11 October 2017

Same Mission, Different Verse: The Aiming Circle

When I first started writing the Red Bull Rising blog in December 2009, it was partly because I needed to learn about blogging technology and practice for a then-upcoming full-time Army job, and partly to document for my very young children what had been so gosh-darn important that I had to leave home for a year.

Later, when I got dropped off the deployment list for Afghanistan, I found myself writing in order to translate and document the experience for my buddies' families.

I eventually traveled to Afghanistan on my own dime (and my wife's airline miles), and embedded with my former unit as civilian media in May-June 2011.

In each and all of these endeavors, I've followed the same mission statements:
  • To explain in plain language the roles, responsibilities, and routines of the U.S. citizen-soldier, with particular focus on the U.S. 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division.
  • To illuminate ways in which citizen-soldiers past and present--as well as their families--can be remembered, supported, and celebrated.
After I retired from the Army National Guard, I found myself exploring different forms of art and writing other than journalism, often during events that brought service members, families, and veterans together to share military experiences. Since then, I've been published many times as a poet and essayist.

I wrote an award-winning book, "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire," which was published in 2015.

I also helped collect and edit a 668-page book of news articles and photographs generated by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division during its deployment. That book is "Reporting for Duty: U.S. Citizen-Soldier Journalism from the Afghan Surge, 2010-2011," published in 2016.

As I've continued to generate poetry, essays, and other military-themed writing, I've sought to encourage and enable others do to the same. I regularly signal-boost publishing opportunities via a special "Get Published" page on the Red Bull Rising blog. I conduct how-to workshops and seminars. I edit the poetry section of the non-profit Military Experience & the Arts' "As You Were" literary journal. I peer-mentor via conversations with my fellow members of the Military Writers Guild.

Having grown beyond military blogs, "Veterans Lit" is now a vital and vibrant field of practice. I'll include in this label any man or woman, military or civilian, who attempts to build community and mutual understanding through art and writing. This is not just writing to express one's feelings (as it is so often dismissively regarded)—this is doing the hard work of stitching society back together.

It may be time to expand the effort to include more fronts, and to ask for more active engagement by my fellow practitioners.

You can continue to read about citizen-soldiers and how to support them at the Red Bull Rising blog here, and at the related Facebook page here. That includes occasional humor, news, events, and reviews of books, movies, and other media of potential interest to military service members and their families.

You can continue to read about my adventures as citizen-soldier-poet at the FOB Haiku blog here, and at the related Facebook page here.

And now, if you are a fellow practitioner of military writing—poetry, fiction, non-fiction, essay, you name it—you can help support and explore a growing amount of how-to coverage at The Aiming Circle blog here, and at the related Patreon page here.

06 September 2017

Tennessee Group Announces Veterans-Writing Retreat

Blog editor's note: The following post is based on press release materials. No endorsement is necessarily to be implied.

Sundress​ ​Academy​ ​for​ ​the​ ​Arts (SAFTA)​, Knoxville, Tenn., ​announce​s ​its​ ​first​ ​writing​ ​retreat​ ​for​ ​veterans​ ​will be held​ ​Oct. 7-8,​ ​2017.​ ​This​ ​2-day​ ​retreat​ ​at​ ​SAFTA's​ 45-acre ​Firefly​ ​Farms​ ​is​ ​for​ ​military​ ​veterans​ ​and​ ​current​ ​service​ ​members​ ​and​ ​will​ ​be a​ ​space​ ​for​ ​creativity,​ ​writing​ ​exercises,​ ​discussions​ ​on​ ​ways​ ​to​ ​write​ ​about​ t​rauma,​ ​advice​ ​on​ ​publishing,​ ​and​ ​more.​ ​This weekend​ ​will​ ​be​ ​an​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​express​ ​shared​ ​experiences​ ​and​ ​learn​ ​to​ ​write​ ​your​ ​story​ ​for​ ​a​ ​non-military​ ​audience.

A​ ​weekend​ ​pass​ ​includes​ ​one-on-one​ ​and​ ​group​ ​instruction,​ ​writing​ ​supplies,​ ​food,​ ​drinks,​ ​and​ ​all​ ​on-site​ ​amenities​ ​for $75.​ ​​ ​Tents,​ ​sleeping​ ​bags,​ ​and​ ​other​ ​camping​ ​equipment​ ​are​ ​available​ ​to​ ​rent.

The​ ​event​ ​will​ ​be​ ​open​ ​to​ p​eople​ ​of​ ​all​ ​backgrounds​ ​and​ ​experience​ ​levels​ ​and​ ​provide​ ​an​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​work​ ​with talented,​ ​published​ ​fiction​ ​writers​ ​and​ ​poets,​ ​including​ ​Jeb​ ​A.​ ​Herrin​ ​and​ ​Jan​ ​LaPerle.

Jeb​ ​A.​ ​Herrin​ ​was​ ​a​ ​medic​ ​with​ ​the​ ​3r​d​​ ​Infantry​ ​Division​ ​during​ ​Operations​ ​Iraqi​ ​Freedom​ ​and​ ​New​ ​Dawn.​ ​He​ ​earned​ ​his BA​ ​in​ ​English​ ​and​ ​MFA​ ​in​ ​Poetry​ ​from​ ​the​ ​University​ ​of​ ​Tennessee,​ ​where​ ​he​ ​was​ ​the​ ​2016​ ​winner​ ​of​ ​the​ ​John​ ​C.​ ​Hodges Award​ ​for​ ​Creative​ ​Writing​ ​for​ ​Poetry.​ ​His​ ​work​ ​can​ ​be​ ​found​ ​in​ ​​Political​ ​Punch​​ ​and​ ​​O-Dark-Thirty​.​ ​Jeb​ ​has​ ​future​ ​plans of​ ​blending​ ​the​ ​world​ ​of​ ​composition​ ​with​ ​creative​ ​writing​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​finding​ ​ways​ ​to​ ​make​ ​the​ ​voice​ ​of​ ​the​ ​veteran​ ​heard. He​ ​lives​ ​in​ ​Knoxville​ ​with​ ​his​ ​wife,​ ​son,​ ​and​ ​two​ ​dogs.

Jan​ ​LaPerle​ ​lives​ ​in​ ​east​ ​Tennessee​ ​with​ ​her​ ​husband,​ ​Clay​ ​Matthews,​ ​and​ ​daughter,​ ​Winnie.​ ​She​ ​has​ ​published​ ​a​ ​book​ ​of poetry,​ ​​"It​ ​Would​ ​Be​ ​Quiet"​​ ​(Prime​ ​Mincer​ ​Press,​ ​2013);​ ​an​ ​e-chap​ ​of​ ​flash​ ​fiction,​ ​​"Hush"​​ ​(Sundress​ ​Publications,​ ​2012); ​a story​ ​in​ ​verse,​ ​​"A​ ​Pretty​ ​Place​ ​To​ ​Mourn" ​​(BlazeVOX,​ ​2014);​ ​and​ ​several​ ​other​ ​stories​ ​and​ ​poems,​ ​and​ ​in​ ​2014​ ​she​ ​won​ ​an individual​ ​artist​ ​grant​ ​from​ ​the​ ​Tennessee​ ​Arts​ ​Commission.​ ​LaPerle​​ ​was​ ​on​ ​active​ ​duty​ ​at​ ​Fort​ ​Campbell​ ​for​ ​three​ ​years and​ ​has​ ​spent​ ​12​ ​years​ ​as​ ​an​ ​Army​ ​reservist,​ ​most​ ​recently​ ​as​ ​a​ ​career​ ​counselor.

We​ ​have​ ​two​ ​full​ ​scholarships​ ​available​ ​for​ ​the​ ​retreat​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​limited​ ​partial​ ​scholarships​ ​for​ ​those​ ​with​ ​financial​ ​need. To​ ​apply​ ​for​ ​a​ ​scholarship,​ ​send​ ​a​ ​brief​ ​statement​ ​on​ ​why​ ​you​ ​would​ ​like​ ​to​ ​attend​ ​this​ ​workshop​ ​and​ ​an​ ​optional​ ​packet​ ​of no​ ​more​ t​han​ ​eight ​pages​ ​of​ ​creative​ ​writing​ ​to​ ​Erin​ ​Elizabeth​ ​Smith​ ​at​: ​​erin AT sundresspublications DOT com​​ ​no​ ​later​ ​than Sept.​ ​15,​ ​2017.​ ​Scholarship​ ​recipients​ ​will​ ​be​ ​announced​ ​shortly​ ​thereafter.

Space​ ​at​ ​this​ ​workshop​ ​is​ ​limited​ ​to​ ​15​ ​people,​ ​so​ ​reserve​ ​your​ ​place​ ​today​ ​at: https://squareup.com/store/sundress-publications/item/veterans-writing-retreat

The​ ​Sundress​ ​Academy​ ​for​ ​the​ ​Arts​ ​(SAFTA)​ ​is​ ​an​ ​artists'​ ​residency​ ​that​ ​hosts​ ​workshops,​ ​retreats,​ ​and​ ​residencies​ ​for writers,​ ​actors,​ ​filmmakers,​ ​and​ ​visual​ ​artists.​ ​All​ ​are​ ​guided​ ​by​ ​experienced,​ ​professional​ ​instructors​ ​from​ ​a​ ​variety​ ​of creative​ ​disciplines​ ​who​ ​are​ ​dedicated​ ​to​ ​cultivating​ ​the​ ​arts​ ​in​ ​East​ ​Tennessee.

30 August 2017

War Poetry Book Review: Kim Garcia's 'Drone'

Poetry Book Review: "Drone" by Kim Garcia

In 46 poems, across five sections and 86 pages, poet Kim Garcia offers a panoply of perspectives on how we conduct modern war at a distance. There are poems written in the voices, minds, and tongues of pilots, wives, and targets—something for everyone. And, in the midst of desert images and intellectual constructions, there are also birds and bees and honeycomb. There are slow, meticulous observations of character and terrain, followed by quick strikes of eye-opening invention.

The book was published late 2016 by The Backwaters Press. The collection, on first readings, may feel a little atmospheric, distant, or aloof. Perhaps this is due to the subject matter, or to the book's origins in a 2014 interdisciplinary conference on drones and remote warfare held at Boston College.

Garcia's titles are often presented in clipped, militaristic syntax. Consider, for example, labels such as "Kevlar, Carbon, Quartz" and "Blue Early Morning Snow, Home Front." The cover image seems a similar blend of warm welcome and cold efficiency. The soft, matte photograph reproduces an Afghan rug depicting bird's eye views of various U.S.-style drones, similar in shape to MQ-1 "Predator" or MQ-9 "Reaper." Each has a tail propeller, and bears missiles under each wing.

Mixed messages. Perhaps this is an example of "Beware Trojan birds bearing gifts"?

Careful readers will be rewarded with a more-human, less-abstracted experience of war than what may be spray-painted on the fuselage, however. Garcia infuses her language with disparate vocabularies, creating inspired moments of cross-pollenated synthesis, such as the Psalm-like "Night Flight, Night Vision." In it, what might be otherwise presented as cold technical descriptions ("white hot parts of the map") are lased with double-meaning, and even punny word-play. (Consider, for example, the dark soldier humor of "toward a corps" mispronounced as "toward a corpse.")
[…] Flying to the white hot parts of the map in mountain dark. Lidless eye

mimicking a god's trick of seeing sinners
          everywhere from nowhere, raining fire.

We are sovereign sight's living hands, dreaming drone-like
          in infrared, grids and pixel-prisons.

Tunneling toward a corps, a vector mapped
          of human warmth, pattern only. […]
Garcia's closer observations of human interconnectedness are wonderfully warm and grounded, even when her subjects are alienation and death. While her contemplations on technology are intellectually engaging, it is her depiction of human experience that lands with the most emotional punch. From a backyard porch, for example, she launches "Talking About the War" […]
while a vet under the Blue Ridge with a red
neck, red arms,takes a battered lawnmower
from his truck and mows the back lawn.

We're foreigners—we know nothing about the land,
where hornets live, the bog near the ferns,
the root run bald on one side from years of mowing. […]
And, in "Old Friends," Garcia relates the loss of Omar, a young Turkish man the poet once knew.
"[…] He would be a father now, not the young boy bowing

and touching his heart, his mouth, his forehead, when he saw me.
He loved the mystics. He had all an idealist's weaknesses, purer

than mind. I would get in a boat and sail across the Bosporus if
my friends could come back to me, still friends, still undecided

about our future.
Garcia's "Drone" is an essential addition to the growing number of 21st century war poetry collections, and delivers a truth-seeking payload to a target located smack between technological tools and human tolls.

"Drone" is available in trade paperback via Amazon and other booksellers.