Posted tagged ‘War literature’

A Veterans Day Photo Anthology

November 10, 2018

Phil Klay, USMC.

Benjamin Busch, USMC.

Matt Gallagher, US Army.

John Renehan, US Army.

Elyse Fenton, US Army spouse.

Siobhan Fallon, US Army spouse.

Brian Van Reet, US Army.

Bill Putnam, US Army.

Jan Barry, US Army.

Brian Turner, US Army.

John Myer, US Army.

Brandon Willitts, US Navy,

Chris Wolfe, US Army.

Roy Scranton, US Army, and Jacob Siegel, US Army.

Maurice Decaul, USMC, with Alex Mallory.

Emily Yates, US Army, and Jenny Pacanowski, US Army.

Elyse Fenton, US Army spouse, and Andria Williams, US Navy spouse.

Matt Gallagher, US Army, Andrew Slater, US Army, Fred Marchant, USMC.

Benjamin Busch, USMC, Siobhan Fallon, US Army spouse, and Brian Turner, US Army.

Hugh Martin, US Army, Matt Gallagher, US Army, Chantelle Bateman, USMC, and Mariette Kalinowski, USMC.

Ron Capps, US Army, Peter Molin, US Army, Kayla Williams, US Army, Maurice Decaul, USMC, and Colby Buzzell, US Army.

Brandon Willitts, US Navy, Matt Gallagher, US Army, Peter Molin, US Army, Teresa Fazio, USMC, and Chris Wolfe.

Adrian Bonenberger, US Army, Roxana Robinson, David Abrams, US Army, and Matt Gallagher, US Army.

Roman Baca, USMC, Siobhan Fallon, US Army spouse, Brian Turner, US Army, and Benjamin Busch, USMC.

Nate Bethea, US Army, Eric Nelson, US Army, Adrian Bonenberger, US Army, Brandon Willitts, US Navy, Mariette Kalinowski, USMC, Vic Zlatonovic, US Army, Lisbeth Prifogle, USMC, Peter Molin, US Army, and Jacob Sotak, US Army.

I took all the pictures except for the group photos in which I am included. The pictures of me with Matt Gallagher, Chris Wolfe, Brandon Willitts, and Teresa Fazio and with Nate Bethea, Eric Nelson, and others were taken by Sang Hui Molin. I can’t remember exactly who took the picture of me with Ron Capps, Maurice Decaul, Kayla Williams, and Colby Buzzell, but it was probably Andria Williams. The picture of Andria Williams and Elyse Fenton was taken by me with Andria Williams’ camera and first displayed on her blogpost here.

Terminal Lance in the Art Museum

November 8, 2018


I wandered into Rutgers University’s Zimmerli Art Museum recently and was pleased to see the work of Marine Iraq veteran-turned-cartoonist-and-graphic-novelist Maximilian Uriarte unexpectedly featured. Part of an exhibit titled Self-Confessed! The Inappropriately Intimate Comics of Alison Bechdel, Uriarte is grouped with two other artists in support of the main attraction, Bechdel, a graphic-novel pioneer whose work explores the difficulty of growing up gay in small-town America. Alongside Bechdel and Uriarte are Thi Bui, who writes about her experience as a second-generation American, and Elle Forney, whose subjects grow out of her own life-wrestle with disability and a medical profession that struggles to help her.

That’s an odd grouping on the face of it—Uriarte might be an alienated, disgruntled, and traumatized vet, but I don’t think of the politics of his Terminal Lance comic strips and his graphic novel The White Donkey as radically left-progressive as Bechdel’s, Bui’s, and Forney’s clearly are. Still, there’s no denying his skill or his influence, more so based on the achievement of Terminal Lance than The White Donkey. While The White Donkey portrays in-service disillusionment and post-deployment despair in relatively conventional melodramatic and moralistic tones, Terminal Lance practically invented the snarky “view-from-below” humor that dominates soldier and veteran online rhetoric today. Where the Terminal Lance character of The White Donkey is a hapless victim of the Marines’ dehumanizing processes, the Terminal Lance in the cartoon strips is a wily counterpuncher against the Corps’ assaults on his intelligence and his dignity, with slacking, shamming, and acts of petty insubordination his primary tactics. Taking aim at a bloated, outdated military culture and an officer corps stuck on auto-pilot, the raunchy-and-blasphemous Terminal Lance first-and-most-cleverly expressed the contempt of junior enlisted soldiers for a military machinery badly in need of not just a tune-up, but a complete overhaul. And yet, it’s not entirely clear that Uriarte, or Terminal Lance, hates the Marines. It’s as if he loves the Corps most when it shows its warts, when it deviates from its stated ideals and goals, and he feels fortunate, not unfortunate, that he is there to witness or endure it, because at some level it strikes him as funny.

One of the least blasphemous and raunchy Terminal Lance strips I could find.

Uriarte was the pioneering original, and those in his wake continue to score many direct hits, but zinging military absurdities can be a little like shooting fish in a barrel:  taking pot-shots at guppies in a tank is not quite the same thing as landing a marlin in the open sea. In other words, the modern brand of “GI humor” launched by Terminal Lance and now finding its fullest expression on Twitter often settles for knocking down easy targets, not in good fun but as if its aggrieved outrage and witty hot-takes were beyond reproach and really accomplishing something. Whether a similar sense of inflated achievement might also be true of graphic novels is open for discussion, but there’s little denying their popularity and synchronicity with the times. Whatever the message, it’s probably more about the artwork and the medium, and Self-Confessed! offers great opportunity to view full-scale versions and blow-ups of Uriarte’s work, rough drafts, and storyboards and outlines for longer works. The Self-Confessed! exhibit prospectus had some neat things to say about graphic novels as a genre:

In recent decades, comics and graphic novels have embraced history, medical and self-help literature, stories of war and history…. Each revisits the past to re-imagine not only what occurred, but also how it looked as it was happening. The process of remembering and reconstructing the past is well-served by the graphic narrative in that the structure of comics—the framing of moments, the breaks between panels, the rhythm and pacing that creates the flow of the book—are all part of remembering and telling. And for the reader, the combination of words and pictures slows down the process of reading, complicates the structure of time, and provides an opportunity to linger.

White Donkey 1

Randy Brown, better known as the gifted military humorist and poet “Charlie Sherpa,” offers his own musings about graphic novels in a recent review published in Army magazine titled “Graphic Novels Present War Panel by Panel.” Examining two graphic novels about war in Afghanistan, Brown notes that the genre’s name is often a misnomer: “Despite the … inclusion of the term ‘novel,’ these are works of nonfiction–memoirs–and are based on factual events and reporting, or at least personal recollections”–i.e., “Self-Confessed!” That basic-but-necessary point made, Brown reminds us that “American military history is full of cartoons and comic books–from Bill Mauldin’s Willie and Joe to Sgt. Rock to PS, The Preventive Maintenance Monthly” and that “Comics are more than pictures and words: Intangibles can be communicated via color palette choices, in character facial expressions, in dialogue, and even in the number and shapes of panels on the page.” Combined with the ease with which graphic novels can present scenes “flashing between memories and present-day conversations,” Brown notes the form “delivers immediate rapport and opportunities for empathy.”

Theorizing aside, Brown makes the two graphic novels he reviews (their covers pictured below) sound well-worth checking out. Here’s to the progeny of Uriarte, Terminal Lance, and The White Donkey.

Self-Confessed! The Inappropriately Intimate Comics of Alison Bechdel is on display at the Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey through Saturday, December 30.

Epigraphs

July 8, 2018

“An epigraph is an effective literary tool that some writers utilize to focus the reader toward the theme, purpose, or concerns behind the work. It is included at the beginning of the piece of literature to offer insight into the motivation behind the artist’s vision. Generally a brief quotation taken from another piece of literature, the epigraph is oftentimes not a direct commentary upon the work but used to establish a mindset or offer insight into the factors that contributed to the manifestation of the work.”

-University of Michigan English 217 student website

Epigraphs are curious. First of all, I have trouble remembering the word and often confuse it with “epigram” and “epitaph.” Second, if I bother to read an epigraph before starting a book, I rarely remember it while reading the narrative proper. If an epigraph is too long, I mostly just let my eyes glaze over it. This is unusual, because epigraphs clearly have an important relation to the story that follows, and authors obviously go to some care to choose them and place them in front of us for consideration. But lots of books don’t have epigraphs. I recently pulled the Iraq and Afghanistan war fiction and poetry I own off the shelf and checked them for epigraphs. Most of the fiction employs epigraphs, but not all of it. Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Phil Klay’s Redeployment, Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life, Matthew Hefti’s A Hard and Heavy Thing, and Hassan Blasim’s The Corpse Exhibition are five that don’t, for instance. As if to make up for the books that don’t feature epigraphs, some authors provide two. Overall, reading a number of epigraphs in this way–very quickly, back-to-back–was enjoyable. The epigraphs definitely brought back strong memories of the book to which they were attached and together they created a thick literary web of intertextual references and signals. They made me think that epigraphs might be better read after reading the main text, not before.

Of the fiction that does include epigraphs, the most frequent source for them are the Greek classics. Many works, from Siobhan Fallon’s You Know When the Men Are Gone, published in 2011, to Brian Van Reet’s Spoils, published last year, quote Homer, Socrates, Aeschylus, or another writer from antiquity. Of the non-Greeks, many are from American and English canonical authors, some known as war-writers and some not. W.H. Auden provides epigraphs for Lea Carpenter’s Eleven Days and Helen Benedict’s Wolf Season. Stephen Crane is quoted by both David Abrams in Fobbit and by Matt Gallagher in Youngblood. The rest are from here-and-there, ranging in surprising exoticness from Sir Thomas Browne, used by Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds, to Jean Baudrillard, quoted by Odie Lindsey in We Come to Our Senses. Not to play favorites, but the one that jumped out at me as being both unexpected and particularly apt for the story the author tells is Jesse Goolsby’s use of Whitman for I’d Walk With My Friends If I Knew Where to Find Them. Whitman’s insistence on the procreative urge of the world seems very near to the American-flavored cosmic force Goolsby suggests shapes the lives of his protagonists, not in a crude sexual way, but in terms of existential yearning only half-understood.

For some reason, not as many volumes of contemporary poetry employ epigraphs. Hugh Martin’s The Stick Soldiers quotes Crane, so that’s three for the author of The Red Badge of Courage. Jehanne Dubrow’s Dots & Dashes includes an epigraph, but her Stateside doesn’t. Nor do Brian Turner’s Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise, Elyse Fenton’s Clamor and Sweet Insurgent, Colin Halloran’s Shortly Thereafter and Icarian Flux, Eric Chandler’s Hugging This Rock, and Charlie Sherpa’s Welcome to FOB Haiku, to name a few more.

I haven’t surveyed the dozens of memoirs I’ve read for epigraphs, but do note their presence in two of the more literary-minded of them, Benjamin Busch’s Dust to Dust (the epigraph quotes his father, the novelist Frederick Busch, who is also referenced by David Abrams in Fobbit) and Brian Turner’s My Life as a Foreign Country, which draws from the Italian poet Eugenio Montale.

Retire the Colors, an excellent anthology of war-themed essays by veterans and non-veterans edited by Dario DiBattista, uses a quote from Jennifer Percy’s Demon Camp for an epigraph, which is the only case I know of a contemporary war work quoting another. On the hunt, I tracked down Demon Camp to see what the always-interesting Percy might have used for an epigraph. I found two, one by Kierkegaard and the other by one of my favorite authors, James Salter, from a book I just finished reading and loved, his memoir Burning the Days. That was cool.

FICTION

Fobbit, David Abrams (2012)

Wars are nothing, in the end, but stories.

-Frederick Busch, The Night Inspector

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat:  it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

 Brave Deeds, David Abrams (2017)

“Tell brave deeds of war.”

Then they recounted tales,—
“There were stern stands
And better runs for glory.”

Ah, I think there were braver
deeds.

-Stephen Crane, The Black Riders and Other Lines

Green on Blue, Elliot Ackerman (2015)

 Allah’s Apostle said, “War is deceit.”

-Iman Al-Bukhari, 846 AD

The Corpse Washer, Sinan Antoon (2013)

In both gardens are fruit, palm trees, and pomegranates

-The Qur’an

Sand Queen, Helen Benedict (2011)

For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

-Shakespeare, “Sonnet 94”

Wolf Season, Helen Benedict (2017)

Behind each sociable home-loving eye
The private massacres are taking place…

-W.H. Auden, “In a Time of War,” 1939

Mothers have been stolen from their own tears.

-Kareem Shugaidil, “Flour Below Zero,” 2005

A Big Enough Lie, Eric Bennet (2015)

I thought about Tolstoy and about what a great advantage an experience of war was to a writer. It was one of the major subjects and certainly one of the hardest to write truly of, and those writers who had not seen it were always very jealous and tried to make it seem unimportant, or abnormal, or a disease as a subject, while, really it was just something quite irreplaceable that they had missed.

-Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa

mundus vult decripi ergo decipiatur [the world wants to be deceived, so let it be deceived]

-Petronius

The Watch, Joydeep-Roy Bhattacharya (2012)

I know that I must die,
E’en hadst thou not proclaimed it; and if death
Is thereby hastened, I shall count it gain.
For death is gain to him whose life, like mine,
Is full of misery.  Thus my lot appears
Not sad, but blissful; for had I endured
To leave my mother’s son unburied there,
I should have grieved with reason, but not now.

-Sophocles, Antigone

Eleven Days, Lea Carpenter (2013)

She looked over his shoulder
For vines and olive trees,
Marble well-governed cities
And ships upon untamed seas,
But there on the shining metal
His hands had put instead
An artificial wilderness
And a sky like lead

-W.H. Auden, “The Shield of Achilles”

You Know When the Men Are Gone, Siobhan Fallon (2011)

She turned to descend the stair, her heart
in tumult.  Had she better keep her distance
and question him, her husband?  Should she run
up to him, take his hands, kiss him now?

…And she, for a long time, sat deathly still
in wonderment—for sometimes as she gazed
she found him—yes, clearly—like her husband,
but sometimes blood and rags were all she saw.

-Penelope upon recognizing Odysseus, The Odyssey

 Youngblood, Matt Gallagher (2016)

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.

I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”

-Stephen Crane

I’d Walk With My Friends If I Could Find Them, Jesse Goolsby (2015)

There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.

-Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

 Wynne’s War, Aaron Gwyn (2014)

He spoke of his campaigns in the deserts of Mexico and he told them of horses killed under him and he said that the souls of horses mirror the souls of men more closely than men suppose and that horses also love war. Men say they only learn this but he said that no creature can learn that which his heart has no shpe to hold. His own father said that no man who has not to war horseback can ever truly understand the horse and he said that supposed he wished that this were not so but that it was so.

-Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

What Changes Everything, Masha Hamilton (2013)

You don’t need a war.
You don’t need to go anywhere.
It’s a myth: if you hurl
Yourself at chaos
Chaos will catch you.

-Eliza Griswold

Beirut. Bagdad. Sarajevo.
Bethlehem. Kabul. Not of
course here.

-Adrienne Rich

Be Safe, I Love You, Cara Hoffman (2014)

 Even from ten or fifteen miles away you get a good view of a burning village.  It was a merry sight. A tiny hamlet that you wouldn’t even notice in the daytime, with ugly, uninteresting country around it, you can’t imagine how impressive it can be when it’s on fire at night! You’d think it was Notre-Dame! A village, even a small one, takes at least all night to burn, in the end it looks like an enormous flower, then there’s only a bud, after that nothing.

-Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Journey to the End of the Night

 We Come to Our Senses, Odie Lindsey (2016)

 But, ultimately, what have you got against aphrodisiacs?

-J. Baudrillard, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place

 Bring Out the Dog, Will Mackin (2018)

We saw victory and defeat
and they were both wonderful.

-Barry Hannah, “Midnight and I’m Not Famous Yet”

These Heroic, Happy Dead, Luke Mogelson (2016)

…why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead…

-e.e. cummings, “next to of course god america i”

 The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers (2012)

A yellow bird
With a yellow bill
Was perched upon
My windowsill

I lured him in
With a piece of bread
And then I smashed
His fucking head…

-Traditional U.S. Army Marching Cadence

To be ignorant of evils to come, and forgetful of evils past, is a merciful provision in nature, whereby we digest the mixture of our few and evil dayes, and our delivered senses not relapsing into cutting remembrances, our sorrows are not kept raw by the edge of repetitions.

-Sir Thomas Browne

War of the Encyclopaedists, Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite (2015)

Nor do we doubt that many things have escaped us also,
for we are but human, and beset with duties…

-Pliny the Elder, the Original Encyclopaedist

 Sparta, Roxana Robinson (2013)

The man who does not wear the armour of the lie cannot
Experience force without being touched by it to the very soul.

-Simone Weil, The Iliad, or, the Poem of Force

 War Porn, Roy Scranton (2016)

Soldier, there is a war between the mind
And sky, between thought and day and night.

-Wallace Stevens

Spoils, Brian Van Reet (2017)

Low lie the shattered towers whereas they fell,
And I—ah burning heart!—shall soon lie low as well.

-Aeschylus

POETRY

Dots & Dashes, Jehanne Dubrow (2017)

War feels to me an oblique place

-Emily Dickinson

the dear sound of your footstep
and light dancing in your eyes
would move me more than glitter
of Lydian horse or armored
tread of mainland infantry

-Sappho

The Stick Soldiers, Hugh Martin (2013)

He could not accept with assurance an omen that he was about to mingle in one of those great affairs of the earth.

-Stephen Crane

OTHER

Dust to Dust, Benjamin Busch (2012)

Stories are … in a sense, about ending and about endings, and of course they are also the heartfelt prayer, the valiant promise, that what we have loved might live forever.

-Frederick Busch, “Deaths”

My Life as a Foreign Country, Brian Turner (2014)

Too many lives go into the making of just one.

-Eugenio Montale

Retire the Colors:  Veterans and Civilians on Iraq and Afghanistan, edited by Dario DiBattista (2016)

“They spent millions training me but they never taught me to come home.”

-Army Sergeant Caleb Joseph from Demon Camp by Jennifer Percy

Demon Camp: A Soldier’s Exorcism, Jennifer Percy (2014)

To understand original sin is to understand Adam, which is to understand that one is an individual and one is also part of the whole race.

-Kierkegaard, The Concept of the Dead

Dreams remained. For years afterwards in nightmares stark as archive footage. I was what I had been.

-James Salter, Burning the Days

AWP18-Tampa, FL

April 20, 2018

The annual AWP writers’ conference is a feel-good affair more suited for socializing and networking than serious literary pondering. So it was this year, too, in Tampa in March, even as the writing, reading, and publishing throngs arrived stunned by the preceding year’s political tumult. In sunny warm Tampa, however, they–we–took not just solace in each other’s company, but positive good cheer and mutual uplift. This split response—a public hail-fellow-well-met spirit belying the dismay expressed privately at home and at the keyboard—extended even to the war-writing crowd. Serious issues lay on the table, such as the increasingly problematic position of veterans in the overheated contemporary public sphere and the could-be-much-better gender and race demographics of modern war-writing. But those heavy-duty matters took a backseat to catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.

The pattern was evident at the panel I moderated, titled “Crisis, Conflict, and Verse” and featuring an all-star quartet of poet-authors: Brian Turner, Benjamin Busch, Jehanne Dubrow, and Dunya Mikhail. We drew the dreaded 9:00am Saturday morning time-slot, which, along with our forbidding title, conspired to drive attendance downward, as if our topic was just too depressing to contemplate with memories of Friday night festivity still swirling in the brain, along with the fumes of five or ten beers. And truthfully, we kind of frightened ourselves, as first Busch, then Dubrow, and finally Mikhail paradoxically found powerful words to express how their belief in the power of the word has been shaken by recent political and cultural turns. Turner, even as he reported reeling not just from the national state-of-affairs but the agony of his wife Ilyse Kusnetz’s death in 2016, sensed gloom settling in and took it upon himself to infuse our proceedings with levity and hope. Levity, by performing with the always-up-for-anything Busch an impromptu dramatic enactment of the Kay Ryan poem “The Elephant in the Room”  and hope by speaking movingly about the importance of friendship and art in the dark days of loss and despair.

The rest of AWP was, for me, a blur of hits-and-misses. I arrived too late to catch a panel organized by veterans studies scholar Mariana Grohowski titled Women, War, and the Military: How to Tell the Story featuring Helen Benedict, Jerri Bell, Tracy Crow, and Mary Doyle, so I’ll leave it to others to report on its proceedings. It’s a great subject, though, one on many people’s minds these days, as both the military and mil-writing-and-publishing scene confront a variety of gender-related problems. MIA at this year’s AWP unfortunately were the authors of several notable 2017 war novels, such as David Abrams, Brian Van Reet, Elliot Ackerman, and Siobhan Fallon, so we weren’t able to hear their thoughts about their recent books and their reception. The online war-writing community was heavily represented, however, with principals from The War Horse; War, Literature, and the Arts; Wrath-Bearing Tree; the Veterans Writing Project/O-Dark-Thirty; and Consequence on-hand, their strength-in-numbers perhaps suggestive of a movement of the war-writing center-of-gravity from the page and the book to the wide-open, fast-moving digital realm.

Mostly though, AWP was about more personal pleasures, such as meeting for the first time authors I admire such as Seth Brady Tucker, Brooke King, Phil Metres, and Steve Kiernan. A dinner with Ron Capps and a small group of Veterans Writing Program mainstays was a joy. A panel on James Salter, whom I consider one of the patron saints of Time Now, held during the last time slot of the conference and attended by me and three others in one of the largest presentation halls at the convention, was as full of inspiring things as I hoped it would be.

Finally, though it’s become a cliché to write about interesting conversations with Uber drivers (like, “OOOO, I’m SO in touch with toilers in the gig-economy boiler room”), the four I had to-and-from my faraway motel offered fascinating glimpses into the lives of south Floridians. One driver was a Coptic Christian immigrant from Egypt, another worked days rehabilitating sex offenders, a third reported that he was getting married in a week, starting a business, and buying a house two years after finding himself broke and homeless, and the fourth had funny tales to tell about late-nights transporting Tampa Bay Buccaneers home from the clubs. I found the drivers’ stories intriguing and encouraging, on the whole. Somewhere in them I caught glimpses of the levity and hopefulness Brian Turner would have us remember, glimpses of people who had not been defeated.

Photo of Benjamin Busch, Dunya Mikhail, me, Jehanne Dubrow, and Brian Turner by Andria Williams. More photos by Williams here.

Approaching Tampa across the causeway in the AM. That would be so cool if the round orb on the right were the moon, but alas it was just a spot on the car window.

To the Veterans Writing Project!

April 1, 2018

For the last two years I’ve served as the online Mentoring Program Coordinator for the Veterans Writing Project. In the role, I arranged approximately 80 partnerships between aspiring veteran (and some active-duty) writers and seasoned authors, teachers, and writing coaches. It’s been rewarding, and not just because I think I’ve played a part in helping veterans find their writing voices. Equally gratifying has been meeting the talented, generous volunteers who have offered substantial, generous feedback and inspiration to veterans near the beginning of their writing journeys. The focus of Time Now is literary fiction and poetry (and some memoir), most of it authored by veterans with advanced degrees and published by big-time publishers and periodicals. My work with the VWP, on the other hand, has been at the grassroots level. Trying to understand the hopes of VWP aspiring writers has been a marked counterpoint to discerning the more sophisticated concerns of, say, MFA-trained veterans competing for National Book Awards. I won’t say that being the Mentoring Program Coordinator has necessarily kept me in touch with veteran-writing street (I’m a retired 05 with a PhD pushing 60, after all), but to the extent that I have helped anyone at all, I like to think that my work has aided fellow veterans who have not had the advantages I’ve had.

The veteran writers cover a wide range demographically. Many have been Vietnam veterans, still trying to sort out their war experiences fifty years later. Most though are younger—Iraq and Afghanistan veterans—and about half have been women. The majority of aspirants are writing memoir, with fiction and poetry the next largest genres, but authors of articles, essays, screenplays, drama, song, and mixed-media genres have all been well-represented. Many are dealing with traumatic experiences, have not had happy tours in uniform, or seem not to be prospering now—I’ve had many veterans without computers of their own send me drafts tapped out on phones or public library terminals. While some vet-writers have dreamed openly of commercial success, many more have couched their desire to write in terms of therapy, search for understanding, and desire to record and document. I’ve long since lost track of the number of Mentor Program vet-writers who have placed pieces in print, which is great, but the real reward has come in heartfelt testimonials vet writers have sent me thanking me for putting them in touch with their mentors.

To the mentors—thank you. Several mentors are friends and a few are familiar names to readers of Time Now, but most I will never meet, though I’ve enjoyed getting to know you and your own work electronically. It’s inspiring to know that there are people like you out there—interested in writing and ready to invest in the lives of strangers.

It’s time now (no pun intended) to give up the duty, but, fortunately, a worthy successor has already volunteered to take over as Mentoring Program Coordinator: Jacob Agatucci, an Army vet now a professor at Central Oregon Community College. If you are an aspiring vet-writer with a draft of work in hand for which you would like a sympathetic reader, contact Jake at jake@veteranswriting.org. If you are a published writer or writing teacher or coach who would like to mentor aspiring vet-writers, write Jake at the same address. To both groups, your work is important and will be appreciated, and you will not be alone going forward.

Finally, thanks to Veterans Writing Project founder and director Ron Capps and other VWP principals such as Jerri Bell, Jim Mathews, Dario DiBattista, and Carole Florman for letting me be part of the team. Don’t ever stop what you are doing!

Veterans Writing Project Mentor Program webpage here.

On to Tampa! AWP18

March 7, 2018

Now I got a reason, now I got a reason, now I got a reason, now I got a reason…. –“Holidays in the Sun,” the Sex Pistols

Thursday through Saturday this week in Tampa, Florida, is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference, the largest gathering of the year for authors, readers, teachers, publishers, and other lovers of literary fiction, poetry, and memoir. Contemporary war-and-military writers are typically well-represented at AWP panels and readings. Numbers are a little down this year, though still substantial, and judging by the panel descriptions and social media chit-chat, everyone is looking forward to contemplating weighty questions: How has everyone survived the tumultuous and nerve-rattling past twelve months? What does it all portend for writing about war?? Where can the best beer selection in Tampa be found???

All answers will be revealed in the coming days, assuming those of us living in the snowy Northeast can still catch our flights to sunny Florida. My own contribution will be to moderate a panel titled Conflict, Crisis, Verse: Four Poets in Conversation featuring Benjamin Busch, Jehanne Dubrow, Dunya Mikhail, and Brian Turner. This one’s an embarrassment of riches, people, like being asked to coach the 1992 Olympics basketball Dream Team, so I’ll do my best not to screw it up—you might say that all I have to do is roll out the balls, hand-out the jerseys, and then stay-the-hell-out-of-the-way.

Busch’s late-2016 The Road Ahead story “Into the Land of Dogs” really is one for our times, a surreal apocalyptic nightmare vision of war in Afghanistan and afterwards that as much as any tale I’ve read lately drains and wrecks war-and-soldiering of redeeming value, and all the better for doing so. Busch’s poetry, which I love, operates differently. Short lyrics marked by flinty stabs at experiential insight generated by close observation of nature and local event, their hardy stoicism seems forged by the long years Busch has lived in upstate North-country climes, first New York and now Michigan.

Dubrow’s 2017 poetry volume Dots & Dashes is a thing of beauty in particular and in toto. I’m not sure which I like better, the wide-angle poems that ponder the irony of being a poet in an era marked by conflict and violence, or the narrow-focused ones that plumb Dubrow’s marriage to a military officer, but they’re all good. Dubrow is a master of form and technique, as well as of observation, with the fourteen or so sonnets in Dots & Dashes especially remarkable for their exciting, pitch-perfect blends of language, image, and sentiment.

Mikhail, already recognized for her wonderful poetry collection The Iraqi Nights and her prose-poem memoir Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea, will soon be made even more famous by her about-to-be-published work of journalism titled The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq. The Beekeeper’s subject is the efforts of a roguish band of smugglers, fixers, and humanitarians to save Christian women of the Iraqi Yazidi tribe who have been kidnapped and enslaved by ISIS, as well as about the strength and bravery of the Yazidi women themselves. Beautifully and movingly told, it will almost certainly attract laurels for its heroes (and author) while galvanizing contempt for ISIS brutality.

As for Brian Turner, what can you say? I’m tempted to write Brian f-ing Turner, out of respect for the quality of his writing, his eminence in the field, his generous support of other authors and his readers, and his relentless exploration of new artistic possibilities. Everything I wrote about him in this 2014 blog post is still true now, or even truer. 2017 saw Turner release a hybrid poetry-music blend under the name Interplanetary Acoustic Team that features his late wife Ilyse Kusnetz’s poetry and voice. Now, early 2018 has brought The Kiss, a splendid anthology of vignettes by talented writers (including Busch) about one of life’s tenderest moments.

Now who else would think of that but Sergeant Turner? The author Chuck Klosterman has proposed that as long as we are going to elect entertainment celebrities for President, he’d vote for the wise, generous, calm, and patient Willie Nelson. I like that, but Willie’s a little long-in-the-tooth, so how about if we just vote right now Turner for President, if not of the nation, then of the United States of Poetry?

For a list of all AWP panels focused on contemporary war and conflict, see Charlie Sherpa’s Red Bull Rising post here.

Iraq and Afghanistan War Writing, Theater, Art, and Film 2017

December 15, 2017

Photo by Bill Putnam.

2017 brought new novels by Elliot Ackerman, David Abrams, Helen Benedict, and Siobhan Fallon, and new poetry volumes by Jehanne Dubrow and Elyse Fenton. Also arriving was a first novel by contemporary war short-fiction pioneer Brian Van Reet. By any measure, that’s a bumper crop of new contemporary war fiction and poetry by veteran mil-and-war authors. Besides these works, though, releases of novels, short story collections, and volumes of poetry by major publishing houses were in short supply. Fortunately, university, regional, and independent presses picked up some of the slack: Caleb Cage’s short-story collection Desert Mementos: Stories of Iraq and Nevada appeared courtesy of University of Nevada Press, Eric Chandler’s poetry collection Hugging This Rock was published by Charlie Sherpa’s Middle West Press, and Samuel Gonzalez, Jr. and Christopher Meeks self-published their very interesting novel The Chords of War.

Fallon’s The Confusion of Languages and Ackerman’s Dark at the Crossing only indirectly reference Iraq and Afghanistan, but the locale of each book—Jordan and Turkey, respectively—their interest in conflict and empire, and their authors’ formidable reputations as military insiders validates their inclusion on this year’s list. Other renown war-writers, such as Brian Castner and Roy Scranton, have begun to craft literary identities and build publishing histories well-beyond the confining limits of war literature, a trend that will certainly intensify in coming years.

Ackerman’s Dark at the Crossing earned National Book Award short-list honors, and Van Reet’s Spoils made The Guardian and Wall Street Journal’s year-end “best of” lists. Despite such laurels, war writing as a genre seems to have fallen from major media favor—we’re far from the 2014 days when Vanity Fair and the New York Times ran fawning author portraits and glowing genre appraisals. Online writing by veteran writers has fortunately continued vibrantly apace on websites such as The War Horse, Military Experience and the Arts, The Wrath-Bearing Tree, 0-Dark-Thirty, and War, Literature, and the Arts–and thank you very much all concerned.

Our Trojan War, a modern-war/Homeric-war hybrid, and Jay Moad’s one-man-play Outside Paducah were the highlights of the year in terms of theatrical productions related to Iraq and Afghanistan staged in New York City, but elsewhere in-and-out of NYC the year saw no big-name, big-cast, big-money productions that garnered national attention. There was, however, plenty of action at the regional, local, DIY, collective, performance art, and spoken-word level. Toward the end of the year, former Marine and current movie star Adam Driver announced a $10,000 prize to the winner of a veterans playwriting competition, encouraging news for the energetic talent in the grassroots theater scene.

The only major motion picture released in 2017 about war in Iraq or Afghanistan that a caused much of a splash was War Machine, a Netflix TV-release starring Brad Pitt that I am including here by exception. American Sniper writer Jason Hall’s directorial debut Thank You For Your Service (based on David Finkel’s book) and Richard Linklater’ Last Flag Flying came-and-went quickly. Art and photography exhibition choices offered slim pickings, too, though I’m happy to report Bill Putnam’s photography–oft on display on Time Now–was featured at exhibits in Washington, DC, and New York this year.

In 2016, I included a list of notable non-fiction works about war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but, as with Hollywood movies and the art-and-photo scene, the genre seems to have dried up. I’ve long since stopped tracking veteran memoirs closely, but a Military Times list of year’s best military books offers a couple of titles worth checking out.

The poetry list includes many new entries cribbed from Charlie Sherpa’s Mother of All 21st Century War Poetry Lists, which observes these things far better than I do–many thanks.

Please notify me of any errors or omissions, and I’ll correct the record.

Iraq and Afghanistan War Fiction

Nadeem Aslam, The Wasted Vigil (2008)
David Zimmerman, The Sandbox (2010)
Siobhan Fallon (Army spouse), You Know When the Men Are Gone (2011)
Helen Benedict, Sand Queen (2011)
David Abrams (Army), Fobbit (2012)
Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2012)
Kevin Powers (Army), The Yellow Birds (2012)
Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, The Watch (2012)
Sinan Antoon, The Corpse Washer (2013)
Nadeem Aslam, The Blind Man’s Garden (2013)
Lea Carpenter, Eleven Days (2013)
Masha Hamilton, What Changes Everything (2013)
Hilary Plum, They Dragged Them Through the Streets (2013)
Roxana Robinson, Sparta (2013)
J.K. Rowling (aka Robert Galbraith), The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013)
Katey Shultz, Flashes of War (2013)
Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, edited by Roy Scranton (Army) and Matt Gallagher (Army) (2013)
Paul Avallone, Tattoo Zoo (2014)
Greg Baxter, The Apartment (2014)
Hassan Blasim, The Corpse Exhibition (2014)
Aaron Gwyn, Wynne’s War (2014)
Cara Hoffman, Be Safe, I Love You (2014)
Atticus Lish (USMC), Preparation for the Next Life (2014)
Phil Klay (USMC), Redeployment (2014)
Michael Pitre (USMC), Fives and Twenty-Fives (2014)
Eliot Ackerman (USMC), Green on Blue (2015)
Eric Bennett, A Big Enough Lie (2015)
Brandon Caro (Navy), Old Silk Road (2015)
Mary “M.L.” Doyle, The Bonding Spell (2015)
Jesse Goolsby (USAF), I’d Walk With My Friends If I Could Find Them (2015)
Carrie Morgan, The Road Back from Broken (2015)
John Renehan (Army), The Valley (2015)
Ross Ritchell (Army), The Knife (2015)
Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite (Army), War of the Encylopaedists (2015)
The Road Ahead, Adrian Bonenberger (Army) and Brian Castner (Air Force), eds. (2016)
Matt Gallagher (Army), Youngblood (2016)
Matthew Hefti (Air Force), A Hard and Heavy Thing (2016)
Tom King and Mitch Gervais, The Sheriff of Babylon, vol 1: Bang. Bang. Bang. (2016).
Odie Lindsey (Army), We Come to Our Senses (2016)
Elizabeth Marro, Casualties (2016)
Luke Mogelson, These Heroic, Happy Dead (2016)
Harry Parker, Anatomy of a Soldier (2016)
Scott Pomfret, You Are the One (2016)
Roy Scranton (Army), War Porn (2016)
Whitney Terrell, The Good Lieutenant (2016)
Maximilian Uriarte (USMC), The White Donkey (2016)
David Abrams (Army), Brave Deeds (2017)
Elliot Ackerman (USMC), Dark at the Crossing (2017)
Helen Benedict, Wolf Season (2017)
Caleb Cage (Army), Desert Mementos: Stories of Iraq and Nevada (2017)
Siobhan Fallon (Army spouse), The Confusion of Languages (2017)
Tom King (CIA) and Mitch Gervais, The Sheriff of Babylon, vol. 2: Pow. Pow. Pow. (2017)
Christopher Meeks and Samuel Gonzalez, Jr. (Army), The Chords of War (2017)
Brian Van Reet (Army), Spoils (2017)

Iraq and Afghanistan War Poetry

Juliana Spahr, This Connection of Everyone with Lungs (2005)
Brian Turner (Army), Here, Bullet (2005)
Walt Piatt (Army), Paktika (2006)
Sinan Antoon, The Baghdad Blues (2008)
Frances Richey (Army mother), The Warrior: A Mother’s Story of a Son at War (2008)
Jehanne Dubrow (Navy spouse), Stateside (2010)
Elyse Fenton (Army spouse), Clamor (2010)
Frances Richey (Army mother), Voices of the Guard (2010)
Brian Turner (Army), Phantom Noise (2010)
Allan Gray (Army), Overwatch (2011)
Tom Sleigh, Army Cats (2011)
Colin Halloran (Army), Shortly Thereafter (2012)
Jason Poudrier (Army), Red Fields (2012)
Seth Brady Tucker (Army), Mormon Boy (2012)
Paul Wasserman (USAF), Say Again All (2012)
Charles Bondhus, All the Heat We Could Carry (2013)
Stanton S. Coerr (USMC), Rubicon (2013)
Kerry James Evans (Army), Bangalore (2013)
Amalie Flynn (Navy spouse), Wife and War (2013)
Hugh Martin, The Stick Soldiers (2013)
Chuck Rybak, War (2013)
David R. Dixon (USMC), Call in the Air (2014)
Frederick Foote (Navy), Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War (2014)
Gerardo Mena (USMC), The Shape of Our Faces No Longer Matters (2014)
Seth Brady Tucker (Army), We Deserve the Gods We Ask For (2014)
Kevin Powers (Army), Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting (2014)
Sylvia Bowersox (Army), Triggers (2015)
Randy Brown, aka “Charlie Sherpa” (Army), Welcome to FOB Haiku (2015)
Colin Halloran (Army), Icarian Flux (2015)
Victoria Kelly (spouse), When the Men Go Off to War (2015)
Philip Metres: Sand Opera (2015)
Tom Sleigh, Station Zed (2015)
Washing the Dust from Our Hearts: Poetry and Prose from the Afghan Women Writing Project (2015)
Paul David Adkins (Army), Flying Over Baghdad with Sylvia Plath (2016)
Jonathan Baxter (Army), The Ghosts of Babylon (2016)
Lance B. Brender (Army) and C. Rodney Pattan (Army), In Cadence (2016)
Kim Garcia, Drone (2016)
Nicole Goodwin (Army), Warcries (2016)
Karen Skolfield (Army), Frost in the Low Areas (2016)
Lisa Stice (USMC spouse), Uniform (2016)
Home Front: Jehanne Dubrow’s Stateside, Elyse Fenton’s Clamor, Bryony Doran’s Bulletproof, and Isabel Palmer’s Atmospherics (2016, UK only)
Paul David Adkins (Army), FM 101-5-1 MCRP 5-2A: Operational Terms and Graphics (2017)
Eric Chandler (USAF), Hugging This Rock (2017)
Jehanne Dubrow (Navy spouse), Dots & Dashes (2017)
Elyse Fenton (Army spouse), Sweet Insurgent (2017)
Benjamin Hertwig (Canadian Army), Slow War (2017)

Iraq and Afghanistan War Film

In the Valley of Elah, Paul Haggis, director (2007)
Lions for Lambs, Robert Redford, director (2007)
Battle for Haditha, Nick Broomfield, director (2007)
The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow, director (2008)
Standard Operating Procedures, Errol Morris, director (2008)
Stop-Loss, Kimberly Pierce, director (2008)
Generation Kill, David Simon and Ed Burns, executive producers (HBO) (2008)
The Objective, Daniel Myrick, director (2008)
Brothers, Jim Sheridan, director (2009)
Restrepo, Sebastian Junger, director (2009)
The Messenger, Oren Moverman, director (2009)
Green Zone, Paul Greengrass, director (2010)
Return, Liza Johnson, director (2011)
Zero-Dark-Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow, director (2012)
Lone Survivor, Peter Berg, director (2013)
American Sniper, Clint Eastwood, director (2014)
Korengal, Sebastian Junger, director (2014)
The Last Patrol, Sebastian Junger, director (2014)
Fort Bliss, Claudia Myers, director (2014)
Man Down, Dito Monteil, director (2015)
A War, Tobias Lindholm, director (2015)
Hyena Road, Paul Gross, director (2015)
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ang Lee, director (2016)
Neither Heaven Nor Earth, Clement Cogitore, director (2016)
War Dogs, Todd Phillips, director (2016)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, directors (2016)
Last Flag Flying, Richard Linklater, director (2017)
Sand Castle, Fernando Coimbra (Netflix) (2017)
Thank Your For Your Service, Jason Hall, director (2017)
The Wall, Doug Liman, director (2017)
War Machine, David Michod (Netflix) (2017)

Matthew Hefti, Benjamin Busch, and Mary Doyle at AWP17, with a glimpse of Teresa Fazio in the left foreground and Whitney Terrell on the right. Photo by Bill Putnam.

 


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