Monday, December 10, 2018

'So It Goes' reprints 'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot'

The author of the war poetry collection "Welcome to FOB Haiku" has work recently reprinted in the 2018 edition of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library's literary journal "So It Goes." The 2018 edition focuses on a theme of "Lonesome No More," and issues of mental health and social well-being.

Randy Brown's poem "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" previously appeared in Stone Canoe No. 11 (2017). Evoking movies respectively featuring Tina Fey and Deadpool, the poem relates a chance encounter following the death by suicide of a fellow Iowa citizen-soldier. It memorably ends with the line "everyone has their own war," an echo of a line often misattributed to the ancient Greek philosophers Philo or Plato. The original "Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle," was penned by the 19th century Scottish theologian John Watson, who wrote under the pseudonym Ian McClaren.

The "Lonesome No More" theme is inspired by Vonnegut's satirical 1976 science-fiction novel "Slapstick," in which American policy makers establish a social-support system that arbitrarily assigns people to extended "families." The museum and library recently concluded a year of "Lonesome No More"-themed programming, which included community-awareness events on mental health. The non-profit organization's "Lonesome No More" messages often featured a "Lonesome No More" campaign button drawn by Vonnegut himself.

Museum and library officials put the "Lonesome No More" effort into further context here:
We understand that you can’t get rid of loneliness just by getting rid of ‘aloneness.’ Kurt Vonnegut knew this; as a World War II veteran who was captured by the Nazis and survived the Allied firebombing of Dresden, Germany, he suffered from [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] and depression. He carried more than his share of loneliness throughout his lifetime, but that intense loneliness isn’t unique to people with PTSD or depression. It also affects people with other mental health concerns: anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or even just sadness when being bullied or feeling like people just don’t understand.
Past themes featured by the "So It Goes" literary journal include war and peace (2012); humor (2013); and social justice (2015). Brown's poetry has previously appeared in issues dedicated to creativity (2014); Indiana Bicentennial (2016); and "a little more common decency" (2017). Current and back issues of the journal can be ordered via the library's on-line store here.

More than 50 percent of the content of each year's issue of "So It Goes" is generated by military veterans and families. Born on November 11--a date variously celebrated as Veterans Day, Remembrance Day, and Armistice Day--Vonnegut was an intelligence scout in the 106th Infantry "Golden Lion" Division. He was captured during the Battle of the Bulge, and his experiences as a prisoner of war (P.O.W.) informed his first novel, "Slaughterhouse Five." The book was published in 1969.

Friday, November 16, 2018

New Work Asks 3 Questions about War

The author of "Welcome to FOB Haiku" has new work appearing in Collateral Journal Issue No. 3.1. The on-line journal—which twice annually publishes a mix of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and art—"draws attention to the impact of violent conflict and military service by exploring the perspectives of those whose lives are indirectly touched by them."

Randy Brown's "tell me how this ends" is a short and simple poem, consisting of three questions. An accompanying biographical statement notes, "Many of [Brown's] recent poems, including this one, involve interrogating war and conflict as a parent of young teenagers. The phrase 'tell me how this ends' was popularized as a 2003 quote by then-U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Patreaus regarding the Iraq War."

Other poets featured in Collateral Journal include: Jason Arment, Yvonne, L. Burton Brender, Holly Day, James Deitz, Thad DeVassie, Erica Goss, Faith Esperanza Harron, Sarah McCann, and John Sibley Williams.

Essayists Janet Gool and Catherine Elizabeth Puckett contribute non-fiction. John Petelle, David Gambino, and Donna Maccherone contribute short stories.

Graphics featured in Issue 3.1 are by Iranian artist Reza Baharvand, who also participates in a Q&A interview. "At first, I find an image of war, usually recent wars in the Middle East, from TV or the Internet," he says of his process. "It is important for me to paint war images completely, in detail, to emphasize that the images are existing in reality. I paint it realistically in large size, then scratch and destroy it. I scratch them in order to show how we ignore the truth. In the foreground, there are objects painted in glitter. They are objects from everyday life, but they are shiny and deceptive. The main issue is in the background."

Friday, November 9, 2018

Poem is Finalist in 'Proud to Be' Vol. 7

Randy Brown, author of "Welcome to FOB Haiku," has a new poem featured in the forthcoming anthology "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors."

Published by Southeast Missouri State University Press, and underwritten by the Missouri Humanities Council, it will be the seventh volume for such work. The book is currently available for pre-order.

The 200-page volume features poetry, fiction, non-fiction, photography, and other content by and about U.S. military veterans, service members, and families. The series releases annually in November, to coincide with Veterans Day.

Brown's new poem, "the ground truth," regards the experience of observing media and recovery efforts surrounding Flash Airlines Flight 604, which crashed in January 2004, minutes after taking off from Sharm el Sheikh International Airport. Killed in the crash were 148 civilian passengers and crew. Brown connects the event to the 1985 loss of 248 U.S. soldiers and civilian air crew in Arrow Air Flight 1285 in a crash near Gander, Canada.

Brown's poem begins:
Our desert watch was almost over
when charter Flight 604 banked steep
into the Anubis space
with 148 souls-on-board.
There was no moon.
The Red Sea was dark between
Herb’s Beach and the coming sun. […}
The poem is recognized with an honorable mention in the anthology.

According to press materials, judges included:
[...] Emma Bolden (author of the poetry collections "House Is an Enigma", "medi(t)ations", and "Maleficae"); Seth Wade (BFA University of Dayton, MFA University of Cincinnati); Ron Austin (author of the forthcoming story collection "Avery Colt is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar"); Missy Phegley (director of composition at Southeast Missouri State University); and Philip MacKenzie (MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and a PhD from the University of South Dakota).

Monday, October 1, 2018

New Poems at The Wrath-Bearing Tree

Six new poems from the author of "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Stories from Inside the Wire" are published today in the October 2018 issue of The Wrath-Bearing Tree, an on-line journal of culture and politics often written from the perspectives of military family, veterans, and service members.

"I've found my 'writing about war' increasingly regards themes of social erosion as much as veteran reintegration," says poet Randy Brown, "and about navigating social media both as a consumer of information and as a parent."

Under the pseudonym of "Charlie Sherpa," Brown also writes about military culture at the Red Bull Rising blog, and military writing at The Aiming Circle.

The new poems include a soldierly parody of William Carlos Williams' "This is Just to Say," which is the source of many Internet memes. (For more history on the phenomenon, see here and here.)

The poems featured are:
  • victory conditions 
  • three more tanka from Des Moines, Iowa 
  • a future space force marine writes haiku 
  • This is just to Say All Again After … 
  • Most Likely / Most Dangerous Enemy Courses of Action
  • the stand
A former magazine editor and 20-year retired veteran of the Iowa Army National Guard, Brown embedded as civilian media with his former unit in Afghanistan, May-June 2011.

His poetry was also previously featured in The Wrath-Bearing Tree in March 2017.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

From the Archive: Haiku for Military Pros

In January 2017, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tom Ricks, who was then writing the "Best Defense" blog for Foreign Policy magazine, conducted a micro-essay contest (150-word maximum) on the theme: "What should a military professional profess?"

(Ricks has since moved his military affairs blog to the website Task & Purpose. There, it's now called "The Long March.")

"It isn’t as easy as it sounds," he wrote, describing the purpose of his informal contest. "It can’t be just 'patriotic,' because it should have application to the militaries of other countries. […] I’m asking this now because I suspect we will see some tests of military professionalism in the coming weeks and months."

Read the full pitch for the original feature here.

Inspired by Ricks' challenge of brevity, poet Randy Brown ("Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire") memorably responded with seven pithy insights in haiku form. The result was published at the "Best Defense" blog Jan. 24, 2017. Given that world events seem to increasingly support Ricks' premise—that our military leaders must navigate an ever-shifting professional terrain—we thought to revisit the haiku here:
A practice of war

involves daily sacrifice.

The job is a trade.

This we will defend:

Constitution, people, land.

(The order matters.)

Any rag-bag Joe

who ever raised their right hand?

Now also, my kin.

The only glory

one should seek is the respect
of one’s own soldiers.

“Secret” means secret.

Loose lips sink ships, lives, careers.

Keep your big trap shut.

Your moral compass

should be red-light readable

for work in the dark.

Share knowledge freely.

A lesson-learned is like cheap


Friday, July 13, 2018

Poet wins Flyway Journal's 'Untold Stories'

Editors of "Flyway: The Journal of Writing & Environment" have announced that poet Randy Brown is the winner of their 2018 "Untold Stories" contest. The annual competition focuses on amplifying voices from marginalized populations.

This year's competition called for poetry, creative non-fiction, fiction, and hybrid forms produced by past and present military service members and family. Brown receives a prize of $250 for two new poems, "Better Hooches and Gardens" and "a chaplain's assistant writes haiku."

A former magazine editor and 20-year retired veteran of the Iowa Army National Guard, Brown embedded as civilian media with his former unit in Afghanistan, May-June 2011. He is author of the 2015 poetry collection "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire."

Writer and U.S. Navy veteran Travis Klempan received an honorable mention for his short story "No Mere Storm."

You can read Brown's winning poems here, and more of his poetry work here. You can also access the Flyway Journal via Twitter here and Facebook here.

Based at Iowa State UniversityAmes, Iowa, Flyway's mission is to "explore the many complicated facets of the word 'environment'—whether rural, urban, or suburban; whether built or wild—and all its social and political implications."

"Contests like ['Untold Stories'] and our 'Notes from the Field' contest in December-January help us find new voices that keep our journal filled with interesting and diverse stories, while defraying some of the costs that come with running a non-profit literary journal," the editors write in their announcement e-mail. "[…] The editorial staff was overwhelmed with the breadth and quality of this year's submissions and enjoyed reading contributions from each author."

This year, the final judge for the "Untold Stories" effort was poet, memoirist, and anthologist Brian Turner, author of Here, Bullet; Phantom Noise; and My Life as a Foreign Country. The director of the low-residency MFA program at Sierra Nevada College, Turner also recently released an album of ambient music and poetry as part of the Interplanetary Acoustic Team.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Essay on Alan Seeger Inspires New Poem

A Military Writers Guild colleague of mine, Adin Dobkin, just wrote a wonderfully reflective essay for the New York Times "At War" blog. The essay, titled "The Poet-Soldier Who Went to His Grave With a Romantic Vision of World War I," regards World War I poet Alan Seeger, an American who served in the French Foreign Legion.

Seeger is best remembered for the poem "I have a Rendezvous with Death." He was killed on July 4, 1916—before the United States had yet entered the war—at the age of 28. His first collection was published in December of that year.

In magazines and newspapers, Seeger's words had enjoyed peak popularity and attention at the beginning of the war. Later, however, his idealistic depictions were overshadowed by those of other World War I poets, such as Wilfred Owen ("Dulce et Decorum Est") and Robert Graves.

"Poets don’t command much attention these days, but you can still hear Owen's and Graves's poems on television specials about the war," notes Dobkin. "Their depictions of life in the trenches match up with the images most commonly associated with World War I. It’s no coincidence: Their poems helped form that picture."

Dobkin argues that Seeger's words, while lacking some of the visceral verisimilitude of other battlefield poets, are still worthy of remembrance: They remind us of the human condition before the fall. War is not to be desired. It is not inevitable. And it is a worthy objective to bring ourselves either away from the brink of war—or, at least, out of its crater.

Writes Dobkin:
Seeger’s poems, with their innocence and their beatific tone, remind us “the war to end all wars" was a story of descent. It began with cavalry charges on horseback, with uniforms topped by plumed helmets, and parades through streets with flags waving and children tripping over themselves alongside soldiers—and it ended with parades of the blind and disfigured, with swaths of land so pocked with unexploded ordnance and so toxic with chemicals that they’re still uninhabited 100 years later. It's difficult to reckon the distance of a drop just from where the falling object lands. Afterward, you might have a clearer eye when entering a new war, you might avoid phrases as giddily optimistic as "we’ll be home for Christmas," but that hindsight view lacks something: the sense of gravity you catch from seeing a ball tip over the edge, pick up speed with a weightlessness that feels not so different from launching into the air, only to land in the mud without a bounce. Seeing that first moment at the rim of the fall is just as important for preventing the next war as seeing the mud that's left at the end.
The idea that poetry is an art form that can frame a war narrative, particularly in the long term, is a favorite and ongoing conversation I've had with Dobkin. Later, on Twitter, I joked that his essay helped support the argument that 100 or 1,000 years from now, poetry will be what historians of current wars will be writing about, rather than our blog-posts. Dobkin noted it invited the question: "Who’s going to be the first insta war/mil poet?"

Given that today's wars are as likely to be waged by Internet meme as they are by computer virus, I replied, our first Digital War Poet Laureate will likely the one to successfully weaponize a parody of William Carlos Williams' 1934 poem "This Is Just to Say."

(If you're not yet familiar with the poetry joke, the 2015-to-present meme of such parodies is well-documented, including in New York Times Magazine articles here and here, and elsewhere.)

Inspired by Dobkin's insights and instigations, I then penned the following:
"This is just to Say Again All After …"

after William Carlos Williams

I have expended
the "pineapples"
that were in
the ammo box

and which
you were probably
for final protective fires

Forgive me
they were explosive
so frag
and so bold
Why joke in poetic form about things such as war? Because "humor is a combat multiplier …" Because it's another way to break through the social noise, and to shed some light on some deep and ugly truths within.

And, perhaps most of all, because it'd be a tragedy to go without it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Poet is Finalist in Darron L. Wright Awards

Randy Brown, author of the 2015 collection "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire," was recently named a poetry finalist in the 2018 Col. Darron L. Wright awards. The award recognizes a new poem that unpacks the phrase "God willing," which is found in multiple languages.

Brown's poem, "Inshallah Mañana," explores the connections of language, as heard with the ears of a citizen-soldier. The soldier first encounters the phrase for "God willing" in his first year of junior high school Spanish, and again in Afghanistan. The phrase is a common one, used in both religious and secular contexts.

You can read Brown's poem in its entirety here.

Administered by the Chicago-based on-line literary journal "Line of Advance," and underwritten by the Blake and Bailey Foundation, the awards commemorate a U.S. Army leader who was killed in a September 2013 parachute training accident.

Other poetry recognized in this year's Wright awards included:
Prose recognitions included:
The annual poetry and prose contest is limited to U.S. military veterans, and named in memory of Col. Darron L. Wright. In addition to other assignments, Wright served as battalion operations officer for 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo., with whom he deployed to Iraq from 2003 to 2004. Wright was next assigned as brigade executive officer with 4th Brigade, 4th Inf. Div., Fort Hood, Texas, with whom he deployed to Iraq from 2005 to 2006. He commanded the 1st Battalion, 509th Parachute Inf. Reg. at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La. in 2007. From 2009 to 2013, Wright was assigned as deputy brigade commander for the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Inf. Div., with whom he deployed to Iraq from 2009 to 2010.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval War College, Wright authored "Iraq Full Circle: From Shock and Awe to the Last Combat Patrol in Baghdad and Beyond." in 2012.

Wright's full biography appears here.

"Darron L. Wright was a larger than life Soldier’s Soldier. He was a physically imposing, direct, and skilled warrior," the Line of Advance editors wrote when the award was first launched.
He was also witty, hilarious, generous, kind, and wholly consumed with love for his family. He will certainly be missed but he will never be forgotten. His intellectual curiosity, boundless optimism, and untiring work ethic, allowed him to reach heights he could only dream of as a young boy growing up in Mesquite, Texas. It is in this spirit that the Darron L. Wright Award was created, to inspire fellow military writers and poets to aspire to become better and more accomplished at their craft and at telling their story.

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.)

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?


  • "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 and military writing at

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

'FOB Haiku' Publisher Announces New War Poetry

In her soon-to-be-published second collection of poetry, titled "Permanent Change of Station," Lisa Stice lovingly interrogates and illuminates life in a military family with a young daughter—exploring the in-betweens of separation and connection, and the quest for finding one’s place in the world.

With an anticipated on-sale date of April 23, 2018, "Permanent Change of Station" (100 pages, Middle West Press LLC) will be available in a $11.99 trade paper edition through Amazon and other booksellers, as well as a $5.99 e-book exclusively via Amazon.

Stice's signature style frequently involves the borrowing of words from texts she finds readily at hand, including quotations from Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," and Dr. Seuss's "The Sneetches." In her new poems, the family’s small dog Seamus also often appears as sentry, companion, and guide.

"Given that April is both the Month of the Military Child, and National Poetry Month, we can think of no better voice to celebrate than that of Lisa Stice," says Randy Brown, editor and publisher of Middle West Press LLC. "Her close observations of childhood magic and household routines, quietly set against ever-present question-marks of war and displacement, are essential and timely insights into the modern military family experience."

"If you’ve ever been a military kid, parent, or spouse—regardless of age or era—you’ll find a welcome home in her words."

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.

The press has previously published two collections from other poets, who offer unique perspectives on war or military themes: "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire" (2015) by Randy Brown; and "Hugging This Rock: Poems of Earth & Sky, Love & War" (2017) by Eric Chandler.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

'Beyond the Hill' Includes 'FOB Haiku' Poet

Published by the U.K.-based Lost Tower Publications, a small press founded in 2010 by author P.J. Reed, the anthology "Beyond the Hill" comprises approximately 75 war poems from more than 50 poets.

"Poets from America, Armenia, Canada, China, England, India, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, and Sri Lanka have all offered their very differing interpretations of modern warfare," writes Reed in the introduction. "Some have experienced war first-hand as soldiers on the battlefield, while others offer a commentary on war seen from the outside."

While the collection is assuredly international, a number of U.S. poets will be recognized by readers of the Red Bull Rising blog, including: Paul David Adkins (author of "Flying Over Baghdad with Sylvia Plath" and "Operational Terms & Graphics"); Randy Brown ("Welcome to FOB Haiku") The Deadly Writers Patrol's William Schuth; and Lisa Stice ("Uniform").

The 114-page, 5x8-inch book may be purchased for $25 U.S. via this link.