“people get ready”), his prayers spontaneous and effective, his words celebrating the rush of battle accompanied by the blood flowing through his veins (“whole lotta love” and “aint it fun”). The section, “Jolene”, offers readers an intimate glimpse into the emotional journey of an enlisted husband and father. Memories of the life from which he has been uprooted and the longing for physical affection make this section enigmatic and haunting, with recollections of the smallest sensation (“the smell of cranberry in the crook of her elbow”) and the signifier’s constant return homeward (“breasts”) grounding movements inward and outward, the surroundings foreshortened due to this other longing (“equality”). We see the speakers in an internally reflecting mirror. Voice poetry provides this channel into the self, for the immediacy of thought and feeling to be experienced in an expanded, everyday vernacular.
Enns’ collection of voice poetry is an open book, offering the chance to feel, think, and speak war in its many dimensions, through its egos and personalities, in what is seen and must be believed. It is a volume that speaks from the heart, mind, and soul of war, and should be read by those who aspire to bear sufficient witness.
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