Poem Sampler

Veterans Day Poems

Classic and contemporary poems that explore the meaning of Veterans Day.

by Becca Klaver

In poems, podcasts, articles, and more, writers measure the human effects of war.  As they present the realities of life for soldiers returning home, the poets here refrain from depicting popular images of veterans. Still, there are familiar places: the veterans’ hospitals visited by Ben Belitt, Elizabeth Bishop, Etheridge Knight, and W.D. Snodgrass; the minds struggling with post-traumatic stress in Stephen Vincent Benét’s and Bruce Weigl’s poems. Other poets salute particular soldiers, from those who went AWOL (Marvin Bell) to Congressional Medal of Honor winners (Michael S. Harper). Poet-veterans Karl Shapiro, Randall Jarrell, and Siegfried Sassoon reflect on service (“I did as these have done, but did not die”) and everyday life (“Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats”). Sophie Jewett pauses to question “the fickle flag of truce.” Sabrina Orah Mark’s soldier fable is as funny as it is heartbreaking—reminding us, as we remember our nation’s veterans, that the questions we ask of war yield no simple answers.

POEMS

Veteran’s Hospital” by Ben Belitt

Veterans of the Seventies” by Marvin Bell

Minor Litany” by Stephen Vincent Benét

Visits to St. Elizabeths” by Elizabeth Bishop

The City’s Oldest Known Survivor of the Great War” by James Doyle

Debridement” by Michael S. Harper

Eight Air Force” by Randall Jarrell

Armistice” by Sophie Jewett

At a VA Hospital in the Middle of the United States of America: An Act in a Play” by Etheridge Knight

The Traitor” by Sabrina Orah Mark

Dreamers” by Siegfried Sassoon

Troop Train” by Karl Shapiro

Pacemaker” by W. D. Snodgrass

Song of Napalm” by Bruce Weigl

 

ARTICLES

 Poetry, Wartime, and Unwieldy Metaphors” by Cliff Doerksen
Jorie Graham, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Gary Snyder participate in a panel.

When Yellow Ribbons and Flag-Waving Aren’t Enough” by Nathaniel Fick
An ex-soldier’s take on recent war poetry.

War-Torn Congregation” by Emory Gillespie
When war quarantines the visionary portions of the Bible, an Iowa minister turns to poetry and gets in trouble.

Poetry and the Pentagon: Unholy Alliance?” by Eleanor Wilner

Letter to the Editor” by Yusef Komunyakaa

 

AUDIO

Poems of Peace and War: Chicago Humanities Festival Panel, 2006
Introduction: Philip Metres
Panelist: Yusef Komunyakaa

Concrete Poetry
Hear Yusef Komunyakaa read and reflect on the history of war, from the Roman era to Vietnam.

Battle of the Bards
Hear Denise Levertov’s scathing Vietnam poem “Life at War,” and find out why it made her friend Robert Duncan declare war on her.

During the War
A poem by Philip Levine
.

 

VIDEO

The Warrior” by Frances Richey
Richey and her son talk about the collection and their unique perspectives on the war.

 

POEM GUIDE

Robin Ekiss on Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Facing It”
What happens when metaphor meets a monument?

 

FORUM

Can Poetry Console a Grieving Public?
Sandra M. Gilbert introduces a selection of responses from Eavan Boland, Rafael Campo, Mark Doty, Martín Espada, Marilyn Hacker, Alicia Ostriker, Gail Holst-Warhaft, Jahan Ramazani, and James Tatum
.

 

Originally Published: November 11, 2010

COMMENTS (7)

On November 9, 2011 at 10:20am bethany farson wrote:
my grandpa, he is a veteran, although he made it through, he risked his life. For all of us who are living their everyday lives. So today, I bow my head and pray for all of them loved ones, relative, and even teenagers, fighting, serving our country I say thank you!

On November 11, 2011 at 8:10pm Keith Schoch wrote:
Nice selection of poems, but surprised at the omission of "In Flanders Fields" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Flanders_Fields).

On October 25, 2012 at 3:28pm jakob wrote:
awesome poem very awesomepoem

On November 4, 2012 at 8:09pm Curt Vevang wrote:
Many years ago I heard the adage, "When someone gets something they didn't earn, someone else earned something they didn't get". This adage has stuck with me and has been coming to mind more and more often each time I see or hear the plight of another soldier who has been maimed, killed or suffering from a brain injury. These men and women get so very little praise or even awareness from the vast majority of our country
that I was moved to write this poem. I'm an engineer who worked in the defense industry rather than serving in the military. It was important work but there was a world of difference. I worked all day engineering F4 aircraft without any one ever shooting at me.

Owed to the Life of the Soldier
Curt Vevang

You saved our freedom by going to war.
I worked and partied and stayed on our shore.
I have what you've earned, I've hardly a care.
You fought in the war. Life's not at all fair.

You were killed one day, by a road side bomb.
I'm here in the states in the peace and calm.
I have the freedom that you've earned for me.
Your life has ended. I'm happy and free.
I have what you've earned, I've hardly a care.
Your home is a box. Death's not at all fair.

You lie there in pain, confined to your bed,
fragments of shrapnel entombed in your head.
What price did I pay for all that I got?
A pebble of sand compared to your lot.
I have what you've earned, I've hardly a care.
You lie in that bed. Life's not at all fair.

I have my freedom which I didn't earn.
You paid the price and got nil in return.

On November 11, 2012 at 8:07pm Lori Anne Freeman Flanigan wrote:
ODE TO THE AMERICAN VETERANS- Never Forgotten Veterans the
noble ones,Veterans are our Nation's Freedom
fighters.Veterans putting their Lives on the line, So
Americans can be FREE!!! Written by Lori Anne Freeman
Flanigan

On November 7, 2013 at 11:57am Valerie Johnson wrote:
A recent poem we published in POETRY that continues to haunt me is Kevin C. Powers's "Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting." Brief, beautiful, devastating.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/182821

On November 9, 2013 at 9:58am Carlton Johnson wrote:
I was surprised that Dulce Decorum Est (by Wilfred Owen) did not make
the list - Since Veteran's Day actually commemorates the end of WWI - I
think that more poetry of that era should be highlighted on this list - like
Alan Seeger (relative of Pete Seeger the musician) - "I Have A Rendezvous
with Death", Joyce Kilmer's "Trees", Rupert Brooke "The Soldier", Boris
Pasternak.

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Biography

Becca Klaver is the author of the poetry collection LA Liminal (Kore Press, 2010) and the chapbook Inside a Red Corvette: A 90s Mix Tape (greying ghost press, 2009). A founding editor of the feminist poetry press Switchback Books, she holds an MFA in Poetry from Columbia College Chicago and is currently a PhD student in Literatures in English at Rutgers University. Born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, she now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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