39 American Iraq-and-Afghanistan War Poets

Soldiers Patrolling Wheatfield, Khost Province, Afghanistan (USAF-ISAF photo)

To honor National Poetry Month, below are poems by thirty-nine 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.

*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. Benjamin Busch,“Madness in the Wild.” Slippery Elm.

5. Eric Chandler, “The Stars and Stripes is Free.”  Line of Advance.

6. Liam Corley, “A Veteran Observes the Republic and Remembers Ginsberg.” The Wrath-Bearing Tree.

7. Maurice Decaul, “Shush.” Warrior Writers.

8. Jehanne Dubrow, “Much Tattooed Sailor Aboard the USS New Jersey.” poets.org.

9. Elyse Fenton, “Word from the Front.” Reed Magazine.

10. Amalie Flynn, “Where” and “Know.” New York Times.

11. Frederick Foote, “Birth Rights.” The Piker Press.

12. Kate Gaskin, “The Foxes.” poets.org.

13. Nicole Goodwin, “In Medusa’s Arms.” The Moxie Bee.

14. D.A. Gray, “Makeshift: The Mortar’s Whistle/Transubstantiation.” Sewanee Review

15. Colin D. Halloran, “I Remember.” Drunken Boat.

16. Pamela Hart, “Penelope at the Shooting Range.” Heron Tree.

17. Lynn Houston, “At the Harbor Lights Motel After You Return.”  As It Ought To Be.

18. Victor Inzunza, “The Part of Ourselves We’re Afraid Of.” Pacific Review.

19. Brock Jones, “Explaining the Unexplainable.” Mobius: The Journal of Social Change.

20. Shara Lessley, “The Test.” Missouri Review.

21. Hugh Martin, “Ways of Looking at an IED.” Blackbird.

22. Phil Metres, “Hung Lyres (for Mohamedou Ould Slahi).” Poets Reading the News.

23. Dunya Mikhail, “The Iraqi Nights.” Poetry Foundation.

24. Abby E. Murray, “Asking for a Friend.” RHINO/Frontier Poetry.

25. Jenny Pacanowski, “Strength in Vulnerability.” Women Veterans’ Rhetoric.

26. Drew Pham, “How to Remember Your Ancestors’ Names.” The WWrite Blog.

27. Robert Pinsky, “The Forgetting.” Poetry in Multimedia.

28. Kevin Powers, “Improvised Explosive Device.” Bookanista.

29. Roy Scranton, “And nevermore shall we turn back to the 7-11.” Painted Bride Quarterly.

30. Solmaz Sharif, “Look.” PEN America.

31. Charlie Sherpa, “Toward an understanding of war and poetry told (mostly) in aphorisms.”  Wrath-Bearing Tree.

32. Juliana Spahr, “December 2, 2002.” poets.org.

33. Lisa Stice, “While Daddy’s at Training, Our Daughter Asks Questions.” the honest ulsterman.

34. Nomi Stone, “The Door.” Poets.org.

35. Seth Brady Tucker, “The Road to Baghdad.” Colorado Poets Center.

36. Brian Turner, “At Lowe’s Home Improvement Center.” Poetry Daily.

37. Paul Wasserman, “Fifteen Months, Twenty-Two Days.” Time Now.

38. Johnson Wiley, “Shooting Stars of Kuwait” and “A Mother’s Son Returned.” Time Now.

39. Donna Zephrine, “War Sees No Color.”  Military Experience & the Arts.

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7 Comments on “39 American Iraq-and-Afghanistan War Poets”

  1. My favorite (apparently I like getting gut-punched) was #11 by Hugh Martin. Maurice Decaul in a close second.

    The kid painting a T on Turner’s forehead in Lowe’s was frightening.

    Roy Scranton talking about taking off your shoes made me laugh, as I do every time I take off my shoes.

    Pinsky for mentioning Stephen Wright.

    Busch’s poem made me think of a time in Alaska when a moose fell off a cliff and fell to its death on a highway. Suicide? The moose went, “Whoawhoawhoa” and slipped, making a mistake? Never thought of an animal making a mistake or being on a “spectrum.”

    Thanks for sharing this, Peter.

    • Peter Molin Says:

      Shmo–thanks for your own great contribution, as well as your responses to the poems–I can entirely believe that you laugh every time you take off your shoes! Every one of those poems is a joy in and of itself, for its own reasons, and they’re all full of wonderful lines, images, and wisdom. Some of them I’ve known for a while, but others, such as Roy Scranton’s and Jehanne Dubrow’s, were new discoveries, so I’m still in the initial throws of marvel.

  2. Matt Oaks Says:

    These are brilliant. I was surprised by a few as well. I have been reading The Killing Flower by W.K. Dwyer about a soldier in Iraq shortly after 9/11 and his struggle of the mind. It’s intense but very good. These were all really good!

    • Peter Molin Says:

      Matt, I love ’em, too, both individually and collectively. As I put the post together, I was surprised by how powerfully the poems worked as a unified reading experience–especially since my principle of selection was random and artificial: Though I was aware of all the poets, I found most of the individual poems by randomly surfing the web and then arranged them in alphabetical order by author’s last name. I haven’t heard of W.K. Dwyer, but I’ll check him out–thanks!

  3. john Says:


    • Peter Molin Says:

      Those are excellent poems, and I’ve never heard of Jones before, so many thanks. I’ll look online for a single poem of Jones’ that I like and include it on the list next time I update it.

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