01 July 2015

Sherpa's Four (or More) Freedoms

In his famous "Four Freedoms" speech, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described in January 1941 the four principles at stake in World War II. The freedoms he described, later visualized in a series of popular paintings by Norman Rockwell, were these:
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of worship
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear
In accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, Duke Ellington noted that his artistic collaborator Billy Strayhorn lived by four freedoms:
  • Freedom from hate
  • Freedom from self pity
  • Freedom from fear of doing something that would benefit someone else more than it would himself
  • Freedom from the pride that could make him feel that he was better than others
I've always loved Rockwell's "Freedom of Speech" painting. Back in my small town newspaper days, the ideals it depicted kept me going through many tedious public input, school board, and city council meetings: Everybody gets a voice, everybody gets a vote.

I love Strayhorn's ideals even more: Cool and warm, all at the same time.

This U.S. Independence Day, I invite you to consider for a moment the four freedoms you most enjoy. Maybe write them down. Maybe share them with others. I'll post mine below.

In the meantime, have a great weekend!

Be safe! Be responsible! And be excellent to each other!

Sherpa's Four Freedoms
  • Freedom from chemical latrines
  • Freedom from humorlessness
  • Freedom from presidential "contenders"
  • Freedom from the tyranny of too much social media

24 June 2015

War Poetry Potpourri and a Corn Belt Cornucopia

"You've been writing a lot about poetry lately," says Archer.

I know.

I guess you could say I'm writing what I know. Or what doing what I know. Which, this summer, is poetry. Also, comic books. And constructing foam-armor costumes with the Sherpa kids. It's summertime, after all, and we have a couple of weeks of "Camp Dad" on the calendar.

So, I've slowed down the blog a bit, shifted the frequency of posts to once a week.

Behind the blog-scene, I'm shopping to publishers and contests a manuscript of my own military-themed poetry, while also wrestling with the harder parts of that never-ending "Red Bull in Afghanistan" non-fiction project. I'm also ramping up to help out some of my veterans-lit buddies at Military Experience & the Arts with a larger, on-going editorial project. More on that in a future post.

Summer is here! That's Annual Training season!

Through press releases and social media, I've been watching members of the Minnesota National Guard's 1st Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (1-34th BCT) engage in a large-scale training event at Camp Ripley, Minn. They're getting ready for a 2016 rotation "in the box" at the National Training Center (N.T.C.), Fort Irwin, Calif. Meanwhile, members of the Iowa National Guard's 2-34th BCT are prepping for a rotation later this summer at Joint Readiness Training Center (J.R.T.C.), Fort Polk, La. "All this has happened before, and all this will happen again."

Good times, good times ...

That reminds me: I should write a humorous essay titled "Ways that Camp Dad is like Annual Training." Something akin to that time I compared/contrasted working in a Tactical Operations Center and working in a daycare. It seems to me that I haven't been bringing the funny much lately. 

Unless you're talking poetry, of course. Which I am. No big surprise here, but the stuff I write usually tends toward the humorous. Even with all the summer household chaos and logistics, I've had some recent good fortune in getting my work out there and published.

One recent arrival is The Corn Belt Almanac, a cornucopia full of essays, fiction, poetry, recipes, fun facts, and other good stuff about agriculture—about how and what we eat.

The almanac is the third such project from The Head & The Hand Press, a small press located in Philadelphia, Penn. Previous years brought about 2013's The Rust Belt Almanac (on themes of urban renewal) and 2014's The Asteroid Belt Alamanac (on themes regarding science and space). Writers, take note: There's also soon to be an open call for The Bible Belt Almanac, to be published in 2016. Editors will be looking for work regarding religion and philosophy.

You can buy The Corn Belt Almanac here. The 116-page journal not only includes "10 haiku about a state fair," written by the writer of the Red Bull Rising blog, but also a recipe for "Kick-@$$ Corn" from Household-6! It's also chock-full of literary goodness!

But what's the connection to military writing, Sherpa?

Well, an early draft of "10 haiku …" did include one about military recruiters working at a state fair. That, however, grew into its own, non-haiku work. It hasn't yet been published.

There's also probably something grand and theoretical to be said about the natural evolution of artist- and writer-veterans. At some point, we each have to be open to considering topics other than war. At some point, we each might drop the hyphenated "-veteran." (Heck, some might even call that "reintegration" into civilian life.)

More directly, however, I first came across The Head & The Hand Press when reviewing Adrian Bonenberger's 2014 memoir "Afghan Post." They're a hardworking and creative "craft publisher"—check out their "community-supported" business model, for example—and bring a lot to our collective literary table.

Friendly reminder: You can buy Bonenberger's book through Amazon, your local bookseller, or direct from the publisher.

In other war poetry news, fellow Military Writers Guild member Mikhail Grinberg recently wrote a two-part review and interview with self-published war poet Stanton S. Coerr's 2013 collection "Rubicon". Coerr is a former Marine attack-helicopter driver, and he has some good things to say in person and in print.

I commend both the review and the interview to you, although I think that modern military-themed poetry has a larger footprint than either writer suggests. Does it enjoy the same reach and financial success as the latest summer blockbuster? Probably not. But it's doing important stuff, and there's a market for it. Grinberg's review personally influenced me, for example, to seek out and purchase Coerr's work.

I've also taken the liberty of adding Coerr's work to my "Mother of All 21st Century War Poetry Lists," which was first posted last April, and now appears as a static page on the Red Bull Rising blog.

"Attack! Attack! Attack!"

17 June 2015

Mil-poet Tells Stories Unique to Modern Minutemen

In 2006, Colin D. Halloran deployed to Afghanistan with the Connecticut Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment (1-102nd Inf.), a unit with a command relationship to Vermont's 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (86th B.C.T.). Among other missions, he and his fellow citizen-soldiers were assigned to provide security to the Provincial Reconstruction Team (P.R.T.) located at Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan Province.

(Apparently, he's also walked some of the same Afghan terrain as elements of Iowa's 2nd BCT, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division in 2010-2011. In "Tours," an 8-page essay that's one part prose-poem, one part fever-dream, and additional parts medical history and autobiographical sketch, he also mentions bouncing back and forth between Bagram and Kalagush.)

After Halloran suffered a blown knee and broken wrist while in Afghanistan, the Army couldn't decide whether or not to ship Halloran stateside. He eventually was returned to the states early, without his platoon-mates.

In 2012, Halloran published "Shortly Thereafter," a collection of poetry—sort of a "memoir in verse." The narrative arc of the 80-page book traces the entirety of the military experience—some "hooah" moments, but most others ranging from "aw, shucks" to "aw, sh--." Halloran notably gives voice and detail to the experiences of the citizen-soldier, those modern-day Minutemen and Minutewomen who leave civilian jobs and life to answer their country's call. These are the stories not often heard above the hype and glory reserved for snipers and SEAL teams.

Consider, for example, his opening poem "Foxtrot," an illumination of the civil-military divide as experienced on the college campus:
[...] I had the documentation,
the prof knew the situation,
but I guess I went against his politics.

So I went to war with an F in anthropology
and a form written will,
leaving what little I had in the hands of by brother,
and forcing me to spend what little downtime I could muster
between missions on global phone calls to university officials
so if I returned from the desert, rendered my will unnecessary,
there would be a black mark on my transcript.
There is bone and gristle and flesh in Halloran's writing as well, more than enough for the meat-eating mil-poetry crowd. He writes with skillful and gleeful precision, for example, about minutia and militaria such as grenades, radios, and Quick Reaction Force (Q.R.F.) duty. In "Mr. Shingles," he provides the following character study:
[...] The joys of being grenadier.
Six extra pounds of volatility.

5 meter kill radius. 15m CR.
These are the things you need to know.
Knowledge to be effective in the field.
Knowledge that one round to the chest
(a chest maybe 70% covered)
will take you and anyone unfortunate enough
to be in that CR.

Given the circumstances of his final injuries downrange, Halloran's Afghan experience ends not with a bang but a solo flight outta Dodge. In his last poems, he wrestles, mostly alone, with the realities of home and coming home. Take "Hartsfield," for example:
Cane in hand, I disembark,
reentering the world I used to know. [...]

Pride—in what I've done.
Tears—for where I am. And what I've left behind. [...]
Homecoming is a journey, however, not a destination. Halloran's explorations of his wartime experiences are not complete. He has a second collection of poetry forthcoming this fall from Main Street Rag Publishing Co., Charlotte, N.C. In a quick e-mail note to the Red Bull Rising blog, Halloran says that "Icarian Flux" picks up where "Shortly Thereafter" leaves off: Using metaphor, persona, and narrative to explore his relationship with PTSD and those around him in the years following his deployment.

Based on the name-dropping present in the title of the work, as well as samples available at the Main Street Rag website, there's going to be lots of falling. And, one assumes, getting up. In "Self-Portrait as Icarus," Halloran writes:
If you can’t achieve greatness elsewhere,
find it in the fall

my next will be at night
not because of lessons learned
but because I want to see
the stars from the other side […]
For a limited time, the $14 book is available for pre-order for only $8. The book will be published in October 2015. For examples of his new work, click here.

"Shortly Thereafter" remains available via Amazon, local booksellers, and at discount directly from the publisher.

Bonus: Check out mil-blogger Peter Molin's ("Time Now") review of "Shortly Thereafter" here.