Crisis Chronicles 2020
The poems in Kari Gunter-Seymour’s Serving are so tender, reading them hurts—but it’s a sweet ache, the kind worth enduring. The collection begins with the speaker’s memory of her son as a young boy, in “Oshkosh bibs and tiny / red tennis shoes,” but in the next poem, he is a young adult, deploying with his “tactical gear” and “newly shaved head.” Why isn’t this juxtaposition jarring? Because that fierce, abiding love is a kind of umbilicus between a mother and her child, regardlessof age or distance. The poems in Serving are so much about place—about home—whether Appalachia or Kandahar. As Gunter-Seymour shows us, poem after masterful poem, serving is not only about sacrifice, what those in the military do for our country. Serving is also what we do for one another, for the people we call home, no matter where they are.
-Maggie Smith, Good Bones
Kari Gunter-Seymour boldly pens poems that imagine war and take a peak. I still can be stubborn about “can you write about it if you haven’t lived it?” Gunter-Seymour can. These are some of the best military poems, mother’s perspective or not, that I have ever read. Serving should be mandatory reading for military personnel of all branches and their families. The poems have the ability to delve into the deep meaningful conversations of intimate connection. Serving begins with “Photo of You, 1985,” which explores the images of the past that help define the bond between a mother and her son. The small book ends with “No Word from Kandahar,” a poem that invited me to understand that the picture, the image, the memory isn’t good enough anymore. Words are needed. Maybe a picture isn’t always worth a thousand words. And in that invitation, Gunter-Seymour reminds me of the power of poetry itself.
-J.M. Green, The Novice Angler
Fond memories of childhood life in Appalachia and a fundamental spirit of patriotism struggle with present-day realities and the love that holds each day together. Military service has elements of honor, to be sure, but the platitudes that accompany its appeals rarely acknowledge war's aftermath and its effects on veterans and their families. In several of Kari Gunter-Seymour's poems here, the terror of post-traumatic stress sometimes locks the former solider "in some kind of pen, waiting/to be released back into his life." This collection of narrative poems is both accessible and deeply personal, and it transcends easy categorizing. Suffice to say it's profoundly moving, a brief foray into the tangled bonds of family, the multiple meanings of patriotism, and the conflicts that return from war to reside in the home. I'm grateful to Gunter-Seymour for opening this door for me. This is a testament to the complexity and power of love even as it contends with circumstances beyond its control, and these are poems that anyone, regardless of political view in a divided nation, will benefit from reading and taking to heart.
-Steve Abbott, A Green Line Between Green Fields
The reader can’t help but step completely inside Kari Gunter-Seymour’s Serving. Each poem is whole, yet together these pieces build to the larger story of a mother reaching out to her son through any distance. From Southern Ohio to Kandahar and back. From “Your soft boy head, earthy and damp, / nestled in the crook of my shoulder” to “Those times you are trip-wired, / in that space between breaths.” This book rings with specific truth. I want to give a copy to every parent with a child in the military, give a copy to every politician. Or simply ask them to pause and listen for the minute it takes to read the title poem, “Serving,” because it’s not possible to take that in with an open heart and come away unchanged.
-Laura Grace Weldon, Blackbird, Ohio Poet of the Year, 2019