Review – Michael Lally, March 18, 2003


Jim Feast

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 109 in 2004.

Michael Lally's March 18, 2003 is a powerful pouring forth of militant outrage against America's new policy of preemptive strike. Himself wounded, recovering from a cancer operation, he witnesses the United States wounding Iraq. The poem is an unrolled indictment that castigates, among other things, the military in Afghanistan, "the memory of the Afghan boys who died in the custody of our interrogators"; the greed of our energy czars, the "whims of Bush the Great," and the dangers of oil-burning toxins under which the air itself has been stifled.

But that is not all the poem is. If the crimes and tides of wanton destruction, insofar as they can be laid at the door of our military, corporate, and political leaders, are not trumpeted or even mentioned by the mass media, they are not hard to unearth by a scrupulous person. But, Lally asks, where are these scrupulous people? Where are the other streams of anger to join his? These are paraphrases of two of the most searching questions in a poem that is structured as a series of questions. He can't kid himself by saying that the reading of his poem will add others to the camp of those who will speak out against the war. He presents the thoughts of a person who would rather withdraw than fight against the situation:

Can you hear yourself think
with all these hard surfaces
reflecting the clatter
of all the shit that doesn't
even matter anymore?
Can't we just close the door?

Yet, while refusing to kid himself, he can't deny this: "Haven't I said and written more than once that poetry saved my life?" He had joined the army in the Vietnam era, shoved into it by life in a working-class landscape that offered few choices. But once out of the service he went to college on the GI bill, it "filled my head with information .. that made me fell alienated from all [the propaganda] I'd known." He tells us this to show that the possibility for human liberation is not a fairy story, but an experience he had lived. It may seem, we

Have walked through the door to the future and
found ourselves on fire before we can see

However, his own life has proved that if you are able to enter into a progressive, Blakean, Whitmanesque, Levertovian poetry, exposing yourself fully to its force, then you only have to wait until it distributes wings.