FLYING OVER BAGHDAD WITH SYLVIA PLATH
PAUL DAVID ADKINS
Poetry as hero, not heroic poetry. Just masterful verse which performs extraordinary work in extraordinary circumstances. No one has, likely, ever uttered the words, “Read Jennifer Kronovet’s collection; it will save your life!” That is, until today.
Because it has, for me. All the poets introduced here have literally plucked me from flames. I had to make sense of Afghanistan, Iraq, The Surge, our Senate’s approval of The Surge, my family’s struggles in my absence, and the moral decrepitude of the undertakings of conflict, these ones, and all the ones before.
Years ago, poet Donald Finkel introduced me to the writings of Albert Goldbarth. His piece “Knees/Dura-Europos” made me grasp the overwhelming continuity of war, its timelessness, and how Goldbarth confronted it with lines like, “This is what’s happening now,” and, “This is what’s going to happen.” So, the questions is, What is poetry doing about it? Because we know war happened, happens, and will happen again.
Well, if you ask the poets represented in this book, they can truly say, “We are denying it an enclave;” “We have named it what it is;” “We have plowed its fields with salt;” “We have refused to clothe or feed it.” There is no need to charge barricades. These poets have denied war the ability to traverse their land, in the time-honored guerilla fashion of refusing an enemy sustenance, support, a base from which to operate and raze surrounding country. While I served in President Bush’s wars, their work became a series of safe houses, places I could find sympathy and support.
So now, having departed these wars, reviewing my experiences, I pin these tiny medals on the poets that did a hero’s work, pulled me from the fire, fed me bread and wine in the dark, warm corners of their books.
“Unknown to the Pentagon, Paul David Adkins took 33 women poets with him on his tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. They traveled in his memory and his rucksack, were picked up from a fellow soldier and rescued from the bottom of a box dumped in a rec room. Writing from the front line, this poet has created a strategy for peace. When he finds those who are buried in the detritus of any war, anywhere, he lowers the “ropes of light” — his words — that bring them out of dark places into the best company, the circle of those who understand because they have been there.” – Lynn Butler Schiffhorst, Author of Planting The Voice: Poems from Poems
“War poetry finally stopped glorifying bloodshed roughly a hundred years ago, and ragged, honest voices began to sing instead. In this blessedly peculiar and luminous book of poems, Paul David Adkins, a soldier and a poet, begs for another song. His tour of duty was also a tour of reading—in his barracks were the books by contemporary poets who did nothing short of save his life. For this soldier, the deep empathy poetry evoked transformed “the enemy” back into an innocent human who was, therefore, spared his bullet. I cannot recall a book that so authentically traces just how, exactly, poetry is a matter of life or death.” – Katie Ford, Author of Blood Lyrics
“In Flying Over Baghdad with Sylvia Plath, Paul David Adkins takes us to the experience of war and counters war’s pressures through poetry—a taut and nuanced conversation with lines by Adrienne Rich, Brian Turner, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Rachel Contreni Flynn, Yusuf Komunyakaa, and others. These poems speak to the daily tension and grind, the stress of distance from home and family. When the importance of poetry is questioned, these poems provide an unequivocal answer.” – Joannie Stangeland, Author of In Both Hands
“I have a new favorite book of poetry. Flying Over Baghdad broke my heart and glued it back together. It opened old wounds and made sense of the scars. In his writing, Paul Adkins illustrates his wartime experiences with compassion, sadness, humor, and (most importantly) hope. He gives us glimpses of his experiences through the lenses of the books and poems that touched his life at those times. His work is truly remarkable and brave.” – Amazon Review, Amazon
“Paul David Adkins reminds me of Wilfred Owens and his poems written during the First World War. There is a matter-of-fact and unassuming honesty about them at a time when there is so much dishonesty and deceit. I haven’t met Adkins but found myself engaged in a conversation with him through his poems about human vulnerabilities, strengths, and the proclivity of the powers that be to go to war. These are poems we should all read. I highly recommend them.” – Amazon Review, Amazon
“Paul David Adkins’ Flying Over Baghdad with Sylvia Plath is a brilliant and heart-wrenching “tour of duty” through his own brutal experiences of war, and a moving account of how the transforming power of poetry literally and figuratively saved his life. It is also a tribute and expression of gratitude to twenty-four female poets whose poems prove on the pulses how the word is truly “mightier than the sword.” Adkins’ poems are layered with irony, humor, and the wisdom gained from direct experience.They are at once anti-war poems and peace poems for our times.” – Amazon Review, Amazon