An ex-soldier’s take on recent war poetry

Nathaniel Fick at the Poetry Foundation:

Screenhunter_01_nov_14_0940The bag at my feet is filled with military manuals, but I prefer the poems, thinking they may be my last chance to reflect for a while. War’s intensity is a great catalyst for reflection, but few combatants can afford the luxury. Most real thought must wait until the shooting stops. I wish I could say I took strength in combat from poetry or prayer or love, but I didn’t. I was concerned with more prosaic things: studying maps, planning missions, and cleaning weapons. When I had a few minutes free, I slept.

I do, though, remember two encounters with poetry during my first trip to Afghanistan. Late one evening, while camped in the desert near Kandahar, one of my marines called me over to listen as he read aloud from a book of Kipling’s verse:

      When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
      And the women come out to cut up what remains,
      Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
      An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

He laughed, and so did I, mainly because it didn’t seem very funny at the time.

More here.