cover image The Stick Soldiers

The Stick Soldiers

Hugh Martin. BOA (Consortium, dist.), $16 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-938160-06-6

Martin served with the U.S. Army in Iraq between 2003 and 2005; his solid, sad verse debut chronicles that experience, along with the months before and the years after. Stateside training generates some of his strangest, harshest poems, including a prose anecdote that might describe a murder. Time back at home, in snowy Ohio, prompts alienated, ambivalent regret, comparable at best to Randall Jarrell’s poems on World War II airmen and veterans. Yet the bulk of the book, and its reason for being, involve Martin’s time in Iraq. Sand gets everywhere, IEDs could be anywhere, children are sources at once of pathos and danger, and camaraderie is all-important. “We avoid trash, disturbed soil, animal carcasses./ We arrest men// who dig beside the road./ We hate the ground.” Some pages portray other soldiers, grim, friendly, naive: “Smith, shirtless, curls forty-pound dumbbells,/ part of his plan for home:// a sex life.” Other sentences take on the scenes and the moments of combat: “You aim. Your first shot./ But the truck slows. When you adjust, your foot slips,/ you fall below the edge, unable to see.” Now a Stegner Fellow at Stanford, Martin breaks little new ground in the craft of verse. What he offers instead—along with the very few other Iraq war poets (Brian Turner, for example) noticed so far—are thoughtful recollections, scary memories, articulate reflections, and the resolve of a man who has been there. (May)