East Bay Express

April 14, 2005

Voices in Wartime
Not Rated

The rapping GIs in Gunner Palace are just the latest in a long line of battlefield poets that spans borders and centuries. They aren't mentioned in this earnest and often moving documentary, which explores the intersection of war and verse, but their bitter resignation echoes through the stunningly unsentimental Great War stanzas of British officers Wilfrid Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. The doc's timing -- and a section on Sam Hamill igniting a Poets Against the War movement as his RSVP to Laura Bush's invitation to a writer symposium -- gives it an anti-Iraq War slant, but the P.O.V. is more broadly antiwar. Veteran director Rick King lacks the inspiration to make a truly poetic work, but the familiar blend of archival war footage and talking heads allows for several haunting passages. When David Connolly, a Vietnam vet with a terse South Boston brogue, reads his brilliant, brutal verse, we're reminded that poetry can be as eloquent a critique of war as the most graphic newsreels, and as visceral an account of combat as memoirs or journalism. -- Michael Fox