Sgt. Ryan Goodrich’s experiences, spanning more than twenty countries and ten years of service, have provided him the opportunity to see the world through a different glass and write a book that reveals a small, but truly gripping piece of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan on multiple fronts. With raw power, political controversy, and unsettling brutality, this collection of scars is sure to leave the average reader irreversibly shaken.
Fifty mesmerizing poems and prose recount the struggles military members endure when death stares them in the face and what happens when red lines fade into the darkness of the desert. Interwoven with inflexible truths and grotesquely beautiful imagery, these poems will resonate long after the final bullet is spent.
Sixty years ago I did a five year hitch in the Royal Air Force. It was all "cushy" postings, with no bad people ever shooting in my direction. Although I wasn't ever a candidate for war wounds or PTSD, I learned about the fellowship that the military life presents to its members. I was always a reader, preferring novels and plays. Poetry never attracted me much, but what I read was works by Gray, and Brooke, and especially Kipling. One of the most powerful poems I still recall is Kipling's "Gunga Din". I remember it, not because of the words it contained, but because of the sense of the humanity of the soldiers calling to their native water-bearer, and his devoted dedication to them.
I mention all this, because when I received my copy of Ryan Goodrich's book "Starved for Bullets" I thought it was going to be either a novel or a collection of short stories -- possibly laced with the occasional poem. That is not what it is. It is a compact volume of less than 100 pages containing some of the most powerful poetry of the battlefield I have ever seen anywhere. Goodrich gets inside the mind of the active service Marine and presents the emotions and feelings so that you really feel the moments. These are not pretty little "Look at all the flowers" type poems, these rather have the gritty impact of inviting the reader into the front line with the author. The introductory note about the author indicates that he is a "disabled former Marine". Not quite true -- once a Marine, always a Marine -- "semper fi". Whether his disablement is physical, or PTSD, or a combination, isn't shared, and isn't important to know. What IS important to know is that this is some of the most powerful and artistic poetry I have ever read. The poets I knew as a child included Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Thomas Hardy, and, of course, Rudyard Kipling. All of them have left this earth many years ago, but their poetry lives on. I predict that the poetry in this book will similarly live on long after Ryan Goodrich's time on earth is done.
I am probably not qualified to rate this work. It is complex, some fifty poems. Of these I think I understand perhaps eight. That said, at least three of these are stunningly brilliant. I have to rate the work as I think the average reader will ‘feel’ it. Clearly, I do not have the background to ‘get’ all of this work, so do not let my star count override your judgement of content. More on the stars, counting, and my rating challenges later.
One favourite here is Superman Ultimatum. Incredibly, a Marine in dress blues is the subject of an attempted robbery: “It would have been all too easy to step aside while grabbing his wrist and drop him to his knees as his own weapon turns to greet him, but I had more clever things up the sleeves of my fine dress blue threads.” In this sort-of science fiction story, the criminal is led to wear the Marine’s uniform - and thus suffer his reality: “I knew he was nearing the memory of my fallen comrades accepting the bullets in the streets of Baghdad and I could hear the bones in his spine snapping with a thousand tiny firecrackers as he flopped like a jellyfish blob on the pavement, miles from open seas.” Then we have the stunning conclusion: ““My Honor gives me the power to understand the cost of freedom, so I have the Courage to accept my fears in the face of certain death, while my Commitment to my country binds the two in perfect harmony, forever and ever, amen. Without these three, my friend, I am you.” This poem alone, of which the above is only a sample, is worth the cost of this book.
Another favourite is Silent Dark, where the formatting allows you to not notice that it rhymes pretty much throughout. This is one scary poem: you are in first person leading a hit squad with difficult decisions on collateral damage.
If you’re scrolling for my usual tiny carps, stop here. There may be one homonymous misspelling. Nothing, in short. But realize, these poems are, for the most part, hard and complex.
Another favourite is Tattered Camouflage: why does one person live while others die in an ambush? Read this poem and find out.
Again in Neanderthal we are treated, in third person (thank God!) to the feelings of a veteran returning home. Rage. This is one scary piece.
Shiny Blues is a hard poem which I think I get. The irony of a child’s view of the soldier is quite moving. Again in Paranoia this: “My mind is numb and this dream makes me realize my eyes were never closed.” This is not a work for children and not for squeamish adults.
If you’re looking for social commentary, In Thirteen on Liberty you will find this: “Lust! /Leisure! /And the pursuit of hand-grenades!” And, In A Cold Day in Hell, this: “these aren’t necessary in a circus where the freaks become the onlookers who refuse to interrupt the show.”
All that said, how do I come up with three stars? My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. This is a tough book. If I had been able to get twice as many poems ‘in my head’ this would be five stars. The ones I did get are scarily strong. Your pleasure may vary: if you’re looking for an easy read, this may not be it. If you’re ‘up’ in military jargon and situations, you may well rate this book higher. Three stars it is from this curmudgeon, and still, strongly recommended.
Kindle Book Review Team member.
(Note: this reviewer received a free copy of this book for an independent review. He is not associated with the author or Amazon.)
Ryan Goodrich’s compilation of poems takes us full circle of a soldier’s maturation from becoming a Marine to experiencing the struggles learning to put one’s training to the test on the fields of combat. Such tests of one’s confidence, leadership and courage are shown in such poems as In the Streets of Amman, Watch Out and I Am the Bullet.
But as every soldier does who has to struggle with the perils of combat and deprivation and terror and boredom that soldier’s also begin to query as to what they are doing is all about. In questions posed by a thoughtful soldier would bring out such poems as Goodrich expresses in A Soul’s Regress, Starved for Bullets and The Warrior’s Cry.
Deployment for any soldier brings on strange lands, customs and wonderment as to what the purposes and actions of their deployment was all about. It is as if the soldier who always must obey order and does so but deep down in his mind is forming out their youthful basis of their basis for life one which they will carry for the rest of their lives. Such poems as Broken Haloes, Premeditated Memory and Umbrellas for Sails attest to this maturation of the soldier.
As always soldiers not just from the United States but from all nations will always contemplate the actions of their non-combatant leaders. Those Kings and politicians who bring us into harm’s way are always questioned by the soldier. The author sets this all up in his final set of poems in Part VII titled Politics, Prejudice, and Permanence.
This compilation of poems will attest not only what it is to be a Marine but also on how every soldier whatever the nationality experiences on their grand tours of service.
This is an interesting first self-published book of mostly poetic reminiscences of experiences and events during the service in the US Marines by the author. For readers who are looking to in some way sense the emotional aspects of these dramatic events from the inside these poems and short essays describe as nearly as possible for words to tell those feelings. Not beautiful, not ugly, but human all the way through.