An Iraq War Veteran Finds an Outlet in Poetry

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Ten years ago, Hugh Martin was slugging through the woods of the United States Army Base at Fort Bragg in North Carolina training for deployment to Iraq. Now, on this 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion, he is releasing a book of poetry about his experiences in Iraq called "The Stick Soldiers." Hugh Martin is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and his book will be released later this month.

While he was serving in Iraq, Martin knew he wanted to share his experiences with family and friends, and when he returned home poetry became that outlet. In Martin’s poem, First Snow, he conveys the sense of anxiety that arises from adjusting to civilian life:  

I’m driving on a road that will not explode.
Out the window, stiff white pines
huddle above the wall of limestone
torn with dynamite
to make space
for the three lanes of 77 North.

Martin expands on that anxiety, saying, "That was obviously one of the biggest threats…just looking at the ground and knowing that at any point it could explode. Looking at even a dead animal or a carcass on the road…it could explode and a car could explode…anything could explode. I know it took a few years after I came home to kind of get over the fact that, you know, nothing here is going to explode again."

On this anniversary, Martin’s thoughts are with fellow veterans, soldiers who lost their lives, and especially with the Iraqis. "Whether you believed in it or not, whether you voted for it or not, it happened and the veterans exist and the Iraqis exist. And I think most importantly this happened in the front yards of the Iraqis, and it’s hard for a lot of Americans to understand what that’s like. As the years have gone by, I have spent more time thinking about how the Iraqis have dealt with it and how they will have to deal with it for the rest of their lives."