Patriot Songs by Jerry L. Staub

Patriot Songs: Poems about Brave Patriots Who Sacrificed to Keep America Safe and Free (68 pp. $7.95, paperbackis a small collection of rather old-fashioned-style rhyming poetry that celebrates the service of men and women throughout our nation’s history. Staub is an American veteran with a lifelong interest in military history.

“A Hero Plain and Simple” addresses the idea of a quiet, everyday hero taking care of his loved ones:

He works hard to support his family,

Each day of every long and tiring week.

He lives his life with grace and dignity,

While praise and notoriety, he never seeks.

“A Memorial Day Prayer” begins this way:

Many American soldiers have marched into eternity.

They’ve given everything they had to give;

Their lives, their souls, and their prosperity.

They sacrificed it all so in freedom we might live.

From “The Appetite of War (The Siege of Firebase Ripcord)”:

Fearful eyes scan a blurry horizon to the fore,

when thunderous blasts all at once begin to roar.

Flashes of light, then screams, right and left,

as shadowy figures trip the wires of death.

Heavy fire along heavily barricaded battle lines,

keep heads pinned down, as retorts it undermines.

Deadly rounds buzz through leaves and trees,

like swarms of thousands of angry bees.

There is likely no other form of writing that can be as personal and heartfelt as poetry, and it’s always enjoyable to read how veterans use the medium to express themselves. None of these poems appear to have been previously published in any literary journals.

Half of the net proceeds from the royalties of this book will be donated to nonprofit veterans’ organizations, including Vietnam Veterans of America.

–Bill McCloud

Nam to Now by Michael Harold Davis

Nam to Now (JacksonDavis, 222 pp. $30, hardcover; $25, paper) is a collection of poems written mainly over the past decade by Michael Harold Davis, a U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran. His poetry book is one of a very few dealing with the Vietnam War containing verses written in a rhyming scheme.

In “William Harvey Little,” for instance, Davis writes:

I met him just days ago.

But we were actually kin.

Not because of the blood we have,

But because of where we’ve been.

We went to a war together,

We’ve shed the very same tears.

I didn’t know William Harvey long,

But it feels like 40 years.

And in  “Cup-A-Joe”:

But I had monsoons in Nam.

I’ve cycled in a hurricane.

But I would ride right into the eye,

If I could silence my brain.

The Blues begins with this stanza:

I hate that my woman left me.

But I know she had to go.

Why did she take the dog?

And why did she leave so slow?

There are also poems of love and loss, such as “Only a Parsec Away”

I speak a broken language.

When I have anything to say.

But then again and then again,

Words just get in the way.

There was a time way back in time,

I held her love in sway.

With ancient eyes, I see her,

She’s only a parsec away.

Davis makes frequent use of wordplay. Sometimes it works; other times it’s distracting. The poetry here is, for the most part, simplistic, but heartfelt and wrapped in a religious tone.

I recommend the book because every veteran’s voice cries out to be heard and Michael Harold Davis certainly has a distinctive poetic voice.

–Bill McCloud

Savage Pastures by John Partin

Savage Pastures: Poems of Strife and the Vietnam War (71 pp. $8.99, paper; $4.99, Kindle), by John Partin is a collection of poems about the war, bookended by verses about struggling to survive working in the red-dirt rural South. From 1966-72 Partin was a finance officer for a bank on contract with the Marine Corps. That work included duty as a financial liaison for U.S. Marines in South Vietnam and their families back home. That put Partin in contact with many of the men in-country, as well as families of those who didn’t make it home from the war.

In “A Train to Catch,” a young man has enlisted in the military and preparing to do his part in the Second World War:

As the world blackened in war,

A cancerous presence that so radically changed our lives.

And then:

Into the gathering darkness.

The time was here.

The train was coming.

Almost eerily, the trees changed into looming immobile spheres.

Long shadows draped Warren, a horrible enveloping foreboding.

Once we arrive in the Vietnam War, there is “Pastures to Lie In.”: Medics in helmets of white crosses/Screaming-pushing multiple compresses to/Land mined ghosts of legs

In “Homeless,” a Vietnam War veteran is wearing an Army green coat, faded, frayed/Sargent striped remembrance of life

All the while, he is living in An America grown silent/To men of war

In “War Death”:

And the go-go bars of Court Street in Jacksonville,/Where Vietnam comes back/In black light and pulsating probe,/Illuminating the dancers

In “Dragonfly”:

A dragonfly

Hovering in iridescent bluish splendor.

The flurry of wings

Etching a beating helicopter blade memory

Rooftop staccato rhythm to belching bullet casings

Blazing streams into Vietnam rice paddies

The mounted door gun a death appendage

Hunting peasants working, defecating in fields.

The first killing an ethereal horror

That evolved to lust.

In “Distant Thunder”:

War cannon lighted nights

Explosive chaos.


And deserted prayer.

Prayer screamed in horror

Until the heart closed to faith.

Lost. Abandoned. Devoured.

By war.

In “Butterflies of Vietnam” we read these hauntingly beautiful lines:

Menacing cobra head in a bottle

On a half-broken shelf

Once in a brothel in Saigon,

The brothel a searching last hope of angel’s touch

To minds no longer able to feel

And eyes no longer able to see

The unseen coiled terror of days.

And now,

The chopper landed

And butterflies returned

Floating white to the field.

There is death in John Partin’s poems—in combat and in the rooms of a VA Medical Center. This is a short but solid collection that holds up well on rereading.

–Bill McCloud

Airmail: A Story of War in Poems by Kathleen Patrick

Airmail: A Story of War in Poems (144 pp. $9.99, paper; $4.99, Kindle) by Kathleen Patrick is a great example of how letters and conversations can be turned into stunning poetry. Patrick shares the words and thoughts of seven uncles who served in the military, five of them in Southeast Asia during the American war in Vietnam.

This is “a book about going off to war, a book about coming back home,” she says, “and a book about those who are left behind.”

The forty poems are divided into three sections: Leaving, Airmail, and Surviving.

In “Letter to Seven Uncles,” she writes:

I remember the map of Vietnam

on our kitchen wall in Iowa.

Each morning Mom listened to the news,

read blue airmail letters,

and moved stick pins from one place

to another. I was nine and wanted

to stop that color-by-number war.

In “Photo Interpreter,” one uncle explains his job this way:

Photo mapping, target analysis,

bomb damage assessment.

I reported to Westmoreland each morning,

read those photographs, hell,

like a Gypsy reads an old man’s palm.

One war-experienced uncle gives advice to a younger brother as he prepares to leave for Vietnam in “Chain Link.”

Just keep your head down little brother

and you’ll be all right, you hear me?

Keep your head god damn on the ground.

In “Bad Time” she writes about men being attacked by tigers who “were being napalmed/and driven into madness.” She says that a death by tiger would be reported as a death in battle, just as a death by fragging was.  

In “Aftermath,” young boys simulate combat with fireworks. “Terry and Tim/took the string of Black Cats out behind the straw stacks/and divvied up ammo for the war.”

We witness a mind trying to sort things out in this stanza from “Robert M. in the Doorway”:

You got to understand the smell of a campfire—

it never leaves no matter where you go

or what jungle you remember he is always with

you that friend on the nicest day of spring when

you take a deep breath and then hear him joking

before it is all over it is never over you are never

alone again.

My favorite poem, “Decisions,” is written with an intentional repetition:

Anyway, I have twenty-one months to decide

what I’m going to do twenty-one months

before I need to sign need to sign

on another line

so I figure no sweat for now

It’s always cool to see letters sent home from war turned into poems. They become letters from America sent back to America. Kathleen Patrick shows us what it can look like when it’s done poetically and done right.

Patrick’s website is

–Bill McCloud

Lessons Learned by Dale Ritterbusch

Dale Ritterbusch’s Lessons Learned: Poetry of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath (Viet Nam Generation, Inc./Burning Cities Press, p. 125 pp., paperback), which was published in 1995, comes with a strong endorsement from—among others—W.D. Ehrhart, the most accomplished American poet whose work has been influenced by serving in the war. Ritterbusch served in the U.S. Army from 1966-1969, including a tour of duty as a lieutenant in Vietnam War. He recently retired as a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

The first poem in this strong collection, “When It’s Late,” creates a great sense of loss:

I bury each night in the shadows,

turning a spadeful of war

over and over

In “Geography Lessons,” Ritterbush returns from war to a “land I cannot recognize as home.”

Also of note: the first two stanzas of “Choppers”:

Always the sound of choppers,

Chinooks, Cobras, Hueys,

A sensual drone of smooth, flashing blades

Cutting through air,

Churning acrid, Asian heat.

The sound mnemonically beats its way into the night

Cutting through darkness like a bayonet

Through the top of a C-ration can,

Through a block of C-4

In “Somme,” Ritterbusch ponders an earlier war:

You kind of wonder every year or so

On hearing of a farmer killed

By plowing up an old artillery shell

Somewhere in the fields of France,

The shell working its way up

Within reach of the silver tines

And exploding after all these years;

You kind of wonder if they ever change

The numbers in any recorded history of the war

And add one more to the list of the dead.

In “After The War,” Ritterbush has returned home and his car strikes a flock of birds:

He looked back at soft mounds of feathers

Scattered across the pavement,

The sound still in his ears like the sound

A bullet makes when it hits flesh

The poetry is often blunt and to the point, as in “Search and Destroy”:

Two gooks popped up

And we got ‘em running across the field,

Nailed ‘em before they hit the trees.

In “Winning Hearts and Minds” a Vietnamese man is struck in the face so hard with a rifle that it breaks the weapon’s stock:

She sobs; her eyes sing hate; her child,

Clutched tighter, cries above the flames.

My favorite poem is “On the Gulf of Siam,” which contains these evocative lines:

There is a passion in this stillness

Trees with blossoms orange as monk’s cloth

Shelter merchants resting

Before returning to the sun

Selling bathers Pepsi and bananas

Red fish braised on sticks and love

Dale Ritterbusch pulls no punches in his writing, creating poems that are blunt, coarse, raw, and often beautifully expressed. These poems are written by a disciplined hand and deserve to be read.

–Bill McCloud  

Winter Phoenix by Sophia Terazawa

The poems in Sophia Terazawa’s Winter Phoenix: Testimonies in Verse (Deep Vellum Publishing, 140 pp. $16, paper; $15.20, Kindle) serve as witness to a series of war atrocities. A poet and performer of Vietnamese-Japanese descent, Terazawa holds an MFA from the University of Arizona and is the author of two award-winning poetry chapbooks.

The poems in the Winter Phoenix—some of which were published in The Iowa Review, The Cincinnati Review, Salt Hill Journal, The Seattle Review, and Sundog Lit—are a form of found poetry based on veterans’ testimonies during internationally publicized events, including the Winter Soldier Investigation held by Vietnam Veterans Against the War in Detroit in 1971, and the Bertram Russell International War Crimes Tribunal in Stockholm in 1966.

Terazawa says these poems are about her “ongoing survival as the daughter of her mother.” The book can be read as eighty poems, or as six poems, or even just one long one. There are several different forms of poems, and poems within poems. Taking the overall form of a war crimes tribunal, the poems speak of accusations and allegations, atrocities, violence, trauma, and witness. Each consists of an opening statement, witness oaths, exhibits, supplemental diagrams, testimony, cross-examination, redactions, bylaws, a final report, and a closing statement. In all, they are “a cry for justice.”

These lines that jumped out at me during multiple readings of the book:

She was shot before they called her young.”

“Our trials happened but we never happened.”

“Stars inside my mouth” and the men kept changing places, “Slapping high-fives.”

“How do trials make another body absent?”

“women, hunted, were first shot then stabbed—each comma,/here, most crucial to our story, hence, delineating men from action/during war—a woman, hunted, was then killed upon another hill./These facts are very simple.”

“Losing count of war crimes meant a war crime never happened. Therefore, I was tortured.”

“Then all was silent in your

language, and my language”

“Somewhere in a thicket

There were rabbits screaming. Stop.”

“Uphill, in a country not my own, I found her body, sir.

From that body I could write our book of testimonies. But I could not write this by myself.”

“Why did you just stand there and say nothing?”

The final poem includes an alphabet running backwards, as if it’s leading us back to a time before there was a language to describe the atrocities of war. But even then there would be a witness and a silent accusation: Why did you not do something?

This is a consciousness-raising work of literature.

–Bill McCloud

Learning War by R. L. Barth

R. L. Barth’s Learning War: Selected Vietnam War Poems (Broadstone Books, 72 pp. $18.95, paper) is a powerful collection of poetry based on Barth’s experience with the Marines during the war. This book brings together poems from a half dozen of Barth’s previous collections. He is also the author of No Turning Back: The Battle of Dien Bien Phu (2016), a group of poems related to that seminal battle in the French Indochina War.

The 74 short poems included here—some epigrams, some couplets—average a mere eight lines each. But that’s enough to get the job done.

The book is divided into three sections with titles such as “A Child Accidentally Napalmed,” “A Letter to the Dead,” “One Way to Carry the Dead,” “Don’t You Know Your Poems Are Hurtful?,” and “Tonight You Bitch …” A handful of poems appear as though they were written from a War, a Staging Area, the Bush, an Observation Post: Near An Hoa, and the World.

Here are three complete poems.

“War Debt”

Survive or die, war holds one truth:

Marine, you will not have a youth.

“Initial Confusion”

A sergeant barked, “Your ass is Uncle’s!” though

It wasn’t clear if he meant Sam or Ho.”


Tell them quite simply that we died

Thirsty, betrayed, and terrified.

In another poem Barth uses the phrase, “War’s war,” and then we find ourselves sharing a World War I trench with the British poet Siegfried Sassoon. These are poems of the infantry. Fighting takes place under a “leech-black sky.” Life and death decisions are sometimes based on a roll of the dice.

The troops deploy. Above the stars

Wheel over mankind’s little wars.

If there’s a deity, it’s Mars.

Patrolling silently,

He knows how men will die

In jungles. I am he.

He is not I.

At night, such lovely ways to kill, to die.

Even suppose a man is brave one time –

Is truly brave, I mean – will he be brave

A second time?

Two poems that could have served as bookends for this collection are these:

“Saigon: 16 VI. 1963”

In chaos, judgement took on form and name:

The lotus flared; more men burned in your just flame.

“Saigon: 30 IV. 1975”

We lie here, trampled in the rout,

There was no razor’s edge, no doubt.

Though the poems are short, I suggest not to read them quickly and then move on. This is not a book to be rushed through.

Read a poem, then read it again. Give it your full attention. There are things to be learned in these short poems, things to never be forgotten.

Read ‘em and weep.

–Bill McCloud

It Looks Like What I’ll Take to My Grave by Emerson Gilmore

Emerson Gilmore’s book of Vietnam War poetry, It Looks Like What I’ll Take to My Grave: Viet Nam Fifty Years Later, a Memoir in Verse (106 pp. $15.99, paper; $2.99, Kindle), moves beyond the borders of the war to consider the effects of armed conflict in general and the unfortunate fact that war is apparently a consistent part of human existence.

Gilmore served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam from January 1970-February 1971 as an interpreter and interrogator. The book’s title refers to the fact that his war memories will stay with him for his entire life.

The book gets off to a great start with the first line of the first poem: “None of us was meant/to war.” Gilmore writes that Basic Training at Ft. Jackson taught him how to “guard empty buildings/with empty rifles.”

On his way to Vietnam, he writes, “I stopped in to fill my stomach with beer,/drank for nearly a year/and landed in Bien Hoa, Vietnam.” That was not Gilmore’s last beer, as he admits, “I drank the war.”

He also tells us through his poetry that he “never fired or was fired upon” and he spent much of his time in “the clubs of Saigon/where the whores/knew my name.” Gilmore sometimes writes disparagingly about street prostitutes calling out offers of sex, “Their breath tainted with rat and dog.”

There’s a great poem about both sides during the war singing “the ageless G.I. blues,” with a nod to the 1960 Elvis Presley song and the lyrics to a similar song in James Jones’ great World War II novel, From Here to Eternity, as well as the Hollywood movie version of the book.

Gilmore’s poetry gives us much to think about. Such as: “I will never fight another war/even if God says.” And:

“History without wars bores,

shortens the books,

drains the blood from professors’ careers,

and politicians’

cuts the balls from

man after man

Why Adam and Noah

if not for war?”

Several of the poems are written with a rhythm that would make them especially interesting to be read out loud. Some, if you read carefully, are love poems to lost buddies. Some are straightforward in their story telling; others make creative use of symbolism. A few are fairly light-hearted, but most are as serious as the idea of endless war.

I admire Emerson Gilmore’s poetic efforts to reduce the numbers of American casualties in the war: “If I turn on the radio,/sons will die. The man/will say so. I have not/turned on the television for/months, saving countless lives.”

There’s also serious PTSD at work here, along with occasional glimpses of possible redemption.

I read through this volume three times and different things jumped out at me each time. This book of poetry is alive and I encourage you to engage with it. It’s one of the good ones.

–Bill McCloud

Fragments by Bruce K. Berger


Fragments: The Long Coming Home from Vietnam (Wordworthy Press, 92 pp. $12.95, paper; $11, Kindle) is a poetry chapbook by Bruce K. Berger. Berger served with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam in 1970, writing sympathy letters to hundreds of families. This chapbook is as good a collection of poetry dealing with the Vietnam War as I’ve read.

There’s no dipping a toe in the water here. In the first section of the first poem Berger references the My Lai massacre, napalm, Agent Orange, AWOLs and “Dinks and Gooks.”

Berger writes of the “bloody mathematics” involved in taking, abandoning, then re-taking territory. Men around him wonder why they were there. “Why the hell were we, where the hell we were?” At one point he notes that “The long war symbolized so many lies/some of them true.”

Elsewhere he writes about the sympathy letters: “What more could he write/without deepening their pain?” He also writes of holding buddies while their lives slip away and remembering one soldier who died with a smile on his face. You don’t realize at the time that being “Impregnated by orange rain” means you were killed in Vietnam, though you won’t die until thirty years later.

He addresses the times on guard-duty when you have a chance to note the country’s fleeting moments of beauty. Then the rain and other natural sounds seem to combine to create “the jungle band.” Eventually there’s “The precious gift of sunrise in Vietnam.”

He shares in the comfort that can be found in a stray dog. Then there’s the “contagious smile” of the young boy with a “missing foot.” There’s also an old woman who continues to look for her grandson, although he died months earlier after being “shot by Aaron from Akron.” A young girl has “tiny breasts” that recall “two little sparrows/poking just barely/under her tee-shirt.”

Returning home from the war means “picking up where they left off/one year a century ago.” Then memories began to hit like “hot grease spattering his brain.” Memories that you begin to think of as “just dead life.” There is some evidence of healing once you are “no longer drinking suicide” and have started doing “drive bys” of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.


Berger in Vietnam

The stories told in these poems are the memories of one American Vietnam War veteran. The collection is not all-encompassing. It doesn’t try to explain the causes of the war or the motives of the people fighting on the other side. It’s personal, and poetry may be the most personal form of written expression.

There are 34 poems in this book. None of them is a throw-away. Each brings something to the table. The inclusion of 24 illustrations creates a complete package.

This is an unflinching look at the horrors of war and one man’s life-long efforts to escape its memories told in the form of poetry. Berger is a true word-artist.

The book’s Facebook page is

Bruce Berger is donating profits from book sales to Vietnam Veterans of America.

–Bill McCloud

Year of the Dog by Deborah Paredez


The poet, scholar, and critic Deborah Paredez, a Professor of Creative Writing and Ethnic Studies at Columbia University, is the daughter of a Vietnam War veteran. The title of her new book, Year of the Dog (BOA Editions, 128 pp. $17, paper; $9.99, e book), refers to 1970, the year Paredez was born and the year that her father, a Mexican immigrant, deployed to the war zone.

Paredez divides the book into three sections: The first (53 pages) contains personal poems such as a self-portrait in flesh and stone and hearts and minds. The second is about Kim Phuc and the famous photograph of her being burned by napalm. The third deals with subjects along the lines of those explored in Trinh T. Min-ha’s 1989 documentary Surname Viet, Given Name Nam, which looks at the lives of Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American women.

Some of the poems, including those about Kim Phuc, are difficult to read because of the painful subject, but they must be read. Dozens of photographs are distributed throughout the book, which add greatly the power of Paredez’s words.

Here are a couple of stanzas from “Mother Tongue” that give the flavor of what the book holds in store:

If I could bite my tongue

And have it split into two

Whole daughters that split

Again in endless fission

-ing splitting the very thing

Keeping their whole line

Going—If I could I would

Watch my tongue and its

Tongue-set wagging

Their tails, some silver-

Tongued some wicked—I’d hold my tongue

Out like an offering or a battalion

This is a book of powerful poems about pain and politics and war.

–David Willson