Monday, July 6, 2020

New Poetry at 'The Wrath-Bearing Tree'

The author of "Welcome to FOB Haiku" has new work appearing in The Wrath-Bearing Tree, an on-line journal of culture and politics often written from the perspectives of military family, veterans, and service members. Poems there are also often inspired by recent news events and headlines.

Randy Brown's new work includes three extremely short poems. Some are only a few lines in length.

"A literary journal editor once gave me the gift of calling one of my 'micro-poem' experiments a 'koan,'" says Brown. "A 'koan' is a "paradoxical anecdote or riddle a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, intended to provoke enlightenment. Her insight helped me unlock a mystery of my own making—just what was at work in these 'fragments of bird song?'"

"I wrote the poem 'America' after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but before the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis," he says. "It is a poem that keeps changing on me; every time I think I know what it's about, it shifts on me. I resisted the title, at first—it seemed potentially too on the nose, and maybe a little hackneyed. Now, I think it wouldn't work under any other name."

The three new poems are:
  • "daily exercise (haiku)
  • "America"
  • "I tell my children"
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. Brown is a past winner of the "Untold Stories" competition sponsored by Flyway: The Journal of Writing & Environment, and a finalist in the Darron L. Wright Memorial Writing Awards, administered by the on-line literary journal Line of Advance.

A former newspaper journalist, Brown encourages other poets and veterans to engage in artistic reactions to current events. News-driven poetry markets include, but are not limited to:

Thursday, May 21, 2020

'Unmasking' Poem Now on NewVerseNews!

The author of "Welcome to FOB Haiku" has a new poem appearing in The New Verse News, a website that regularly presents "politically progressive poetry on current events and topical issues." Poems there are often inspired by recent news events and headlines.

Randy Brown's new work, titled "Unmasking Procedures," contains language borrowed and adapted from a procedure familiar to all U.S. Army soldiers. The task involves the deliberate removal of protective gear when a test kit for battlefield chemical agents is not available. (There is no such test kit for biological agents.)

The procedure is described in the U.S. Army “Soldier’s Manual of Common Tasks” (Skill Level 2) and related training. Most soldiers are annually tested on their abilities to correctly perform these and other tasks.

For troops, the unmasking process notably involves the selection of one or more soldiers—likely the lowest-ranking or least "mission-critical"—to serve as test subjects on behalf of a larger group. For more discussion of the ethics involved in such decisions, visit this link.

"This poem is in response to an on-going news story," the poet wrote as part of his submission. "The governor of my Midwestern state has repeatedly said that moves toward 're-opening the economy' would be deliberate and based on COVID-19 testing data. Despite continuing concerns regarding test accuracy and availability, however—as well as increasing infection numbers—the governor determined earlier this month to reopen most businesses statewide."

He adds, "I hope my poem's potential metaphorical connections are evident, regardless of readers' party affiliations or policy-positions. Further—given our shared experience—the poem might be a catalyst for respectful and constructive conversations, among veterans and non-veterans alike, and across the 'civil-military divide.'"

A former newspaper journalist, Brown encourages other military-adjacent poets engage in artistic reactions to current events. In addition to The New Verse News, Brown notes, news-driven poetry markets include:
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Photo caption: (From left to right) U.S. Army 1st Lt. Jesse D. Backman, an armor officer, and Cpl. Bryan D. Russell, Sgt. Patrick J. Sisler and Staff Sgt. Daniel E. Brun, cavalry scouts with B Troop, 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, exit a CS gas chamber, Jan. 9, 2012 during quarterly Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear training on Fort Stewart, Ga. The “Bushmaster” soldiers received refresher training on the proper wear of the field protective mask and the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology protective garment, and gained confidence in their equipment by unmasking in the gas chamber. Photo by U.S. Army  Sgt. Mary Katzenberger.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Three New 'Micro Poems' about War

The author of "Welcome to FOB Haiku" has new work appearing in Collateral Journal Issue No. 4.2. 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."

Representing the author's continued experiments with minimalism, while exploring themes of war and its effects, three "micro poems" by Randy Brown appear in the issue. They are:
Other poets featured in Collateral Journal include: Former U.S. Navy corpsman Carlo André, U.S. Army veteran Kristine Iredale, and U.S. military family members Michaela Coplen, Jessica Evans, Mary Ellen Talley, and Anne Ward-Masterson.

Still more poems come from Alex Ewing, David Groulx, Sara Hailstone, and Imran Boe Khan.

Essayists Chelsey Mae Johnson and C. Christine Fair contribute to the issue's non-fiction section. Amanda Cerreto and Anita Lakshmi Powell contribute short fiction.

Graphics featured in Issue 4.1 are by Pakistan-born sculptor and painter Humaira Abid, now based in Seattle, Wash., who also participates in a Q&A interview feature.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

'Consequence' Features Essay on War Poetry

Randy Brown, the author of the "Welcome to FOB Haiku," recently published an essay tracing his journey from "recovering journalist" and citizen-soldier to writer of snarky war poetry. The essay humorously commemorated April as National Poetry Month.

Earlier this month, "War, Poetry and the Places They Meet" was featured on the website of Consequence Magazine. Launched in 2009, the Massachusetts-based publication bills itself as "an international literary magazine focused on the culture and consequences of war."

In the esay, Brown writes:
My part-time military career was full of disappointments and joys, but it was hardly the stuff of movies and recruiting posters. I’d been an average soldier—a middle-manager in uniform. I was never the smartest, strongest, or highest-ranking person in the room. My Army job involved pushing buttons, connecting wires, and delivering messages. I never fired my weapon in anger. I did sling a few sandbags at home in Iowa. I got a combat patch for overseas peacekeeping duty. Still, as a National Guard member, I was proud to serve my community and my country. Through my service, I had experiences and made friends I’d never have otherwise encountered.

For me, poetry has been one way to assemble those fragments of memory, to add personal and historical contexts to them, and to extract potential meaning from them.
Read the whole essay for FREE here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

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. It also was featured in the recent Military Writers Guild anthology Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War.

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 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. Recently, he co-edited the Military Writers Guild anthology Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War. 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 citzien-soldier culture at www.redbullrising.com and military writing at www.aimingcircle.com.