Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Wanted: Women-Warrior-Poets

U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Briana Popp donned her drill sergeant hat during a graduation ceremony at Fort Jackson, S.C. March 8, 2017. Popp earned the titles of Iron Female and Distinguished Honor Graduate and will be a drill sergeant with the 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training). Popp was the first female Distinguished Honor Graduate in the past six cycles and happened to graduate in March, which is Women's History Month. Coincidentally, Popp's graduation day was International Women's Day as well. Popp is married to active duty drill sergeant, Staff Sgt. Victor James Popp, Echo Company, 2-19 Infantry Battalion, 198th Infantry Brigade, at Fort Benning. (U.S. Army Reserve Photo by Maj. Michelle Lunato.) 
Listen, up, Maggots! It's still National Poetry Month!

Today's hip-pocket soap box is about how war poetry could be more inclusive!

U.S. Navy officer and fellow military writer Andrea Goldstein (@AN_Goldstein) asked recently on Twitter:
In 17 years, why is it that the post- 9/11 "warrior-poets", vets who earn well-deserved critical & popular acclaim are all white men? Women & [People of Color] are writing—and writing beautifully.

Who gets published? Whose story is considered "credible"? Whose is considered marketable?
Goldstein's query echoes those generated by an on-going personal poetry project of mine, light-heartedly titled the MOA21CWPL—the "Mother of All 21st Century War Poetry Lists." Of more than 40 individual poetry titles that regard 21st century wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, only a handful are by women who have served in uniform.

That's not necessarily to say that women and poets of color aren't generating poetry—but that such poetry seems difficult to locate in concentration. In collection. In books of their own.

Criteria for inclusion on the MOA21CWPL may be skewing the results in favor of male, white, middle-class, officer-centered voices. Potential reasons include, but are not limited to:
  • These listings are "published" (print and/or on-line) collections or anthologies. A typical collection comprises an estimated 50 or more individual poems. Collections and anthologies are "literary" venues that are traditionally white, and are often based on college campuses and in MFA programs.
  • They are published as written forms, rather than spoken, video, audio, or other, alternative poetic forms and formats.
It may be that women-veterans and other less-heard voices are still generating art—evidenced by work found in "veterans lit" and other journals—but have not yet generated sufficient quantities to collect as books. Or perhaps they just need some encouragement to submit their work to publishers as whole manuscripts.

Personal anecdote: I didn't realize that I had enough poems for a collection of my own, until someone asked me to put together some of the works I'd sent to Veterans Writing Project and other outlets. A folder of print-outs became a binder; the binder became a manuscript; the manuscript became "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire" (2015). I've been gratified at its reception by readers, and hope that it might inspire others to do likewise. Just because I wasn't a grunt, didn't mean that people didn't want to hear my story.

It may also be that artists are choosing to "publish" their work via means other than printed books or e-books. YouTube videos, for example. Or spoken-word events.

Still, in the following women-only extract of the MOA21CWPL, only a handful of titles appear to be works by women-veterans: Nicole Goodwin (U.S. Army, enlisted); Karen Skolfield (U.S. Army, enlisted); and Farzana Marie (U.S. Air Force, officer). There should be more.

It's National Poetry Month. As a consumer and reader and sometime poet, I'm pleased that there is so much recognition in the poetry marketplace of wartime narratives other than those involving traditionally "male" domains. (Women-in-war narratives have, after all, always been with us, just as war has always been with us.)

Still, I would like to read more poetry by sailors, soldiers, Marines, and others who have worn the uniform in defense of their countries. And I'm sure I'm not alone.

(I know of at least one that is actively pinging for poetry collections of less-heard voices of military experience, regardless of geography.)

We've been at war for 17 years. Women veterans, fellow citizens, where are your musings of fire?

*****

WAR POETRY COLLECTIONS WRITTEN BY WOMEN:
ANTHOLOGIES FEATURING WAR POETRY BY WOMEN:
FREE! ON-LINE MIL-POETRY JOURNALS:
  • "Collateral" magazine. Stories from perspectives of those affected by others' military service.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

New War Poetry Offers Humor, Insight


In her second electric collection, "Permanent Change of Station," poet, mother, and U.S. Marine Corps spouse Lisa Stice lovingly interrogates and illuminates life in a modern military family. The 96-page trade paperback is available for $11.99 U.S. purchase via Amazon and other booksellers worldwide. A $5.99 U.S. Amazon Kindle edition is available as well. Via Amazon's "MatchBook" program, a bonus Kindle copy is available FREE for instant download to purchasers of the print edition.

Here's what people are saying about Lisa Stice's "Permanent Change of Station":
"Lisa Stice's new poetry collection [...] is spare and lovely. Shadowed by deployments and military moves, Stice demonstrates how the smallest, most tenuous moments in life can illustrate a family’s larger joys and fears."
Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone and The Confusion of Languages

"By using a language [...] that plays philosophically with the meanings of military terminologies, Lisa Stice produces a cartography of domestic space that is riddled with loss. [...] Stice celebrates the moms and kids who 'hold down the fort' back home, expressing awe at all the ways they find to survive and thrive."
Lynn Marie Houston, author of the poetry collections Unguarded and The Mauled Keeper

"The experiences [Lisa Stice] writes of—the losses and realizations—are part of a military life that often feels simultaneously impenetrable and inescapable. Absence, isolation, and relocation become habit we don’t often read about, because part of us breaks in every move we do not choose, every uncertainty we are told to sustain […]"
Abby E. Murray, author of the poetry collections How to Be Married After Iraq and Quick Draw: Poems from a Soldier’s Wife
Together with her toddler daughter and little dog Seamus, Stice explores the in-betweens of separation and connection, and the quest for finding one's place in the world—whether child or adult.

Stice's signature style is open and accessible—this is poetry for people who think they don't read poetry.

Frequently, for example, she borrows phrases from texts she finds readily at hand around the house, including quotations from Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," and Dr. Seuss's "The Sneetches."

In another point of entry, the family's beloved Norwich Terrier often appears as a sentry, companion, and guide.

In one poem, "The Dog Speaks," Stice writes:
He says, I can't leave.
This place is mine—
I claimed all the trees
.

I say, There will be more.
After all the temporary homes
and all the stops in between,

this whole country
will by yours.
Lisa Stice is the author of a previous poetry collection, "Uniform" (Aldrich Press, 2016), in which she explores her experiences as a military wife. A former high school teacher, she volunteers as a mentor with the Veterans Writing Project; as an associate poetry editor with 1932 Quarterly; and as a contributor for The Military Spouse Book Review. She received a BA in English literature from Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University), Grand Junction, Colo., and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. While it is difficult to say where home is, she says, Stice currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, her daughter, and Seamus, a Norwich Terrier.

For a Red Bull Rising review of Stice's previous book, click here.

For a "5 Questions" Aiming Circle interview with poet Lisa Stice, click here.

Middle West Press LLC is a Central Iowa-based editor and publisher of non-fiction, fiction, journalism, and poetry. As an independent micro-press, we publish one to four titles annually. Our projects are often inspired by the people, places, and history of the American Midwest, as well as other essential stories.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Listen Up, Maggots! It's National Poetry Month!

PHOTO BY: U.S. Army Sgt. Ken Scar
This post, written by the author of "FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire," originally appeared on the Red Bull Rising blog April 6, 2016.

When packing for one of my first training experiences with the U.S. Army, back in the late 1980s, I knew that free time and footlocker space would be at a premium. I could live without luxuries like my Walkman cassette player for a few months. I also wanted to avoid avoid too much gruff from drill sergeants. So I stuffed a paperback copy of Shakespeare's "Henry V" into my left cargo pocket, wrapped in a plastic sandwich bag, as my sole entertainment.

If nothing else, I thought, I'd work on my memorization skills. ("Oh, for a muse of fire-guard duty …") Little did I realize that so much of my brain would already be filled, starting those summer months at Fort Knox, Ky., with the nursery rhymes of Uncle Sam. Training was full of poetry. Sometimes, it was profane. "This is my rifle, this is my gun!" Sometimes, it was pedagogical. "I will turn the tourniquet / to stop the flow / of the bright red blood." There were even times that it was nearly pathological. "What is the spirit of the bayonet?! / Kill! Kill! Kill!"

These basic phrases connected us new recruits to the yellow footprints of those who had stood here before, marched in our boots, squared the same corners, weathered the same abuses. Every time we moved, we were serenaded by sergeants. Counting cadence, calling cadence, bemoaning that Jody was back home, dating our women, drinking our beer. We learned our lines, our ranks, our patches, our places as much by tribal story-telling than by reading the effing field manual. Even our soldier humor was hand-me-down wisdom, tossed off like singsong hand grenades. Phrases like, "Don't call me 'sir' / I work for a living!" and "You were bet-ter off when you left! / You're right!"

Nobody's quite sure why April got the nod as National Poetry Month. I like to think that it's because of that line from T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland": "April is the cruelest month." Because that sounds like the Army. Besides, in springtime, the thoughts of every warrior-poet lightly turns to baseball; showers that bring flowers ("If it ain't raining / it ain't training!"); and the start of fighting season in Afghanistan.

Poetry, I recognize, isn't every soldier's three cups of tea. Ever since I entertained my platoon mates with Prince Harry's inspiring St. Crispin's Day speech, however, I've enjoyed sneaking poetry into the conversation. Perhaps more soldiers would appreciate poetry, were they to realize the inherent poetics of military life:

Every time you go to war, you are engaged in a battle for narrative. Every deployment—individually as a soldier, or collectively as an Army or nation—is a story. Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. Every story is subject to vision, and revision. History isn't always written by the victors, but it is re-written by poets. Treat them well. Otherwise, they will cut you.

Every time you eat soup with a knife, you are wielding a metaphor. Every "boots on the ground," every "line in the sand," every Hollywood-style named operation ("Desert Shield"! "Desert Storm"! "Enduring Freedom"!) is a metaphor that shapes our understanding of a war and its objectives. If you don't understand the dangerous end of a metaphor, you shouldn't be issued one.

(There's also a corollary, and a warning: As missions change, so do metaphors. In other words, when a politician trots out a new metaphor for war, better check your six.)

Every poem is a fragment of intelligence, a piece in the puzzle. A poem can slow down time, describe a moment in lush and flushed detail. It can transport the reader to a different time, a different battlefield. Most importantly, a poem can describe the experience of military life and death through someone else's eyes—a spouse, a villager, a soldier, a journalist. Poetry, in short, is a training opportunity for empathy.

Soldiers like to say that the enemy gets a vote, so it's worth noting that the enemy writes poetry, too. Like reading doctrine and monitoring propaganda, reading an enemy's verse reveals motivations and values. Sun Tzu writes:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
Every time you quote a master, from Sun Tzu to Schwarzkopf, you are delivering aphorism. I liken the aphorism—a quotable-quote or maxim—to be akin to concise forms of poetry, such as haiku. In fact, in my expansive view, I think aphorisms should count as poetry. In the world of word craft, it can take as much effort to hone an effective aphorism than it does to write a 1,000-word essay. Aphorisms are laser-guided missiles, rather than carpet bombs. We should all spend our words more wisely.

Reading a few lines connects us to the thin red line of soldiers past, present, and future. Poetry puts us in the boots of those who have served before, hooks our chutes to a larger history and experience of war. The likes of Shakespeare's "band of brothers" speech, John McRae's "In Flanders Fields," and Rudyard Kipling's poem "Tommy" continue to speak to the experiences and sentiments of modern soldiers.

I am happy to report that more-contemporary war poets have continued the march.

Here's a quick list to probe the front lines of modern war poetry: From World War II, seek out Henry Reed's "The Naming of Parts." For a jolt of Vietnam Era parody, read Alan Farrell's "The Blaming of Parts." From the Iraq War, Brian Turner's "Here, Bullet." In this tight shot group, modern soldiers will no doubt recognize themselves, their tools, and their times. Here is industrial-grade boredom, an assembly line of war, punctuated with humor and grit, gunpowder and lead.

Want more? Check out print and on-line literary offerings from Veterans Writing Project's "O-Dark-Thirty" quarterly literary journal; Military Experience & the Arts' twice-annual "As You Were"; the "Line of Advance" journal; and Southeast Missouri State University's "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors" annual anthology series.

Finally, you can buy an pocket anthology of poetry, such as the Everyman's Library Pocket Poets edition of "War Poems" from Knopf, or Ebury's "Heroes: 100 Poems from the New Generation of War Poets." Stuff it in your left cargo pocket. Read a page a day as a secular devotional, a meditation on war. Or, pick a favorite poem, print it out, and post it on the wall of your fighting position or office cube. Read the same poem, over and over again, during the course of a few weeks. See how it changes. See how it changes in you.

Remember: It's National Poetry Month. And every time you read a war poem, an angel gets its Airborne wings.

*****

Randy Brown embedded with his former Iowa Army National Guard unit as a civilian journalist in Afghanistan, May-June 2011. He authored the poetry collection Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire (Middle West Press, 2015). He is the current poetry editor of Military Experience and the Arts' "As You Were" literary journal, and a member of the Military Writers Guild. As "Charlie Sherpa," he blogs about military culture at www.redbullrising.com and military writing at www.aimingcircle.com.