So Frag & So Bold by Randy Brown

Randy Brown’s So Frag & So Bold: Short Poems, Aphorisms & Other Wartime Fun (Middle West Press, 76 pp. $9.99, paper; $1.99, Kindle) is a brief collection of short, experimental wartime poetry. Brown served in the Iowa Army National Guard as a civilian journalist in the war in Afghanistan in 2011. He is the author of the acclaimed Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire, and is a co-editor of the 2019 Military Writers Guild anthology Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War. Full disclosure: I know Randy Brown and admire his work.

Some of the poems in his new collection have appeared in two veteran-and military-oriented literary journals, Collateral Journal and The Wrath-Bearing Tree. There are 55 pages of poems, some of which contain poems within poems. I found it interesting to read a few of the poems backwards for a new jolt of understanding.  

The outstanding poems include “frag out!”, which reads in toto:

every poet

has a heart filled

with shrapnel  

Sometimes one of Brown’s titles is also part of the poem, as in “timing”:

the line between a poem

and a joke

One of my favorites is “Clausewitzian nature poem”:

the only thing

war ever changes

is the uniform

Then there is “Catch-23”:

If you want peace,

prepare for war.

If you want war,

prepare for war.  

Some are mind-blowing, such as “pauses, for effect”:

Why do you hate America?

Why do you hate, America?

One of the poems that almost physically grabs and shakes you is “tell me how this ends”:

what happens when your war

is old enough to enlist?

what happens when your war

is old enough to leave home?

what happens when your war

is old enough to vote?

Another outstanding one is “defensive driver”:

I never understood

why some Joes startled

at every blowing grocery bag

until I came home myself

and found the camels hiding

in cornfields

behind bridges

everywhere

The best personal war poetry, no matter what war it’s written about, will basically ring true for all other wars. That’s what Brown’s work does. There is a place in the world for very short poetry and Randy Brown has found himself at home in that place.

Here is the book’s final poem, “all this will be yours”:

‘all this

has happened before’

&

‘all this

will happen again’

–Bill McCloud