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Book Review: Dominic Albanese - Bastards Had the Whole Hill Mined (2015)

Book Review: Dominic Albanese - Bastards Had the Whole Hill Mined (2015)


Nothing good can be said about the Vietnam War. Besides the more than 1 million people who died, the conflict left a country ravaged and changed the life of many soldiers forever. Over 58,000 American soldiers died in Vietnam, and those that came back to a hostile home had physical and emotional/psychological scars that would stay with them for the rest of their life. Dominic Albanese's Bastards Had the Whole Hill Mined is a perfect reminder of what happened in that war. It's also a collection of poems that proves that beauty, humor, and brotherhood can be found even when the world around you is full of death, fear, and destruction.

Bastards Had the Whole Hill Mined is, more than a poetry collection, the life narrative of a man who experienced the best and the worst war had to offer and somehow lived to tell the tale of what he saw, what he hoped, how he changed, and the good friends he lost in that humid jungle to enemy bullets as well as those he lost to other demons once they'd returned home. Surprisingly, Albanese has a knack for humor, and there are poems here that make the reader smile even when they're preceded and followed by tension and a few different kinds of pain. Ultimately, while learning about one man's experiences in Vietnam is more than enough to make this book a recommended read, the author ties together his past and present with that of the country he defended, and that's what makes these poems special:

A lot has happened

since 1964, some has changed

but some is all so sadly the same

war, threats of, preparing for

worse yet, lamenting the loss of

"stolen valor"

This whole notion that power is

power leaves me sad, sorry for my service

and aware of a few very real truths

death is forever

money is a cruel and thoughtless master


could be


safe, well fed, cooperative, conjoined

in the pursuit of of life and liberty


the death sellers, the war mongers

would not see it so

There's a bizarre raw beauty to this book. Albanese is focused on telling his story and sharing his feelings and memories, and he throws standard grammar out the window and embraces poetic license. There are a few commas, no periods, and a few words he spells his own way in here, and that helps him have a unique voice. He also has an odd sense of rhythm, but two or three poems in, letting his cadence take over, rare as it is, is inevitable because the force of what's being told supersedes any preconceived notions of how poetry should flow. 

Every soldier that came back from Vietnam had stories to tell, and Albanese pours all of his into this collection. From celebrating the life of a great friend lost to the violence to making fun of himself for cheating death and crapping his pants in the process, Bastards Had the Whole Hill Mined feels like a very complete narrative despite its reduced word count.

This is gritty, raw, personal writing that deserves to be read. These poems are narratives offered by a man who's seen death up close and personal and still has a sense of humor to make jokes about. Ultimately, this is also a collection that should be read because what's being shared is too powerful to ignore and too important to forget, and Albanese is putting it out there despite the pain doing so causes him:

someone I love

asked me

for some of my

Vietnam poetry


I get chills

might vomit

looking over that stuff

O Dear God, the buried

the bones

the sadness of that

fucking war

haunts me still


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