It’s been a while, friends. I took a year’s tenure as editor-in-chief of the fantastic Wrath-Bearing Tree Literary Journal, (and had edited fiction and nonfiction there since late 2017). I cannot recommend Wrath-Bearing Tree highly enough as an astute, darkly funny, important publication that examines our relationship to issues of war, peace, and social justice and tries to see through old patterns of human behavior to achieve something more equitable, something new. WBT is a fantastic little (growing) guerilla magazine sneaking in on a larger war-lit scene, changing the tone of the conversation, bringing smart, aware, beautiful work, necessary work. They have just become a federal nonprofit which will bring all kinds of exciting opportunities to the table.

I absolutely loved working with Wrath-Bearing Tree. I believe in what they are doing. I will support that publication for the rest of my life. Mainly through Patreon, and also by wearing a sandwich board that says “WBT!” while walking around various subway platforms.

But it’s time for some fresh editorship there, so here I am, back at MilSpouse Book Review, a project I am also passionate about (and have been since 2014!).

Mil Spouse Book Review:

MilSpouse Book Review welcomes contributions from any military spouse or anyone who is connected to the military, or interested in thoughts on our participation in larger systems and schematics of violence — including, as we prominently feature (listing them first on our sidebar), female veterans; and of course military spouses, victims of war and violence, and all veterans. There is so much more to unite than divide us. We have reviewed poetry by Afghan refugees, by soldiers, by military spouses; poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and art; we were the first to review the anthology ‘Powder,’ a collection of women veterans’ writings about their experiences — and we try to do this in a spirit of solidarity, support, scholarship, love of literature, and caring for fellow people.

I also want to mention that authors Alison Buckholtz and Lisa Stice, fellow editors, made this publication possible. Alison’s been instrumental from the start; Lisa is our resident poet & poetry editor and they are both brilliant.

BUT! Let me hip you to something wonderful.


Smaller presses these days are putting out some of the best stuff you will read. Middle West Press — run by Randy Brown (who posts as Charlie Sherpa) out of Johnston, Iowa — is a perfect example. Middle West is unique in its equal and refreshing support of both veterans and military family members, while still questioning what some of us have been asked to do over these past 20 years (and others long before), and what we all are asked to do in daily life in America as parents, friends, spouses, employees. Brown — who himself is a very funny writer, often of haibun and haiku, and also a thoughtful analyst of social and military culture — is careful to link military life to daily American life because they are inextricable.

Brown embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq as a journalist and served in the Iowa National Guard, himself.

Middle West Press has been putting out an amazing pace of fantastic, high-quality literature over the last couple of years. Over the next few weeks I will be reviewing some of my favorite recent reads from MW, including Amalie Flynn’s ‘September Eleventh,’ Benjamin White’s ‘Always Ready,’ and two collections by Randy Brown, ‘So Frag & So Bold’ and ‘Twelve o’ Clock Haiku.’

Then I’ll move on to another terrific small press, MilSpeak Books!


‘FORCES,’ Lisa Stice

Lisa Stice’s poetry is a magical amalgam of the philosophical and the domestic, shining light on hidden corners of both military-spouse experience and everyday life — which, of course, overlap. Subtle but pointed, Stice’s poems reveal a keen awareness of the tensions wrought on relationships by separation, distance, and the social pressures and often strict gender roles brought on by the military lifestyle.

The main figures in Stice’s poetry are her daughter and her dog, with her husband moving in and out from the pages, sometimes present, sometimes away. He is the tie that binds them all, but he lives in a diffrent world much of the time, with things he cannot legally say or sometimes simply explain.

there is all that other ammunition
I know the names of but don’t like
to talk about and all the kinds that
I don’t know the names of and would
prefer it to remain that way.

Even when the couple is together they sometimes feel distanced by the difference in their lives. The daughter and the child are the main stabilizing features, beloved and buoying, but through Stice’s words one can feel the challenge in having your main stabilizing forces also be dependents.

Here are a few sample poems:

from “Bad News is Often Revealed in the Kitchen”

— whether we fold
the towels to the left or the right,
whether the dog
woke up at 4 or 5:30 a.m.,
whether I swept the kitchen
floor that day — as if my shadow
moved without me, following
automatic synapses while
I was really somewhere else entirely.

This poem reminds me of Louis MacNeice’s “Entirely,” which in its own way asks if what we are doing is right or wrong, if there is really something else we should be doing or if it does not matter. It’s a question I’ve encountered in much military spouse (and veteran) writing: should we have made different choices? What were we thinking? What are we thinking now?

As MacNeice writes in “Entirely”:

If we could get the hang of it entirely
It would take too long;……..

And if the world were black or white entirely
And all the charts were plain

Instead of a mad weir of tigerish waters,
A prism of delight and pain,

We might be surer where we wished to go
Or again we might be merely

Bored but in brute reality there is no
Road that is right entirely

Stice captures this same theme, in a more pithy, delicate way, in her poem. ‘Forces’ as a collection, overall, manages to question, in the subtlest but often tenderest of ways, what we are asked to do, how life can kind of turn us into machines, following our own shadows. It’s a tension many military spouses (and service members) feel because the messages we get are so different: are we doing something grand and useful, in service? Or are we, as MacNeice says, merely bored? Is duty the same as love, and can duty snuff out love? Is loneliness the same as sacrifice? Much as in the poetry of Abby Murray and Jehanne Dubrow, the disjunct between “serving” as a military spouse (frequent moves and dislocations, a certain and specific expectation of behavior) and the impulse toward personal creativity are constantly butting heads. It can be devastating to realize that we only have one life, and we have spent much of it sweeping the floor.

But there are moments of joy, too, because life, as Stice shows it, contains everything. There are moments of appreciation for the music of Joan Baez and Donovan, which I can get behind. There are moments of leavening tenderness, “Funny Girl,” about Stice’s daughter:

She told me once that a dog
with a cat on his back could
climb a tree, but I don’t
remember the punchline,
and now she tells knock-knock
jokes that end before the
blah blah, who’s here,
and still, somehow, they’re
funny and make me laugh

the sort of laugh that exercises
my core in such a way that
the next morning, I feel
the tightness to remind me
just how deep those chuckles
were, so I say tell me another.

That’s how I feel about Stice’s poems: tell me another.

Stice, Lisa. Forces. Middle West Press, 2021.