Reviewed by Sophie Chouinard
Poems from the War
Paperback: 54 pages
Publisher: Popcorn Press (2015)
In Robin Wyatt Dunn’s own words on the back jacket of his book, this band of untitled and sequenced poems is “set in the future, or perhaps an alternate past, as dispatched from a populist war… where we are killing the rich. All of the rich.” This book of narrative poetry is fiction, yet, it reads like one must have felt fighting in the trenches. Any of them—past or future—yet, the egalitarian undertone, does set the march for the reading ahead.
On my right thigh the C4,
On my left the radar.
Hunting the rich.
Hunting all the rich.
This is not Dunn’s first tour of duty. He has been writing consistently since 2008, but Poems From the War do stray somewhat from his regular style, by its narration and more earthly tone than in his previous books, novellas, or chapbooks—although throughout his work the same common societal commentary remains:
Capitalism is about the head
To decapitate leadership, one must be prepared
to replace it:
In place of King John,
A circle of plutocrats.
In place of the plutocrats,
Almost prophetic in nature, reality becomes stranger than fiction when Dunn includes Donald Trump in one of his poems:
Trump has moved from real estate, in life, to
spirit-shaman in death, stretched taut over
The narrator uses Trump’s mask over his face to commit the war crimes he feels he must commit, much like a thief would wear Nixon’s mask to rob a bank. In Dunn’s vision, Life is War, every day we fight for something—love, freedom, and the will to get up to live and try to make the most of it, no matter what:
We’ve gone underground.
Her face lights up the room
With one candle
“Want for water, eat at Joe’s.”
Joe makes a mean hamburger
As Life is War, sometimes the horror is too much, so one must retreat behind a facade, behind a false reality, behind excuses, fears, and weaknesses. Sometimes, to survive, one must find a cause, whatever that cause may be—in this case, the rich are the root of all evil and must be extinguished.
In talking about a child that was murdered after killing her rich parents, the narrator and his girlfriend washed her “like a small doll”; “I name her Alice. She’s in Wonderland now”, he says, and a few lines later coming to this stark conclusion:
It’s the revolution that I wanted; I can hold it
in my own two hands. So why do I feel
Ultimately, the memories, the scents, the companionship, the Utopia—hopes, even, of war, of what it could bring and mean—are stronger than the horrors committed in the name of freedom, or a version of it:
The swarms of electrons hungry ghosts fever my
sight and hum my bones with the old troupe.
the old Berkeley troupe neither music nor history but love
love we keep inside for the longer nights,
and the longer journeys, into the desert of
reality, looking for the oasis.
A violent story with no ending, Poems from the War becomes itself an extended metaphor for combat, how it never seems to resolve, but seems to continually begin:
My heart the terminal
Your hand the spark:
Robin Wyatt Dunn was born in Wyoming in the Carter Administration. He lives in Los Angeles. He is a member of the intelligentsia. He holds three degrees and drinks coffee (lattes included) and thinks that being intelligent is a good thing and talking about ideas worthwhile. He is the kind of pinko egghead Joseph McCarthy wanted to flay alive and burn at the stake on the White House lawn. He knows that the McCarthys and Pol Pots and George W. Bushes of the world are always and forever eager and ready to slit his throat and dump him in a mass grave. This is why he has a wicked sense of humor. You can find him online at www.robindunn.com.