Set in our post 9/11 climate of deceit and suspicion, the poems in Deniability utilize the vocabularies of bureaucracy and religion, exploring how the former co-opts the ancient latter, to such consequential effect.
Wielding clichés, repurposed words, rootless acronyms, and the persuasive lingo of expertise, these poems betray or undermine their speakers’ confidence. Civil networks erode with mutual suspicion; surveillance holds neighbors at one remove. One woman steels herself for mortal crisis; commuters walk, ride, and pray in heightened states of awareness; a SEAL team is ambushed, an official blows smoke around a troubling admission, and a child asks three questions on what might be the last day of her life.
With wit and formal acuity balanced by emotion, Deniability considers what we lose when we abdicate the power of language, and so surrender to the seductive language of power.
Advance praise for Deniability:
“George Witte’s Deniability takes on the war on terror, chronicling the myriad ways in which, with language as accomplice, it has left “the mind’s-eye map . . . undone.” In verse forms attuned to contain a flyaway reality, Witte relentlessly deconstructs the host of verbal misappropriations such as “hearts and minds,” “just war,” “rendition,” and “friendly fire” that blindside political discourse and with every repetition are “pearled anew.” Beginning with the fall of the Twin Towers and traveling forward in time, Deniability tracks an America enthralled by images of violence and fear. The deeply ironic voice of many of the poems is that of “we the people,” whose government’s power “to crush again and kiss the damage” enslaves both other nations and ourselves.” –Lee Sharkey, author of A Darker, Sweeter String
“That arch-citizen, Suspicious, who lived among Them in the Cold War, now lives among Us. Is Us now. We all feel the costs and compromises of living ordinary lives in a nation whose actions contradict its ideals, but naming those costs and compromises (the first step toward contesting them) is difficult when our linguistic well has been poisoned by pervasive lying. That is why, now as ever, now more than ever, we need poetry, and it is the challenge George Witte’s Deniability accepts. From its first word, “uh-oh,” to its last, “listen,” Deniability shows us — commuters in “the tattooed N or R train / Eeling underground” — our lives, tenders us that clarity the absence of which “dispossesses our heirs by / failing,” as our leaders and media have failed, “to record the deed.” –H. L. Hix, National Book Award finalist author of Chromatic
“'Deniability is a book that begins with disasters and disorientations and moves through various tensions towards a questioning of witness, particularly photography. Formally held but lightly at an angle, the movement of the verse is sharp and a little purposively jerky, as though the whole world were on edge, the writing now dense and compressed, now clean like an open highway. There is always the option of tight control but options remain open. It is the tensions of our time George Witte is articulating and singing into shape. As he says: "Every corner / seems another threshold, as though/ you carry something delicate / from block to block toward home…'”
–George Szirtes, author of Reel