Hugh Martin’s second poetry collection In Country delves into the war in Iraq from the American soldier’s perspective. The language and listing quality of his memories are plain and simple, but the stories they tell are not. Readers see the complicated relationship that the American militia, both as individuals and as a collective, have with Iraqi civilians. Poems move from tenderness—Thanksgiving dinners with the Iraqi soldiers and games with children in the streets—to the brutality of beating an Iraqi man until he’s the shade of plum: “As he lay there in his own piss, I saw his eyes shut, / sealed with swollen skin (this isn’t to say this incident—just one small evening event—is to showcase some soldiers / saving men / from beatings. We, / mostly, weren’t).”

Martin’s poems deal with the aftermath of war too—the resentful parents who mourn the sons they believe the US took from them, and then, the particular hardships felt by soldiers, chiefly, the combined monotony and isolation from American society. Still, In Country continues to return to the question of what is service? Poem to poem it is posed: “I served by opening each drawer, / each cabinet, looking for wires / & weapons while women screamed in a room / where we’d put them with the children / away from the men / we’d put in another room / to be watched while we searched. I served / by handing out peppermint candies / to children in villages / as fathers and mothers stood in doorways / not speaking, even though if they did / we’d never know what they were saying.”


— Review by Jenee Skinner