My initial reaction—if we can call two years of brooding initial —is exactly why we need more poetry about the experience of modern war. We need it for catharsis, communication, and reckoning. We need more poetry that forces us to wrestle in the cobwebs and the debris of the darkest corners of the attic. We need to reflect in the mirrors, be they clear, clouded, or cracked, that we find locked away in the trunk. Garcia gave me a key. Maybe it will work for you as well.
An interesting read, but it will not be sharing space on my shelf of favorites, alongside other war poets such as Brian Turner, Marvin Bell, and Wilfred Owens. The book may, however, appeal to the casual poetry reader or to those trying a cross sample of the writing generated by individuals who fought this century’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Writing provides one of the few venues available for leaders seeking to develop themselves through inward reflection, and, to that end, poetry is writing’s finest vehicle for cultivating empathy. Analytic prose is limited in that it can make self-knowledge explicit only by delineating one’s cause-and-effect reasoning. Poems, however, can go where prosaic essays cannot.
In a quiet, quirky, and often quotable collection of poems spanning the late 1970s to present day, poet Michael Brett spins tales of bombs, bodies, and bureaucracies, echoing and updating European traditions of 20th century war poetry. He does so with a wonderfully plainspoken and honest tone of a mid-level political functionary or well-informed citizen—someone engaged in immediately observing conflict, but also intellectually apart from it.
There is craft involved when an author places the work reviewed in context, not just temporally and with other similar works, but alongside its counterparts in the arts—in poetry, music, film, or theater. This craft is what makes a book review enjoyable and when the author strings it together just right, it approaches art.
My first efforts were in high school and they were predictably trite, often to the point of tears. During college years, I was too busy with other, more important affairs to write, yet the times were too intense to ignore the innate power of a good poem; this was the 1960s. I hosted a radio show in college in which, between the music, I would read relevant English and American poetry: Cummings, Whitman, Dickinson, Jeffers, Stevens, Longfellow, and the like. I even created one show around Richard Burton’s readings of Wilfred Owen’s war poetry.
Poetry is an intensely individual experience—for the poet and for the reader of poetry—and begs for diversity because of it. Soldiers experience war differently from civilians and leaders differently from those they lead. The ancients experienced war differently from our contemporaries. Men experience war differently from women. We experience war differently from them and the living experience it differently from the dead. We propose that you—the readers and writers of war poetry—tell us what we’ve missed. Choose your favorite poem (not book, not poet... but poem) and tweet it or respond on Facebook with an author, a title, and the hashtag #TheBridgeReadsPoetry.
It would be a mistake to think the underlying truth in the work lies in any single poem or set of poems. Instead of the individual poems themselves, it is in the contrast between the fears, hopes, and dreams of the two authors—and by extension their respective generations—that the reader will find the greatest revelation.
Mere description cannot approach the inner essence of the experience of war, but poetry can...Rather than attempting to bridge this insurmountable gap, Turner leads us to the edge, pushing us there without pushing us off. Turner later contends, “I have no words to speak of war.” Instead, he translates bullets, moving from Bismarck’s blood and iron to ink and lead. What follows is a collection of poems infused with “the language of blood,” endowed with experience, taking us to edge, showing us what otherwise cannot be seen, and leaving us there to reflect.
Recently we reviewed Stanton S. Coerr’s (SSC) Rubicon: The Poetry of War on The Strategy Bridge (TSB). TSB also sat down with Coerr to learn more about him and to ask a few questions. Originally from North Carolina, Coerr grew up in a family of all women and attended school at Duke where he enrolled in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC).
War poetry has been on a decline. There is an abundance of literature about Afghanistan and Iraq and endless raw video footage. History has never been recorded more completely than today. In this world, however, no voice rises above the media-created noise to make us pause, breathe, think, or — for a moment — shiver. Imagine if one night, on prime-time, we got just two minutes to hear a poem such as Siegfried Sassoon’s “Suicide in the Trenches.”