The Shooting Gallery, Carrie EtterCream cover with black capital lettering for title and author above an etching of a knarled leafless tree with pistols hanging from it by threads

Verve Poetry Press, 2020    £7.50

Youth devastated by violence

The first half of Carrie Etter’s pamphlet of prose poems is inspired by the surrealist drawings of Toyen, a Czech artist. The resulting themes explore childhood, with its strange isolation when subverting adult expectations, alongside the destructive power of war-time violence. Metaphors juxtapose childhood objects with dismembered birds and broken buildings.

Through writing in response to Toyen, Etter began to see how closely she associated youth and violence with her own home country (the USA), most notably through high school and university shootings. Consequently, the second half of the pamphlet consists of prose poems about real events in the US, including a shooting in Etter’s home town.

As with Toyen’s drawings, every poem bears the same title: ‘The Shooting Gallery’. In the second section, there’s also a by-line with the name of the particular institution and date of event. This creates a disturbing barrage effect, almost like gunfire.

The use of prose poetry works well for such a difficult and emotive subject. The poet’s language is incredibly spare, recording events of specific detail. For example::

                       Each segment of land
has a single specimen: steel chains; a backpack spilling
textbooks; a Glock 19; the corpse of a teenager.

     [‘The Shooting Gallery, Virginia Tech, 2007’]

There’s no need to direct the reader on how to respond. I was particularly moved by the second Virginia Tech poem which took on a slightly more surrealist slant, describing how the named lecturer is now in heaven, not being asked about ‘his experience of the Holocaust or about the university shooting, but about his work in aeroelasticity’. It ends with the following lines (these are part of a fully justified prose-poem paragraph:

                                                              He often pauses as he
answers, smiling broadly, and glances over his shoulder, where
out of the windows his students still climb.

Overall, this is a powerful, assured work with a taut, controlled tone. Etter’s use of concrete imagery conjures each campus and its terrible event in the mind’s eye. I could vividly picture each group of parents huddled together waiting for news.

Zannah Kearns