What Garard’s poem does best is return us to a proper understanding of war as not a place of moral justification, but a place of moral complexity, where armies ignorant of morality, or at least consciously suppressing it, clash by night.
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.
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.