Antony Di Nardo’s second collection of poetry, Alien, Correspondent, is a jolting amalgam of texture, mood and words, written following the author’s three-year stay in Beirut between 2006 and 2010. His residence there was based on a work term and was void of personal or familial connections, which he believes made him “a clear-eyed” witness to the conflict there.
Di Nardo points out in his acknowledgements that several events during this time influenced some of the poems in this collection. Specifically, the summer war of 2006 which devastated the city’s southern neighbourhoods and left more than one thousand dead. This was followed in May 2008 by Hezbollah’s three-day bombardment of West Beirut where Di Nardo lived.
Among the poems that affected this reader in particular was “The Tourist,” in which a traveller in a tour bus braces himself as the vehicle undertakes a perilous dirt road. The speaker prays to make it through alive and promises that he will live his life differently if he arrives without incident. What is remarkable about the rhetoric Di Nardo employs in this piece is that it achieves the right balance between pleading and conviction. He writes: “l will buy sunblock and drink rum. / I swear to be a better tourist. / I will note shells on the beach, imitate the birds overhead. / I will make plans to return and contemplate this life as another life. / I swear that I will one day live in sunglasses. / I want to hold the hands, dear God, of my unborn children.”
It is Di Nardo’s recognition of the simple, almost absurd pleasures that lends power to his words. He is not promising anything unrealistic or undeliverable.
“What Kaboom Now Means to Me” captures the manner in which menacing things become commonplace — mortar blasts, sniper fire and men carrying AK-47 machine guns. Yet the ringing in the speaker’s head is the real kind, “the kind that rearranges molecules in your life, the kind that punches holes in how the rest of the day unfolds.” Again, Di Nardo, in few words, articulates the complex idea that though the sounds echo in his mind their residual effect has little to do with sound but rather with how his life has been altered because of them.
There is not enough room in one short review to adequately discuss every selection in this fine collection of almost sixty poems. Worthy of particular mention is the final poem, “Birthplace,” in which Di Nardo considers the notion of being tied to a place, not by birth necessarily, but by experience.
The risk of writing about highly charged political environments is that there can often be a thread of fanaticism that draws the pieces together. Di Nardo’s poems benefit from the fact that he had no official links to Lebanon and thus they indeed bear the mark of an impartial observer. These poems tell a story through the eyes of a Westerner who harbours no prejudice and sees the devastation around him not only as a disservice to humanity but also to a beautiful historic land.