Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting

Kevin Powers, Author
Kevin Powers. Little, Brown, $23 (112p) ISBN 978-0-316-40108-1
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U.S. Army veteran Powers, who won acclaim for his Iraq war novel The Yellow Birds, returns to those scenes and to his rural South, in this clear and—at best—haunting poetic debut. Powers starts in the desert, “the vast unending waste/ of Texas,” but soon enough we are in the Middle East, where “war is just us/ making little pieces of metal/ pass through each other.” More than about the experience of war, though, these poems of demotic American free verse describe the experience of coming home after a war, and feeling lost: “I can’t remember/ how to be alive,” one page admits, and on the next the poet imagines himself deceased: “seeing/ my shadow on the ground/ I tried to outline in/ in chalk.” Though no innovator, Powers does just enough to the spoken language. Beginning one poem “We are born to be makers of crude tools,” he compares another poem to a tool that kills, the infamous “Improvised Explosive Device”: “If this poem had wires coming out of it,/ you would call the words devices,/ if you found them threatening in any way.” Powers seems confident in his sounds and able to speak to a literate public that knows he has something to say. (Apr.)
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