22 April 2015

A Round-up of Poetry Books About 21st Century Wars

An impromptu "war party" of writers at the national Association of Writers and Writing
Programs (AWP) conference in Minneapolis earlier this month. Poets, novelists, memoirists,
essayists, and other story-tellers engaged in exploring themes and experiences of war.
April is National Poetry Month. The wars continue.

Civilians, service members, and veterans continue to engage America's 21st century wars through writing, and more than a few are doing so through poetry. War poetry didn't end with the First World War. As a means of communicating and commenting on military experiences, poetry remains just as relevant and vital as other forms of literature and media.

Don't believe me? I'll let an expanding and diverse chorus of modern war-poetry voices argue the point for me.

Earlier this month, I was lucky to meet up with some war-lit practitioners and camp followers at the 2015 conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (A.W.P.) conference in Minneapolis. Because I'd traveled by ground, I was also able to stuff my rucksack with plenty of new books and journals. More than a week later, you might say I'm still conducting document exploitation.

The AWP conference is the largest such event in North America, gathering approximately 12,000 writers, editors, teachers, and others. The 2015 event featured more than 2,500 presenters and 550 readings, panels, and lectures about craft. The concurrent book fair featured more than 700 presses, publications, and other organizations engaged in the making and distribution of literature. In 2016, the event travels to Los Angeles. In 2017, the event travels to Washington, D.C.

Rather than posting my own After-Action Report, I'll point readers toward such dispatches at Peter Molin's "Time Now" blog, as well as author Sioban Fallon's blog.

Now, let's talk about poetry.

I've heard it said that the people who read (and buy) poetry are most likely poets themselves. The truism is often meant as a criticism, as if poets were alone in constructing elaborate (and, no doubt, metaphorical) echo chambers in response to the worlds around them.

Poetry is just like any activity, however. People who write fiction tend to buy and read fiction. People who create video games tend to buy and consume video games. People who talk on Sunday morning news shows tend to watch Sunday morning news shows. Bottom line: We're all talking to ourselves, when we talk to each other.

What poetry offers over some of these other forms is that it is relatively accessible. The cost of entry is low. You can buy a collection of poetry for less than $20, or you can browse the public library shelves. Books of poetry don't take very long to read, and you can skim and flit about the pages to find poems that interest you. You can toss poems away with little guilt, or enthusiastically push them into other readers' hands and lives.

Regardless of your reaction to any given work, you will at least have considered, for the briefest of moments, the world around you as seen through someone else's eyes. And that is the first step toward changing minds, and changing realities.

As Tim Green, editor of the poetry magazine Rattle, recently said in an interview on the Poetry Has Value blog:
The real currency for poetry is attention; poets get to have a voice in the din, they get to move people, change the thinking, explore ideas and feelings, create images that were never there before—and we have a pretty large group of poetry lovers to appreciate it. It’s an art that costs extraordinarily little to pursue, is open to anyone, is encouraging of unique voices and perspectives. […]
So, in celebration of National Poetry Month, here's a start toward a "Mother of All 21st Century War Poetry Lists." These are titles that are on my bookshelf—those which deal with Iraq and Afghanistan and places in between—any and all of which I personally recommend to you. Again, it's a start. Check them out. Collect them all. Trade with your friends.

Most importantly, tell me what I'm missing!



  1. Excellent list! I love it.

    Maybe include Amalie Flynn's 'Wife and War' or her blog? https://wifeandwar.wordpress.com/

    1. Thanks for the recommendation! Given that Flynn's poetry is so accessible on-line, I added it under "on-line poetry journals." Her memoir is on my ever-growing to-read shelf. It would be neat to see a print poetry collection from her as well!!


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