It’s not as though the military fiction canon ignores social commentary; books like Slaughterhouse-Five and Catch-22 certainly have a lot to say. But while many celebrated works in the genre feature criticisms of war and the armed services, water & power is the first of them I’ve encountered whose critiques discuss the racism, sexism, and homophobia running rampant in military culture. (At least in Navy culture, which the book focuses on.) The most climactic moments are not just battles and bombings—they’re also things like the Tailhook Scandal, a three-day symposium after which eighty-three women and seven men reported sexual misconduct. “A group of up to two hundred men who lined the corridor outside the hospitality suites around 10:30 each night” engaged in behaviors ranging from “consensual pats on the breasts and buttocks to violent grabbing, groping, clothes-stripping, and other assaultive behavior.” Steven Dunn, a Black West Virginia native, experienced Navy culture close up during his ten years of service.
At the second hospital in as many days, my father starts seeing crows. He points at the nurses’ station with his chin, speaks in perfect Polish, the kind I haven’t heard him speak in decades. His brain lights up momentarily with the speed and language of the young man he was when he first came to America, before Multiple Sclerosis and age started robbing his body. My father tells me to look, look, look. Tells me the roof is so thin, that the small one is looking for its nest. I can tell by his eyes he really sees it. He’s hallucinating, I say. I’m startled, then startled a second time when the nurse and doctor don’t think much of it. They tell me it’s ICU psychosis, the lack of sleep and all the beeping.
This is the fourth in a series of features highlighting the Black writers our editors and staff have been reading. To read The Common’s statement in support of the nationwide protests against anti-Black racism, white supremacy, and police brutality, click here.
Recommended by W. Ralph Eubanks, Contributing Editor
The first chapter of Natasha Trethewey’s memoir Memorial Drive is called “Another Country,” a title that mirrors James Baldwin’s novel of Black alienation of the same name. Baldwin’s other country was Greenwich Village, while Trethewey’s is Mississippi. While these two places could not be more different, the feeling of isolation elicited by both is the same.
Recreating the poetry of Anzhelina Polonskaya in English is tricky because her favorite poetic trope is ellipsis, which is easier to achieve in Russian. Russian, as an inflected language (like Latin), can place words in pretty much any order within a sentence, and the poet can use case endings to indicate the relationship of nouns to each other and adjectives to nouns. When something is left out of a sentence, the empty space can be filled in by the reader. Thus, a Russian poem, at least grammatically speaking, looks like a Lego construction, from which many blocks can be removed without destroying the structure. By contrast, English translations in our (almost) non-inflected language are more like houses of cards – and when you try to remove pieces of the grammatical structure the whole thing tends to fall down.
Anzhelina Polonskaya: Russian Poetry in Translation
This is the third in a series of features highlighting the Black writers our editors and staff have been reading. To read The Common’s statement in support of the nationwide protests against anti-Black racism, white supremacy, and police brutality, click here.
Renee Gladman’s Newcomer Can’t Swim is a sort of linguo-geographical exploration of place (cityscape, restaurant, beach, etc.,) and of the characters, the voices that populate these places, that move through, and act or are acted upon within each scene.