In his foreword (whimsically rendered “Deployed Forward”) to this collection of his poems, Alan Farrell ridicules pretension, incomprehensibility, poetry as therapy, literary critical jargon, posturing, the cult of free verse, swingebuckling, and shallow war poetry cliches. You sense that he is trying to be restrained and polite, and barely succeeding.
Farrell’s reader might then expect carefully crafted and elegantly ironic poems like many of the best World War II work, but the poems in Expended Casings better evoke rondeaus, with their song-like structures, and Kipling ballads, with Farrell’s skillful use of demotic GI language and the grotesque humor of the military.
The diction is conversational, colorful, profane, and seemingly spontaneous, and the speaker’s stance is skeptical, self-effacing, and alert to absurdity. If there is a tear in his eye, it is not from self-pity or sentiment, but from the sting of jungle sweat and battlefield smoke.
Here is a former professor of language and literature who can write a profane parodic update of Henry Reed’s “The Naming of Parts,” burlesque classic poetic structure with a brief, comically obscene ten-canto expression of GI helplessness, and narrate mythic anecdotes of training and combat that veterans will recognize as true. Alan Farrell stands out as one of the few unique voices among America’s Vietnam War veteran poets.
For the price of a restaurant appetizer, we get 12 poems we will come back to now and again with pleasure. Don’t look for this in a bookstore. It’s available at Amazon; given dysphemistic army humor, I imagine that Alan Farrell would be amused to see that when I most recently looked at the Expended Casings Amazon page, two of the ads (presumably triggered by the word “casings”) were for “sausage making supplies” and “butcher supplies.” (a version of this review was posted on Amazon.com)
Author: Stephen Sossaman
Stephen Sossaman is Professor Emeritus of English at Westfield State University in Massachusetts. He now lives in California. He was an artillery fire direction computer in Viet Nam, serving in the Mekong Delta (1/84th artillery, 9th Infantry Division).