Regina Reviews on Masham Means Evening
Reviewed by: Devin Pacholik
Poetry can be tough for many readers. Some people are intimidated by poetry that is perhaps a bit mystic; they think maybe they are missing some hidden meaning. My advice? Those readers are reading the wrong poetry. Find a poetry collection that is clear and simple: visual and descriptive, yet rich in emotion.
Masham Means Evening by Kanina Dawson is a collection that does just that. The artistry of the collection is in the emotions of the authorial voice. She writes about her experiences as a serving member of the Canadian military in Afghanistan. Dawson strips away the academy of poetry, and she takes us to a foreign place during a complicated conflict.
Here, the waters of morality are clouded with the dust of war.
In the poem “Last Looks,” the closing line, “I can’t figure out what I’ve lost,” is a heavy, pleading statement. The author does not dress up human desperation. The words of Masham Means Evening are haunted, post-traumatic dirges.
From the opening of the collection, the speaker transplants the reader into a land marred by chaos. “The Road to Bagram” is the narrator’s first trip into war after getting off of a plane from the West. Upon entering this place, we are made aware of a deep history of conflict:
War came too many years ago,
scattered too many teeth among the rocks
where the goats now graze
and where the guard goes to take a shit –
uninterested in the lost jaw bone of some Russian
whose parents no one can name.
This landscape is where individual soldiers’ roles seem futile. The conflict is bigger than any single mission or battle. The concepts of right and wrong are lost here.
There is darkness and violence throughout Masham Means Evening. The speakers often come to crushing realizations in a place where death is everywhere. One such realization is that perhaps soldiers don’t serve for “altruism,” as the speaker is told in “Knock-offs.” This poem, about replica brand-name goods sold in an Afghan market, compares war-time morals to knock-off products: they are unreal ideals.
Dawson fights for good, in the field and in her pages. Afghanistan is a place where high-heel shoes are a luxury during post-Taliban years; women are disfigured for exposing themselves; and a female political candidate is threatened with rape and is subsequently murdered, as in “Electoral Candidate.” Dawson grapples with the idea of killing for peace—that there is a good fight in it, somewhere.
This is not an easy declaration; and yet, it must be made or hope is lost. Maybe it already has been.
The narrator’s trauma from her experience hangs on every word. In “Kingston, January 2007,”the first poem of the collection, the narrator is back in the West. There, she is left out of the hive mind of normal life, describing it as people “linked head to head.”
Masham Means Evening is poetry made from the disparate voices from the Afghan conflict, trying to find their way back into life after war.