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.

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