War Reporter

Dan O'Brien. Hanging Loose (SPD, dist.), $18 trade paper (132p) ISBN 978-1-934909-35-5
In this gut-wrenching, hardboiled collection, poet and playwright O'Brien (The Body of an American) focuses on Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist and war correspondent Paul Watson, a witness to atrocities and violence in Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. With the help of Watson's memoir, journalism pieces, and the chance to visit him in winter 2010, O'Brien echoes his subject matter. The language of the poems—most of which are persona poems written in the myriad of voices that Watson has encountered in his travels—is spare, adopting a journalistic tone seemingly as a means to cope with what is witnessed. In this context, war is the hell through which Watson, a kind of Virgil figure, leads the poet. "I see/ it like a labyrinth," the photographer tells the poet, "If you get the truth/ you get out. But you don't, it just gets worse/ you get more lost." One gets the sense that Watson has been scarred not only by what he has seen, but by his own paradoxical role as a journalist who effectively profits from scenes of bedlam and horror, and who is both attracted to and repelled by them. "This is what/ I've turned into," Watson tells O'Brien in the final poem, "a mercenary and/ a desperate one at that." (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 01/27/2014
Release date: 07/01/2013
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