Thursday, October 27, 2011

From Making War to Book Making

Tearing a leaf from Edgar Allan Poe’s literary leave from the US Army, a similarly brash band of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans called Warrior Writers is raising money from friends, family and fellow vets to publish a collection of their own poetry, prose and art drawn from military experience.  

Poe parted company with the US Military Academy at West Point in 1831 and published a collection of his poetry with funds provided by fellow cadets. A new crop of soldiers-turned-poets, writers and artists is currently seeking assistance to raise sufficient funds by Veterans Day to publish a new anthology compiled by the Warrior Writers Project. Their goal is to publish this eclectic collection of works by more than 60 veterans in December, just in time to celebrate the official winding down of US military operations in Iraq.

Having seen much of the work in this book-in-progress as an advisor to this project, it very much reminds me of the astounding and still memorable voices and images that emerged from Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans and Demilitarized Zones: Veterans after Vietnam, which were published in a similar do-it-ourselves fashion in 1972 and 1976, thanks to many friends who contributed funds and helped sell copies across the country. 

"Through our writing and art workshops, veterans are able to share their military experiences, receive support from other veterans and connect with their community,” notes the Warrior Writers group of this hands-on project by young men and women who aid each other in creatively forging new lives in the wake of military service in the current controversial wars, which they have much to say about.

Would you shed one drop of blood
   for the gallons that we've given,
would you last one day in the conditions
   we've spent years in?

Ray Camper, an Army National Guard veteran of Iraq from Minneapolis, MN, asks in a poem titled “Letter to the War Presidents.”

I wrote this in a hurry in a machine gun turret several nights later.
Try to burn it out of memory by putting it on paper…

Zachariah Dean, a Marine veteran of Afghanistan, writes in a poem titled “Happy Birthday,” about suddenly realizing he just turned 26 as death whizzes by in the middle of a firefight in which his rifle is jammed by a defective bullet.

Many of the contributors are active in Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans For Peace and other protest groups including Occupy Wall Street and offshoot demonstrations across America. Like Walt Whitman, the exuberant song-of-myself poet who was shaken by the carnage he saw in the American Civil War, they convey often blunt public messages tied to their personal stories of surviving the senselessness of modern war, seeking to stir or embrace movements for social change. Here’s how Maggie Martin, a former Army sergeant who served two tours in Iraq, put it in a poem entitled “Brio”:   

I have engaged the power of spring,
buzzing with life-force, ignorant of drought or death,
resilient as meadow grass and morning.
I sow community in re-acquisitioned places,
crowded city street, marching orders, protest song,
unsinkable strength, our hands and mouths.
I have heard the rumble of feet on ground,
drum-beat depth, commencement of the connected,
roll on, advancing steady, through cities hungry,
stirring a hum in open heads and hearts.
Old constructs crumble and blow away,
new consciousness takes root.

Warrior Writers produced two previous anthologies: Re-Making Sense (2008) and Move, Shoot and Communicate, a chapbook published in 2007. Much of the poetry and prose pieces in all three collections were developed in workshops and weekend retreats led by Lovella Calica, the group’s director, who organized book production crews to compile each anthology. Other work, including artwork, was solicited via a Facebook page, the Philadelphia-based group’s website and other outreach.

For further information about the forthcoming anthology, visit and click on the hot link for the Kickstarter contributions page. A copy of the new anthology can be pre-ordered with a $40 contribution.

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