(A review of Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire by Randy Brown, A.K.A. “Charlie Sherpa”)
Billy Wilder was an Academy Award winning director and writer. He said, “If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you.” Randy Brown, A.K.A. Charlie Sherpa must’ve heard this quote before he wrote his great book of poetry titled Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire.
I have experience with vacations to the Middle East. So, when I read Charlie Sherpa’s poem “Laundry List” where he mentions “Embraced the Suck” as something that he did downrange, it rings true. Whenever somebody complained near my squadron weapons officer in Iraq in 2005, he’d cradle his arms and pretend he was kissing a baby and say, “Embrace it!” I smirked and read on, knowing this stuff was worthy.
But you don’t have to be a military person to get wrapped up here. Sherpa does a great job blending the world of combat with the civilian world back home. He’s good at contrasting the foreign with the familiar. And for you civilians out there, there are a bunch of notes at the end explaining some of the terms and acronyms that might have you stumped.
The poems range from the outright humorous to the dark. Sometimes just lines apart. In “wait for it” he sandwiches the following between two funny sections:
War also is often more boring than not.
Then, it is scalding. Do not covet action.
And in “Hamlet in Afghanistan”:
So make a choice, and remember:
Over-thinking makes cowards of us all.
After you’ve been in a couple of scrapes, you realize the truth of what Sherpa is saying.
The poem “what sacrifice has been” does an excellent job of portraying the anguish military folks feel at being thanked. You wouldn’t think that would be a problem, but it is. I think this is where civilians and members of the armed services are trying to reach out to each other and not quite connecting. I read this at least ten times. Maybe someday we’ll realize we’re all on the same team. That there is no “other” to be thanked. Until then, poets like Sherpa need to keep writing bits like this one.
Read “Dulce et Decorum est, Redux.” You may remember the original from school. You may want body armor before reading this one. Sherpa says, “You were not there to sniff the air with us,…” and I find myself nodding.
He ends with “Suburbistan.” He perfectly captured the feelings of someone who has escaped into the safety of the future and, for some reason, still looks back fondly on the scary past.
I liked Charlie Sherpa’s book of poetry. So, now, let us reference “The Sherpatudes.” This is a list of 26 of his maxims. Let us now turn to Sherpatude #21 to explain Randy Brown’s book:
- Knowing how it works is more powerful than knowing how it’s supposed to work.
Charlie Sherpa’s poetry works. I don’t know how. I’m not a trained writer, so I don’t even know how it’s supposed to work.
I can tell you this: It does NOT suck. But you should embrace his book anyway.