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Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting review 'musicality and a following wind'

Former US soldier and award-winning novelist Kevin Powers finds order amid the chaos of war in his debut poetry collection

In his novel The Yellow Birds, which won the 2012 Guardian first book award, Kevin Powers, who served in the US army in Iraq between 2004 and 2005, wrote: "We were not destined to survive. The fact is we were not destined at all. The war would take whatever it could get. It was patient. It didn't care about objectives, or boundaries, whether you were loved by many or not at all. While I slept that summer, the war came to me in my dreams and showed me its sole purpose: to go on, only to go on." War's indifference is revisited in Powers's debut poetry collection, in which he never seeks to make war more, or other, than it is (the novel allegedly grew out of a poem, and its hero, Private Bartle, is re-encountered here).

It is far from straightforward keeping war real. Powers is interested in the distance created from a thing as soon as you start to describe it. He calls a gun a gun. In Great Plain he writes: "But guns are not ideas./ They are not things to which comparisons are made." At the same time he recognises that a poem about war is removed from war, is likely to have been written from a safe distance or at least a lull in the fighting and may offer order while describing chaos.

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