Mothers Over Nangarhar, Pamela Hart
The Millions, “Must-Read Poetry: January 2019”
Winner of the 2017 Kathryn A. Morton Prize
Mothers Over Nangarhar is an unusual and powerful war narrative, focusing less on the front lines of combat and more on the home front, a perspective our American cultural canon has largely ignored after 222 years at war. In her stunning poetry debut, Pamela Hart concentrates on the fears and psychological battles suffered by parents, lovers, and friends during a soldier’s absence and return home, if indeed there’s a return. With honest grit and compassionate imagination, Hart describes her own experience having a son overseas, incorporating lyric meditations, photography, news articles, support group meetings, family interviews, oral histories, and classic literature to construct a documentary-style narrative very much situated in the now. Blending reality with absurdism and guided openly by a Calvino kind of logic, Hart reveals to us a crucial American point of view.
An unusual and powerful war narrative told in poetry, focusing on the psychological battles suffered by parents, lovers, and friends on the home front.
Pamela Hart is writer in residence at the Katonah Museum of Art where she teaches and manages an arts-in-education program called Thinking Through the Arts. She was awarded an NEA poetry fellowship in 2013. She recently received the Brian Turner Literary Arts prize for poetry. Her poems have been published in a variety of journals including the Southern Humanities Review, Bellevue Literary Review and Drunken Boat. Toadlily Press published her chapbook, The End of the Body. She is poetry editor and mentor for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.
PRAISE FOR MOTHERS OVER NANGARHAR
"Rich with literary, political, and geographical references, Hart’s debut collection details the journey of a mother whose son is serving in Afghanistan. . . . Hart’s drive to keep looking and listening while 'the long war goes on' reads like a fundamental act of compassion."
"In her debut poetry collection, Hart brings a new, salient voice to our home front in times of war. . . . An artist by training, Hart creates word images that allow us to contemplate private and public pain. Certain lines stand out in these glowing poems: 'Like the Spartan women, we polish / our sons in the concrete firmament.' Or: 'My syntax breaks to lake ice / Who am I to translate the exodus of birds.' . . . [F]inely crafted poems."
“This honest and compassionate debut from the mother of a soldier adopts a rarely seen focus in the annals of wartime literature, turning attention toward the home front rather than the combat front.”
"Hart is also publishing a book of poems, Mothers over Nangarhar, inspired by her work."
—O, The Oprah Magazine
"Though language cannot encompass the enormity of war’s influence, it can still bring us as close as possible to expressing the inexpressible. This Hart does masterfully through an array of voices, all of whom echo and reecho what it means to survive and communicate war."
—Lindsey Weishar, Ploughshare, "Finding the Words to Speak of War"
"Though the canon abounds with war poets — Homer, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, Walt Whitman — fewer describe the complexities of the home front. Pamela Hart works to correct this by telling the stories, including her own, of the parents, spouses, and children of those who serve. 'This isn’t a story of war,' she writes. 'This is the mother on the idea of a son at war.'"
—Jonathan Russell Clark, Vulture, "New Year, New Verse: 4 Poetry Collections That Change the World"
"Hart captures the paradox of a service member’s family: Hope keeps them alive, but hope is exhausting. Hart’s book ponders the mixture of pride and love for a son, fear for his safety, anxiety and guilt over violence. 'He was small and almost perfect at birth,' she writes. 'Did I raise him up to be a warrior.' There is no question mark here because, Hart knows, there is no answer."
—Nick Ripatrazone, The Millions, "Must-Read Poetry: January 2019"
“Mothers Over Nangarhar moves through its mazy, crazed world of intimate and global conflict, exterior and interior pain, searching and assured. It is a beautiful, strong, and vulnerable work for our beautiful, strong, and increasingly vulnerable world.”
—Rowan Ricardo Phillips
“Mothers Over Nangarhar is like no book of poetry I’ve read. It tells of the mothers whose ‘beautiful and dangerous’ children and partners fight our world’s wars. Their emotions are difficult to imagine, but we don’t need to imagine them, since these poems deliver them with lyric precision directly to our hearts. The stories the book includes are both eternal (‘the long war goes on’) and heartbreakingly particular (‘There was the time I told your cradle I was done / Locked you in the van then shopped at Walgreens’), and Pamela Hart is a storyteller aware of all of a story’s implications: ‘Can he kill is a story. Will the mother blame herself could be another.’ Mothers Over Nangarhar is a document, a warning, a lament—beautiful and dangerous.”
—Kathleen Ossip, author of The Do-Over
"Hart’s poems work like a 'contour drawing' that recognizes the disconnect between the object of study and the art that is produced; they never take their gaze off of their subject, but continue to circle the unknown closer and closer. This book feels extremely universal in its ruminations on loss and fear, but also deeply personal: 'My pencil working its way into the story if a son.'"
—Hannah Bradley, The Arkansas International
“‘I am writing backward to figure out forward,’ Pamela Hart writes in Mothers Over Nangarhar and in so doing Hart has charted her own connection to war through the birth and journey of her son, noting how ‘like the Spartan women, we polish/ our sons in the concrete firmament.’ With Sun-Tzu, Farid Attar, Rimbaud, and the oral testimonies of those with loved ones serving in distant war zones woven into the meditation beside her own experiences, Hart reveals and maps the layered psychological strata of the stateside terrain, war’s home front. This collection is part of a necessary dialogue on war and conflict that stretches from one generation to another now, and yet rarely makes the nightly news or the kitchen table. Thankfully, Hart refuses to add to the silence and instead has given us Mothers Over Nangarhar.”