Updated: Aug 28
I’ve never been to Sangin, but I don’t think that’s entirely necessary to be able to experience the visceral imagery portrayed in Neville Johnson’s debut poetry book: Sangin - Then and Now. This fantastic piece of literature was published by Dead Reckoning Collective, published globally February 10th, 2023.
Described as “a stoic collection of poetry from a lifelong loyal subject of the commonwealth”, Sangin reminds us Yankees that the Global War on Terror heavily involved our allies, most notably the British forces that fought alongside us in Iraq, but saw heaviest engagements in Afghanistan. British forces were sustaining tremendous casualties in places like Lashkargah and Kabul, but something about the sleepy town of Sangin seems to haunt the memories of anyone that operated there.
Neville has a unique way of describing his emotions under enemy fire, often using allegories to music and tumultuous weather. Depending on how he manipulates his phrasing, Neville is able to portray terror, aggression, and other nuances of combat without the talk of bullets, bombs, and bad guys. There is an almost ethereal, dream like state as Neville describes his time in Sangin, allowing the reader to interpret and visualize their own depiction of his deployment.
This book is parsed very delicately, with sections that take the reader through Neville’s emotions before and after his deployment. He speaks very openly about his father’s influence on him fighting in combat, beautifully contrasted by how his wife unwittingly pulls him from the edge of the void. There is a very strong familial theme in this book that shines brightly amidst the cacophony of war.
This book is yet another marvelous piece of work from Dead Reckoning Collective, and a stellar debut from Neville Johnson. This collection would pair very well with your other British war poets, and I’m glad to see that Neville is spear heading a different perspective to the American audience that DRC mainly focuses on. We are often too short sighted to remember that our wars were not only fought by American troops, and that many of our compatriots from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan live on a different continent. I greatly appreciate the reminder of how global those wars truly were. Thank you to Neville and company for this stupendous gift to our contemporaries and the military literature community at large.
I hope this poetry review has intrigued you enough to buy the book. Do so here! https://deadreckoningco.com/collections/books/products/book-sangin-then-and-now