Brian Spears

Poet, Editor, Teacher, Blogger.

First Impressions: George Witte’s Deniability

I should have loved this book, I think. I agree with Witte’s politics, and my own writing tends toward the metrically formal, which Witte does quite ably throughout Deniability.

And yet…maybe I would have loved this book three years ago, which is when I suspect most of the poems were written, or at least inspired. The cover image is Fernando Botero’s “Abu Ghraib 66” and the second section is made of poems about rendition, torture, and the various justifications the nation’s leaders made for the actions our military took during that time frame. The third section deals with surveillance and an allegorical figure named “Suspicion.”

I’m sure the issue is one of fatigue for me–I’ve spent more time on political blogs for the last five years than is good for one’s mental stability–and I don’t want to ascribe this to Witte’s poems, but when I read “Failure to Comply,” about a set-to at an airport security checkpoint, I find myself not caring, not about the subject nor the poem itself. And that’s not fair to Witte or his art.

There are moments where Witte’s poems transcend the immediate subject matter–the first section is full of them, and I really enjoyed “Likenesses,” which contained this moment:

“So much of who we are,” he said, “depends
on markers humans recognize as us.”
I recalled our daughter Helen
shying from my stroke-strange mother’s kisses,
two years enough to discern alien
in familiar guise.

Even though the poem begins with a specialist who helps repair the faces of people harmed in war, Witte makes the poem more familiar here, and his decision to move away from the strict iambic pentameter he’d been using really brings this moment into focus–the two year old who saw something not-quite-human in her grandmother’s face and shied away.

I won’t be reviewing this for The Rumpus–I’m passing it on to another reviewer, and I hope she can give it a better chance than I did.

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January 3, 2010 - Posted by | Deniability, First Impressions, George Witte

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