Kill Class: Poems
by Nomi Stone
Tupelo Press, $17.95 paperback, 87 pp.
A unique feature of the American Constitution lays in its articulation of the necessity of civilian control and oversight of the American military. In the field of contemporary American War Poetry, represented by such works as Brian Turner’s Here Bullet, and Brandon Courtney’s Inadequate Grave, Nomi Stone’s Kill Class provides a much-needed civilian perspective and a degree of civilian oversight to the projects of these warrior-poets. As such, the collection stands astride a crossroads and serves as a translation of the military (particularly US Army) experience and makes the covertly conducted and purposefully eschewed performance of Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) training exercises legible to wider public by making emotional sense of paradoxical position American servicemembers are placed in. Deploying a discourse on language, as the medium for her exploration how, in this military schema, human lives are translated into mere intentions, and then sorted based upon these presumptions. In “War Game: Plug and Play,” she notes:
…The people speak
the language of a country we are trying
to make into a kinder country. Some
of the people over there are good /
others evil` others circumstantially
bad / some only want
cash / some only want
their family not to die.
Yet, as much as her verse is a translation of the military experience into an affective register legible to the civilian mindset, it is also an exploration of how soldier, civilian, nation-state and even the topography where these identities converge are all translated in terms of each other into a new organic whole. In this translated, hybrid identity, Stone generates a landscape honed to a point—the literary equivalent of an invading military power’s spearhead assault. This is best at play in “Waking,” which serves as a geographic volta for the collection’s second section:
Bullseye, the sun takes
Pavement and upturned
Faces equally. Do not blame it
For knifing each next day open
Yet, and often within the same poem, she is able to handle these characterizations with the same deliberate softness that allows the populace of a nation to reject its involvement in a conflict as a matter of public policy while not attributing such policy failures the individual service member. Stone’s voice captures the thrust-ness of the combat situation in which—particularly on today’s battlefields—combatants and civilians alike become unwitting participants.