UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2021: The links to the following poems and poets are unfortunately broken: Nicole Goodwin, Colin Halloran, Lynn Houston, Victor Inzunza, and Brian Turner.
I am leaving the entries in place for now, in hopes the links will be restored and to alert readers that the poets and their poems are well worth seeking out by other means.
To honor National Poetry Month, below are poems by forty American writers that reflect and engage America’s 21st-century wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, directly, indirectly, or possibly only in my mind.* They run the gamut from the nation’s poet-laureate to MFA-honed to raw, and are written by veterans, spouses, and interested civilian observers, but they’re all great individually and collectively they articulate the nation’s crazy play of emotions as it sought redress for the sting of the 9/11 attacks. Many thanks to the authors for writing them and much love also for online media sites that feature poets and poetry–please read them, support them, share them, and spread the word.
The links should take you directly to each of the poems, except for Jeremy Stainthorp Berggren’s and Maurice Decaul’s, which are featured on the Warrior Writers page. An additional click on “Writing” will get you in the ballpark, and you can figure it out from there. If you discover a dead link or that access to a poem is blocked by a pay-wall, please let me know.
*Seth Brady Tucker’s “The Road to Baghdad” probably draws on Tucker’s experience in the 1990 Gulf War, but was first published in 2011 and can certainly be read as a contemporary war poem.
1. Graham Barnhart, “What Being in the Army Did.” Beloit Poetry Journal.
2. Chantelle Bateman, “PTSD.” Apiary Magazine.
3. Jeremy Stainthorp Berggren, “Real Vet, Fake Vet.” Warrior Writers.
4. Marvin Bell, “Bagram, Afghanistan, 2002.” The New Yorker.
5. Benjamin Busch,“Madness in the Wild.” Slippery Elm.
6. Eric Chandler, “The Stars and Stripes is Free.” Line of Advance.
7. Liam Corley, “A Veteran Observes the Republic and Remembers Ginsberg.” The Wrath-Bearing Tree.
8. Maurice Decaul, “Shush.” Warrior Writers.
9. Jehanne Dubrow, “Much Tattooed Sailor Aboard the USS New Jersey.” poets.org.
10. Elyse Fenton, “Word from the Front.” Reed Magazine.
11. Amalie Flynn, “Where” and “Know.” New York Times.
12. Frederick Foote, “Birth Rights.” The Piker Press.
13. Kate Gaskin, “The Foxes.” poets.org.
14. Nicole Goodwin, “In Medusa’s Arms.” The Moxie Bee.
15. D.A. Gray, “Makeshift: The Mortar’s Whistle/Transubstantiation.” Sewanee Review
16. Colin D. Halloran, “I Remember.” Drunken Boat.
17. Pamela Hart, “Penelope at the Shooting Range.” Heron Tree.
18. Lynn Houston, “At the Harbor Lights Motel After You Return.” As It Ought To Be.
19. Victor Inzunza, “The Part of Ourselves We’re Afraid Of.” Pacific Review.
20. Brock Jones, “Explaining the Unexplainable.” Mobius: The Journal of Social Change.
21. Shara Lessley, “The Test.” Missouri Review.
22. Hugh Martin, “Ways of Looking at an IED.” Blackbird.
23. Phil Metres, “Hung Lyres (for Mohamedou Ould Slahi).” Poets Reading the News.
24. Dunya Mikhail, “The Iraqi Nights.” Poetry Foundation.
25. Abby E. Murray, “Asking for a Friend.” RHINO/Frontier Poetry.
26. Jenny Pacanowski, “Strength in Vulnerability.” Women Veterans’ Rhetoric.
27. Drew Pham, “How to Remember Your Ancestors’ Names.” The WWrite Blog.
28. Robert Pinsky, “The Forgetting.” Poetry in Multimedia.
29. Kevin Powers, “Improvised Explosive Device.” Bookanista.
30. Frances Richey, “Letters.” poets.org
31. Roy Scranton, “And nevermore shall we turn back to the 7-11.” Painted Bride Quarterly.
32. Solmaz Sharif, “Look.” PEN America.
33. Charlie Sherpa, “Toward an understanding of war and poetry told (mostly) in aphorisms.” Wrath-Bearing Tree.
34. Juliana Spahr, “December 2, 2002.” poets.org.
35. Lisa Stice, “While Daddy’s at Training, Our Daughter Asks Questions.” the honest ulsterman.
36. Nomi Stone, “The Door.” Poets.org.
37. Seth Brady Tucker, “The Road to Baghdad.” Colorado Poets Center.
38. Brian Turner, “At Lowe’s Home Improvement Center.” Poetry Daily.
39. Paul Wasserman, “Fifteen Months, Twenty-Two Days.” Time Now.
40. Ben Weakley, “No Take Backs.” Line of Advance.
41. Johnson Wiley, “Shooting Stars of Kuwait” and “A Mother’s Son Returned.” Time Now.
42. Donna Zephrine, “War Sees No Color.” Military Experience & the Arts.