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War Bird

David Gewanter’s War Bird travels to tough subjects such as the American War in Iraq, deformed veterans (such as those “Who cannot count his change./ Who wake up and punch the air”), the travesty of  W’s path to the presidency, among other dark and dreary topics, but surprisingly starts with the smile of a dolphin, “Nature, not emotion, has creased/ the dolphin’s smile.”  Such an offbeat start prepares one for much of his work in War Bird; poems confronting society’s problems, but laced with ironies, sexual fantasies, various historic figures, quick transitions, unique metaphors, and an ongoing search for the remains of a woolly mammoth.  However a few of Gewanter’s poems prove just as effective without his usual complex wordplay and allusions; “Baudelaire’s Day Book” details the tumultuous event of slowly losing a father to cancer, “his face drooped like soft clay under heat.”  In “1972: The Battery” the emotions of high school students are chronicled during the Vietnam War, culminating in a standoff between “skinny grainfed hippies” angry over the bombing of Cambodia and “loyalist football-types” looking to start some trouble; “bouncing off the laughing men,/ fighting until the pain feels real,/ then toiling uphill to charge again.”  The collection concludes with “War Bird: A Journal,” a longer poem that mixes White House politics of Bush and Nixon, war protesters and animals outside the lawn, and a vivid image of a trained hawk struggling with its master “Flapping wildly, the falcon claws/ the head-shape,” only to be followed by an all-together different image that concludes War Bird in a surprisingly graphic, yet oddly appropriate manner.  Gewanter has crafted a collection that successfully mirrors the complexities of the past decade, injecting new perspectives into confusing times as only poetry can.

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