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Book Review: Bastards had the Whole Hill Mined by Dominic Albanese

Cover
Paperback: 77 Pages
Publisher: Les Editions du Zaporogue

BASTARDS HAD THE WHOLE HILL MINED Synopsis: In this collection, Dominic Albanese recalls the hell of Vietnam in poignant, vivid and sometimes humorous pieces. A patchwork of pain and lucidity, these poems are a vibrant hymn to peace and a condemnation of human greed and stupidity.


If you’re here looking for something along the lines of, “I think that I shall never see/a poem as lovely as a tree..,” then go away. This ain’t a fucking tree and it damn sure isn’t lovely. It’s hardcore brutal honesty, gritty and raw and disturbing and, while it may not be lovely, it’s a thing of extremely poignant beauty.

I came across this book in a roundabout and unintentional fashion. To be honest, since I started this blog, fortune has tended to smile on me and a great number of the books I’ve had the pleasure of talking about here have come into my hands that way. In this case, I was discussing poetry with my friend Gabino Iglesias (check out my review of ZERO SAINTS) in a Facebook thread and Dominic Albanese–someone heretofore unknown to me–made a comment on the subject. This prompted Gabino to say, “Oh, have you read this guy…” Gabino had high accolades for him and Dominic very graciously offered me a copy of this book and another titled THEN N NOW.

So what is BASTARDS HAD THE WHOLE HILL MINED? Well, if you’re thinking it has something to do with war, then your thinking is correct. More specifically, it’s a poetic chronicle of one man’s experience of what is arguably the most brutal war in our nation’s history. That would be the Vietnam War and the man would be Dominic Albanese. It’s a painful rendering of the horrors he witnessed, the losses he suffered, the lessons he learned, and his efforts to come to terms with a government and a society that had largely forgotten, even abandoned him.

Dominic Albanese writes poetry like nothing I can remember ever reading. His style is very informal, conversational, and sometimes drifting along in a spontaneous chain of thought musing that takes you in and makes you feel like you’re following along with the life story that he wears behind his eyes. He has a very distinctive, engaging voice that can catch you up and take chunks of time away from you without you even recognizing it’s passing:

“and how
my dear ole pal
put up on the page
“the sounds of silence”
no way
she could have known
that song saved my life
twice
it did (If Maddy were still alive he would tell ya so)
any way
it was up round Dong Ba Tin
on the chopper the AFRTS
played a few new songs
(the guy Robin Williams played in the movie was way
drier)
anyway cause I had
the gunner’s helmet n ear phones on
I could hear it
(I did not just get to be a sappy fuck I been one forever)
so here I am crying
(words of the prophets on the subways walls n all)
we swing low
the gunner is now back in his seat
Me an Maddy di di into the bush
n all hell breaks loose… the twin M60s light up
from the chopper door
n we get away”

Excerpt from 1964

His words are concise and unpretentious, his thoughts bleeding onto the page in a natural flow that is at once beautiful and painful, making the horrific realities of the things he’s been through seem all too real, even to those of us who haven’t experienced them. He seems to let the words spill out directly from his soul, with no intermediary filters to temper or soften the harsh, often difficult to look at realities of a hell that none of us who haven’t been there can imagine:

“No I am so sad
about the latter day hero
the fresh face kid
from the Midwest
who could have been
a Nobel laureate
wasted dead bloated in
Asia jungle heat
to ship home in a bag
as cargo

The same twisted
nine year old marble shooting mentality
that had war boards in A/C basements
(those motherfuckers never even got their hands dirty)
o sure Budapest in 56
you tell me how
that is different than John Foster and Kim, in Iran, or
Henry the K, or another greedy bastard in Chili

Sure we got the freeway
the suburbs the Wall-Marts
the (mutual assured destruction bill of goods)

There is a funny in all this
all those thousands of home
bomb shelters
that teenage delinquents
smoked the first joint in
or played hanky panky in
as
today the sad sand of Omaha Spear Utah
still weeps up blood old chunks of bullets
bones all bones gone”

Excerpt From All Day

When you read BASTARDS HAD THE WHOLE HILL MINED, it’s best to take it in stages, even though the language has a tendency to encourage you to devour the thing in one sitting. It’s not an easy read and it can get overwhelming, the pure emotion so raw, visceral, and painful you can find yourself immersed in the darkness and brutality and miss out on the sheer and unaffected beauty of the thing. Albanese has a pure and unassuming voice, poignant and heartrending but always engaging.

If you like your poetry gritty, dark, and real, you need look no further than the work of Dominic Albanese. In BASTARDS HAD THE WHOLE HILL MINED he tells an important story of a life informed by horror and pain, but also filled with promise and hope as he rounds out the collection with these final thoughts:

“I now sit in the
May Day of my soon to be
sixty ninth year
I am glad to be me
I am glad to be here

This company of poets
and swell pals is
a deserving fit
to stopping the pit
of destructive and
non-productive
bullshit

I do so declare

The get is yet
the yet is best to come
if I can only stay clear
dear
near
to love
trust
respect, the ones who now
share this line breakin
poem makin
wonderful year”

Excerpt from Mayday

He tells his sad but ultimately uplifting story with unflinching courage and direct, straight to the point, no nonsense honesty. I’ve read a lot of poetry in my life, easily tens of thousands of poems both dark and otherwise, but I’ve never read anything like the poetry of Dominic Albanese. Do yourself a favor this month (National Poetry Month) and pick up a copy of BASTARDS HAD THE WHOLE HILL mined. You can do so right here.

 

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Bastards had the Whole Hill Mined by Dominic Albanese

  1. I am stunned thank you my friend…I needed to write this book to get it behind me….took me 50 years to do it….and I am not a real poet I just try to write like one…must put in a word for Donna-Lee who did as much to make this happen as I did….her support and edit was amazing….I go now and write some love poems

    Liked by 1 person

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