Daily Archives: September 20, 2011

The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands

In Nick Flynn’s newest poetry collection, The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands, he continues his examination of torture, specifically Abu Ghraib prison, that he began in his memoir The Ticking is the Bomb. While he still explores violence in humanity, this work takes a more elliptical approach. Poems quote Walt Whitman and pop lyrics, often achieving a song-like rhythm themselves as they speak in the voice of a soldier ordered to violently interrogate a prisoner. Distortion and disorientation dominate the syntax as Flynn fractures lines with enjambed breaks and punctuates with slashes, parentheses and spaces and uses obsessive repetition and serial questioning. He also uses the language of official documents to compelling effect in one poem that reveals only excerpts of non-redacted lines of detainee testimonies. The book’s central concern is the immediate relevance of state-sanctioned torture and acts of war to ordinary citizenry, but the framework used to examine culpability shifts constantly. From the body, to classical elements, to radio, to detainee interviews, to the satirized but urgent voice of a soldier addressing his silent “capt’n”, the scope of these contexts suggests that such violence and the responsibility for its existence is inescapable. In both form and subject matter, this troubling collection confronts questions of war, truth and patriotism in an era when those three themes arise and transform daily.


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