Skip to main content

John Casteen

John Casteen is the author of two books of poems, Free Union (Georgia, 2009) and For the Mountain Laurel (Georgia, 2011). He has contributed poems to the Paris Review, the Southern Review, Ploughshares, Fence, and elsewhere, and his work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry. He teaches at the University of Virginia. 


<p><i>If All the World and Love Were Young</i>. By Stephen Sexton. Penguin Books UK, 2019. 125pp. PB, £9.99.

Lived Experience

September 8, 2020 | Criticism

Walt Whitman read of his brother George’s injury at the Battle of Fredericksburg in the New York Herald on December 16, 1862. Fredericksburg was but one battle among many, though it lasted five days, and nearly ten thousand Union army soldiers were injured there. Each day, another long list. Whitman left New York hurriedly to find his brother, knowing that many of his readers scanned the same paper each day for the same worrisome reason. Many scanned every paper, everywhere in the country. To be alive in that moment—not just to be a person named Walt Whitman, but to be a person at all—was to know the public, social, and emotional burden of war.

The Punchline

Winter 2017 | Poetry

You know I’m actually not who I appeared to be
kidding. I’m actually not sure this was my idea
of a good time, not sure what’s exactly what
in the glass elevator whose bellied window
swerves your face away from your face.
I’m actually not sure why the spot I want 
lies always in the pinched gutter of the map.
Where I found you, who were so sweet to me.
I’m actually not sure who’s stepping off last.
I’m actually not joking, actually not a person

Left: Our Lady of the Ruins. By Traci Brimhall. W. W. Norton, 2012. 95p. PB, $15.95. Middle: Westerly. By Will Schutt. Yale Series of Younger Poets, Yale UP, 2013. 80p. PB, $18. Right: To See the Queen. By Allison Seay. Persea, 2013. 80p. PB, $15.95.

So History Begins With Us

Fall 2013 | Criticism

First and second books of poems come in two general flavors. The first is an omnibus collection; it shows us a young poet’s series of attempts to find her own way into the craft. The second type of early collection is cohesive, since it gathers poems that are more obviously single-​minded in their approach, consistent in terms of subject or style, and organized around a clear and unifying principle.

Ashley Gilbertson in Charlottesville - Recap

June 13, 2007 | Criticism

This past Saturday afternoon, photojournalist Ashley Gilbertson appeared in Charlottesville as part of the Festival of the Photograph, giving a talk co-sponsored by VQR and The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative. Gilbertson read his essay and gave a slideshow of “Last Photographs,” a photo-essay forthcoming in this summer’s issue of VQR.

The essay documents three episodes from his work for the New York Times in Iraq, which illustrate the change in his understanding of his purpose there; where he first felt compelled to make a change in Americans’ perception of the war, he has now come to feel he’s “just recording history now, documenting the decline.”

Among the attendees was Ben Shaw, who very recently returned from his third tour of duty in Iraq as a Sergeant with the US Marines. Shaw’s first two tours included duty in Fallujah and in Baghdad. He re-enlisted for a voluntary third tour as a training officer for the Iraqi army and police force.


Ditching the Rubric on Gun Control: Notes from an American Moderate

Fall 2004 | Essays

Here's the trouble: in America, our unique history of rebellion (against colonial rule, against domestic tyranny), expansion (westward, etc.), and individualism (the Enlightenment and all that) leaves us a peculiar cultural legacy. Our gun control debate, like our ongoing discourses on race and our role as a superpower, is uniquely American in its construction; it depends on our on-going historical disagreements over the precise balance of power in the social contract, and over the idea of voluntary democratic rule.