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Deniability: Facing the War on Terror through Poetry

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There are times in history when it is best for a people to move on from past mistakes. There are other times, such as now, when the past cries out to be explored. For those who are searching for meaning to the last eight years, a new book by American poet, George Witte, Deniability, is the place to start. This is not only for the writing that is spectacular in its simplicity, its perfect placement of each word, its prose, but for its bravery in peeling back the layers of the war on terror as an eight year journey that is stark and unforgiving in its verse.

It is, in this writer's opinion, required reading before we move on, an inner truth and reconciliation to the last eight years that serves as an important reminder of what we must face and not allow again.

George Witte's Deniability begins with the fall of the Twin Towers, a poem appropriately entitled: Uh-Oh, reflecting the feeling so many experienced as they watched the attacks on 9/11, and proceeds chronologically through the physical, actual and psychological journey that would come to be known as the war on terror.

"Uh-Oh" (excerpt): No photograph records that day's unmasking roar / Things ripped from skins, words from definitions. / Letters distilled until incomprehensible.

I first became familiar with Witte's work when I stumbled across his previous collection, The Apparitioners, and was so impressed by its form and substance, its free-flowing exploration of American life that led one reviewer to refer to Witte as the "Frost of the Suburbs," that I purchased several copies for friends and have reread it many times since. It was therefore with anticipation that I awaited my copy of Deniability as a new and unique linguistic presentation that would cause me to think about American life.

What I found was a chronological exploration of American conscience through the last eight years of war and terror that makes Deniability more than just a great book of poetry (and it is). George Witte's new collection is the best opportunity I've seen for Americans to peel back the layers on their own experience of the last eight years as Witte, with his unparalleled imagery, speaks for us all of both the inner implications of everyday life:

"Paging" (excerpt): In hospitals and airports, places where arrival or departure collect us, one is called, the intercom invades most private nooks--graffitied restroom stall, a chapel's narrow pew of whisperers. Though ours is not the name announced, we look up curious from books, hush children still, tilt ears toward ceiling grates where the speaker's secreted, though its voice sounds everywhere. We wait.

And the wider consequence of alliance with a superpower:

"Next" (excerpt): By popular demand, dictators flee aboard a private plane, cower into holes, from which they're yanked in hirsute infancy and whisked away, location undisclosed. Our asset's now a liability requiring diplomatic solution: exile, jail, or roadside execution.

Deniability is a journey from beginning to end that allows the reader a connection to their own experience. It is a book I will read many times and then reread again, and, yes, I will get copies for friends. I'd send it classrooms and libraries if I could and to those who are tasked to decide whether or not to prosecute the past and how to proceed in a future made more dangerous for our eight years of Deniability:

"Deniability" (excerpt): Officials fashion lullaby from lie, commitment into exit strategy, conveyed in semaphore, averted eyes a silent language undercutting words. Truth's relative as beauty, circumstance our ever-shifting standard, as an urn's exhumed pastoral darkness to reveal a priest receiving sacrificial girls with oil and fire, their moistened limbs consigned to greater good, the glaze that purifies. You turn it, passerby, obliged to none, witness without testimony, faint sough of bone and ash inside this artifact the only evidence you can't deny.

Link to Deniability on Amazon

More on this topic at The Environmentalist