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Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting

Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting

Author of the critically acclaimed war novel The Yellow Birds , Kevin Powers returns this month with his debut collection of poetry - Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting. His editor Drummond Moir introduces three poems from the book...

Posted on 9th April 2014 by Drummond Moir

Kevin Powers burst onto the literary scene in September 2012 with his acclaimed novel The Yellow Birds. His stunning debut won awards around the world, sold in over 20 territories, and was a bestseller in its first week of publication. Hilary Mantel perhaps summed it up best when she described the novel as "a masterpiece of war literature" and "a classic". It is widely regarded as the first great, enduring book to come out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What many readers won’t have been aware of, though, is that Kevin wrote the novel while studying for a three-year MFA in poetry. It is mostly poems written during this period that form his debut collection, Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting. While by no means a "companion" volume to the novel, fans of The Yellow Birds will be thrilled to find occasional echoes,  both thematically – as a young man whose life has been shaped by war tries to articulate such intense experiences – and stylistically, in Kevin’s rich, precise and deeply powerful use of language.

Drummond Moir, Editorial Director, Sceptre


Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting

I tell her I love her like not killing,

or ten minutes of sleep

beneath the low rooftop wall

on which my rifle rests.

I tell her in a letter that will stink,

when she opens it,

of bolt oil and burned powder

and the things it says.

I tell her Pvt. Bartle says, offhand,

that war is just us

making little pieces of metal

pass through each other.


Valentine with Flat Affect

Everybody knows

the number of things to be in love with

is reducing

at a rate more or less equal to

the expansion of the universe.

This is called entropy, I think.

Some things are, however, left:

you, in that gingham dress,

for one, for which

I will not apologize

to anyone for loving.

Other aspects of a life become prioritized

by chance, and our mistake

is that we guess that every ground must break

along the fault

that it is given.

So no, I don’t care as much

about the fish I pulled

out of the river in a net as I do

you. Most

of what I catch slips back


the empty spaces in the old net

anyway. It’s hard enough to find

my footing, let alone

decide what to call remarkable,

and not just because I am fed

and clothed and not unreasonably



Sadik Gulec / Shutterstock.com

Sadik Gulec / Shutterstock.com

Meditation on a Main Supply Route

I recall Route Tampa going on

in a straight line all the way

out of the war.

A hundred MSRs

with names once so unpronounceable

they are now called Chevy and Toyota;

their attendant smells

and voices arrive

in such disparate places

as Danville, Virginia;

Monterrey, California;

Steubenville, Ohio;

Weslaco, Texas;


of both North Carolina

and of Arkansas;

The Bronx, New York:

where Curtis Jefferson’s

cauterized face still burns

as he wraps his lips

around a straw to drink his juice

and his muscles wither and he wishes

he had died instead of living


like a child, watching

as his mother watched

the roads, pitted and seeded,

arrive as one road in front of his house,

get out of a black sedan

with GOVERNMENT USE license plates

and become two men

walking up the front steps

of the converted brownstone,

where they wait. And the roads

reach out to Steven Abernathy

in the factory where he works,

after, on C-shift, forever, and Steven

saying to the old intractable drunks he works with

that all pain is phantom and that’s all

as he cleats the red knuckle of his leg

into the stirrup above the plastic rest of it,

before they take him to the VFW post

for a PBR on them at least twice a week,

now almost daily for a month,

arriving in the glare of 6am light

off the quarter-panels of their rusted trucks.

Sometimes by noon the old men say Vietnam

and he says, I lost my leg

on the goddamn MSR and old Earl Yates says,

Naw, they took it, the fuckers.

I am home and whole, so to speak.

The streetlights are in place along the Avenue

just as I remembered

and just as I remember

there is tar slick on the poles

because it has rained. It doesn’t matter.

I know these roads will work

their way to me. They may arrive

right here, at this small circle of light

folding in on itself where brick

and broken sidewalk meet.

So, I must be prepared. But I can’t remember

how to be alive. It has begun

to rain so hard I fear I’ll drown.

I guess we ought to

take these pennies off our eyes,

strike into them new likenesses;

toss them with new wishes

into whatever water can be found.

Related books

Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting (Hardback)

Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting (Hardback)

Kevin Powers

The acclaimed author of THE YELLOW BIRDS returns with an extraordinary debut poetry collection.

£12.99 £10.39