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Declension in the Village of Chung Luong by Bruce Weigl

Declension in the Village of Chung Luong

     In Declension in the Village of Chung Luong, Bruce Weigl writes poems about everything that should not be written about in poetry, according to how-to guides for high school creative writing classes.  But he pulls it off magnificently.  He writes about war, its aftermath and death blatantly, but while elevating it to a poetic level.  Weigl does not sugar-coat his message or the events he describes (which would ultimately be a disservice to his topics).  War and the consequences of it should be talked about bluntly, even in poetry.   Weigl’s language is simple, with descriptions that are poetic but relatable.  A good example is in his poem “Whatever”; he describes a “woman’s ass” as a “sweet plum.”  Poetic, yet crass.  As a man in a foreign country, his description is also notably honest. 

     In my opinion, one of the best poems is “Le Filme.”  It perfectly captures what I admire most about his work: his simplicity, honesty and command of language.  The poem is as follows:


 Le Filme

     I hear the screams of children

blown to pieces by bombs

     guided precisely to a room

in the house next door

     where a “target” lived, or

didn’t; that kind of thing.


The deaths pile up

     as if on my shoulders;

this is no metaphor;

     The pile grows and grows.

We can’t keep up with the names anymore.

I am pulled inside the war. I am pulled inside the war.

     Nothing I can do

can stop even one fucking death; not one.

The film is black and white,

     and one day will be “lost.”


     Weigl’s language is painfully honest and it gives an emotional vulnerability and rawness to the poem.  Instead of tackling the huge issues of war overall, he speaks of an individual’s experience to connect to a larger meaning (the futility of war and the destruction that it brings). 

     I highly recommend the book, despite its dark subject matter, mostly because Weigl handles the topic brilliantly.