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Pieces Of War: A Review Of Leo Jenkins’s Poetry Collection, war{n}pieces

  • 4 min read

If you can imagine being snatched out of your bed and tossed into a spinning industrial clothes dryer filled with running chainsaws and silk pillows you’ve got a pretty good handle on Leo Jenkins’s new poetry collection, war{n}pieces. You will not know where you are, or which way is up, and you might get cut, or a little bit nauseous once in a while, but there’s gonna be some soft bits as well, and overall, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.



Leo is a former Army Ranger medic turned globe traveling poet with a handful of books to his credit. This volume is published by the fine folks at The Dead Reckoning Collective, a veteran owned and operated publishing company that seeks to close the divide between civilians and veterans by sharing their stories. 


It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of you reading this are not followers of poetry, but this is a great place to start. These are the words of a poet with dirt under his fingernails who is no stranger to the ghosts that show up unwanted.  In “ILD” when the writer’s rhyming poems are critiqued harshly by the educational establishment, he responds:


"...Look, I’ll take the “low brow” crowd
they’re more fun to drink with, anyhow
they’re proud and loud
and bob heads to the sound
of Wu-Tang Clan,
with stories about Afghanistan
that would blow your mind
like an
Improvised Explosive Literary Device"

I found it tough to read most of these poems without imposing an Eminem style beat. Many are fast paced and hammering with rhyme schemes that sneak up on you. Others are more akin to the lyrical master, Dr Seuss. My favorite poem of the collection is, “Share What You Can”


Share What You Can
“I drew a scene of a cat tap dancing.”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you mean, what do I mean? It’s a cat
tap dancing. His shoes are ruby red with
specks of green.”
“What the fuck does that have to do with
“Well, I didn’t know how to draw
six men standing tall,
Before the blast, before the fall,
Of two fathers, six sons, a newborn ghost.
I can live those things in lucid dreams,
Second squad’s alpha and bravo teams,
The displaced head of a man, mostly intact,
But I can’t share all that, so here’s a cat,
tap dancing,
His shoes are red and green.”


WHAT THE FUCK? As Jules from Pulp Fiction would say, “That is some serious gourmet shit!” 



But just when I felt I had a handle on Leo’s style, he drops in a Villanelle. Of course, he does. For those of you savages unschooled in formal poetry, a Villanelle is ahighly structured poem made up of five tercets followed by a quatrain, with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. The most famous example is Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night.” In it, the first and third lines of the first stanza alternatingly end each successive stanza and the final 4-line stanza ends with the both lines.

Villanelle’s War

If what we gain is what we’ve lost
Would we spend a dollar more?
Had we known the final cost,
Would we those mighty oceans cross
To raid a foreign shore?
If what we gain is what we’ve lost,
What value have bodies by the tempest tossed?
To test our virtue’s core?
Had we known the final cost...


And the collection bounces around in style, subject, and form like a pickup barreling down a rutted dirt road. Those that hold on are rewarded with gems like, “Dear War”, a breakup letter with the GWOT, “The Story of Strength in Reverse” with the line: “If you’ve got a dying breath, You’ve got a breath!/ You’ve got something left!” and the title poem “war{n}pieces” buried near the back of the collection. 


Poems like “you{we}me” take on the current social fight and the fuckwits who seek to divide the American people:


"...Can’t stress this enough,
the true strength
of a people is solidarity.
We stand divided
yet lay united,
gasping desperately,
Cause if you can’t breathe,
We can’t breathe."


Leo follows that up with “What’s Heard”, which provides another perspective and urges communication. The themes that run through this collection are combat and its aftermath, relationships and their aftermath, and politics and the deeply divided world we find ourselves in. This is best captured in the poem: 


Two Simple Things

Left wing - right wing
{of the same dying bird}
Flapping - blaming
Accusing - labeling
the other wing
Doesn’t just happen in politics
It's in every argument.
It's the way we are on the internet.
It's the way we hedge our bets
guarding opinions we haven’t challenged yet...

I could go one citing examples and lines I loved, but you’re going to have to pick up a copy and find your own favorites. And like a Marvel movie, may sure you sit through the credits and make it to the end. Buy it, read it, learn from it. You can pick up a signed copy along with some other cool shit at the Dead Reckoning Collective:

John Dailey is a retired Marine Special Operator who still works for Uncle Sugar. He is the editor of ‘The Raider Patch’ magazine and enjoys running ultra-marathons and drinking beer—not in that order.The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Special Operations Command, the United States Marine Corps, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or the United States Government.