In a recent Devil's Lake interview with Hugh Martin, the poet shares some new and intriguing insights on writing poetry and essays, dealing with ethically and politically-charged subjects, and his new book The Stick Soldiers (BOA, 2013). In the Q&A led by Jacques J. Rancourt, Devil’s Lake gets Martin's inside perspectives on truth, navigating fact and fiction, the tradition of war poetry, writing humor, and his obligation to maintain humanity in his poetic voice. As with all poetry, the lines between fact and fiction are somewhat blurred in The Stick Soldiers. "...In the military," says Martin, "there is an unwritten rule that, if broken, can really hurt your reputation... that you never embellish, exaggerate, or lie about your experience serving in a combat zone... For me, this mindset stuck with me when I began writing poems about Iraq and it still remains with me today... This can obviously be restraining because the fidelity to the lived experience can of course complicate and confuse what the poem needs to do. Overall, though, I think (I hope) I’ve been able to take experiences and write them as strong, distinct poems, rather than simply records from a soldier’s life." Being a war veteran writing about his experiences, Martin enters himself into a long line of tradition with war writing. While admittedly finding inspiration in the voices of war veterans before him, and also trying to develop a voice of his own, Martin credits other poets with teaching him "ways to stretch the limits of what a war poem can do." This perspective may have contributed to the "tonal range" of The Stick Soldiers, the free use of "humor and playfulness" in his war writings. “Realistically,” says Martin, “as most people who have been to war know: dark humor is very much a part of surviving and being a soldier... the humor (I hope) ultimately brings more humanity to the speakers, whether it’s a soldier or a civilian. It is very much a part of being in the military and being at war..." Although the book's content his highly political, Martin provides his own stance on the subject: “I don’t think the poet should feel responsible to sway someone politically, but they should write to make the reader feel an emotional truth, feel the humanity in the speaker or the characters. This is an oversimplification, but when writing many of these poems, my mindset has always been the following: whether or not you voted for or against the war, whether or not you agreed or disagreed with its mission, it did actually happen—and most importantly, it happened to real people, soldiers, Iraqis, in the front yards of Iraqis.” Click here to read the full interview. Click here to purchase your own copy of The Stick Soldiers.
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