Song of Napalm by Bruce Weigl

Bruce Weigl’s Song of Napalm is another collection of poems dealing with the impact of the Vietnam War.  Robert Stone says in the introduction, “Bruce Weigl’s poetry is a refusal to forget.  It is an angry assertion of the youth and life that was spent in Vietnam with such vast prodigality, as though youth and life were infinite.  Through his honesty and toughmindedness, he undertakes the traditional duty of the poet:  in the face of randomness and terror to subject things themselves to the power of art and thus bring them within the compass of moral comprehension.”

Weigl takes readers on a journey to Vietnam in the late 1960s and explores the anxiety he feels as a soldier in a strange nation.  Each poem’s narrator carefully observes his surroundings, detailing the corner laundry, the hotel, the jungle, and his fellow soldiers.

“Who would’ve thought the world stops
turning in the war, the tropical heat like hate
and your platoon moves out without you,
your wet clothes piled
at the feet of the girl at the laundry,
beautiful with her facts.”  (from “Girl at the Chu Lai Laundry,” page 4)

Song of Napalm chronicles the narrator’s transformation from boy to soldier to terrified man in the jungle and recovering killer.  In a way some of these poems contain a dark sense of humor about the war, which probably kept the narrator sane.

Temple Near Quang Tri, Not on the Map (page 7-8)

Dusk, the ivy thick with sparrows
squawking for more room
is all we hear; we see
birds move on the walls of the temple
shaping their calligraphy of wings.
Ivy is thick in the grottoes,
on the moon-watching platform
and ivy keeps the door from fully closing.

The point man leads us and we are
inside, lifting
the white washbowl, the smaller bowl
for rice, the stone lanterns
and carved stone heads that open
above the carved faces for incense.
But even the bamboo sleeping mat
rolled in the corner,
even the place of prayer, is clean.
And a small man

sits legs askew in the shadow
the farthest wall casts
halfway across the room.
He is bent over, his head
rests on the floor and he is speaking something
as though to us and not to us.
The CO wants to ignore him;
he locks and loads and fires a clip into the walls
which are not packed with rice this time
and tells us to move out.

But one of us moves towards the man,
curious about what he is saying.
We bend him to sit straight
and when he’s nearly peaked
at the top of his slow uncurling
his face becomes visible, his eyes
roll down to the charge
wired between his teeth and the floor.
The sparrows
burst off the walls into the jungle.

Weigl’s dark humor permeates these pages, but it is more than the humor that will engage readers.  It is his frank lines and how the narrator tells readers the truth about the situation.  From “Elegy,” Weigl says, “The words would not let themselves be spoken./ Some of them died./ Some of them were not allowed to.”  There are just unspeakable atrocities that happen in war, and soldiers who return home may not actually return home resembling who they were before they left.  Song of Napalm is a frank discussion about becoming a man in a time of war, dealing with the horrors of killing and worrying about being killed, and returning home to a world you don’t recognize and trying to reinsert yourself into the society that sent you to war in the first place.

This is my 3rd book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.

This is my 17th book for the contemporary poetry challenge.

This is my 5th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.


Please also remember to check out the next stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour at Online Publicist and Boston Bibliophile.

TODAY is Poem in Your Pocket Day! What poem will you be reading?


  1. Serena –
    What an incredible cover… wow!

    I have no poem that I am reading today but perhaps I will listen to one, since I found this very cool site which has a poetry archive of audio recordings by the author. Thought it would be relevant to your April theme here and your blog. Hopefully you have not already heard of it.

    .-= Shellie – Layers of Thought´s last blog ..“Steam Punk” Preview: The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer =-.

    • I have not heard of this site before, but it sounds like a great idea to me. It is perfect for National Poem-in-your-pocket Day!

  2. This is a wonderful collection of poems. He just tells it like it is, which I think is so important when talking about such a heavy subject. When I finished this one, the first word that came to mind was “catharsis.”
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..A Prayer Request… =-.

    • Good word to describe this collection. I had an afterthought today that this collection moves like napalm, in that it falls to the earth, crashes into a ball of flame, and then dies out slowly as a sense of calm returns to the narrator.

  3. This sounds so heartbreaking and the cover just terrifies me.