NEA Literature Fellowships

Hugh Martin

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Hugh Martin

Photo by Kent Corbin

(2019 - Poetry)

"Letter to Lieutenant Owen from the Twenty-First Century"

                                    —9/3/13, New Concord, Ohio

Still children ardent for some desperate
glory, aiming guns at Baghdad before 
we’re twenty. Midwest in America (you haven’t
been): the reds & yellows of leaves swarm
the streets’ curbs as the State talks of bombs 
they’ll send to send a message. Simple, sir, 
to drop them where you’re not. Damascus—   
City of Jasmine—shelled with Sarin.  
What’s changed since your World
War, which still we call The Great? Today
we name them Operations. Each speech ends
God bless America. Through the panes
of your mask that man still drowns.
& still, the soldiers: not dead, just Fallen.  

One morning they gassed us, only once,
in northern Kentucky where America keeps
its bullion behind barbed wire. We danced—
we were made to—in a room where white steam
crawled along the walls & then we slipped
off our masks: it was like the needles of a pine
brushing my iris. Burning skin. We yelled
our Socials with snot-strings on our chins.
As you said, sir, it is sweet & right
to huff gas for one’s country, to shave
for one’s country because, otherwise,
the mask won’t seal. Can you believe,
sir, a death from stubble? & isn’t that
something: City of Jasmine. Can you imagine?

Hugh Martin is a veteran of the Iraq War and the author of In Country (BOA Editions, 2018) and The Stick Soldiers (BOA Editions, 2013), winner of the A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize. He is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a Yaddo Fellowship, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, a Sewanee Writers’ Conference Fellowship, and he was the inaugural winner of the Iowa Review Jeff Sharlet Award for Veterans. His essays and poetry have appeared in The Sun, the New Yorker, the New York Times, Grantland, the New Republic, and the Kenyon Review. He was the 2014-15 Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College and he’s currently completing a PhD at Ohio University.

I am sincerely grateful and humbled to receive this grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. It’s truly an honor and I am very thankful to this year’s panel of judges. With the time and resources provided by this grant, I plan to continue work on future manuscripts involving marginalized and often silenced voices of the Iraq War, and narratives concerning the veteran identity in America. As most writers know, we often do the work, day after day, in silence with much uncertainty and hesitation; therefore, I am grateful for the encouragement and validation which this grant provides. I also plan to use these resources, over the following years, to develop and write projects which, I hope, push and challenge my own narrative, vocal, and aesthetic thresholds. This grant, at this stage in my career, will also provide me with time and flexibility to finish current projects, some of which involve travel and conducting interviews. Again, all of my gratitude to the NEA staff and this year’s judges. I am excited and eager to move forward and continue the work.