Benjamin Hertwig’s debut collection of poetry, Slow War, is at once an account of contemporary warfare and a personal journey of loss and the search for healing. It stands in the tradition of Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” and Kevin Powers’s “Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting.”
A century after the First World War, Hertwig presents both the personal cost of war in poems such as “Somewhere in Flanders/Afghanistan” and “Food Habits of Coyotes, as Determined by Examination of Stomach Contents,” and the potential for healing in unlikely places in “A Poem Is Not Guantánamo Bay.” This collection provides no easy answers – Hertwig looks at the war in Afghanistan with the unflinching gaze of a soldier and the sustained attention of a poet. In his accounting of warfare and its difficult aftermath on the homefront, the personal becomes political.
While these poems inhabit both experimental and traditional forms, the breakdown of language channels a descent into violence and an ascent into a future that no longer feels certain, where history and trauma are forever intertwined. Hertwig reminds us that remembering war is a political act and that writing about war is a way we remember.