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.
“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
“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
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.
“The Warrior” by Frances Richey
Richey and her son talk about the collection and their unique perspectives on the war.
Robin Ekiss on Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Facing It”
What happens when metaphor meets a monument?
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.