19 July 2017

'As You Were' Now Open to Writing & Art Submissions

Editors at the literary journal "As You Were," published by the 501(c)3 non-profit organization Military Experience & the Arts, have opened the window for submitting poetry, fiction, and non-fiction until Aug. 14, 2017. Submissions will be considered for the journal's upcoming seventh issue, to be published FREE on-line in November 2017.

According to a website page describing the organization's publishing history and philosophy:
Our title ["As You Were"] also connotes a harkening back, an exploration of the self and the past. We’re interested in those words and works of art that are brave enough to cut through rank and time, presenting military experience honestly, free of the white-washing that can appear in today’s war literature and art. We’ve published numerous volumes since 2011, providing each contributor–regardless of whether that contributor has published 25 words or 25 books–with some form of one-on-one consultation if they wanted it.
As previously reviewed on the Red Bull Rising blog, the journal "As You Were" uniquely packages its submissions process as something akin to a virtual writing workshop. Unlike the thumbs-up-or-down approach of other journals, writers of all experience levels may engage in multiple drafts with peer editors and readers, while preparing pieces for publication. Regardless of whether a piece is accepted after one edit or many, however, the objective, however, is always the same: Help writers find new ways to document and communicate the military experience.

Military service members, veterans, family members, and others may submit writing and art. Works must previously unpublished, either in print or on-line, although they may be simultaneously submitted to other journals.

For poetry submissions guidelines, click here.

For fiction submissions guidelines, click here.

For non-fiction submissions guidelines, click here.

For visual arts submissions guidelines, click here.

Disclosure: The writer of the Red Bull Rising blog is also the poetry editor of "As You Were" literary journal.

12 July 2017

Welcome to the Basic Training Poetry Lovers' Club!

At various times during the past 16 years of war, I've anonymously sent buddies deployed downrange all sorts of wacky mail and care packages. Some of my favorites included:
  • A voice-changing Darth Vader mask.
  • An inflatable hot tub that looked like a fuel blivet.
  • Truckstop automotive supplies, such as "new car smell" air fresheners, steering wheel covers, and dashboard hula dancers.
Now, however, now my buddies have gotten old enough that I can send mail to their kids, while the latter are off at Boot Camp. I'm not mean or crazy enough to send them cookies or other pogeybait—if you do that, you'd better bake enough for the entire platoon—but I will drop them some semi-motivational snail-mail. Hooah?

(Back in the 1980s, drill sergeants would drop you 10 push-ups for postcards, and 20 for letters. I wonder what the going rate is now?)

During my first training experiences in the Army, I carried a copy of William Shakespeare's "Henry V" in my left cargo pocket. During fire guard duty and other peaceful times—there were few—I'd work on memorizing the St. Crispin's Day speech, or deciphering the rest of the play.

Inspired by this memory, I've been sending at least one lucky basic trainee this summer cycle some 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division, U.S. Army, and Iowa-themed postcards, along with some potentially relevant selections from "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire." Poems include:
  • "wait for it"
  • "your squad leader writes haiku"
  • "your drill sergeant writes haiku, too"
  • "Jody stole your haiku tools"
  • "Grace, Ready-to-Eat"
Of course, if I am truly lucky—and my beneficiary truly isn't—a drill sergeant may even ask them to perform a dramatic reading of my work, in front of their peers!

I would pay money to see that! I'd even do a push-up or two!

28 June 2017

Poetry Book Review: 'Operational Terms and Graphics'

Poetry Book Review: 'FM 101-5-1 MCRP 5-2A: Operational Terms and Graphics' by Paul David Adkins

This recently published book closely follows Adkins' cheekily gothic war-poetry collection "Flying Over Baghdad with Sylvia Plath," also published by Lit Riot Press. Where the former explores modern wartime experience armed with Addams Family quirkiness and clever literary references, this recent entry leans into the foxhole walls of military vernacular and symbology.

Stick with me, soldier. It's funnier ... and "funner" ... than it sounds.

Rather than as a list of titles, the Table of Contents is presented as series of map overlays, each over an abstracted Baghdad. On these pages, each of the book's 43 poems is associated with a particular rune-like symbol. Those symbols mark kidnappings, convoys, Improvised Explosive Devices (I.E.D.), and other battlefield occurrences, per the current military reference. (In military fashion, the runes are explained in the poetry book's appendix.)

For various assumed reasons, Adkins does not explicitly address his many years of uniformed service. His opening poem, however, points to experiences as an analyst of patterns and terrain—a worker or manager in intelligence, located in a Tactical Operations Center ("TOC"). In "Military Intelligence," he memorably demonstrates that one does not have to be a front-line soldier to feel and act like a sheepdog. I'll not reveal the punchline—it is thrilling and artful and tragically, heroically true—but here's the set-up:
I did not see bodies,
blood nor burning trucks.
I did not brush aside
shrieking women in the flaming market
nor ignore their sobbing children.

I stayed on the FOB.

But I knew.

I did not see
but knew the way
I knew what happened
in the room next door
in college […]
A Red Bull Rising review of Adkins' first book is here. In that review, I lamented that examples of Adkins' more absurdist humor, such as the joyous "Helicopter Ride with a Cadaver Dog" and the true-life latrine humor of "Iraqi Army Unit on Camp Striker, Baghdad Iraq"—were AWOL in that collection. I am pleased to report that these favorites, however, as well as new works, are now present and accounted for in "Operational Terms and Graphics."

Each poem is a war story, a slice of Forward Operating Base life, a storyboard about battlefield actions that range from the significant to the mundane. Adkins' touch is light and direct, even when his subjects are dark. His reports and anecdotes include: observations on how male soldiers cover for female counterparts when they need to urinate during convoy missions ("Poncho Liners"); how distributions of "humanitarian supplies" are either received or rejected by Iraqi civilians ("Water Bottle Delivery"); and how IED-aiming markers removed by U.S. troops are soon replaced ("Tree of Woe").

Given my own attempts toward depicting Forward Operating Base ("FOB") life through poetry, I particularly appreciate when Adkins casts his gaze inside the protective wire. There are any number of poems that turn me green with envy. In "Passing the Flags," for example, he accurately and humorously depicts the flowery displays found at every Army shower point:
Throughout the shower trailer,
amid the steam and hiss
and shaving men
hung towels of every color.

The Army issued brown terry.
We buried
those spares in duffel bags
deep as tulip bulbs.

But in the trailer—yellow bath,
lime green beach, purple, chartreuse hand.
Sky blue, orange, even a pink washcloth

— Excuse me — it's salmon. […]
Adkins' humor is never offered without purpose, however. His work provides a necessary and complicating perspective, a counter-narrative designed to cut through the jingoistic fireworks of more mainstream military story-telling. As his narrator says in the persona poem "Iraqi Barber on FOB Barber":
[…] I noticed soldiers rush.

No time, no time

for a shave, an eyebrow trim. […]

[…] I clip and snip.

They tap their fingernails
against the armrests—
trigger-clicks
on empty guns.
Like the soldiers held briefly in a barbarous hair-cutters chair, Adkins' work should give us all pause.

Savor it. Revel in it.

It is sneaky. It is snarky. It is ... insurgent.

"Operational Terms and Graphics" is available in trade paperback here.