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Of War’s Seductions & Consequences: A Chapbook Review

Does the Rattle Chapbook Prize live up to the hype? (Part 2) (Read Part 1)

I Will Pass Even to Acheron
by Amanda Newell
Rattle Foundation, 32pp., $6.00 (print)

In one Ancient Greek epic, the goddess Aphrodite needs to convince her granddaughter, Harmonia, to accept the banished vagrant, Cadmos. It’s the will of Zeus that they to marry, so the goddess of love— disguised as a young female friend— pines aloud for Cadmos, saying all she would give and do to be with him, including crossing the Acheron, the Underworld’s river of pain. Convinced by this pressure, Harmonia marries Cadmos, she bears several children— including the mother of Zeus’ son, Dionysus— and the epic continues.

This myth gives Amanda Newell’s chapbook, I Will Pass Even to Acheron, its title as it takes on the consequences of life in a warlike culture. The poems tell the story of Adam, a former high school student of the autobiographical Speaker, who loses a foot to an IED while driving a military vehicle in Afghanistan. They address feelings of guilt and shame over supporting Adam’s military dreams and the disillusionment that comes from personal loss. The Speaker invokes literary allusion and Greek mythology to consider the consequences of quiet participation.

Newell is an accomplished poet and an associate editor for Plume poetry journal, with poems appearing in magazines like Rattle, North American Review, and Baltimore Review. She skillfully addresses the ambivalence of claiming to support veterans with a connection as tenuous as former teacher in “For Adam, My Student, in Walter Reed”. The Speaker’s description of injuries hit their mark, inviting the reader into her experience,

I have no claim to sacrifice, no stump swinging
like a wind-wild bell, no
appled fist, no marbled
skin. […]

Amanda Newell (author photo)
Amanda Newell

The Speaker ruminates on the idea that she might be an intruder or gawker, because the wounded soldier she is visiting is not family. A similar dissonance can be felt by readers, enjoying beautiful poetry that describes horrible tragedy. She points out, however, that Walt Whitman produced moving and important journalism from hospitals in the midst of the American Civil War. The poem pulls lines from two of Whitman’s articles, which recounted the bloodbath amputations of a 1860s field hospital.

Newell also shows a talent for simple, but evocative, description in poems like “Stoic”, which considers Adam’s wounds,

When I see how swollen and purple it is
and how the skin, like a film of dried glue,
stretches over the bones
of his foot—so clearly now not a foot,
curled as it is like a parenthesis,
already half-afterthought— […]

The poem “Recommendation” tells how the Speaker received the news of Adam’s injury. While we hear her thoughts of guilt for writing a letter of recommendation, we also see that she found out from an impersonal Headmaster’s email saying, “One of our graduates was seriously / injured”. The focus then switches to things the Speaker knows about Adam; he once walked 100 miles, he read Hemingway and Crane, he has “[f]ractures, concussions, other injuries”. Her observation that our culture gives the young a romantic view of war is well received, but the Speaker feels removed.

In “On Amputation”, the Speaker engages in something like ekphrasis, describing photos posted on social media showing Adam’s crash site,

how the singed

wires & shredded
metal spill

like entrails
from the M-ATV’s

splayed shell,

This spartan description conveys both pathos and important information. A deadpan observation implies how radically his life has changed,

your new right
shoe on the floor.

& your left one,
still in its box.

Greek mythology is invoked to address domestic gun violence and PTSD in “Why So Much Grief for Me?” The titular question comes from Hector, prince and warrior of Troy, with the poem continuing his lines from The Iliad, “No man / will hurl me down to Death / against my Fate.” When she hears of a janitor shooting an army vet while Adam is recovering in the same hospital, the Speaker ironically hopes he was playing Black Ops, a violent video game that he likes, and missed the real incident. The poem ends with the Speaker mixing modern language with the ancient words of Achilles, implying a continuity between ancient and modern violence,

                             Officials called it
             an isolated incident, meaning
it was personal,
             what Achilles called a curse,
                             that brutal, ravenous
             hunger, how it drives a man down
the face of the shining earth.

While I appreciate literary allusion, there’s an occasional drift into melodrama, which can make them feel forced. One instance is when Newell references Jean-Paul Sartre’s, No Exit, to show Adam’s own version of hell in the poem, “In Retrospect, He Could Have Come Home” which continues, “in a flag-draped coffin.” In Sartre’s play— depicting a man and two women whose personalities and desires prove perfectly suited to perpetually torture each other in an exitless room— the male character comes to the famous conclusion, “Hell is— other people!” Adam’s version of a hell, where “the clock in his head / is always ticking. No one / can see or hear him” is both an inversion of this idea and somewhat underwhelming when juxtaposed with Sartre’s hellish inability to reconcile the dissonant judgements, desires, and needs of mankind.

I Will Pass Even to Acheron by Amanda Newell (covert art)
I Will Pass Even to Acheron
(covert art)

More effective is when the Speaker shares her ambivalence toward wounded veterans in “Intersection”, likening a homeless man on the street to a post-Troy Odysseus. The poem uses two nine-line stanzas to illustrate America’s ambivalence over veterans; a cross between pity for their plight and fear of their homeless desperation. We see echoes of Odysseus’s legendarily murderous homecoming in the lingering post-traumatic stress that follows modern war.

The poem “Still Attached” again deals with Adam’s injury, a partially-amputated foot, headed for full. Newell paints a vivid picture, “His foot, cast and wrapped / in gauze, toes sprouting / like sun-scotched weeds—“ With themes of survivor’s guilt, suicidal ideation, and other post-war trauma, it’s an important poem. However, I found an allusion to Achilles somewhat distracting from a strong ending. She writes,

So when he wishes himself
dead, I try to imagine Adam
in the underworld, sulking
with Achilles, two players
ejected from the game.

While they bear similar injuries, the message is muddled if the reader recalls Achilles’ assertion in The Odyssey that he would rather be the lowest man on earth than king in the underworld. With this in mind, her daydreams for Adam seem rather bleak. Achilles, after all, never returns from that infernal bench. 

Though at times uneven, the important themes, vivid descriptions, and overall conceit warrant a close reading of this chapbook. Newell’s final poem, the eponymous, “I Will Pass Even to Acheron the River of Pain of My Own Free Will, and with Rapture Even” is about an unnamed student’s determination to join the Marines and go to war. The quote is from a translation of Dionysiaca– an obscure work by a poet from fifth century Egypt named Nonnus– which one scholar called, “interesting as the longest and most elaborate example we have of Greek myths in their final stage of degeneracy.” Even avid readers of classical literature can be forgiven for unfamiliarity, but a complex conceit justifies a little research.

In the Nonnus’s epic, Aphrodite tricks Harmonia for the greater good of founding Thebes and paving the way for the god, Dionysus. However, readers may recall that the god’s pregnant mother, Semele, is likewise tricked into insisting that her lover, Zeus, reveal himself to her, undisguised. The fetal Dionysus survives, going from his mother’s fiery womb to his father’s thigh, but how comforting could that be to Semele, burning alive at the sight of her lover? She’s still headed to that same Hades which Achilles bemoans.

I Will Pass Even to Acheron leaves readers to ponder on the greater good achieved by a culture, and a curriculum of reading, that glorifies war. Is Uncle Sam’s Aphrodite seducing teachers to shepherd the young to a Dionysian altar for sacrifice? Or am I just being melodramatic?

Read Does the Rattle Chapbook Prize Live Up to the Hype (Part 1)

Author Bio

Aiden Hunt is a writer, journalist, poet and critic. He is the editor, creator, and publisher of the Philly Poetry Chapbook Review. Previously, Aiden covered cannabis policy and other related issues for magazines and websites. He also created two journalistic websites, the last of which was syndicated as authoritative content by Newstex and NewsBank.
You can find out more about him at

Amanda Newell’s Author Website
I Will Pass Even to Acheron Product page

Front Page header (Volume 1 Issue 1: Jan-Feb 2024)


New Poetry Titles (1/2/24)

Preview new books from Michigan State University Press, Able Muse Press, and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Click here to read.

January ‘24: Welcome to Our Beginning

Welcome to the first issue of the Philly Poetry Chapbook Review, January/February 2024! Hear from our editor what we have in store for readers this issue.

Click here to read.

New Poetry Titles (1/9/24)

Preview new poetry books from Seven Kitchens Press, Milkweed Editions, Bloodaxe Books, W. W. Norton, University of Pittsburgh Press, Phoneme Media, Coffeetown Books, Central Avenue Publishing, and Archipelago.

Click here to read.

Father Figures: Books by Arthur Russell and CooXooEii Black

Aiden Hunt reviews Arthur Russell’s At the Car Wash and CooXooEii Black’s The Morning You Saw a Train of Stars Streaking Across the Sky in this essay, subtitled “Does the Rattle Chapbook Prize live up to the hype?”

Click here to read.

New Poetry Titles (1/16/24)

Preview new poetry books from Milkweed Editions, Nightboat Books, Alice James Books, Phoneme Media, University of Arizona Press, The University Press of Kentucky, Madville Publishing, Clare Songbirds Publishing House and Tram Editons.

Click here to read.

Chapbook Round-Up: Climate Crisis and Showbiz Blues

C.M. Crockford interviews poets Rae Armantrout, Justin Lacour, and James Croal Jackson and previews their recently published or forthcoming chapbooks.

Click here to read.

New Poetry Titles (1/23/24)

Check out new poetry books published in English between 1/23 and 1/29 from Bottlecap Press, Stanchion Books, Graywolf Press, Milkweed Editions, Phoneme Media, Button Poetry, RIZE, Wayne State University Press, Carcanet Press, Fireside Industries and Texas Review Press.

Click here to read.

Violence of Craft: Your Mouth is Moving Backwards by Juliet Cook

Contributor Mike Bagwell explores and reviews poet Juliet Cook’s new chapbook from Ethel Press, Your Mouth is Moving Backwards.

Click here to read.

New Poetry Titles (1/30/24)

Check out new poetry books published in English between 1/30 and 2/5 from Scribner (Editor’s Pick), Texas Review Press, Bottlecap Press, Kith Books, Slant Books, University of Notre Dame Press, Knopf, Little, Brown and Company, Tupelo Press, LSU Press, Wesleyan University Press, Peepal Tree Press Ltd., Grayson Books and Sourcebooks.

Click here to read.

Review: The Funny Thing About a Panic Attack by Ben Kassoy

Contributor Francesca Leader reviews Ben Kassoy’s debut chapbook from Bottlecap Press, The Funny Thing About a Panic Attack.

Click here to read.

New Poetry Titles (2/6/24)

Check out new poetry books published in English between 2/6 and 2/13 from Wesleyan University Press, Belle Point Press, Bull City Press, Kith Books, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Coffee House Press, New Directions, Nightboat Books, CavanKerry Press, University of Queensland Press, Green Writers Press, LSU Press, Haymarket Books, Button Poetry, The University of Kentucky Press, Mercer University Press, Knopf, Persea Books and Peepal Tree Press Ltd.

Click here to read.

February ’24: Of Conferences and Contributors

A note from editor and publisher, Aiden Hunt, about the AWP Conference, re-opening submissions, and looking for more contributors.

Click here to read.

New Poetry Titles (2/13/24)

Check out new poetry books published in English between 2/13 and 2/19 from Kith Books, GASHER Press, Querencia Press, Bottlecap Press, Alice James Books, Penguin Books, Seagull Books, Mad Creek, Wayne State University Press, Deep Vellum Publishing, University of Chicago Press, The Lilliput Press, Able Muse Press, Washington State University Press, University of New Mexico Press and Mosaic Press.

Click here to read.

Of War’s Seductions & Consequences: A Chapbook Review

Aiden Hunt reviews Amanda Newell’s I Will Pass Even to Acheron in this essay, the second part of his essay, “Does the Rattle Chapbook Prize live up to the hype?”

Click here to read.

New Poetry Titles (2/20/24)

Check out new poetry books for the week of 2/20 from Bottlecap Press, University of Arizona Press, Carnegie Mellon University Press, University of Alberta Press, Nightboat Books, Signature Books, Mosaic Press and Small Harbor Publishing.

Click here to read.