22 April 2015

A Round-up of Poetry Books About 21st Century Wars

An impromptu "war party" of writers at the national Association of Writers and Writing
Programs (AWP) conference in Minneapolis earlier this month. Poets, novelists, memoirists,
essayists, and other story-tellers engaged in exploring themes and experiences of war.
April is National Poetry Month. The wars continue.

Civilians, service members, and veterans continue to engage America's 21st century wars through writing, and more than a few are doing so through poetry. War poetry didn't end with the First World War. As a means of communicating and commenting on military experiences, poetry remains just as relevant and vital as other forms of literature and media.

Don't believe me? I'll let an expanding and diverse chorus of modern war-poetry voices argue the point for me.

Earlier this month, I was lucky to meet up with some war-lit practitioners and camp followers at the 2015 conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (A.W.P.) conference in Minneapolis. Because I'd traveled by ground, I was also able to stuff my rucksack with plenty of new books and journals. More than a week later, you might say I'm still conducting document exploitation.

The AWP conference is the largest such event in North America, gathering approximately 12,000 writers, editors, teachers, and others. The 2015 event featured more than 2,500 presenters and 550 readings, panels, and lectures about craft. The concurrent book fair featured more than 700 presses, publications, and other organizations engaged in the making and distribution of literature. In 2016, the event travels to Los Angeles. In 2017, the event travels to Washington, D.C.

Rather than posting my own After-Action Report, I'll point readers toward such dispatches at Peter Molin's "Time Now" blog, as well as author Sioban Fallon's blog.

Now, let's talk about poetry.

I've heard it said that the people who read (and buy) poetry are most likely poets themselves. The truism is often meant as a criticism, as if poets were alone in constructing elaborate (and, no doubt, metaphorical) echo chambers in response to the worlds around them.

Poetry is just like any activity, however. People who write fiction tend to buy and read fiction. People who create video games tend to buy and consume video games. People who talk on Sunday morning news shows tend to watch Sunday morning news shows. Bottom line: We're all talking to ourselves, when we talk to each other.

What poetry offers over some of these other forms is that it is relatively accessible. The cost of entry is low. You can buy a collection of poetry for less than $20, or you can browse the public library shelves. Books of poetry don't take very long to read, and you can skim and flit about the pages to find poems that interest you. You can toss poems away with little guilt, or enthusiastically push them into other readers' hands and lives.

Regardless of your reaction to any given work, you will at least have considered, for the briefest of moments, the world around you as seen through someone else's eyes. And that is the first step toward changing minds, and changing realities.

As Tim Green, editor of the poetry magazine Rattle, recently said in an interview on the Poetry Has Value blog:
The real currency for poetry is attention; poets get to have a voice in the din, they get to move people, change the thinking, explore ideas and feelings, create images that were never there before—and we have a pretty large group of poetry lovers to appreciate it. It’s an art that costs extraordinarily little to pursue, is open to anyone, is encouraging of unique voices and perspectives. […]
So, in celebration of National Poetry Month, here's a start toward a "Mother of All 21st Century War Poetry Lists." These are titles that are on my bookshelf—those which deal with Iraq and Afghanistan and places in between—any and all of which I personally recommend to you. Again, it's a start. Check them out. Collect them all. Trade with your friends.

Most importantly, tell me what I'm missing!


15 April 2015

The Iowa Review Celebrates 2nd Vets' Writing Contest

Two Sat., April 18 events in Iowa City, Iowa will help celebrate The Iowa Review's second successful Jeff Sharlet Memorial Contest for Veterans, the winning entries of which appear in the publication's Spring 2015 issue.

At 7 p.m., first- and second-place winners will read from their works at Prairie Lights Bookstore, located at 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City, Iowa 52240.

Katherine Schifani, first-place winner, will read her essay "Pistol Whip." Brian Van Reet, second-place winner, will present his short story "The Chaff." Both entries are set in the Iraq War.

Contest judge Anthony Swofford (author of 2003's Gulf War memoir "Jarhead"), will also read. A reception will follow in the bookstore café. For a Facebook page regarding the event, click here.

In a guest opinion appearing in the (Iowa City) Press Citizen April 13, contest winner Schifani writes:
The only thing I am confident [veterans] deserve, and the thing we need even more than free beer, is a voice and a space for people to listen to it. The war needs a voice because the people who fought in it need for everyone else to understand what we saw and did. 
A few notable writers have broken through and been recognized for describing their time in the wars, but there are thousands of veterans with unique experiences and stories to tell, all of which are necessary to really understand the war, the motivation for the soldiers fighting it, and the effect it had on us. More importantly, the more veterans who tell their stories, the more we can understand how the wars affected the rest of the country who did not go fight, how it affected people who […] only obliquely knew someone who fought them. 
I knew that my experience in Iraq was unique. I knew it while I was there, and I knew it when I got back home. What I didn’t know until I started writing about it was that it was also important, and not just for me. It is important that other people hear my story and know what I did and what I didn’t do because one day, our country will decide whether to fight another war, and the population must know what it is like.
Single issues of The Iowa Review may be purchased on-line here.

The next submissions period for the next Jeff Sharlet Memorial Contest for Veterans will open between May 1 and June 1, 2016. First-place winner will receive $1,000 and publication in the Spring 2017 issue; second-place winner will receive $750; three runners-up will receive $500 each. Editors report that the next iteration of the contest may be its last, given available funding.

Earlier in the day at 1 p.m. Sat., April 18, Swofford will visit FilmScene to participate in a screening and Q&A discussion of "Jarhead", the 2005 movie based on his memoir. The venue is located at: 118 E. College Street, Suite 101, Iowa City, Iowa 52240. For a Facebook page regarding the event, click here.

08 April 2015

FREE 'Unofficial Anecdotal History of Challenge Coins'!

Creator of the daily web comic "Schlock Mercenary" Howard Tayler, along with editor Sandra Tayler and the rest of Tayler Corp., released this week a unique collection of stories about challenge coins. The 32-page "Unofficial Anecdotal History of Challenge Coins" (U.A.H.C.C.) is available FREE as a PDF that can be downloaded here and here.

In the U.S. military and other organizations, challenge coins are used to informally commemorate relationships, missions, and good jobs done for the cause. Coins aren't as highfalutin or formal as a medal, and they're not useable as cash, but they're great souvenirs and conversation starters. In some unit cultures, they can also be used to win free drinks.

A quick description of the project reads:
[The UAHCC] is not an authoritative attempt to codify the rules of coin challenges, nor is it a scholarly treatise creating an historical narrative. It is a collection of stories that are similar to the sorts of stories you might hear if a bunch of people were sitting around at the bar one night draining pints and talking about challenge coins. We've done our best to present these stories in a way that respects the various challenge coin traditions, and pays appropriate tribute to those who have served.
Some personnel prize their coins more highly than other military mementos. Because each one comes with a story.

For example, military-fantasy writer Myke Cole writes in a few closing words to the UAHCC: "[T]here are times I don’t feel capable of doing good, don’t feel equal to the work necessary to pull good off. The coin sits on my rack, a glittering reminder of the good I can do when I really try."

Coin from Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.),
34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) deployment to
Eastern Afghanistan, 2010-2011.
The project even mentions 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division deployment history! On page 24, the writer of the Red Bull Rising blog tells the story of arriving in Afghanistan in 2010-2011 as civilian media, and how the presentation of a unit coin played out in a humorous mix of tribal welcome, homecoming, and unexpected hugs.

Someone also called him a puppy.

Howard Tayler writes the introduction to the UAHCC, and punches up the action with a few cartoon illustrations. All are right on target. While Tayler is not a veteran himself, his storytelling always manages to capture the cozy, good-natured camaraderie of serving with others in uniform, while chaos and armageddon are danger-close.

The antics and sayings of his misfit band of space mercenaries are much celebrated in some military circles. His ongoing list of "70 Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries" begins with rule No. 1: "Pillage, then burn." No. 2 is "A Sergeant in motion outranks a Lieutenant who doesn't know what's going on."

No. 3 is "An ordnance technician at a dead run outranks everybody."

Maxim 2/3 coin available at www.schlockmercenary.com.
The UAHCC was initiated as a stretch goal in Tayler's successful challenge coin Kickstarter campaign in 2013, which raised $154,294 on an original goal of $1,800. (See a Red Bull Rising mention of that project here.) Many of Tayler's words have since been captured on challenge coins, and the UAHCC project seems a particularly appropriate bit of thanks and payback to his military fans.

For more information on the UAHCC, or to contribute to later updates, the Schlock Mercenary website advises: "Please direct all inquiries to schlockmercenary [AT] gmail.com, and include the unpronounceable acronym 'UAHCC' in the subject line. We welcome submissions, hosting updates, suggested changes, and requests for source."

Howard Tayler, creator of "Schlock Mercenary," sent these greetings from GenCon 2011.