Best of 2009 poetry: "The Looking House" by soldier-poet Fred Marchant

"The Looking House" by Fred Marchant was selected by as one of the best poetry books of 2009.

If it's true that every country gets the leader it deserves, perhaps it is also the case that each era gets the poet it needs. In a year when American soldiers are fighting in at least two different countries, the poetry of Fred Marchant – who, during the Vietnam War, became one of the first US Marine officers to become a conscientious objector – has special resonance for US readers.

"The Looking House," Marchant's fourth volume of poetry, has been selected by as one of the five best volumes of poetry of 2005. (The site's other picks include: "If I Were Another" by Mahmoud Darwish, "Sonata Mulattica" by Rita Dove, "Hollywood & God" by Robert Polito, and "Apocalyptic Swing" by Gabrielle Calvocoressi.)

Marchant's own experience as a soldier in Vietnam seems to inform much of his work. One poem in "The Looking House" recalls Marchant reading about Agamemnon (who led the Greek forces during the Trojan War), as he worked on a farm in Ireland shortly after leaving the military, seeking balm as he milked cows and tended hay.

Reviewing "The Looking House" for the Monitor, Elizabeth Lund wrote of the sense of compassion that Marchant's work arouses, even at the darkest moments. Lund notes that, "Marchant’s subject matter isn’t easy. He doesn’t flinch when describing an Iranian writer who has been tortured, a sister who is losing her memory, or the entrance to a prison, where people 'feel either you are in danger, or that you are the danger.'”

And yet, Lund points out, Marchant concludes "The Looking House" with two gentle poems, which "leave readers with 'the minutes we have of grandeur, hope, gratitude' ... and 'the small, but persistent/ Impulse to sing.' ”

It has long been the case that from the ugliness of war comes the need to reexamine life. Marchant, who is today the Director of Creative Writing at The Poetry Center at Suffolk University in Boston, has been doing so for decades.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at

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