05 December 2018

Red Bull Veterans & Others to Share Stories on Stage

Five Iowa military veterans—four of them alumni of 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division—will share stories of their respective military experiences in the last installment of the Des Moines Register's "Storytellers Project" 2018 season. Stage performances are 5:30 and 8 p.m., Thurs., Dec. 6. 2018 at The Tea Room, 713 Walnut St. No. 600, Des Moines, Iowa.

Ticket information is here.

Previous 2018 performances in the series have included themes on rural life, siblings, and everyday miracles. Included in the line-up of "War Stories" cast members are:
  • Brian Lenz, a retired U.S. Air Force officer who became an environmental scientist. 
  • Sara Maniscalco Robinson, a senior non-commissioned officer in the Iowa Army National Guard, and founder of Iowa Veterans' Perspective, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that documents veterans' stories. Maniscalco Robinson served with Iowa's 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Battalion during a 2003 deployment to Egypt. 
  • Jodi Marti, an Iowa Army National Guard officer who served as commander of Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Battalion during the unit's 2010-2011 deployment to Mehtar Lam, Afghanistan. 
  • Miranda Pleggenkuhle, an Iowa Army National Guard officer who served as part of Task Force Archer in Bagram, Afghanistan, during the 2010-2011 deployment of Iowa's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division. 
  • James Suong, a non-commissioned officer in the Iowa Army National Guard, who once served in Iowa's 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry while on a 2003 deployment to Kosovo. Before immigrating to America, he spent some of his youth in a Cambodian child-labor camp.

01 November 2018

P.O.W. Book-turned-Opera Comes to Des Moines Area

When military reporter Tom Philpott first encountered the tragic story of an Army family that lost its way during the wartime captivity of its patriarch, Floyd James "Jim" Thompson, he could hardly have predicted the journey would include more than a decade of reporting; publishing his work not as journalism, but as oral history; and soon to be an English-language opera to be performed Nov. 16-18 2018 on the campus of the Iowa National Guard's Camp Dodge, located in Johnston, Iowa.

Performances of "Glory Denied" are:

  • 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 16
  • 7:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 17
  • 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 18

Tickets are $45, and may be purchased via the Des Moines Metro Opera at 515.961.6221 or www.desmoinesmetroopera.org. On Fri., Nov. 16, there will be a 5:30 p.m. reception featuring the opera's composer, Tom Cipullo.

A FREE preview will be presented to veterans, currently service members, and their guests 7 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 15. Contact the Des Moines Metro Opera for registration.

According to press materials:
America’s longest held prisoner of war returns to a country he no longer recognizes and a family who barely recognizes him. "Glory Denied" speaks to the plight of so many of our veterans who nobly fight for their country but face huge challenges when it comes to repatriation—and their longed-for civilian lives—after service. This true story of Vietnam veteran Colonel Jim Thompson explores the unimaginable bravery asked of soldiers and even the nature of hope itself.
Following each performance, cast members and Iowa National Guard veterans and soldiers will participate in a curated talk-back session with audience members.

This is Des Moines Metro Opera's second collaboration with the Iowa National Guard. In January 2017, a production of David T. Little's rock-infused "Soldier Songs" was also conducted at Camp Dodge. See the Red Bull Rising coverage here.

The story behind "Glory Denied" was previously covered on the Red Bull Rising blog in a Jan. 11, 2013 post.

Thompson, the longest-held U.S. Prisoner of War (P.O.W.) in American history, spent 9 years in North Vietnamese captivity. The first five were in solitary confinement. He attempted to escape five times. He came home in 1973.

"He dreamed in his mind of building this dream house when he got home. It turns out that his wife was living for eight or nine years with another man, who was posing as the father of the children," says Philpott, in the 2017 Red Bull Rising interview. "The boy, who was the only boy of four children, born the day after he was shot down, was called in at 9-years-old and told, 'This is not your dad. Here's a picture of your dad. He's coming home.'"

Then a reporter for the Army Times, Philpott first wrote a magazine-length article about Thompson in 1986. Thompson had suffered a stroke in 1980, and was living alone in Key West, Fla. To get past his expressive aphasia, Thompson played for Philpott a tape recording of a local media interview he'd given after his return.

Philpott ended up interviewing more than 150 people to further flesh out the story. "I didn't want to just tell his story," he says. "I wanted to tell about the impact of his captivity was on his whole family." The book-length oral history was published in 2001, with each friend's and family-member's recollections presented in their own words. Inspired in format by a 1982 book titled "Edie: American Girl," which relates from multiple perspectives the story of one of Andy Warhol's constellation of personalities, Philpott's book reads much like the script of a play. Or, as it turns out, a libretto.

"I had tape-recorded everything," says Philpott. "When I was writing the book, I found that the voices were so powerful and poignant and truthful—and the story was so unbelievable—I thought that if I wrote it as a single-narrator, people just wouldn't believe it. It would lose the poignancy of what they were telling me."

Following the publication of "Glory Denied: The Vietnam Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest-Held Prisoner of War" as a book, composer Tom Cipullo contacted the author regarding the possibility of presenting the narrative as an opera.

While in development, portions of the 2006 work were presented by the New York City Opera at an annual festival. The Brooklyn College Opera Theater put it on. Then, the Chelsea Opera Company "got some really beautiful talent behind it," says Philpott. "That attracted review in the New York Times." The work was subsequently performed in May 2007 by the Brooklyn College Opera Theater.

Presented in two acts, the 78-minute opera is written for two sopranos, a tenor, a baritone, and a small orchestra. The males respectively play the younger and older versions of Jim Thompson, while the females depict the younger and older incarnations of his wife, Alyce. Past reviewers note the opera's interwoven narratives, brute-force emotions, and a modernist angularity that isn't afraid to occasionally carry a tune.

"It was only in the Arlington performance that I heard the entire libretto—the instrumentation didn't overwhelm it for the first time," says Philpott. "I could understand everything that was said. [Cipullo's] choices were all from the book—he had used all these oral histories, the words from these people, who had said them to each other. It was masterful."

Philpott credits the opera with reawakening interest in his book, which was re-released as a trade paperback in 2012. He is currently a syndicated newspaper columnist on military topics.

Thompson died of a heart attack in 2002. He was 69.

28 September 2018

Notes from a War, Literature & the Arts Conference

Author, actor, and former U.S. Marine Benjamin Busch signs a copy of his 2012 memoir "Dust to Dust" at the 2018 War, Literature & the Arts conference conducted September 20 and 21 at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Photo: Jesse Goolsby
Editor's note: This blog post has been cross-posted from The Aiming Circle, where we cover news and tips regarding military-themed writing.

More than 600 academics, students, creators, and others attended the 2018 War, Literature & the Arts conference September 20 and 21 on the campus of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo. This year's event coincided with the 30th anniversary of the War, Literature & the Arts Journal, an annual multidisciplinary publication curated by the institution's English faculty, students, and alumni.

While an annual lecture series regularly brings literary talent to campus, the full conference tends to appear with the regularity of Brigadoon. The last such conference, for example, was apparently conducted in 2010.

The schedule was jam-packed, with three keynote speakers, and four seminar and performance blocks each day. (Two in the morning, and two in the afternoon.) Hosted in the over-21 cadet lounge, a social hour with cash bar was conducted Thursday afternoon. Lunches were "on the economy"—the cadet student union features a small food court, with sandwich, salad, and pizza options.

While it was impossible to do and see everything and everyone, I hope to illustrate the depth and breadth of the event by re-posting here some observations from my notebook and Twitter account:


Julie Saffel, presenting on “Milblogs & Blooks”: “The first wave of war writing is often the most glutinous ...” (Also: author Colby Buzzell is “the Blogfather.”) Later told her my Red Bull Rising blog was probably a “Third Wave” mil-blog. Not a first-adopter, but not one of the last, either.


Melissa Parrish, presenting on the work of Sebastian Junger (including "War"): “Junger usefully blurs the line between participant & spectator [slipping between “we” & “I”]—combatant & non-combatant—to usefully interrogate civil-military interactions.”


One personal highlight of the conference: Getting a chance to use Q&A time to thank USAF Vietnam War veteran Dr. Dean F. Echenberg for including the works of 21st century soldier-poets (including my own) in his collection, which he recently donated to Harry Ransom Center! Here's a list of such 21st century war poetry.


Much to my shock, Echenberg's fellow panelist, Lisa Silvestri of Gonzaga University's "Telling War" project, then reflected some love back, telling the audience her students really enjoyed my book! ("Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Stories from Inside the Wire.") That exemplified the vibe at the conference–lots of inspiring, affirming energy!


More quotes from the WLA conference: Oliver Jones on “Weaponized Poetics: The Avant-Gardes of the Revolution in Military Affairs": “Design Thinking has become so indoctrinated [in mil-planning], it seems now to be doing the very things that it was intended to disrupt.”


Not going to share all the WLA18 barroom hilarity & wisdom, but I still think this quote from Colin D. Halloran deserves its own T-shirt: “Whenever I feel down, I read ‘Ozymandias.’” Buy his books here and here.


Lightning-bolt insight that came to me via Toby Herzog’s WLA18 talk, “The Thing He Carried & the Story He Told”: Tim O’Brien was an Radio-Telephone Operator "R.T.O.")—a battalion radio guy, who helped maintain commo logs. A privileged position of blended participation/observation within an organization!


Speaking of Tim O’Brien at WLA18, Rolf Yngve took us on wonderfully nuanced journey, connecting the Magical Realism of O’Brien’s “Going After Cacciato” with the presenter’s real-world work of helping homeless veterans write resumés.


Elsewhere, in the same presentation regarding “Maps, Charts, Cartography, and Memory in the Battlespace of Fiction, Poetry & Memoir” WLA18 , Elizabeth T. Gray Jr. and Mark D. Larabee each explored how graphical & textual descriptions of terrain both affect & effect memory ...

... which led me to remember: In U.S. Army operations orders, we brief weather and terrain under “Situation, Enemy.” At some level, that almost suggests that we grant the terrain agency. That “even the ground is out to get us.”


Bonus from Mark D. Larabee’s talk: World War I was a “Golden Age of Cartography,” with many technologies coming together: trigonometric survey, multicolor lithography, etc. British teams produced 34+ million maps—365,000 per (linear?) battlefront mile!


Bonus from poet Elizabeth T. Gray Jr.: A quadranted taxonomy of terrain as either “real”/“imaginary” (think “Ypres” vs. “Mordor”) and “background”/“agented” (bet the latter includes Fangom Forest?). She also mentioned how some Tibetan Buddhists believe that evil spirits can inhabit the ground. Based on that, I later shared with her this poem: "leaving empty."


More Sherpa notes and personal high points from WLA18. Discovering a mutual interest in serious regard for military humor apparent in Lydia Wilkes‘ “Laughing about War with [David Abrams'] ‘Fobbit’”!


Lydia Wilkes quoted U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley in her WLA18 presentation on military humor: “It's not ‘Forever War.’ It’s ‘Forever Train-and-Advise.’” I was reminded of Sherpatude No. 26: "Humor is a combat multiplier …"


Sherpa’s takeaway from Lt. Gen. (USAF, Ret.) Christopher Miller’s (U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 1980) WLA18 talk “Yesterday at War with Tomorrow: Language as a Strategic Variable”: As a military (and society?), we need to reconcile with “strategic value” as greater or equal to “battlefield valor.”


Sherpa’s takeaway from David Eisler's WLA18 talk “Influence of the Shift to an All-Volunteer Force on American War Fiction”: As quantifiably compared to Vietnam War novels, OIF/OEF novels may be increasingly generated by non-veterans!


Sherpa’s takeaway from Caleb Cage‘s WLA18 talk “The All-Volunteer Force and the Civil-Military Divide”: There are 4 binary “master narratives” at play in every OIF/OEF story/debate:
1. “War of Choice”
2. “The Prez is a Cowboy”
3. “What’s Phase 4?”/“No Plan”
4. “The Surge”

Sherpa’s takeaway from combat medic (& future physician assistant) John Howell Jr.’s WLA18 talk “Building Resilience through a [pre-deployment!] Literature-based Discussion Program”: Try talking about movies, rather than books! Also: “Logan” (2017) may resonate with troops.


A full conference schedule is available as a PDF here.

Want to receive exclusive early-bird notice of military-themed writing opportunities, events, and markets? Join our community of practice for as little as $1 a month! Details here: www.patreon.com/aimingcircle.

08 August 2018

Red Bull Poet Wins Iowa State Lit-Journal Award

Editors of "Flyway: The Journal of Writing & Environment" have announced that poet Randy Brown is the winner of their 2018 "Untold Stories" contest. The annual competition focuses on amplifying voices from marginalized populations.

This year's competition called for poetry, creative non-fiction, fiction, and hybrid forms produced by past and present military service members and family. Brown receives a prize of $250 for two new poems, "Better Hooches and Gardens" and "a chaplain's assistant writes haiku."

A former magazine editor and 20-year retired veteran of the Iowa Army National Guard, Brown embedded as civilian media with his former unit in Afghanistan, May-June 2011. He is author of the 2015 poetry collection "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire."

Writer and U.S. Navy veteran Travis Klempan received an honorable mention for his short story "No Mere Storm."

You can read Brown's winning poems here, and more of his poetry work here. You can also access the Flyway Journal via Twitter here and Facebook here.

Based at Iowa State UniversityAmes, Iowa, Flyway's mission is to "explore the many complicated facets of the word 'environment'—whether rural, urban, or suburban; whether built or wild—and all its social and political implications."

"Contests like ['Untold Stories'] and our 'Notes from the Field' contest in December-January help us find new voices that keep our journal filled with interesting and diverse stories, while defraying some of the costs that come with running a non-profit literary journal," the editors write in their announcement e-mail. "[…] The editorial staff was overwhelmed with the breadth and quality of this year's submissions and enjoyed reading contributions from each author."

This year, the final judge for the "Untold Stories" effort was poet, memoirist, and anthologist Brian Turner, author of Here, Bullet; Phantom Noise; and My Life as a Foreign Country. The director of the low-residency MFA program at Sierra Nevada College, Turner also recently released an album of ambient music and poetry as part of the Interplanetary Acoustic Team.

06 June 2018

Notes from a Civil-Military Writing Conference

Duluth-based author and U.S. Air Force veteran Eric Chandler signs a book after a Q&A discussion at the Spirit of the North Theater, Duluth, Minn., June 2.  The free public event was part of a weekend "Bridging the Gap" workshop for military veterans, families, and others who are exploring military topics and themes in their writing. Photo by Andria Williams.
Waves crashed against black rocks on a cold and blustery weekend in Duluth, Minn., while a small group of military writers remained cozy and dry in the Fitger's Brewery complex, located along the Lake Superior shore. More than 12 military family and veterans from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa participated in a 2-day workshop last weekend, June 2-3, 2018, exchanging ideas and insights on how to explore stories of change and resilience.

The "Bridging the Gap" workshop was made possible through a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, thanks to legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund. Organizer Eric Chander, a Duluth-based author, commercial pilot, and U.S. Air Force veteran, says the inspiration for the event came from a 2016 query from colleagues at Lake Superior Writers.

"There are various regional efforts that regularly bring writers of memoir, poetry, and fiction together," Chandler says. "Given that we've been nearly two decades at war, why wouldn't there be a resource to help people document and discuss military themes?"

Participants included women and men who are veterans of the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marines, as well as those who have had friends, family, and co-workers in uniformed service. One woman had previously served in a U.S. Navy Amphibious Construction Battalion—the "Seabees." Another participant described carving time for writing despite taking care of her five children, while the family awaits the return of her husband, who is currently deployed with a Duluth-based Air National Guard unit. Yet another woman veteran told stories of working as a maintainer on U.S. Air Force F-4 "Phantom II" fighters and B-1 "Lancer" bombers.

In short, the stories told were far from the testosterone- and adrenalin-fueled military stereotypes that are so often depicted in popular media. One writer noted she was specifically motivated by the "bridging the gap" theme, not only in terms of civil-military frameworks, but in bringing together other communities, audiences, and "tribes."

In contrast to the foggy and rainy weather outside, the workshop environment was quietly electric. Throughout the weekend, the group took full advantage of the Fitger's Brewery complex—a space that includes conference, hotel, catering, performance, and boutique shopping. Breakfasts and lunches were catered on-site, and discussions of writing and publishing techniques weaved seamlessly between formal classes and lunchtime conversations. Experiences of those present ranged from those who were just starting to explore writing—or who were interested in learning about new forms of writing—to those who were already seeking publication in journals, anthologies, and other venues.

In a free public event conducted in Fitger's Spirit of the North Theatre on Saturday evening, June 2, four authors of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry read selections from their works, and engaged audience questions about bridging gaps in empathy and understanding that seem to occur between civil and military communities.

Featured were authors Mary L. Doyle ("The Master Sergeant Lauren Harper" mystery series and others) and Andria Williams ("The Longest Night"), as well as workshop instructors David Chrisinger ("See Me for Who I Am") and Randy Brown ("Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire.")

"I've seen all sorts of workshop models—everything from 1-day one-shots, to weekly or monthly meetings, to 5-day national conferences," says Brown. "I can honestly say that the inaugural 'Bridging the Gap' event hit a sweet spot—it provided real 'bang for the buck,' with a lot of information and networking in a short period of time. I saw even seasoned practitioners walk away with new tools to try out, and new writers who were charged up and empowered to get started on their own stories. I'd do it again in a heartbeat!"

01 May 2018

Red Bull Poet Finalist in 2018 Darron L. Wright Awards

Randy Brown, author of the 2015 collection "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire," was recently named a poetry finalist in the 2018 Col. Darron L. Wright awards. The award recognizes a new poem that unpacks the phrase "God willing," which is found in multiple languages.

Brown's poem, "Inshallah Mañana," explores the connections of language, as heard with the ears of a citizen-soldier. The soldier first encounters the phrase for "God willing" in his first year of junior high school Spanish, and again in Afghanistan. The phrase is a common one, used in both religious and secular contexts. The poem also mentions a deployment anecdote from "Saber2th," a member of the Iowa Army National Guard's 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment.

You can read Brown's poem in its entirety here.

Administered by the Chicago-based on-line literary journal "Line of Advance," and underwritten by the Blake and Bailey Foundation, the awards commemorate a U.S. Army leader who was killed in a September 2013 parachute training accident.

Other poetry recognized in this year's Wright awards included:
Prose recognitions included:
The annual poetry and prose contest is limited to U.S. military veterans, and named in memory of Col. Darron L. Wright. In addition to other assignments, Wright served as battalion operations officer for 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo., with whom he deployed to Iraq from 2003 to 2004. Wright was next assigned as brigade executive officer with 4th Brigade, 4th Inf. Div., Fort Hood, Texas, with whom he deployed to Iraq from 2005 to 2006. He commanded the 1st Battalion, 509th Parachute Inf. Reg. at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La. in 2007. From 2009 to 2013, Wright was assigned as deputy brigade commander for the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Inf. Div., with whom he deployed to Iraq from 2009 to 2010.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval War College, Wright authored "Iraq Full Circle: From Shock and Awe to the Last Combat Patrol in Baghdad and Beyond." in 2012.

Wright's full biography appears here.

"Darron L. Wright was a larger than life Soldier’s Soldier. He was a physically imposing, direct, and skilled warrior," the Line of Advance editors wrote when the award was first launched.
He was also witty, hilarious, generous, kind, and wholly consumed with love for his family. He will certainly be missed but he will never be forgotten. His intellectual curiosity, boundless optimism, and untiring work ethic, allowed him to reach heights he could only dream of as a young boy growing up in Mesquite, Texas. It is in this spirit that the Darron L. Wright Award was created, to inspire fellow military writers and poets to aspire to become better and more accomplished at their craft and at telling their story.

19 April 2018

Iowa Review's Writing Contest for Vets Opens May 1

Jeff Sharlet during service in Vietnam
The submissions window for a fourth Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veterans writing contest opens Tues., May 1, 2018 and closes June 1, 2018. The contest is open to any service member or veteran writing in any genre, about any subject matter. (Current students, faculty, or staff of the University of Iowa, however, are not eligible to enter the contest.)

The contest is hosted by The Iowa Review and made possible by the family of Jeff Sharlet (1942–1969), a Vietnam veteran and anti-war writer and activist.

Unlike the first two iterations of the contest, there is no entry fee for the contest.

Prize is $1,000 and publication in The Iowa Review. Second place is $750. Up to three runners-up will receive $500 each.

Entrants should submit an original double-spaced manuscript in any genre (poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction) of up to 20 pages. Simultaneous submissions are acceptable, although the editors request timely notification if the work is later accepted elsewhere.

Submissions may be made either on-line or via postal mail.

A webpage with full details and specifications for the Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veterans can be found here. A Submittable page for on-line submissions is here.

Historically, this is an extremely competitive contest. The Aiming Circle strongly recommends that potential participants review examples of works previously recognized through this contest. Materials from previous iterations of the Jeff Sharlet Memorial contest have been collected on-line here. Or read the previous issues containing Jeff Sharlet contest awardees:
Finalists will be selected by the editors of The Iowa Review. A winner will be selected by the guest judge. This year's judge is poet and memoirist Brian Turner, author of "Here, Bullet" and "My Life as a Foreign Country." Individuals with past personal or professional relationship with the judge are not eligible for the contest.

A Facebook page for The Iowa Review is here.

17 April 2018

Wanted: Women-Warrior-Poets

U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Briana Popp donned her drill sergeant hat during a graduation ceremony at Fort Jackson, S.C. March 8, 2017. Popp earned the titles of Iron Female and Distinguished Honor Graduate and will be a drill sergeant with the 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training). Popp was the first female Distinguished Honor Graduate in the past six cycles and happened to graduate in March, which is Women's History Month. Coincidentally, Popp's graduation day was International Women's Day as well. Popp is married to active duty drill sergeant, Staff Sgt. Victor James Popp, Echo Company, 2-19 Infantry Battalion, 198th Infantry Brigade, at Fort Benning. (U.S. Army Reserve Photo by Maj. Michelle Lunato.)
Listen, up, Maggots! It's still National Poetry Month!

Today's hip-pocket soap box is about how war poetry could be more inclusive!

U.S. Navy officer and fellow military writer Andrea Goldstein (@AN_Goldstein) asked recently on Twitter:
In 17 years, why is it that the post- 9/11 "warrior-poets", vets who earn well-deserved critical & popular acclaim are all white men? Women & [People of Color] are writing—and writing beautifully.

Who gets published? Whose story is considered "credible"? Whose is considered marketable?
Goldstein's query echoes those generated by an on-going personal poetry project of mine, light-heartedly titled the MOA21CWPL—the "Mother of All 21st Century War Poetry Lists." Of more than 40 individual poetry titles that regard 21st century wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, only a handful are by women who have served in uniform.

That's not necessarily to say that women and poets of color aren't generating poetry—but that such poetry seems difficult to locate in concentration. In collection. In books of their own.

Criteria for inclusion on the MOA21CWPL may be skewing the results in favor of male, white, middle-class, officer-centered voices. Potential reasons include, but are not limited to:
  • These listings are "published" (print and/or on-line) collections or anthologies. A typical collection comprises an estimated 50 or more individual poems. Collections and anthologies are "literary" venues that are traditionally white, and are often based on college campuses and in MFA programs.
  • They are published as written forms, rather than spoken, video, audio, or other, alternative poetic forms and formats.
It may be that women-veterans and other less-heard voices are still generating art—evidenced by work found in "veterans lit" and other journals—but have not yet generated sufficient quantities to collect as books. Or perhaps they just need some encouragement to submit their work to publishers as whole manuscripts.

Personal anecdote: I didn't realize that I had enough poems for a collection of my own, until someone asked me to put together some of the works I'd sent to Veterans Writing Project and other outlets. A folder of print-outs became a binder; the binder became a manuscript; the manuscript became "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire" (2015). I've been gratified at its reception by readers, and hope that it might inspire others to do likewise. Just because I wasn't a grunt, didn't mean that people didn't want to hear my story.

It may also be that artists are choosing to "publish" their work via means other than printed books or e-books. YouTube videos, for example. Or spoken-word events.

Still, in the following women-only extract of the MOA21CWPL, only a handful of titles appear to be works by women-veterans: Nicole Goodwin (U.S. Army, enlisted); Karen Skolfield (U.S. Army, enlisted); and Farzana Marie (U.S. Air Force, officer). There should be more.

It's National Poetry Month. As a consumer and reader and sometime poet, I'm pleased that there is so much recognition in the poetry marketplace of wartime narratives other than those involving traditionally "male" domains. (Women-in-war narratives have, after all, always been with us, just as war has always been with us.)

Still, I would like to read more poetry by sailors, soldiers, Marines, and others who have worn the uniform in defense of their countries. And I'm sure I'm not alone.

(I know of at least one that is actively pinging for poetry collections of less-heard voices of military experience, regardless of geography.)

We've been at war for 17 years. Women veterans, fellow citizens, where are your musings of fire?


  • "Collateral" magazine. Stories from perspectives of those affected by others' military service.

11 April 2018

Sun Tzu & Sneetches: New War Poetry Now on Sale!

In her second electric collection, "Permanent Change of Station," poet, mother, and U.S. Marine Corps spouse Lisa Stice lovingly interrogates and illuminates life in a modern military family. The 96-page trade paperback is available for $11.99 U.S. purchase via Amazon and other booksellers worldwide. A $5.99 U.S. Amazon Kindle edition is available as well. Via Amazon's "MatchBook" program, a bonus Kindle copy is available FREE for instant download to purchasers of the print edition.

Here's what people are saying about Lisa Stice's "Permanent Change of Station":
"Lisa Stice's new poetry collection [...] is spare and lovely. Shadowed by deployments and military moves, Stice demonstrates how the smallest, most tenuous moments in life can illustrate a family’s larger joys and fears."
Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone and The Confusion of Languages

"By using a language [...] that plays philosophically with the meanings of military terminologies, Lisa Stice produces a cartography of domestic space that is riddled with loss. [...] Stice celebrates the moms and kids who 'hold down the fort' back home, expressing awe at all the ways they find to survive and thrive."
Lynn Marie Houston, author of the poetry collections Unguarded and The Mauled Keeper

"The experiences [Lisa Stice] writes of—the losses and realizations—are part of a military life that often feels simultaneously impenetrable and inescapable. Absence, isolation, and relocation become habit we don’t often read about, because part of us breaks in every move we do not choose, every uncertainty we are told to sustain […]"
Abby E. Murray, author of the poetry collections How to Be Married After Iraq and Quick Draw: Poems from a Soldier’s Wife
Together with her toddler daughter and little dog Seamus, Stice explores the in-betweens of separation and connection, and the quest for finding one's place in the world—whether child or adult.

Stice's signature style is open and accessible—this is poetry for people who think they don't read poetry.

Frequently, for example, she borrows phrases from texts she finds readily at hand around the house, including quotations from Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," and Dr. Seuss's "The Sneetches."

In another point of entry, the family's beloved Norwich Terrier often appears as a sentry, companion, and guide.

In one poem, "The Dog Speaks," Stice writes:
He says, I can't leave.
This place is mine—
I claimed all the trees

I say, There will be more.
After all the temporary homes
and all the stops in between,

this whole country
will by yours.
Lisa Stice is the author of a previous poetry collection, "Uniform" (Aldrich Press, 2016), in which she explores her experiences as a military wife. A former high school teacher, she volunteers as a mentor with the Veterans Writing Project; as an associate poetry editor with 1932 Quarterly; and as a contributor for The Military Spouse Book Review. She received a BA in English literature from Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University), Grand Junction, Colo., and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. While it is difficult to say where home is, she says, Stice currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, her daughter, and Seamus, a Norwich Terrier.

For a Red Bull Rising review of Stice's previous book, click here.

For a "5 Questions" Aiming Circle interview with poet Lisa Stice, click here.

Middle West Press LLC is a Central Iowa-based editor and publisher of non-fiction, fiction, journalism, and poetry. As an independent micro-press, we publish one to four titles annually. Our projects are often inspired by the people, places, and history of the American Midwest, as well as other essential stories.

03 April 2018

Listen Up, Maggots! It's National Poetry Month!

PHOTO BY: U.S. Army Sgt. Ken Scar
This post, written by the author of "FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire," originally appeared on the Red Bull Rising blog April 6, 2016.

When packing for one of my first training experiences with the U.S. Army, back in the late 1980s, I knew that free time and footlocker space would be at a premium. I could live without luxuries like my Walkman cassette player for a few months. I also wanted to avoid avoid too much gruff from drill sergeants. So I stuffed a paperback copy of Shakespeare's "Henry V" into my left cargo pocket, wrapped in a plastic sandwich bag, as my sole entertainment.

If nothing else, I thought, I'd work on my memorization skills. ("Oh, for a muse of fire-guard duty …") Little did I realize that so much of my brain would already be filled, starting those summer months at Fort Knox, Ky., with the nursery rhymes of Uncle Sam. Training was full of poetry. Sometimes, it was profane. "This is my rifle, this is my gun!" Sometimes, it was pedagogical. "I will turn the tourniquet / to stop the flow / of the bright red blood." There were even times that it was nearly pathological. "What is the spirit of the bayonet?! / Kill! Kill! Kill!"

These basic phrases connected us new recruits to the yellow footprints of those who had stood here before, marched in our boots, squared the same corners, weathered the same abuses. Every time we moved, we were serenaded by sergeants. Counting cadence, calling cadence, bemoaning that Jody was back home, dating our women, drinking our beer. We learned our lines, our ranks, our patches, our places as much by tribal story-telling than by reading the effing field manual. Even our soldier humor was hand-me-down wisdom, tossed off like singsong hand grenades. Phrases like, "Don't call me 'sir' / I work for a living!" and "You were bet-ter off when you left! / You're right!"

Nobody's quite sure why April got the nod as National Poetry Month. I like to think that it's because of that line from T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland": "April is the cruelest month." Because that sounds like the Army. Besides, in springtime, the thoughts of every warrior-poet lightly turns to baseball; showers that bring flowers ("If it ain't raining / it ain't training!"); and the start of fighting season in Afghanistan.

Poetry, I recognize, isn't every soldier's three cups of tea. Ever since I entertained my platoon mates with Prince Harry's inspiring St. Crispin's Day speech, however, I've enjoyed sneaking poetry into the conversation. Perhaps more soldiers would appreciate poetry, were they to realize the inherent poetics of military life:

Every time you go to war, you are engaged in a battle for narrative. Every deployment—individually as a soldier, or collectively as an Army or nation—is a story. Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. Every story is subject to vision, and revision. History isn't always written by the victors, but it is re-written by poets. Treat them well. Otherwise, they will cut you.

Every time you eat soup with a knife, you are wielding a metaphor. Every "boots on the ground," every "line in the sand," every Hollywood-style named operation ("Desert Shield"! "Desert Storm"! "Enduring Freedom"!) is a metaphor that shapes our understanding of a war and its objectives. If you don't understand the dangerous end of a metaphor, you shouldn't be issued one.

(There's also a corollary, and a warning: As missions change, so do metaphors. In other words, when a politician trots out a new metaphor for war, better check your six.)

Every poem is a fragment of intelligence, a piece in the puzzle. A poem can slow down time, describe a moment in lush and flushed detail. It can transport the reader to a different time, a different battlefield. Most importantly, a poem can describe the experience of military life and death through someone else's eyes—a spouse, a villager, a soldier, a journalist. Poetry, in short, is a training opportunity for empathy.

Soldiers like to say that the enemy gets a vote, so it's worth noting that the enemy writes poetry, too. Like reading doctrine and monitoring propaganda, reading an enemy's verse reveals motivations and values. Sun Tzu writes:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
Every time you quote a master, from Sun Tzu to Schwarzkopf, you are delivering aphorism. I liken the aphorism—a quotable-quote or maxim—to be akin to concise forms of poetry, such as haiku. In fact, in my expansive view, I think aphorisms should count as poetry. In the world of word craft, it can take as much effort to hone an effective aphorism than it does to write a 1,000-word essay. Aphorisms are laser-guided missiles, rather than carpet bombs. We should all spend our words more wisely.

Reading a few lines connects us to the thin red line of soldiers past, present, and future. Poetry puts us in the boots of those who have served before, hooks our chutes to a larger history and experience of war. The likes of Shakespeare's "band of brothers" speech, John McRae's "In Flanders Fields," and Rudyard Kipling's poem "Tommy" continue to speak to the experiences and sentiments of modern soldiers.

I am happy to report that more-contemporary war poets have continued the march.

Here's a quick list to probe the front lines of modern war poetry: From World War II, seek out Henry Reed's "The Naming of Parts." For a jolt of Vietnam Era parody, read Alan Farrell's "The Blaming of Parts." From the Iraq War, Brian Turner's "Here, Bullet." In this tight shot group, modern soldiers will no doubt recognize themselves, their tools, and their times. Here is industrial-grade boredom, an assembly line of war, punctuated with humor and grit, gunpowder and lead.

Want more? Check out print and on-line literary offerings from Veterans Writing Project's "O-Dark-Thirty" quarterly literary journal; Military Experience & the Arts' twice-annual "As You Were"; the "Line of Advance" journal; and Southeast Missouri State University's "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors" annual anthology series.

Finally, you can buy an pocket anthology of poetry, such as the Everyman's Library Pocket Poets edition of "War Poems" from Knopf, or Ebury's "Heroes: 100 Poems from the New Generation of War Poets." Stuff it in your left cargo pocket. Read a page a day as a secular devotional, a meditation on war. Or, pick a favorite poem, print it out, and post it on the wall of your fighting position or office cube. Read the same poem, over and over again, during the course of a few weeks. See how it changes. See how it changes in you.

Remember: It's National Poetry Month. And every time you read a war poem, an angel gets its Airborne wings.


Randy Brown embedded with his former Iowa Army National Guard unit as a civilian journalist in Afghanistan, May-June 2011. He authored the poetry collection Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire (Middle West Press, 2015). He is the current poetry editor of Military Experience and the Arts' "As You Were" literary journal, and a member of the Military Writers Guild. As "Charlie Sherpa," he blogs about military culture at www.redbullrising.com and military writing at www.aimingcircle.com.

21 March 2018

Poet Explores Place-finding in her Military Family

In her soon-to-be-published second collection of poetry, titled "Permanent Change of Station," Lisa Stice lovingly interrogates and illuminates life in a military family with a young daughter—exploring the in-betweens of separation and connection, and the quest for finding one’s place in the world.

With an anticipated on-sale date of April 23, 2018, "Permanent Change of Station" (100 pages, Middle West Press LLC) will be available in a $11.99 trade paper edition through Amazon and other booksellers, as well as a $5.99 e-book exclusively via Amazon.

Stice's signature style frequently involves the borrowing of words from texts she finds readily at hand, including quotations from Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," and Dr. Seuss's "The Sneetches." In her new poems, the family’s small dog Seamus also often appears as sentry, companion, and guide.

"Given that April is both the Month of the Military Child, and National Poetry Month, we can think of no better voice to celebrate than that of Lisa Stice," says Randy Brown, editor and publisher of Middle West Press LLC. "Her close observations of childhood magic and household routines, quietly set against ever-present question-marks of war and displacement, are essential and timely insights into the modern military family experience."

"If you’ve ever been a military kid, parent, or spouse—regardless of age or era—you’ll find a welcome home in her words."

Lisa Stice is the author of a previous poetry collection, "Uniform" (Aldrich Press, 2016), in which she explores her experiences as a military wife. A former high school teacher, she volunteers as a mentor with the Veterans Writing Project; as an associate poetry editor with 1932 Quarterly; and as a contributor for The Military Spouse Book Review. She received a BA in English literature from Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University), Grand Junction, Colo., and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. While it is difficult to say where home is, she says, Stice currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, her daughter, and Seamus, a Norwich Terrier.

For a Red Bull Rising review of Stice's previous book, click here.

For a "5 Questions" Aiming Circle interview with poet Lisa Stice, click here.

Middle West Press LLC is a Central Iowa-based editor and publisher of non-fiction, fiction, journalism, and poetry. As an independent micro-press, we publish one to four titles annually. Our projects are often inspired by the people, places, and history of the American Midwest, as well as other essential stories.

The press has previously published two collections from other poets, who offer unique perspectives on war or military themes: "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire" (2015) by Randy Brown; and "Hugging This Rock: Poems of Earth & Sky, Love & War" (2017) by Eric Chandler.

07 March 2018

'Journey to Normal' Film Features Iowa Red Bulls

In its Iowa premiere, the 2017 documentary "Journey to Normal: Women of War Come Home" will be shown in an exclusive, one-time engagement on the Boone, Iowa campus of Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) at 7 p.m., Thurs., March 22, 2018.

A Q&A session with producer and director JulieHera DeStefano will follow the 93-minute film.

Hundreds of women service members were interviewed for the film project, and plans call for their stories to be archived and made available to researchers via the non-profit Journey to Normal website, producers say.

"Since 2001, over 280,000 women have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan," the documentary says. "Journey to Normal shares 8 of their stories so that we might reflect on the individual experiences of all who serve."

Two of the eight women featured in the film are originally from Iowa. Featured in the documentary are:
  • Jessica Astorga Dayton, a U.S. Air Force nurse from Dayton, Ohio
  • Abby Brookbank Allen, a U.S. Army National Guard combat medic from Ida Grove, Iowa
  • Ivonne Daly, a U.S. Army Reserve surgeon from Pittsburgh, Pa.
  • Jill Finken, a U.S. Army National Guard attorney from Souix City, Iowa
  • Christine Mau, a U.S. Air Force F-15 pilot from Mountain Home, Idaho
  • Judi Reeves, a U.S. Army Reserve surgical technician from Middletown, N.Y.
  • Devon Reyes, a U.S. Army Military Intelligence officer from Fort Knox, Ky.
  • Amy Sinkler, a U.S. Army truck driver from Chadbourn, N.C.
The event is the last installment in the inaugural "In Their Boots Film Festival," a three-month series of film presentations intended to foster conversations about military service, veterans issues, and social reintegration. The event is co-sponsored by the DMACC-Boone student group In My Boots 5k, and the Central Iowa non-profit Paws & Effect. The festival is made possible by a generous grant from Humanities Iowa.

"Because we train service dogs for veterans, we recognize that 'coming home' from a wartime deployment can be a journey, not a destination," says Nicole Shumate, executive director of Paws & Effect. "Reintegrating into our society and with our families doesn't just happen overnight, and it doesn't happen without hard work and continued support. We are extremely proud to celebrate the lives and stories of the veterans depicted in 'Journey to Normal'—and all who have walked these paths."

In 2010-2011, in what was described as the largest deployment of Iowa troops since World War II, the Iowa Army National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) sent more than 3,000 citizen-soldiers overseas as part of the "Afghan Surge." The 2-34th BCT is headquartered in Boone.

Randy Brown, a Central Iowa-based freelance writer and editor of "Reporting for Duty," a collection of U.S. Army public affairs reports from the Iowa brigade's deployment, says that "Journey to Normal" uniquely captures some of what it was like to deploy to Afghanistan—and what it is like to return to family, friends, school, and work following a wartime deployment. "All of these stories are important—individually and collectively," says Brown. "To most of us, this is a depiction of war far more 'real' and relevant than popular movies about snipers and drones."

Interviews with at least three "Red Bull" soldiers are featured in the documentary. Each appears multiple times on-camera, in settings both downrange and "back home." Abby Brookbank was a combat medic assigned to 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment (1-168th Inf.), and was based at Forward Operating Base ("FOB") Gardez. Jill Finken was an attorney assigned to the brigade headquarters, which was based at Bagram Airfield ("BAF") during the 2010-2011 deployment. Martha Kester, a chaplain with 334th Brigade Support Battalion, also makes a number of appearances throughout the film.

For more information about "Journey to Normal," visit here. A Facebook page is here.

To view an early (2011) trailer about the film, visit here.

There will be a freewill donation pasta dinner fund-raiser preceding the movie, starting 6 p.m. in the DMACC-Boone food court area. Proceeds will go to support the "In Our Boots 5k" run, walk, and ruck fund-raiser event April 14, 2018. The 93-minute movie "Journey to Normal" will be shown in the adjacent auditorium starting 7 p.m.

A Facebook page for the "In My Boots 5k" student group is here. A website is here.

A registration page for the April 14, 2018 5k run, walk, and ruck event is here.

28 February 2018

War Poetry Redux: The 'Blue Streak' Strikes Again!

Editors at the literary journal "As You Were," published by the 501(c)3 non-profit organization Military Experience & the Arts, have published a special spring 2018 edition of the poetry journal "Blue Streak."

The issue features 27 poems from 25 military veterans and family members, and can be read on-line FREE here at this link.

The special project takes its name from a legacy poetry journal, which published its first and only edition in 2013. In 2014, most of the organization's fiction, non-fiction, and poetry journals were consolidated under the "As You Were" literary journal title. The latter is currently published on-line twice annually.

"When 2017 poetry submissions exceeded our capacity to adequately honor and celebrate in the pages of As You Were the poets who had shared their words and works with us, we decided to bring back—at least temporarily—the Blue Streak nameplate out of cold storage," poetry editor Randy Brown writes in a short introduction to the issue. "We don’t know whether or when it will ever be back—our regular poetry features will continue with the next issue of As You Were—but we had a lot of fun putting it together."

website page describes 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.

21 February 2018

'In Their Boots' Event to Focus on Short Films Feb. 26

Two nationally recognized independent short films will be featured in a "In Their Boots Film Festival" presentation 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., Feb. 26, on the Boone, Iowa campus of Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC). A short Q&A session will follow, regarding the uses of the theatrical arts as a means of communicating experiences with the military.

A Facebook page for the event is here.

The event is co-sponsored by the DMACC-Boone student group In Their Boots 5k, and the Central Iowa non-profit Paws & Effect.

"Paws & Effect has a long-standing commitment to finding new ways to bring civilians and veterans closer together in mutual understanding and empathy, and the theatrical arts are a visceral, personal way to bring our stories to life," says Nicole Shumate, executive director for Paws & Effect. "We were proud to help bring The Telling Project to DMACC's Ankeny campus in 2012, and we're equally proud to partner with students at DMACC's Boone campus to put on this first-of-its-kind monthly civil-military film series."

Founded by DMACC psychology and sociology professor Sean Taylor in 2014, the In My Boots 5k is a student-run walk, run, and ruck event that promotes awareness and raises funds for area veteran-related charities. This year's event is scheduled for Sat., April 14 in Boone.

Established in 2006 and based in Des Moines, Paws & Effect is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that raises, trains, and places service dogs with military veterans and children diagnosed with medical needs. The group also registers therapy animals through Pet Partners. Its Beaverdale neighborhood storefront also serves as a training center, as well as home base to Troop 232 of the Dog Scouts of America.

Based on a true story, and nominated for an Academy Award in the live-action short film category, the 25-minute "Day One" (2015) tells a day-in-the-life tale about a civilian language interpreter assigned to U.S. Army platoon in Afghanistan. In her first day on the job, the main character encounters multiple physical, religious, and cultural challenges. For more information about the production, click here.

The 15-minute "A Marine's Guide to Fishing" (2011) tells a story of another first day on the job. On the first anniversary of getting blown up in Iraq, a U.S. Marine veteran returns to his civilian job repairing boat engines on the fishing docks of Southeastern Maine. Between peaceful scenery and open-arm welcomes, he confronts demons and his inner dialogue. The film was the result of a successful crowd-funding effort in 2010.

Following the presentation of the two films, 2012 "Telling: Des Moines" cast member and poet Randy Brown will facilitate a short Q&A session regarding different ways film and stage performances can help bridge gaps in understanding among military veterans and others.