This Land Is Not My Land, 2nd Edition by A.D. Winans. Presa Press, 2014.
Review by Margaret Rozga
The poems in A. D. Winans’ This Land Is Not My Land are set either in Panama or at Lackland Air Base in San Antonio, Texas, raising a question about which land the pronoun “this” in the book’s title refers to. Given the map of Central America on the book’s cover, “this” would seem to refer to Panama, but the world of Lackland Air Base is also characterized by abusive and dehumanizing practices carried out in the name making “men” of the young soldiers training there. Then in Panama, we see the product of this training, men who smoke dope and purchase sex.
Most of the twenty-seven Panama segments focus on an episode of purchased sex between U.S. soldiers and Panamanian women and girls. The emphasis is not so much on the sex itself as on details of its surroundings, the space curtained off with blankets, the $5.00 payment. There is no love gained or lost. What is lost is innocence and human dignity.
As Harold Norse notes in the book’s preface, one “can’t help but feel compassionate outrage for the innocent victims.” Yet because the speaker in these works, presumably the author, never quite distances himself from the exploitative behavior, I find myself questioning the assertion in the title. With a few notable exceptions, he seems complicit in the exploitation. One such exception occurs when in “Panama Sixteen” he is arrested with Panamanian students in a demonstration where the students were “brave enough to face the / National Guardsmen / and how they had stared / them down,” an action for which his sergeant took him “under his wing / and had me baptized / into his Lutheran faith.”
For the most part, however, the soldier’s sexual and economic exploitation of the women enacts on another level the domination of Panama by the United States:
Panamanians were treated
Allowed there only to work
Second class citizens
In their own country
Denied the right to fly
Their flag alongside that
Of old glory
This despite the fact the
Canal Zone was leased
Not owned by the U.S.
Rather than see himself as co-exploiter, the soldier narrator sees himself and other soldiers as victims because they are “unwelcome” by Panamanians, one soldier beaten in an un-American riot “for crimes committed centuries before / he was born. Nothing explains what these long-ago crimes were or why they are cited here rather than the more immediate ones depicted in the other poems in this volume.
Those soldiers who are determined to extricate themselves from the exploitation must take extreme measures, as, for example, the soldier who deliberately “shot / His toe off / On post one night”.
The language in the book overall is mostly expository. It is broken into lines in ways that seem random. For these reasons I am reluctant to call this work successful poetry. Harold Norse seems on target when in his preface he calls these pieces “short thumbnail sketches.” Even so, given the selection of detail and its relentless composite effect, this book has the impact of powerful raw emotion. There’s enough here to make a reader question what has been and likely continues to be done in the name of her or his country.
Margaret Rozga has three books: 200 Nights and One Day (Benu Press 2009), Though I Haven’t Been to Baghdad (Benu Press 2012), and Justice Freedom Herbs (Word Tech Press 2015). She served as managing editor of the poetry chapbook anthology Turn Up the Volume: Poems About the States of Wisconsin. Her Pushcart Prize nominated essay “Community Inclusive: A Poetics to Move Us Forward” is included in Local Grounds: Midwest Poetics. She was awarded a 2014 Creative Fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society to do research for a book of poems focused on Jessie Benton Frémont.