the difficulty of writing war poetry when one hasn’t been in the military


What Does a Poet Know About War? – David Orr – New York Times – August 2, 2017

“War poems have a reportorial function: They give us the news about something that has happened. And despite recent suggestions to the contrary, readers generally don’t like their news to be fake; they want it to be (or at least to seem) authentic. Here is where the trouble begins. Because the sense of authenticity — a fragile, volatile creation in even the simplest lyric about birch trees — is pressured from multiple angles in the contemporary war poem. Such a poem must feel authentic to an audience that in general has no personal experience with the direct effects of combat, and that struggles to evaluate the very authenticity it desires.

“Yet the poem must also seem to come from an authentic perspective — that is, readers may be dismayed to discover that the poet who wrote so movingly about Qusayr has himself never left the battle-scarred streets of Iowa City….”

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