Thank you for your thoughtful and thought provoking review. I'm also an admirer of Powers' novel The Yellow Birds and have his collection on my 'to-read' list. It will be interesting to see if I agree with your view.Have you reviewed War Reporter, which you mention as being excellent? I’m flinching my way through it at the moment, not because it isn’t good but rather the subject matter leaves me only able to deal with it one poem at a time.
Thanks for leaving a comment, Caroline. I haven't reviewed War Reporter, although there is currently another piece on Dr Fulminare's Occasional Features (http://sidekickbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/war-poetry-i-mean-today.html) which talks about Powers and O'Brien in similar terms, although I'm not sure I agree with the argument presented there. I'd say that O'Brien's book does in fact interrogate the position of the reporter (and reader) as witness in a way that Powers book does not (or does less successfully) with regard to the soldier. By presenting us with a series of scenes of horror and chaos (quite often decontextualised), it seems to me that O'Brien is forcing us to find a moral stance both to the events and the war reporting he describes. If we are looking at this, he seems to ask, then why are we looking, what sense do we make of it? His aestheticisation of those events in verse (which doesn't make them any less horrible) also raises questions about the aesthetics of the war reporting which the book addresses. I'd have to say, though, that this is a fairly spontaneous response and that I'd need to re-read and think a bit longer before I stuck by that initial judgement.