|Governors Island, NYC|
One of the delights of demilitarization is enjoying the creative reuses of former military installations. An arts center run by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council occupies a former munitions warehouse near the ferry dock. The roadways for munitions trucks and ranks of marching troops are now bicycle paths. Bugle calls have been replaced by music concerts. Cannon mounts are overshadowed by whimsical sculptures.
The tree-lined lawn in front of the Victorian-era houses along Colonels Row made an inviting setting for a poetry festival. The balmy summer day induced poetry lovers to sprawl on the grass, many settled in with food and drinks on picnic blankets. Billed as an eclectic gathering of diverse poetry groups, organized by the Poetry Society of New York, the festival presented three outdoors stages with simultaneous readings by poets with a wide variety of styles and topics, including the Nuyorican Slam All Stars, the Poetry Whores, the Mom Egg, Bowery Poetry Club and Warrior Writers.
Sean Casey, an Army captain who served in
Two weeks to go, anticipation
Trained my replacement, he’s taking over, relief
Holding the release paper in hand, freedom
Boarding a plane for the final leg of this journey, warmth
Emerging from the gate, tension
Crowds applauding, embarrassment
Greeted by family, blank
Embraced by a loving girlfriend, empty
Reunited with all that was longed for, NUMB
At a previous reading of this poem at the Bowery Poetry Club, recorded on video by filmmaker Sara Nesson, Casey noted that this experience was set in motion by being called back to active duty after serving in
Noting how emotionally draining it was to read poetry in public, Eli Wright, a former Army medic in Iraq, presented a poem revealing a kaleidoscope of colors in ominous swirls that tracked his moods as a soldier and war veteran.
In a more chipper mood, Nicole Goodman, who also served in the Army in
I am not a soldier today.
This desert wide and thick
has swallowed all of my courage up.
And so I let the sun bleed into my skin again,
All I sweat is reckless disregard.
I stopped wondering if I am to survive,
For I have died by living each day…
On the upside, Nicole Goodman is studying creative writing at the City University of New York after a rough patch after coming back from the war in which she and her young daughter ended up homeless. A profile of her in the New York Times—conveying her stark outcry that many soldiers don’t find home front support when they leave military service—brought an outpouring of assistance that helped get her back on her feet.
Another reader with the veterans’ poetry group was a woman who was in the Marines, whose name I didn’t get, who participated in a writing workshop at
And so was I. The last time I visited Governors Island, it was a closed Coast Guard base that occasionally hosted an open house for the public to visit. I remember feeling I’d been transported, via a short ferry ride, from frenetic
Art seems like such a fragile reed to lean on. Yet the city of
Art and poetry can help people rebuild their lives, as well. That was why several war veterans were drawn to a poetry festival at a former military base on a sunny Saturday this summer.
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