Tuesday, April 25, 2023

New War Poetry Anthology Inspired by Wilfred Owen’s ‘Spring Offensive’

CultureCult Press, a literary independent that publishes poetry, short fiction, and books related to horror, pop-culture, and film, has just published an anthology titled Spring Offensive: Poetry of Strife and Spring. The press is based in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

The anthology project comprises the works of 39 poets from around the world, each inspired by British soldier Wilfred Owen’s poem “Spring Offensive,” which was written during World War I.

Reprinted in the book are citizen-soldier-poet Randy Brown’s poems “Three Tanka from Des Moines, Iowa – Spring 2016” and “fighting seasons.” The latter poem first appeared in Brown’s 2015 debut poetry collection, Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire.

The publisher writes:

From the blossoming of new life to the chaos and devastation of conflict, these poems are a powerful exploration of the human experience. This illustrated collection is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and a reminder that even amidst the most challenging of circumstances, hope can still bloom. Whether you are a poetry aficionado or a newcomer to the genre, “Spring Offensive” is a must-read for anyone looking to experience the transformative power of poetry.

In the United States, the 100-page anthology Spring Offensive can be purchased via Lulu.com as a $15.99 trade paperback or as a $3.99 e-book.

Monday, April 3, 2023

“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 2019 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.org.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

New on Kindle: Soldier-Poet Targets Moral Puzzles through Lens of TV Show

In the new Kindle e-chapbook Twelve O’Clock Haibun: Parables & Poems from a Classic TV Show, humor-loving soldier-poet (and former “Army lessons-learned analyst”) Randy Brown invites readers to view the 1964-1965 first season of the “12 O’Clock High” as a series of moral dilemmas and puzzles.

The TV series is now viewable FREE on Amazon Prime Video, as well as Internet platforms.

In this standalone spin-off to the author’s ground-breaking 2022 lyrical meta-essay Twelve O’Clock Haiku: Leadership Lessons from Old War Movies & New Poems, readers can now match wits and wisdom with the charismatic and brooding Brig. Gen. Frank Savage (Robert Lansing), commander of the fictional 918th Bomb Group, as he and his heroic air crews stoically navigate tests of endurance, morality, courage, and loss.

A haibun is a Japanese form, comprised of a short prose narrative followed by a haiku. In haibun, the prose and poetry elements traditionally do not address each other directly, but they do relate thematically. Ideally, the impressions left after reading a haibun should be greater than the sum of its two parts.

The Twelve O’Clock Haibun project comprises brief, spoiler-free summaries of all 32 episodes of the TV show’s first season, plus one additional “final” episode in order to complete a narrative arc. For each, a prose section first describes an episode’s situational frame, without offering resolutions. A companion haiku then illuminates a moral question or dilemma suggested by the story. Readers are left to reflect on the implications of each situation. As in war, there are no easy answers.

In addition to other accolades, Brown is a three-time poetry finalist in the Col. Darron L. Wright Memorial Awards, administered annually by the Chicago-based literary journal Line of Advance. His 2015 collection, Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire, was awarded a gold medal distinction from the Military Writers Society of America. His chapbook So Frag & So Bold: Short Poems, Aphorisms & Other Wartime Fun was published in 2021.

He is the co-editor of two non-fiction books: Reporting for Duty: Citizen-Soldier Journalism from the Afghan Surge, 2010-2011, published in 2015; and Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War, published in 2019.

As “Charlie Sherpa,” he blogs about modern war poetry at www.fobhaiku.com, and about writing on military themes at www.aimingcircle.org.

TWELVE O’CLOCK HAIBUN: Parables & Poems from a Classic TV Show (Middle West Press LLC) is available as a $2.99 Kindle e-book edition exclusively via Amazon.

Middle West Press LLC is a Johnston, Iowa-based editor and publisher of non-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.

Friday, February 3, 2023

5 Haiku about Studio Ghibli's 'The Wind Rises'

The author of "Twelve O'Clock Haiku: Leadership Lessons from Old War Movies & New Poems" and "Welcome to FOB Haiku" has published a new aviation-and-war-themed poem.

The haiku sequence is part of a “Ghibli Week” themed package at The Daily Drunk Magazine, an on-line literary journal that focuses on popular culture and film. Editors there recently called for less-than-500-word tributes to the work of Japanese creator Hayao Miyasaki's animation studio, Studio Ghibli.

Poet Randy Brown's "five haiku inspired by 'The Wind Rises'" regards a 2013 animated feature written and directed by Miyasaki, which explores themes of aviation, war, and the artistic struggle to create.

Studio Ghibli animated movies are celebrated for magical character designs and dream-like settings, as well as delivering clear-eyed, nuanced, and empathy-inducing narratives.

The stories Miyasaki has written himself notably also often feature examples of flying, whether through magic or machinery. Examples include a novice witch's broom in "Kiki's Delivery Service" (1983), and a pack of swashbucklers' seaplanes in "Porco Rosso" (1992). The studio's name itself, which translates as "hot desert wind," notably also derives from an airplane design used by the Italian military in World War II.

"The Wind Rises" tells a highly fictionalized biography of Japanese aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi (1903-1982), and incorporates unrelated story elements of The Wind Has Risen, a 1936 novel by Tatsuo Hori (1904-1953). Horikoshi aspired to make beautiful airplanes; while Horikoshi thought war was a mistake, he helped produce such war machines as the celebrated A6M "Zero" fighter plane. 

As Brown writes in one haiku:

our country pays us
to make beautiful warplanes;
embrace irony

Read the rest of Brown's haiku poems here at this link.

"When I was writing 'Twelve O'Clock Haiku'—my recent deep-dive into World War II aviation, ethics, and 'bomber' poetry— I first encountered the haiku of Santōka Taneda, who protested Japan's bombing of China in the late 1930s. I was also familiar with Horikoshi's life through Miyasaki's 'The Wind Rises,'" says Brown. "I hope my Ghibli-inspired haiku inspire people to watch the movie, and, if only for a moment, to engage with a hope for peace and resilience."

In addition to Brown's haiku, a sampling of the other “Ghibli Week” prose and poetry published by The Daily Drunk Magazine includes:

Read all 23 items in the “Ghibli Week” package here at this link.

You can follow The Daily Drunk Magazine on Twitter: @dailydrunkmag

Or on the World Wide Web: dailydrunkmag.com