01 April 2020

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. It also was featured in the recent Military Writers Guild anthology Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War.

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. Recently, he co-edited the Military Writers Guild anthology Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War. 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 citizen-soldier culture at www.redbullrising.com and military writing at www.aimingcircle.com.

17 March 2020

Mil-Writing Contest Expands to Include Family

Darron L. Wright PHOTO: Line of Advance
Editors of Chicago-based non-profit literary journal Line of Advance have announced an expansion of the Col. Darron L. Wright Memorial Writing Awards will include additional prose (includes fiction, creative non-fiction, and hybrid forms) and poetry categories for spouses, parents, and children of U.S. service members and veterans.

Since 2016, the Wright Awards have annually recognized excellence in prose and poetry by U.S. military service members and veterans. With today's announcement, the Col. Darron L. Wright Memorial Writing Awards expands to four categories. Cash prizes of $250, $150, and $100 will be available in each of the following:
  • Service Member/Veteran Prose (includes fiction, creative non-fiction, hybrid)
  • Service Member/Veteran Poetry
  • Family Member Prose (includes fiction, creative non-fiction, hybrid)
  • Family Member Poetry
“The Line of Advance proudly serves as a leading venue for the best of ‘veterans-lit,’ with works by men and women who have served in all uniforms and in all eras,” says the journal’s editor-in-chief Christopher Lyke, who will also edit the anthology. “We are also grateful to the underwriters of our cash prizes, who, through their generosity, help promote creatively crafted veterans’ stories to wider audiences.”

“Also, by expanding the contest to include family members, we hope to better recognize the scope of sacrifices military families make on our behalf, in war and peace,” Lyke says. “Some of today’s most insightful, inspiring literary engagement on themes of war and service is coming from military-adjacent writers.”

In February, Line of Advance announced that a forthcoming print and e-book anthology will collect the winning entries from the first five years (2016-2020) of the competition. The anthology will be published in October 2020. This year’s Darron L. Wright award finalists will be included in the anthology.

Submissions for the 2020 Darron L. Wright awards open May 1, 2020 and close May 31, 2020. Winners will be notified not later than Aug. 31, 2020. More details are forthcoming.

Administered by the journal since 2016, and underwritten by the Blake and Bailey Foundation, the awards commemorate a U.S. Army leader and author who was killed in a September 2013 parachute training accident. Darron L. Wright, 45, had deployed three times to Iraq, and was author of a 2012 memoir “Iraq Full Circle: From Shock and Awe to the Last Combat Patrol in Baghdad and Beyond.”

Middle West Press LLC is a Johnston, Iowa-based editor and publisher of non-fiction, fiction, journalism, and poetry, with projects that feature the unique voices of the American Midwest. As an independent micro-press, we publish one to four titles annually. The Line of Advance/Col. Darron L. Wright Awards anthology will be the sixth of our titles involving war and military themes.

25 February 2020

Anthology to Celebrate Darron L. Wright Awards

Editors of Chicago-based non-profit literary journal Line of Advance have announced a forthcoming print and e-book anthology will collect the winning entries from the first five years (2016-2020) of the annual Col. Darron L. Wright Memorial Writing Awards.

The awards annually recognize excellence in prose and poetry by U.S. military service members and veterans. Cash prizes of $250, $150, and $100 are available in each category.

“The Line of Advance proudly serves as a leading venue for the best of ‘veterans-lit,’ with works by men and women who have served in all uniforms and in all eras,” says the journal’s editor-in-chief Christopher Lyke, who will also edit the anthology. “We are also grateful to the underwriters of our cash prizes, who, through their generosity, help promote creatively crafted veterans’ stories to wider audiences.”

This year’s Darron L. Wright award finalists will be included in the anthology. Submissions for the 2020 Darron L. Wright awards open May 1, 2020 and close May 31, 2020. Winners will be notified not later than Aug. 31, 2020. More details are forthcoming.

The projected release date for “Line of Advance: A Celebration of Darron L. Wright Memorial Awards Finalists, 2016-2020” is Oct. 13, 2020.

Administered by the journal since 2016, and underwritten by the Blake and Bailey Foundation, the awards commemorate a U.S. Army leader and author who was killed in a September 2013 parachute training accident. Darron L. Wright, 45, had deployed three times to Iraq, and was author of a 2012 memoir “Iraq Full Circle: From Shock and Awe to the Last Combat Patrol in Baghdad and Beyond.”

Middle West Press LLC is a Johnston, Iowa-based editor and publisher of non-fiction, fiction, journalism, and poetry, with projects that feature the unique voices of the American Midwest. As an independent micro-press, we publish one to four titles annually. The Line of Advance Darron L. Wright Awards anthology will be the sixth of our titles involving war and military themes.

21 January 2020

'Red Bull' Author to Speak in Iowa City & Des Moines

Author Steven L. Moore, a former Iowa National Guard citizen-soldier who deployed with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) to Afghanistan in 2010-2011, will conduct book talks in Iowa City and Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 23 and Jan. 24, 2020.

A 2010 graduate of the University of Iowa and now a resident of Oregon, Moore wrote "The Longer We Were There: A Memoir of a Part-Time Soldier," a collection of essays that won the 2018 award in non-fiction from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (A.W.P.).

Widely published in literary magazines and journals, Moore was recently featured in the Military Writers Guild-sponsored anthology, "Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War." A selection of his work can be sampled FREE on-line at the author's website here.

In 2018, AWP awards judge Dinty W. Moore wrote about Steven Moore's work:
"The Longer We Were There" is both a tale of our longest war and an astute coming of age memoir, the story of an English major who finds himself filling sandbags as an Iowa National Guardsman one day and deployed on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border the next. The prose is marked throughout by his compelling voice and precise description, and like Heller, Herr, and O’Brien before him, he understands that war can often be most hellish in its tedium. The Longer We Were There is an honest, absorbing, sharply-observed narrative that questions both the nature of war and the nature of the stories we tell ourselves.
Moore will speak at the following times and places:
Thurs., Jan. 23, 2020 at 7 p.m.

Prairie Lights Bookstore
15 South Dubuque St.
Iowa City, IA 52240

Fri., Jan. 24, 2020 at 6:30 p.m.

Beaverdale Books
2629 Beaver Ave. #S1
Des Moines, IA 50310