April 28, 2011

Why Poetry Matters: War Poetry —– April/May 2011.

Last year, I joined the Nittany Valley Writer’s Network in Pennsylvania, and I have been trying to convince some of the other members of the wondrous nature of poetry. Consequently, they’ve asked me to write a column in the newsletter on “Why Poetry Matters”, the title taken from Jay Parini’s excellent book Why Poetry Matters.

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War is all over the news at the moment. The Jasmine Revolution in the Middle East has seen millions of people rise up to demand a new democracy. The news coverage is insufficient to convey their sacrifice. Poetry, however, might fill this gap, because it offers language free from political jingoism.

There have been many solider poets, from the English World War One poets like Wilfred Owen, to the modern day Brian Turner who served in the US army in Iraq. Most recently, however, I discovered Elyse Fenton’s Clamor, which won the $50,000 Dylan Thomas Prize.

Fenton is married to a trauma specialist in the US Army, and_Clamor_ is based on experiences of waiting for him to return from Iraq. The opening poem, ‘Gratitude’, finds the wife listening to her husband describe the grotesque scenes witnessed by her husband. When the body of a burned soldier is delivered ‘beyond recognition’, her husband must be ‘the one to sink the rubber catheter tube’. The distance is frustrating; over the phone, the wife hears ‘rotors / scalping the tarmac-grey sky’. The conversation and the story end, but the question is how long can anyone, let alone her husband, survive? How long before he comes home? The final image might indicate relief or foreboding.


[…] That moment just before we think the end will never come and then
the moment when it does.

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