Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting: Poems

Overview

The award-winning author of The Yellow Birdsreturns with an extraordinary debut poetry collection.

National Book Award finalist, Iraq war veteran, novelist and poet Kevin Powers creates a deeply affecting portrait of a life shaped by war. Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting captures the many moments that comprise a soldier's life: driving down the Texas highway; waiting for the unknown in the dry Iraq heat; writing a love letter; ...

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Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting: Poems

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Overview

The award-winning author of The Yellow Birdsreturns with an extraordinary debut poetry collection.

National Book Award finalist, Iraq war veteran, novelist and poet Kevin Powers creates a deeply affecting portrait of a life shaped by war. Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting captures the many moments that comprise a soldier's life: driving down the Texas highway; waiting for the unknown in the dry Iraq heat; writing a love letter; listening to a mother recount her dreams. Written with evocative language and discernment, Powers's poetry strives to make sense of the war and its echoes through human experience.

Just as The Yellow Birds was hailed as the "first literary masterpiece produced by the Iraq war," this collection will make its mark as a powerful, enduring work (Los Angeles Times).

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

It didn't seem like a propitious path to a literary career. At seventeen, Kevin Powers joined the Army and later served a year in the embattled cities of northern Iraq. When he returned to the United States, he realized that he had a story to tell. That debut novel, The Yellow Birds, became a 2012 National Book Award finalist and was hailed as "the first literary masterpiece to be produced by the Iraq war." Letters Composed During a Lull in the Fighting is his first book of poetry, but he has been widely published in magazines. Editor's recommendation.

Publishers Weekly
04/28/2014
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.)
From the Publisher
Praise for The Yellow Birds
"Extraordinary...A harrowing story about the friendship of two young men trying to stay alive on the battlefield...Brilliantly observed and deeply affecting." —Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

"Powers is a poet first, so The Yellow Birds is spare, incredibly precise, unimproveable."—Dave Eggers, Observer

"Kevin Powers has produced a masterpiece of war literature and a classic."—Hilary Mantel, London Times

"A powerful work of art....Put it way up on that high rare shelf alongside Ernest Hemingway and Tim O'Brien."—Anthony Swofford

Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-20
Powers, author of the shattering war novel The Yellow Birds (2012), turns to poetry while concentrating on familiar themes of dislocation, fear and "unmoored memory." As with that novel, most of the poems in this slender collection occupy three spaces at once: Iraq, the home front and the liminal country between them. The longest and most striking piece likens the poem itself to an IED, "or improvised explosive device"; though it opens on a rather unpromising poetry-slam note ("If this poem had wires / coming out of it, / you would not read it"), Powers builds steadily on the extended metaphor of poem as bomb, the images growing steadily more gruesome ("if these words were your best / friend's legs, / dangling"). As is true of so many of the best poems about war—think Randall Jarrell's "Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" or James Wright's "Mad Fight Song for William S. Carpenter"—the tone is understated, the affect sometimes unnervingly flat; having seen what he has of combat, Powers can no longer be moved by ordinary emotions, and the language he uses at home is the language of battle: "I tell her I love her like not killing / or ten minutes of sleep / beneath the low rooftop wall / on which my rifle rests." And just as it is well that, as Robert E. Lee said, war is so horrible lest we come to love it too much, it is good that most books of poems about war, such as this one, are so short, lest we be overwhelmed by the grim news they bring. Powers sometimes wrestles with form, the length of his lines threatening to leave him breathless, but his intent is clear: He has survived, and though he now "know[s] better than to hope," he also knows that he has beaten the odds—and that he is not alone. A welcome debut. We hope that the next sequence finds Powers on safer ground, exploring the possibilities of life away from the front.
Library Journal
★ 04/01/2014
We have few poetic chroniclers of war and even fewer as eloquent as Powers is in his first collection after the multi-award-winning novel The Yellow Birds. Two of the four sections cover the Iraq war and its aftermath in stark, vivid language, with many of the poems revealing how it felt to be a machine gunner in Mosul and Tel Afar, as Powers was. What the poet conveys best is the draining necessity of making difficult choices continuously during battle: "that for at least one day I don't have to decide/ between dying and shooting a little boy." Sometimes Powers uses understatement to describe the immensity of war, as in the title poem: "that war is just us/ making little pieces of metal/ pass through each other." Even more poignant are poems that describe the difficult days after a buddy returns home: "he wishes/ he had died instead of living/ houseboundbedboundmindboundbodybound/ like a child, watching/ as his mother watched/ the roads, pitted and seeded." Longer poems like "Improvised Explosive Device" and "The Locks of the James" could have used some word winnowing, as the lack of concision dilutes some of the energy. Elsewhere, though, Powers surprises us by moving beyond a military focus and including references to art, literature, and photography. VERDICT Since the World War I poets, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owens, few poets have captured life in the war zone. Powers does so vividly and eloquently while showing the emotional costs that soldiers suffer during battle and after returning stateside. A poetry book that demands an audience.—Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316401081
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 4/1/2014
  • Pages: 112
  • Sales rank: 161,192
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.75 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Powers

Kevin Powers is the author of The Yellow Birds, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Guardian First Book Award, and was a National Book Award Finalist. He was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, and holds an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a Michener Fellow in Poetry. He served in the US Army in 2004 and 2005 in Iraq, where he was deployed as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar. Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting is his first collection of poetry.

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