4 out of 4 stars
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Fragments by Bruce K. Berger is a collection of poems that gives us a glimpse into what it was like to serve in the Vietnam War. The 38 poems in this book were written to describe what it was like to be a soldier in Vietnam. You feel the jungle humidity. You see the leeches and snakes, smell the gunfire, and hear the explosions in battle.
One of my favorite poems is "Butterfly Blues." While lying in wait for the enemy, a soldier watches a Tiger butterfly land on the sight of his rifle. For 20 seconds, he forgets the war, and he recalls going fishing back home in Michigan. A sudden change in tone is used in the poem to jolt the reader back to the reality of war, “Sudden and harsh, first shots fired. The assault began.”
The author’s job in Vietnam was serving as the Next-of-Kin Editor. He sent sympathy letters to a soldier’s family when he was killed. In the poem called “Next-of-Kin Editor,” he wonders if the letters say too much or not enough or if he should send them at all. He uses a strong metaphor to convey the grief of the family, “Trying but failing to grasp the straightjacket of emotional grief,” then to emphasize the emotion, he uses the onomatopoeia, “the buzzing anger flooding the mind.”
One of the most emotional poems is the one titled, “66 Miles.” There are 58,220 names of soldiers killed in action on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. If you laid out all 58,220 men head-to-toe, they would cover a distance of 66 miles, the same distance from Helena to Butte, Montana, or South Bend to Gary, Indiana, or Trenton, New Jersey, to New York City.
My favorite feature of the book is the artwork included with the poems. Members of the Providence Art Club in Rhode Island submitted images of 24 art objects to complement the poetry. There are three encaustics (hot wax paintings), four oil paintings, two watercolor paintings, four photographs, and eleven digital illustrations or collages. The artwork could stand alone in its own book.
To me, the Vietnam War was a documentary on PBS, but this book brings the reality of the war into sharp focus. Once you’ve read these poems, the words, “Thank you for your service,” stick in your throat and seem so inadequate.
I can’t name one thing that I didn’t like about this book. This book is well written and professionally edited. I did not see any errors. I am giving Fragments a rating of 4 out of 4 stars. This book is an important historical record of the Vietnam War. I would recommend Fragments to every American; however, if this is a sensitive or extremely emotional subject for you, be cautious about reading it. I could only read three or four poems at one sitting before I got too emotional. Then I had to set it down and come back to it later. It does contain some violent imagery and sexual references not suitable for young children.
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