Is less a road than a floral
collection of spongy and
bodies, a gathering of the myriad
of nations-burnt umber,
puce, kiln red, olive drab, hot
steel. It is a road that stretches
eternally into the ochre mocha
of the horizon. The road
Baghdad has its own atmosphere
and sound, so unlike
I have driven in the States-here,
the road is silent but for the pops
and spits of flame where trucks
clutch the bright and colorful
of the unfortunate dead.
The road to Baghdad
is like the aftermath
of a Fourth of July parade-streets
littered with the chaos of celebration,
where dyed paper and the bright
hulls of fireworks gather
in the gutter.
Sometimes, I look for the road
Baghdad in old maps or on
the web, but I can never find
it-the distance of time has cleared
it from the record books, has erased
it from everywhere
but my mind, and
from the minds of those soldiers who saw
it with me. Today, I awake in the morning
with unexplained scratches on the bridge
of my nose, and I ask my empty room, where
that road gone? I understand that if there
is no road, then there is no me. But if none
of this ever really
happened, how do I awaken
every morning to the sun
burning my outline
into the wild asphalt of that beautiful highway?
Falling In Love During
I am missing eleven months, nine days, and
give or take, fourteen minutes from
A good portion of 1990 is lost, and a large
piece of 1991 has disappeared. People
to me about Brokaw's War Time America as if I were there, as if these pieces of
else's life could exist. I missed the yellow-ribbon orgy, the flags flying for "the boys
over there," the night when everyone closed together around their
ready to mourn the fallen, or exult for their heroes. The robbery
was complete and
was ancient, it was cleansing, it was eternal. I'm sure that the beaches in North
were quiet that year; the water was warm, the sand on the beach yielding, and the
worried for strangers like only beautiful, uninvolved people can be.
Here is what I
I want that night, that night when I am twenty-one, when I can buy
I can sit in the dark night of the park with the girl I should be in love with. I
because she existed for me in the desert, at night rising with the cold roasted
is fair and olive skinned, her hair a light brown, and she is thin and
muscular as a
It is no secret that she comes from the only pornography we had in
the gulf: the
Fall issue, which I still own. And she understands me like only I understand
me, and we are leaving the party on campus,
we are holding hands like people
when holding hands is new to them--anxiously, moistly, tightly. We are leaving the
because we cannot bear to watch this war that is on television. Maybe we are too
to violence, or maybe we just don't want
to be reminded that there are people just
in a desert that has turned cold and
hungry and mean, a desert that is trying to
everything above it, and we don't want that on our conscience, we don't want to
of men walking into white flashes of light, into red tracer rounds, into the blackest
fortress of sound imaginable, into faces streaked with tears, into faces streaked
and tears, into faces streaking in front of their vision, soldier fingers tightening
even though those fingers, those hands, have been trained to obey,
are as handsome as they will ever be, wonder if the bullets hitting their
will feel like paper cuts or like explosions, if it will be clean or
if it will be messy. We
walk out of that party, in love, our eyes linking like bodies copulating, and the
of wine is in my hand. We are both feeling
high-we are six beers and a half bottle
of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill into it, drinking while we watch faceless soldiers
push up on an invisible border that is already in flames above the skyline.
to leave, our feelings for those soldiers impelling us to rise and escape with our
love intact. We walk to the park. It is cool
out, the grass is cold where the dew
has touched, yet the earth still harbors the heat of the day underneath. We are
and the streets
are empty. The static sound of gunfire is far off, pouring from the
of the houses, and we are walking away, letting the sound fade
until only our breath can be heard, swallowed up by the simple sounds of our
and innocent blood moving through muscle and bone. We sit on a peeling park
bench, I wipe the wet night off before she sits, and we move close-the heat of our
swirls with the cool night as we move, and we drink wine from the bottle and she
a glistening shade of pink wine above her lip
for a split second before she licks it
And the look in her eyes right then-like there
is a metaphor for that. The darkness
us, it is closing around us, pulling the light from the stars away, and
there is only reflected light to see by, and her face is pale and sharp, as if the
has outlined her face in pastels, and all I can think about is how lucky
I am to be
here with her, and the night agrees; the night takes us and lets
the alcohol do its
embrace, and I can feel the soft ripple of her ribcage against mine, and I can
side of her breast with my arm, and her breath is moist against my ear as she
things about love past our long hair, which is entwined like the dark
grass of the
She tells me she will never leave me alone, that we will be together
and I know she is lying, but it feels so
good to hear it that I will believe it eternally.
Tomorrow will be the same. We will come to this park again. I will
feel like the
collapsing into itself, that I could reach out through the walls and soothe the
of Mr. Earnest next door, that I am a part of it all, that I will feel how it feels to be
of Blitzer's America At War from the outside,
I will wake up with the dreams
of a civilian, I will hold a candle out on an all-night vigil, I will stand in protest
I will hang ribbons I will support our boys over there I will pray even
there is no god I will remember things that never happened I will fill the space
between the boy on the bench and the boy in the desert and I will always, always,
make sure he is with someone. I will maintain that the desert is a fiction, a fiction
of lights and noise, and I will assert to the boy on the park bench that he will
have to feel like he was a part of something missing, that the years would
be kind, that his sleep would wind like silk, and unlike the boy in the desert,
when he looks up,
the bright sun will shine upon his face without passing through.
And the Way the Sun Was
I thought you were smoking a cigarette-
just kicking back for the moment against
the warm metal of a deuce and a half
truck, in the shade. There were
of oil running from underneath the truck,
leaking from bullet holes where rounds
had pierced the engine
block. Your leg
was wet from one large ebony puddle, but
we were all dirty then, so it didn't seem to
Your M-16 was across your chest, and your
forearm was draped over
in such a comfortable manner, I thought
for a moment you were asleep. So I just sat
down by your side. I hadn't eaten yet, so
I tore open an MRE, threw the sealed package
of beef, dehydrated
away and began to
eat the peanut butter on the dry crackers.
You were looking back over the low ridge,
where smoke seemed to be oozing from the
pores of the earth in spurts. And I thought
that dying would
be easy now, like sunshine
is easy, or hammocks. I thought that
after what we had seen and done that day
everything after would be a piece of cake.
I wasn't ready to go back, over that ridge
you were looking at, over to where bodies
held on to metal like
scorpions hold onto
flying beetles. Back there, I wasn't ready
to go, and I was glad for you being there,
I wanted to tell you so. I said, "Danny."
and you hitched like you were about to
you turned and looked at me,
and I could see the cigarette in your hand,
how it was ashes down to the
filter, and how
the oil (you said it, ‘ole') didn't look so much
like oil anymore, and how your
eyes seemed gray
with your skin, and all I wanted right then
was a burning cigarette so bad.
Poems - Bio - Mini-Review - Reviews - Interviews
Seth Brady Tucker's poetry manuscript, Mormon Boy, won
the 2011 Elixir Press Editor’s Poetry Prize, and was published in 2012. Seth recently attended the Bread
Loaf Writer’s Conference as the Carol Houck Smith Scholar, and was the keynote speaker at the "Words
Beyond Bars Poetry Project." He has been nominated for a number of awards including the Pushcart Prize.
His poetry and fiction is forthcoming or has appeared in the Antioch Review, Chautauqua, Art Times, Indiana
Review, Rosebud, North American Review, River Styx, Rhino, Southern Poetry Review, Crab Orchard Review, among
many other journals and anthologies. Seth has degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing from San Francisco
State University, Northern Arizona University (where he resurrected and worked as Poetry and Fiction Editor for
Thin Air magazine), and Florida State University (PhD, 2012). Currently, Seth is writing a novel set
on an Indian Reservation in Wyoming, and has finished writing a second poetry collection. He teaches poetry and
fiction workshops at the Light House Writer's Workshop in Denver, and lives and teaches near Boulder, Colorado.
He is originally from Wyoming, and served as an Army 82nd Airborne paratrooper in the Persian Gulf.
Poems - Bio - Mini-Review - Reviews - Interviews
of Seth Brady Tucker's Featured Poems by Contributing-Editor
1966,” Denise Levertov ponders a photograph depicting the burning bodies of Vietnamese children. She writes: because of this my strong sight,
my clear caressive sight, my poet's sight I was given
that it might stir me to song,
The brutality of the My Lai massacre, the event where this photo was taken,
robs Levertov of one the most essential tools for a poet, her sight. She cannot perceive this individuality of any
victim but rather blurs them into an indistinguishable mash.
A new generation of war poets are now having their voices heard. Many of these contemporary
writers, such as Seth Brady Tucker, do not have the disconnects the poets of the Vietnam era had—to see the
realities of war through a photograph or a television screen. As eye witnesses of and also active participants in
war, an outright condemnation that may have been possible during Vietnam is problematic, to say the least. Nevertheless,
war still blurs one's vision. That blurring, however, through the eyes of a poet gives an opportunity for metaphor
to find meaning in seemingly meaningless circumstances.
Tucker's strong “poet's sight” can entrance his readers by finding beauty
to explore in even the most desolate situation. His control of the line is nothing short of masterful in “The
Road to Baghdad,” as sound and meaning morph and evolve from line to line and stanza to stanza. In the opening
stanza of “The Road to Baghdad,” he simultaneously disarms and alarms his readers:
less a road than a floral
collection of spongy and soft
first two lines of this opening stanza lure us in with a somewhat muted tone and calming image of this desert road
being nothing more than a bouquet of flowers. However, a harsh enjambment inverts this calming image, revealing
this is not a bed of rose petals we tread on. The image here is oddly reminiscent of Levertov; in place of a group
of children smoldering, Tucker gives “a gathering of the myriad // of colors of nations.” We see no
faces. We hear no names. But we see and feel the grotesquely alluring color and texture.
But Tucker does not sustain Levertov's contemplative distance: his bodies
are not in a photographs but bodies whose bones crack underneath his feet. He recognizes the life of a soldier
is inextricably entwined with the violence he observes. Toward the end of the poem, the poem's speaker researches
this road “in old maps or on / the web” but is gone. Then, Tucker writes, “I understand that if
there / is no road, then there is no me.” If the speaker's duty as a soldier blurs with his identity as an
individual and then the acts of the soldier are erased, what place is left for identity, he ponders. Can a soldier
even tell a civilian that he defended the road to Baghdad when no one will admit the existence of such a road in
the first place?
say that war can 'blur' one's vision would not be license for stereotypes or generalities. In his poem, “Falling in
Love During Wartime,” we are met with an opening line of intense specificity: “I am missing eleven months,
nine days, and give or take, fourteen minutes from my life.” Even an admittance of uncertainty—rather
than undermining our trust in the veracity of the author—assures the reader that the poem's speaker aches for
some way to retrieve every absent moment.
Near the close of the poem, the speaker states:
I will maintain that the desert is a fiction, a fiction
of lights and noise, and I will assert to the
boy on the park bench that he will
never have to like he was a part
of something missing
it is here that the distinction between Levertov's approach and Tucker's becomes most apparent. For Levertov, the
intensity of war was experienced through a proxy—a photographic medium that, while visual and visceral, was
also deniable and avoidable; the photo could be set down, the newscast turned off. For Tucker though, war is not
only intense (“men walking into white flashes of light”) but also quotidian and tangible (“the
only pornography we had in the gulf: the Victoria / Secret Fall issue”). The soldier in the desert is the
boy in the park. Of course, we crave along with the poem's speaker for the one to be a fiction the other never has
to know, but that cannot be.
the three poems featured this week, “And the Way the Sun Was Positioned” stands out in the way it treats
its subject-matter. Both “The Road to Baghdad” and “Falling in Love During Wartime” have
a dream-like quality to them, a combination of narrative and lyric elements. However, we see the straight narrative
of “And the Way the Sun Was Positioned” unfold under an unyielding desert sun. It seems here that a
reader is privy to every detail—the type of truck Danny rests against, the way Danny's hand rests comfortably
on the M-16, even the “beef, dehydrated” label of the discarded MRE package. But sometimes seeing clearly
just isn't quite enough.
this poem, we find that the blurring effect of war is not exclusively an external force. We will ourselves to see
something other than what confronts us as way to comfort ourselves. We so want to see the oil as just oil and the
cigarette as still burning because of what that would mean in the situation. This is the type of poem that can't
be read once; the ending shoots a reader's eyes up to the beginning to reorganize and reinterpret.
Tucker's poems do not attempt to persuade
readers that war is beautiful but, rather, that there is beauty in war—as beauty has the potential to exist
anywhere and can be revealed through the power of a “poet's sight.” Beauty is powerful and can persist
in even the most forsaken places and desperate circumstances.
Poems - Bio - Mini-Review - Reviews - Interviews
Seth Brady Tucker's
Mormon Boy reviewed by Justin Evans,
first published at Name This Place, http://justinevanspoetry.blogspot.com/2012/12/book-review-seth-brady-tuckers-mormon.html
When I purchased Seth Tucker’s Mormon Boy, it was for a few
obvious reasons. I am Mormon, or used to be depending on who’s telling the stories, and I saw this title
under a new releases list. I was correct in that nobody names their poetry book thus unless he or she happens
to have, or have had some connection to the Mormon community. Seth has that connection, but when I found out
he was a veteran of the First Gulf War, I was taken aback. To have found a poet with similar connections to
both Mormonism and the Army was like finding a long lost brother. And while I identify with the poetry on
those levels, I have no doubt any reader could just as easily find common ground on which to relate to this book.
Seth Tucker’s writing is expansive. I do not merely
means he writes about a lot of different subjects and covers a lot of ground, I am also talking about the physical
world which his poems inhabit. The book itself is larger than the typical poetry book because his lines are
at times quite long, and receive the treatment they deserve by way of a larger presentation. It is in these
long lines where the reader begins to explore the expectations of Seth Tucker as author. Here reside the complete
thoughts of line, whole statements which refuse to be trimmed or wrangled into a false format simply for the sake
In section one of Mormon
Boy, Tucker takes on his experiences in the army and in the First Gulf War. In a fine contrast from
the poetry of Brian Turner, Seth has allowed time to permeate his memory and descriptions of his experiences.
The edges are softer than Turner’s war poetry, but in that softening come added wisdom and the wider net life
after combat provides. Neither one is superior in my experience, simply different. Here in Mormon
Boy, the reader will find more avenues by which to enter into the heart of the matter, and perhaps learn with
a gentler touch. This isn’t to say Seth’s poems about war have no impact. Take these opening
lines of the first poem of the book:
The Road to Baghdad
Is less a road than a floral
collection of spongy and soft
bodies, a gathering of the myriad
colors of nations-burnt umber,
puce, kiln red, olive drab,
steel. It is a road that stretches
eternally into the ochre mocha
of the horizon.
to Baghdad has its own atmosphere
reader must take on quite a lot in this first poem. In that way, it mimic’s the soldier’s experience,
being forced to take in a massive amount of information in an instant, making split-second decisions. In those
first three lines, there are several major decisions being made about content, image, line, and sound which Tucker
commands so well as to make his choices seem casual. Upon closer reading, it slowly becomes evident something
more immense, more deliberate is taking place.
This deliberate series of choices comes through again in the long poem, “The Cold Logic of Farm Animals,”
where Tucker creates a poem which defies homogeny. Each new section takes on a different form, a different
cosmetic appearance. The stories are varied and dissimilar, but always keep the reader in rapt attention.
The section ends with a long prose poem which delivers the impact one almost shamefully wants when reading about
Section two turns lyrical, and
we get to read about a great many different things. That my favorite poem from this section is, “How
to Look West From Mount Pleasant, Utah,” should not be a surprise to anyone. There is something deeply
elegiac in this poem which makes me think of my home town, which is not far from Mount Pleasant, Utah. Of course,
the poem is less a tutorial than it is an apostrophe, and hopefully (at least I hope) the poem is a way of talking
to a much larger world.
When I read
the title poem, both of the third section and of the book, Mormon Boy, I am immediately mindful of the poet
William Kloefkorn. Not since Kloefkorn’s creation, Ludi jr., have I see a portrait of a young boy done
so well. The poem is masterful in its ability to draw the reader into the microcosm of a small boy’s
world, both amazing and frightening. I must here admit I identify with this poem on a deeply personal level.
On the surface, the poem is about a small boy on a paper route in winter, trudging through the snow, the duality
of youthful indiscretion and knowing right from wrong. But here, as everywhere else in this book, the poem
is really a deeper discussion. In the poems I can of course see the Mormon culture revealed, demanding hard
work and commitment from even the youngest of children to a belief system they can hardly comprehend. I see
what will become the transition from this Mormon boy at age six, into something wholly different as he becomes an
adult. I begin to route for the little boy, and hope he makes it out intact.
In the final section of the book, Seth Tucker is triumphant. The poems on
this side of the book present a man who had survived to adulthood, in spite of the war he fought, and his previous
fears that he has been fooling those around him. There is elegy here, but rather than elegy setting the tone
of this section with bright, silver cloud moments, it is the opposite. There is a life to celebrate here, with
the gentle reminder of occasional sadness. We read about Tucker’s wife, Olivia, his passion for her,
and we don’t get the feeling he is simply writing a poem for his wife. The poems in this section reveal
a sensual energy. They are alive, knowing, and reveal how deliberate the orchestration of this book has been.
These poems on the whole, present a biography
of sorts. I am reminded of Quentin Tarantino discussing how he orders the storyline in a film. He says
he doesn’t believe in flashbacks, that his ordering is his attempt to tell the story in the most interesting
way possible. Seth Tucker has done that here. Beginning with the First Gulf War, Tucker is telling
us he has essentially had three lives. There is his life before the war, his life in the war, and then his
life after the war. The structure is easy to follow throughout the first three sections, but as with the format
choices Tucker makes with many of his poems, the fourth section is a delightful wild card, which we must readjust
our expectations. The book works in and for all three of his lives as biography, place, time, and as a document
of meaningful and visceral experience. Seth Tucker has indeed contributed significantly to several themes
and genres of writing with this single volume of poetry.
Tucker lets the reader in on some of the most intimate aspects of his life and gives record as to how
the world has shaped his growth. Every poem is a lesson which sparks insight into these contemporary times. While
this book is an individual record, there is no doubt in my mind you will find a place to connect.
An Interview with
Seth Brady Tucker by Jenna Bazzell and Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum
Jenna Bazzell and Andrew McFadyen-Kecthum:
"The Road to Baghdad" is a poem whose title reads as the first line of the poem. Lots of poets do this
because, well, they can't come up with a better title, but here it prepares the reader for the poem to follow kind
of like a thesis statement in an essay (yeah, yeah, we're both teaching a lot of English Composition these days!)
and is also the first poem in your collection, Mormon Boy. What are you going for with this title?
Seth Brady Tucker: I see this poem as the centerpiece
for the first section of the book, a way to begin to poetically express the profundity of "things lost"
(a theme of sorts for the book after all, because the narrative voice of the "Mormon boy" is "lost"
in so many different ways). The title of the book itself is meant to create a resonance throughout the collection-if
the reader understands that the narrative voice is always that of this Mormon boy, my intention was to stretch what
is spiritually at stake, take it beyond what is happening and what did happen. As far as the title of "The Road
to Baghdad" is concerned, I honestly didn't think about it much. Not that it was an afterthought-I just simply
wanted to drop the reader into the poem as quickly as possible, not give them a moment to ponder the "why"
of the poem. I actually love this strategy-I hate poems that share the title and first line of the poem. Wasted
space, in my opinion. I'd love to tell you that I worked incredibly hard on this poem, and that the revision process
was long and complicated, but the truth is, this poem came to me almost exactly as you see it-I think I may have
changed five or six small things over the year before it was published. This is how most of my poetry is generated-I
think about the idea for a week, a month, a year, then the germ of the poem comes to me, and within a couple of lines
I "hear" the envoi (or "send-off," which by the way, I think is exactly what all great last
lines should try to do), and the rest of the poem is what I think of as "the chase for the last line."
JB & AMK: The word
"road" is repeated nine times (including in the title) in "The Road to Baghdad" with no other
synonyms except for "highway," "streets," and "gutter." Why repeat the word road so
SBT: The simplest
answer to your question is that the repetition of "road" is an effort to be honest, and that any other description
would risk painting the wrong picture. The only three versions of road that I experienced in the Persian Gulf were
literally roads or highways or open desert-there were no avenues, drives, etc. No streets, for that matter. I also
believe that this repetition creates a rhythm or beat for the poem, a cadence of sorts that slowly bends with the
changing topography of the poem. My hope was that it would function as an antanaclasis, but I'm not sure if it succeeds
in that way. Ultimately, this poem endeavors to build distance for the narrator and for the reader, and all those
other terms for road are simply too "American," and I couldn't imagine substituting anything else for them.
This poem specifically tries to describe the road that ran along the oil pipeline that ended in Baghdad-a road used
by both military and civilians that was bombed mercilessly for six months before the ground troops ever arrived.
JB & AMK: One of the
last lines of "The Road to Baghdad" states "I understand that if there/ is no road, then there is
no me." This line suggests that the road and the speaker have become one, which dramatically changes the meaning
of the entire poem. Why wait until the end of the poem to make this statement?
SBT: That was the intention. As I said before, this collection (and
this poem for that matter), are concerned with "things lost," and I wanted the reader to understand that
many of the poems in the collection are less concerned with what happened (or didn't happen, in many cases), and
more concerned with the distance between lives. I teach poetry and fiction workshops for veterans, and the incredible
"break" that happens when a soldier leaves the military and tries to be a civilian often creates this
immense sense of distance. This break, or distance, also seems to be a trope with many warrior poets, and is certainly
something that I have grappled with in my writing, both in my poetry and my fiction.
JB & AMK: I am always interested in the use of questions
in a poem. In "The Road to Baghdad," you use two different questions towards the end of the poem. What
effect on the poem do think ending the poem in these questions has and why might you have decided to end the poem
in this way?
SBT: I think
I scratched the surface of this in a previous question, but for me, the questions at the end serve a specific purpose-because
this poem is confessional by nature, I wanted to express the shift or change in a way that would take it beyond
what is at stake for the narrator, and make it more about what is at stake for "us" as a reader. I was
attempting to imply that the question the narrator is asking is subject to change, that this isn't a conclusion
(and it never is, for most soldiers) that neatly ties up the poem (who wants to read poems that do that anyway?).
I think it speaks a bit to that break I mentioned earlier-how does someone go from the killing fields and then to
a college classroom without some sense of weariness and bewilderment?
JB & AMK: In "Falling in Love During Wartime," you use long-lined
couplets. What purpose does this form serve for this particular poem?
SBT: This poem is meant to race down the page, to provide the reader with
the stream of conscious "voice" for the narrator. The early versions of this looked more like a prose poem,
but I found them too daunting for the reader (I actually broke this poem up into short quatrains at one point, and
the thing was more than seven pages long and was ponderous and slow and lacked any real discernable voice). The
idea came from reading the laments in the Book of Psalms, and then from some classical elegies, but without the
traditional qualities of music or song. I especially liked the Psalms of David (Psalms 3-44) from the King James
version, and the long lines just suddenly made sense. And since there is the suggestion of a Mormon narrator behind
all the poems (or there is supposed to be), it also made sense to me because I had to read the bible over and over
again in seminary school before classes (which I hated), and I thought it would be fun to parody the lineation in
a tribute to my pessimism. I mean, why not? Right?
JB & AMK: In this poem you often deliver phrases in sets of three. For example, in
the fourth stanza you write, "The robbery was complete and crimson / it was ancient, it was cleansing, it was
eternal." What are you going for here, and how did you arrive at this "form"?
SBT: This was really more about the voice I was hearing,
rather than a conscious craft choice. I don't suffer from multiple personality disorder, but when I write it sure
feels like I do! That said, it is something that differentiates my fiction and poetry-I almost never hear a voice
when I write fiction, but certainly do when I write poems. I think of these poems as gifts-some of them need a lot
of attention by way of revision, and they don't always come easy, but I am thankful when they do. I tend to do much
more thinking about the poems once I have an idea, and a lot less time writing them, thank god.
JB & AMK: You use the em dash (-) quite
a bit in this poem when, it seems, you could use a comma just as effectively. What's up with that?
SBT: I would argue that the em dash is nothing
like a comma because it doesn't break up two ideas, or provide a clear division between thoughts. I believe the
em dash extends a thought, mimics the way we speak, gives no pause the way a comma does. This poem is really about
the speed of the line, the rush of a narrative voice that argues with itself-the reader is meant to burn through
the poem on the tide of the stream of conscious, so in my mind, anything that slows down that voice is doing the poem a
JB & AMK:
In "And the Way the Sun Was Positioned," you evoke the second person "you" but don't indicate
who the you actually is until the end of the poem in a direct address from the speaker of the poem. Why do you keep
the "you" secret until so late in the poem? Why reveal the you at all?
SBT: That's exactly why I love the second person in poetry-the
mystery. For ATWTSWP, that mystery is what builds the tension for the reader-they get to experience something most
could never imagine (in this case, a lull in the fighting, where two men get to share a sacrament), and then also
get to experience the poem as a witness to this sacrament.
JB & AMK: At the end of the first stanza, the speaker says "your leg was wet
from one large ebony puddle, but / we were all dirty then, so it didn't seem to matter." While I really like
the rhythm and sound of "your leg was wet from one large ebony puddle," the rest feels more prosy to me and not
terribly necessary. But this is something you do quite a bit in this poem. You extend the sentence, pump up its
significance, and give it greater context. Many poets would argue against doing this, would argue that economy should
be more readily observed. What say you?
I'm not trying to start an argument here, but what poets say this? Certainly not anyone I am trying to ape. This
sounds more like a rule or edict-something that in my mind squashes good writing instincts. I would argue that applying
rules to poetry is like using your hands to redirect a river-I'm more concerned with the tradition my poems are
emulating, rather than any set of current aesthetic rules I may be breaking. It's the contrarian in me. It's more
important to me that I respect the tradition, but don't fall prey to emulating the tradition. I think that's why
my favorite poets (Dickey comes to mind) always seem to break the expectations within a poem. And in the end, I
don't believe the poet chooses the form-the poem and the concept of the poem defines the form. I tell my students
that each poem they write should follow a new set of rules-rules made up by the siren call of the specific poem
they are writing. I this case, the hook for ATWTSWP is the "you" as character and reader, and the expectation
of the poem is that we will slowly get to know that person. Dramatic? Perhaps, but that's where this poem came from
after all-poetry that tries to describe war or the aftermath of war is always going to feel that way. But I certainly
wouldn't want Brian Turner to employ more economy in his poetry about the Iraq War...
JB &AMK: I like how you use parentheses to include a pronunciation
of a word that Danny says differently near the end of the poem to add a little characterization. What is the significance
of placing this information in parentheses though? Why not just write the line as "and how / the ‘ole'
didn't look..." with "ole" in, perhaps italics to indicate speech?
SBT: It's in the way the inner ear "hears" it. I try
to be pretty consistent with this in my poetry, to be honest (because I believe it)-italics seem to make the word
resonate in the mind of the reader, where quotation marks actually cause the reader to "hear" the word
spoken in their mind. That's one of the frustrating things about having a book out-you can't edit it anymore. I
originally used the single quotation mark to highlight the word but not confuse the reader into thinking that this
was being spoken in the poem. I look at it now, and I can see that there may be a case for the double quotations.
In any case, I didn't want to hear this omniscient "peal" of the word that you get from italics; rather,
I wanted the reader to actually hear the word spoken in their head but not in the poem. I think as far as the parenthesis
is concerned-in my reading of the poem, the use of parenthesis doesn't seem to slow down the line like commas would,
and to ignore a major portion of the characterization of the "you" seems counter-intuitive.
JB &AMK: Can you talk a little bit about
what it's like to attempt to impart your experiences in Iraq via poetry? Why not write stories or essays? What is
it about the form of the poem that works so well with this subject matter for you?
SBT: Well, in poetry, as in fiction, sometimes the little truth
has to take a backseat to the big Truth, and I think my experiences in the military simply give my writing a bit
more credibility than most. Tim O'Brien wrote, "In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. [ ... ]
It's a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn't, because the normal stuff
is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness." So, I don't necessarily think of myself as
a war poet, because I'm not always telling the truth-I'll leave that to studs like Brian Turner. I just see myself
as someone fascinated by stories of heroism and courage and cowardice and love and hate and weakness, just like
everyone else. Anyone can write about our wars, but I find that I sometimes have to write them. When it comes down
to it, I write as much fiction as I do poetry, and the short story collection and novella I recently finished certainly
has some military/veteran themes, but those stories aren't necessarily about my own specific experiences. As for
the second part of your question, about "why poetry?" This is actually hard for me to answer because I
try to challenge the dividing line between fiction and poetry in much of my writing-I see the craft and development
of poetry and fiction as less distinct than most; I often exchange certain strategies, manipulate genre expectations,
and swap specific skills as I craft my own fiction and poetry. Of course, there are limitations to this approach,
but I believe that poets and fiction writers have much to learn from one another, and to divide into camps is to
the detriment of each. But, yes, when I'm writing a poem, it is a poem, and I do find myself gravitating to poetry
when the idea I have doesn't seem to work well with the concept of "plot." And, there are certain things
you can do in poetry that are difficult to pull off in fiction, especially when it comes to the music of the line
(not to mention line breaks!), language, and voice-none of the poems we spoke of today would work very well as short
stories, and certainly "The Cold Logic of Farm Animals," another poem from Mormon Boy that focuses
on war from a variety of points of view, would never make it as a story, even though it has elements of prose running
through it. In the end, I think poetry gives me a way to focus on the small things, without concern for the story
that surrounds them, and I get to magnify them, and figuratively and lyrically treat them like the big things, just
like they deserve.