Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Holidays 2014

When light returns

From winter’s darkest night

Earth rejoices, as do we…

Happy holidays

And new year!

Jan & Paula 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas Truce Centennial

Christmas Truce     (Painting by Angus McBride)

"When the Christmas bells sounded in the villages … behind the lines … something fantastically unmilitary occurred. German and French troops spontaneously made peace and ceased hostilities; they visited each other … and exchanged wine, cognac and cigarettes for Westphalian black bread, biscuits and ham,” a German soldier, Richard Schirrmann, wrote of a memorable event in the First World War.

This spontaneous truce took place on Christmas 1915, a year after such truces sprang up in so many places where armies of several nations were faced off in trenches bristling with massed rifles and machineguns backed by artillery barrages that the world war Christmas Truce was enshrined in history books.

One hundred years later, this soldiers’ truce is being commemorated big time in England, which lost a generation of men in the war. Speaking at the unveiling of a statue at the National Memorial Arboretum, Prince William lauded the story of the Christmas Truce.

"We all grew up with the story of soldiers from both sides putting down their arms to meet in no man's land on Christmas Day 1914 - when gunfire remarkably gave way to gifts,” he said. "It remains wholly relevant today as a message of hope and humanity, even in the bleakest of times,” reported the Daily Mail.

The statue’s design of two clasped hands inside a soccer ball frame commemorates accounts of British and German soldiers singing familiar carols across the battlefield, then climbing out of their trenches, exchanging gifts and playing football or soccer.   

In commemoration, this year British football leagues organized Football Remembers events involving thousands of professional, amateur and youth football players. Information packets about the historic significance of the Christmas Truce were sent to more than 30,000 schools, the BBC reported.

This story has yet to stir much interest in the US, aside from an Associated Press story picked up by The Salt Lake Tribune.

“This Christmas, the British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has taken the idea and turned it into a blockbuster ad, showing opposing soldiers living the truce amid a football match at the center of the heart-tugging, some say sanitized, view of that Great War day,” the AP noted of a stunning video that has been circulating on Facebook.

Meanwhile, the news agency continued, “Michel Platini, the president of Europe soccer’s governing body, underscored that unique mood of brotherhood at the unveiling of the Christmas monument on Thursday on the former battlegrounds known as Flanders Fields in western Belgium, scene of some of the most horrendous killing. The monument is a steel ball sitting on the remains of a World War I shell.”

But some Americans get it. Singer-storyteller John McCutcheon is performing a series of “Christmas in the Trenches” concerts this month in Knoxville, Seattle, Kansas City, and New York.

As the Seattle Times reported today, “McCutcheon’s most treasured memory of ‘Christmas In the Trenches’ having a real impact comes from a concert he gave in Denmark 30 years ago.

“’I met four German men who traveled from Berlin because they’d heard the song on the radio and wanted to meet me. They were in their late 80s and had been a part of the Christmas Truce. They were just kids when it happened. They’d tried to tell people about it and weren’t believed. I was gobsmacked that they wanted to thank me,’ he recalled.”

McCutcheon’s tribute to the World War I truce will be the highlight of his “Christmas in the Trenches” concert at the Great Hall of The Cooper Union in New York on December 20. McCutcheon’s audience will include many veterans who fought in numerous wars since The War to End All Wars.

The 7:30 pm concert is sponsored by the Veterans Peace Council of Metro New York, whose member organizations include Veterans For Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, and Friends and Family of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.


Hopefully, this centennial call will be heard in this season of Christmas celebrations, amid seemingly endless US military operations in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

For more information:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Writing Workshop for Vets and Families at FDR Library

Veterans Writing Workshop, NYC     (courtesy: Warrior Writers)

Writing Workshop for Veterans and Families at FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, NY on Saturday, November 22

On the weekend of November 21-23, the Veteran Arts Showcase at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum is presenting an art exhibition, poetry and book readings, music and theater performances, and a writing workshop. The events are at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt historic house at 4079 Albany Post Road (Route 9), Hyde Park, NY.

The writing workshop on Saturday, from 10 am to 12:30 pm, is facilitated by Jennifer Pacanowski and Jan Barry. Both are facilitators with the Warrior Writers Project, whose new anthology of poetry and art by veterans is titled Warrior Writers.

Jan Barry is a poet, author and editor of several collections of work by veterans; he served in the Army in Vietnam. Jennifer Pacanowski, who served in the Army in Iraq, is a poet, public speaker and dramatist, who will be performing with The Veterans Project: Leaving Theatre on Sunday, November 23 at 2 pm.    

“Our goal is to create community through writing together,” says Pacanowski, “all veterans, all eras, military family members and friends. You don't have to a writer, just have a willingness to be part of a conversation incorporated with your writing on experiences being a part of the military culture.” Refreshments available and lunch will be provided for writing workshop participants.

The Veteran Arts Showcase is sponsored by Creative Writers, Orange County Arts Council, The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, and The Veteran Family Support Alliance.

For more information on events at the Veteran Arts Showcase:

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Another Kind of Poetry

Imagine a poetry opera: seventeen poets presenting an array of poems that wove a tapestry of battle-battered, yet persistent themes on war, accompanied by a jazz band and a trio of singers whose wistful harmonies were bell-ringing clear and eerie as funeral hymns.

That’s the program the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival presented at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ, last Saturday night. Thrust into the daunting role of presenting the first poem in the 90-minute production, titled “Another Kind of Courage,” I nearly choked up when the band played a thunderous grand entrance fanfare, as I shuffled across the stage in NJPAC’s enormous concert hall. It was the startling opening of an evening of startling stories by war veterans and military family members drawn from the depths of nightmares and momentous, life-long memories.

Based on the thunderclaps of applause from the audience, this audacious opera conceived by Dodge Poetry Director Martin Farawell worked spectacularly. Among the interwoven themes were love and loss among soldiers, pride and prejudice in the military, and of course death, grief and mourning, with a recurring, raw-edged, still stunned emphasis on suicide.

The set list of poems included established pieces by acclaimed masters of modern poetry and emerging work by young veterans whose powerful poetry and performances were developed in workshops conducted by Warrior Writers and Combat Paper, the veteran-oriented arts programs that encourage plumbing the depths of “unspeakable” memories.

The eclectic cast included Dodge Poetry Festival featured poets Jehanne Dubrow, Elyse Fenton, Charles H. Johnson, Yusef Komunyakaa, Gardner McFall, Marilyn Nelson, Brian Turner plus—from Warrior Writers/Combat Paper—Jan Barry, Kevin Basl, Chantelle Bateman, Jeremy Stainthorp Berggren, Lovella Calica, Hugh Martin, Jennifer Pacanowski,  Carlos Sirah, Jon Turner and Eli Wright.

Music was provided by the Tomas Doncker Band, which played pieces composed for poems by Komunyakaa and Jennifer Pacanowski, and the Parkington Sisters, who sang with the band, did a solo, breath-taking rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will,” and closed the show with a haunting melody they wrote, “In the Garden,” sung to their own violin and guitar accompaniment.

Another presence on stage was Jacob George, an Afghanistan war vet and folk singer who killed himself last month. His poem “Support the Troops,” published in a Warrior Writers anthology, was read by Chantelle Bateman, who served with the Marines in Iraq and with Jacob in peace actions calling for ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Other spectral presences evoked on stage included Gardner McFall’s father, who died on a Navy bombing mission in Vietnam; Marilyn Nelson’s father, who survived World War II and thrived in a military career but couldn’t quite shake the insults of racism at home; and Private Miller, a member of Brian Turner’s Army unit in Iraq who shot himself one morning—and, as Turner said in his poem “Eulogy”… “for this moment the earth is stilled.”

My contributions to this theme included a new poem, meant to evoke a lost army of missing soldiers and veterans.

Singing Out

How big would the war
Memorial wall be
If it listed all the names
Of soldiers who died of suicide—
Adam, Baker, Charlie…
Jacob David George
Three tours in Afghanistan
Jeffrey Lucey
Marine vet of Iraq invasion
Theodore S. Westhusing
Col., US Army
Who wrote in Iraq
“Death before being dishonored”

I couldn’t write about
The first Vietnam vet I knew
Who killed himself—
I couldn’t write about him
I couldn’t write his obit
Because newspaper policy prohibited
Reporting suicides

I didn’t know what to do
With that—that—that—muzzling

The second vet I knew
Who killed himself
Was found with a copy
Of one of my writings
In his wallet—
We cannot protect our buddies
We cannot protect our friends
With words alone

We need to change
Our apocalyptic, hellacious
Hell-bent, death-dealing culture—
Our flag flapping, sword saluting
Sworn to secrecy
Stiff upper lip, suck it up
He-man, iron man military mindset

We need to transform
The “death before dishonor”
Code seeded in our souls—
To singing out for life,
For a lifetime
Singing out
To challenge, to change
Our dancing with death

--Jan Barry

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Warrior Writers Reading at Dodge Poetry Festival

Warrior Writers poet Jennifer Pacanowski

A literary troop from Warrior Writers and Combat Paper will take the stage Saturday, October 25, at the 2014 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ.

The group will be reading in a featured event at 8:15 p.m. billed “Another Kind of Courage,” with performances by poets Yusef Komunyakaa, Charles H. Johnson, Brian Turner and others who are military veterans or military family members.

Warrior Writers and Combat Paper poets participating in the event are Jan Barry, Kevin Basl, Chantelle Bateman, Jeremy Stainthorp Berggren, Lovella Calica, Hugh Martin, Jennifer Pacanowski, Carlos Sirah, Jon Turner and Eli Wright.

Selections of their work are included in a new anthology, Warrior Writers: A Collection of Writing and Artwork by Veterans, and previous works published by Warrior Writers, a nonprofit arts organization based in Philadelphia, PA.

Martin Farawell, Dodge Poetry Director, chose the theme of “Another Kind of Courage” to honor the transformational work that many veterans and military family members have made in turning anguish into art.

“Classic war stories often evolve around finding the courage to enter battle, but there is another kind of courage required of veterans and their families as they face the impact and aftermath of war: The courage required to acknowledge trauma; to turn with love toward those transformed and wounded by war, including ourselves,” Farawell said.

Warrior Writers is a veteran-focused arts organization whose mission is to give voice to veterans’ experiences, provide a creative community for artistic expression, and bear witness to the experiences of warriors through casual, welcoming workshops held at colleges, art galleries and other sites around the nation.

Combat Paper, a program of the Printmaking Center of NJ, holds papermaking workshops in which veterans turn their uniforms, memories and experiences into art. A Combat Paper art exhibition, “Trigger Experience,” is currently on display at the Morris County Administration Building in Morristown, NJ through January 6.

Poet bios:

Jan Barry, of Teaneck, NJ, is a poet, journalist and author of Life After War & Other Poems (Combat Paper Press) and co-editor of Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans, among other works. He served in the Army in Vietnam.

Kevin Basl, an Army veteran of Iraq, earned an MFA in fiction from Temple University. He is a workshop facilitator with Warrior Writers and Combat Paper NJ, based at the Printmaking Center of New Jersey in Branchburg, NJ

Jeremy Stainthorp Berggren,  a Marine veteran of the Iraq War,  is a writer, poet and visual artist. He is included in an upcoming documentary about spoken word artists in the triangle area of North Carolina

Chantelle Bateman, of Philadelphia, PA, served with the Marines in Iraq. A poet, artist and writer, her work has been featured in the film “Out of Step,” Warrior Writers anthologies and the National Veterans Art Museum.

Lovella Calica is Director of Warrior Writers, based in Philadelphia, PA. She is a poet and editor of Warrior Writers, After Action Review and other anthologies of writings and artwork by military veterans. She received three Art and Change grants from the Leeway Foundation and was honored with the Transformation Award in 2009.

Hugh Martin, an Ohio National Guard veteran of the Iraq War, is author of The Stick Soldiers and So, How Was the War? Recipient of a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, he was the inaugural winner of The Iowa Review Jeff Sharlet Award for Veterans. He is currently the Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College.

Jennifer Pacanowski, of Allentown, PA, served in Iraq as an Army combat medic. She is a public speaker, poet, playwright and writing facilitator for Warrior Writers.

Carlos Sirah served in the Army in Iraq. He studied Performance at Fordham University and is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Performance at Brown University. He is a playwright and actor.

Jon Turner is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War and a humanitarian mission to Haiti. He is a poet, visual artist and director of the Center for Healthy Change in Vermont.

Eli Wright, an Army veteran of Iraq, is an instructor for Combat Paper NJ, providing workshops for veterans and active duty soldiers at VA facilities, military bases, colleges and art galleries along the East Coast from Maine to Virginia.

For more information:

Monday, September 22, 2014

Saving the World: Where’s the Cavalry?

U.S. Cavalry in Yellowstone Park    (photo: PBS)

In 1886, a troop of U.S. Cavalry rode into Yellowstone Park in a remote corner of Wyoming to save its stunning scenic features and array of wildlife targeted for wholesale hunting and destructive commercial development. As recounted in Ken Burns’ PBS series “National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” the U.S. Army protected Yellowstone on behalf of the public for 30 years, until the creation of the National Park Service in 1916.

With our nation now threatened by industrial pollution’s impact on the world’s environment, the question is where is today’s cavalry? Where is the modern version of General Sheridan’s campaign to save a corner of the earth from the destructive forces the U.S. Army blazed the trails for and ushered into the American West?

Where is Uncle Sam’s national security plan to protect Americans from epidemic levels of cancer and other diseases from industrial toxins; from increasingly destructive floods and droughts, hurricanes and blizzards from industrially induced climate change; and from the precarious economy built on these self-destructive forces?

In the absence of such a government commitment, a citizens’ army of several hundred thousand people trooped through New York City on Sunday to send a message to national and international leaders who are scheduled to meet this week at the United Nations. Among the wide variety of environmental, animal rights, human rights and other civic groups that sent substantial delegations to march through Times Square and other major streets in New York in the People’s Climate March was a small troop of military veterans.

“U.S. Military: Largest Consumer of Oil, Largest Emitter of CO2” read the message on a giant bomb-shaped float provided by Veterans For Peace. Other groups represented in this bloc of climate marchers were Iraq Veterans Against the War, Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out.

A banner carried by the vet contingent stated: “U.S. Military: Biggest Consumer of Fossil Fuels on Earth; Stop the War on Mother Earth.”

It wasn’t as dramatic perhaps as the U.S. Cavalry riding to the rescue of Yellowstone Park, but the People’s Climate March for saving the Earth from the destructive forces that the U.S. military is too often party to was an historic occasion.

Veterans For Peace float    (photo: Jan Barry)

Vet and military family marchers  (photo: Jan Barry)


Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Soldier's Heart" Jacob George, RIP

Jacob George        (photo: Healing Path Expo)

A shock wave is crashing around numerous circles of friends and acquaintances on Facebook and elsewhere. Jacob David George, an Army veteran who survived three deployments in Afghanistan, has died. The buzz among fellow vets is he died of let's say a broken heart. 

At a meeting last month in Washington of peace activist military families and veterans with White House staff members, I read a poem to convey a message many veterans would like President Obama to hear and act on. The poem, “Support the Troops,” was written by Jacob George. 

“we just Need to support the troops"
is what they tell me

well, this is from a troop
so listen carefully

what we Need are teachers who understand the history of this country
what we Need is a decent living wage, so people ain’t cold and hungry
what we Need is bicycle infrastructure spanning this beauteous nation
what we Need are more trees and less play stations
what we Need is a justice system that seeks the truth
what we Need are more books and less boots

what we Need is love

for every woman and man
from southern Louisiana
to the mountains of Afghanistan

Now, it's true
The troops need support
the support to come home
they need treatment and jobs
and love for the soul

war ain't no good
for the human condition
I lost a piece of who I was
on every single mission
and I'm tellin’ you,
don't thank me for what I've done

give me a big hug
and let me know
we're not gonna let this happen again
because we support the troops
and we're gonna bring these wars to an end

Jacob’s poem appeared in After Action Review, a collection of writings by vets published by Warrior Writers in 2011. He also transformed it into a song that he traveled around the country singing to the thumping strings of a banjo. With other vets, he did cross-country bicycle rides for peace. He liked to call himself “a bicycle ridin, banjo pickin, peace rambling hillbilly from Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas.”

A selection of Jacob George’s songs, from a collection called “Soldier’s Heart,” that he performed with a country band in Arkansas in 2013, was recorded in “Support Your Troops: A Special Report”:  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

War Comes Home

"War Comes Home"    watercolor by Jan Barry

Some memory or anniversary or image triggered a nightmare awhile ago in which I was a Vietnam vet suddenly amid a swirling crowd of students at Kent State when a Ohio National Guard unit fired rifles to break up an antiwar demonstration on campus, killing four students, wounding and scarring many others.

I felt tore apart, physically and emotionally, in this nightmare—I was being shot at by soldiers wearing the same uniform I wore in Vietnam! Struggling out of bed, I felt embedded in May 1970. Back then, as news of the Kent State shootings spread while I was visiting with stunned and outraged vets at a campus demonstration that closed down classes at Syracuse University, I had a panic attack: my government was out to kill me for protesting the war I served in.

It took weeks this summer to work out the details of that nightmare in a watercolor. The veteran in the painting is based on Vietnam vets I met or read about who were students at Kent State at the time of the shooting. The other images are based on photos that appeared in news publications and now on Google.

While I was working on this artwork, a nightmarish military apparition was set upon civil rights demonstrators in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri: tank-like vehicles back from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, police units in military combat gear aiming rifles at outraged citizens, tear gas and stun grenades fired down an American city’s main street and into residential neighborhoods.

This is another of the horrendous consequences of  Uncle Sam’s virtually endless warmaking—Americans turning on each other, shredding the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitution in a blaze of official self-righteousness.

A Soldier's View of Vietnam

A Soldier’s View of Vietnam:
Presentation at Oradell Public Library

Poet and author Jan Barry will present a slideshow talk at the Oradell Public Library on Monday, Sept. 29 on “A Soldier’s View of Vietnam: Art, Poetry and War.” The 7 p.m. event at the library, 375 Kinderkamack Road in Oradell, NJ is free and open to the public.

Barry, a Teaneck resident, began jotting down notes as a soldier in Vietnam. It led to a career as a writer. Retired from The Record newspaper, where he was lead reporter on the “Toxic Legacy” investigative series, he teaches journalism at Ramapo College and St. Thomas Aquinas College. He is the author or editor of more than a dozen books, including A Citizen's Guide to Grassroots Campaigns, Life After War & Other Poems, and Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans.

His poetry has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, A People and a Nation: a History of the United States, and, most recently, Warrior Writers, an anthology of works by veterans from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan created in writing workshops Barry is involved in. He has participated in and curated exhibitions of art by veterans at a number of galleries, including Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck and the Brennan Gallery in the Justice William J. Brennan Court House in Jersey City.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Learning from a Therapeutic Poet

W.D. Ehrhart is not the sort of rarified poet readers ponder in The New Yorker. He doesn’t teach at a famous university. And yet, his poetry and memoirs are so widely taught in the U.S. and abroad that a veritable emporium of essays about Ehrhart’s life and literary works has now been published.

“Bill’s writings about war and the aftermath of war spoke to me more than anything else I’d read,” Clint Van Winkle, an Iraq War vet and author, notes in The Last Time I Dreamed About the War: Essays on the Life and Writing of W.D. Ehrhart. “I’ve been a student of his since I first read a line of his work … Many veterans from my generation, including my Marine buddies who met Bill as we filmed [a documentary], are pupils of his as well …”

Edited by Jean-Jacques Malo, a professor at the Universite de Nantes in France, this eclectic collection of essays on Ehrhart was written by 20 contributors from the U.S., Europe and Asia who delve into his wide-ranging influence as a poet, memoirist and teacher. The paperback collection is published by McFarland & Company, which previously published several of Ehrhart’s books. 

“The writer who first made the Vietnam War ‘real’ to me, validating my trauma and cementing my fellowship with a community of veterans, was W.D. Ehrhart,” writes Edward F. Palm, a college professor who served with the Marines in Vietnam. “In my opinion, Ehrhart remains the best, and certainly the most accessible, chronicler of this process of individual and collective disillusionment” experienced by the Vietnam War generation.

Ehrhart is perhaps best known as the author of Vietnam-Perkasie: a Combat Marine Memoir. He is also the author or editor of a bookshelf-ful of poetry collections, including Carrying the Darkness: Poetry of the Vietnam War, two additional memoirs, and three collections of essays. Bill and I collaborated on an early anthology, Demilitarized Zones: Veterans After Vietnam. I wrote an essay that’s in this new work, an appreciation of what I learned in interacting with Bill for more than three decades, titled “Ehrhart Effect.” 

“For students, a visit by Bill Ehrhart is an enlightening and electrifying experience,” attests Martin Novelli, a college professor in New Jersey and Philadelphia. In the wake of Ehrhart’s presentation, Novelli gives his students “a writing assignment to describe their reaction to Bill’s visit. The papers, without exception, for the past couple of decades indicate the enormous impact that Bill’s visit has on them.”

As Malo, the editor, notes: “Many high school teachers and college professors use Ehrhart’s writings to teach the Vietnam War, and he has been invited numerous times to talk to classes in many parts of the U.S. This activity is also a significant aspect of Ehrhart’s oeuvre: he does not remain in his ivory tower. He interacts with people, he argues, he debates as to open minds and get people thinking.”

When not writing and traveling to speak in numerous places, Ehrhart has been teaching high school English and history at various schools, notably The Haverford School, a private prep school in Pennsylvania, since 2001. He was recruited for that job because the headmaster, Joseph Cox, recalled an Ehrhart visit to a class Cox previously taught at the U.S Military Academy at West Point.
“I believed W.D. Ehrhart was the best Vietnam veteran poet,” wrote Cox, who served in Vietnam as an Army officer. “During his visit to West Point, I also could see that the poet W.D. Ehrhart was also an incredible teacher who connected authentically with the cadets. He had an enormous capacity for empathy and never talked down to students. … they respected his perspectives on war even if Bill’s opinions were not politically compatible with the majority of service academy students.”

Ehrhart’s impact on readers and audiences of all sorts is attested to by several other contributors, including several other war veterans, the director of creative writing at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and professors in England, Netherlands, India and Japan.

His impact on other writers is also remarkable. “I didn’t think anybody would want to read, much less publish any of my writings. I was emboldened by Bill’s writing and advice,” notes Van Winkle, who was encouraged by Ehrhart to write about the experience of fighting in Iraq, in a book titled Soft Spots: A Marine’s Memoir of Combat and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

In an interview recorded by Malo, Ehrhart says “I dislike the notion of poetry as therapy.” Yet, he adds, “in retrospect I have to recognize that writing about the war was indeed very therapeutic for me … writing was a way of making sense of what had happened.”

Here’s a recollection I included in my essay about Ehrhart’s effect on a fellow poet:

“A couple of winters ago, I was in my usual cold weather funk, exacerbated that season by my wife dying during the Christmas holidays ten years before. When I get blue beyond the soothing realms of jazz, I reach for poetry. The rhythmic kick of well-placed words works better for me than pills or booze. So it was that I grabbed from a pile of books near my desk a copy of Ehrhart’s latest poetry collection, The Bodies Beneath the Table. Through that dark night, I read each poem aloud, awash in thunderstorms of emotions set in motion by Bill’s poems and my life, and got up refreshed.”

For more information:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Warrior Writers Reading in Newark

A literary patrol of Warrior Writers poets will be performing Thursday, July 24, at Noon on the green in Military Park, Newark, NJ. The free public event is part of Lunchtime Poems in Military Park, showcasing a selection of poets scheduled to read in the 2014 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in October. Military Park is off Broad Street and Park Place in downtown Newark.

Warrior Writers poets reading on Thursday are Jan Barry, Kevin Basl, Sarah Mess, Walt Nygard, Eli Wright and James Yee. Selections of their work are included in a new anthology, Warrior Writers: A Collection of Writing and Artwork by Veterans, published by Warrior Writers, a nonprofit arts organization based in Philadelphia, PA.

Jan Barry, of Teaneck, is a poet and writer who served with the Army in Vietnam, author of Life After War & Other Poems (Combat Paper Press) and co-editor of Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans, among other works.

Kevin Basl, an Army veteran of Iraq, is a workshop facilitator with Warrior Writers and Combat Paper NJ, based at the Printmaking Center of New Jersey in Branchburg, NJ

Sarah N. Mess, of Branchburg, served in an Army medical unit in Somalia.

Walt Nygard, of Teaneck, served with the Marines in Vietnam. Author of The Summer Joe Joined the Army (Post Traumatic Press), he is a writer, artist and paper/print-maker with Combat Paper NJ.

Eli Wright served as a combat medic in Iraq. He is an instructor for Combat Paper NJ, providing workshops for veterans and active duty soldiers at VA facilities, military bases, colleges and art galleries along the East Coast from Maine to Virginia.

James Yee is a former Army Chaplain for the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Author of For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire, he is a facilitator with Combat Paper NJ. 

For more information:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Fighting for Peace

One way to study social movements is to do a lot of research and interviews. Lisa Leitz took a big step beyond standardized scholarship and joined the movement she wanted to study. That movement consisted of local to national actions of Military Families Speak Out, which she joined as the wife of an active duty Navy aviator, Gold Star Families for Peace, who lost sons and daughters in war, Veterans For Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War and allied organizations.

Her hands-on approach resulted in Fighting for Peace: Veterans and Military Families in the Anti-Iraq War Movement, recently published by the University of Minnesota Press as part of its series on social movements. During the time she worked on this book she taught sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and then at Hendrix College in Arkansas and “commuted” to war protests around the country.

I first met Lisa Leitz at an antiwar rally by Military Families Speak Out and Veterans For Peace in front of the White House right after Barack Obama was inaugurated president. She showed up at war protests in all sorts of places and took notes, exchanged phone numbers and email addresses and “became a part of my wider family,” she wrote. “I took late-night calls from stressed out parents and spouses ... I sat through the night with veterans traumatized by the war and with their families who worried about them… I shared activists’ fear, guilt, anger, pride, and joy.”  

The focus of her book is both to record an historic outburst of war protests by military veterans and family members outraged by the invasion and military destruction of Iraq with the loss of thousands of US soldiers, and to challenge sociologists to look deeper into the web of grassroots actions that create cultural shifts.  “We need to go beyond traditional protest to examine how change happens,” she writes.

Consider some of the shifts she discovered:

  • “While trying to change public opinion, the activists changed themselves,” she noted. “Activists found others who were sympathetic to their traumatizing experiences and the problems that developed from them, and these tactics channeled activists’ anger about those experiences toward the war.”
  • “One day, a middle-aged man with a military style buzz cut who said he was a senior officer grabbed my hand [at the Arlington West memorial to the Iraq War dead set up by Vets For Peace and military families in Santa Barbara, California], shook it, and said, ‘Thank you for what you are doing. People need to see this.’”
  • “the second time an Arlington-style memorial was set up outside Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in Southern California, two flatbed military trucks filled with Marines drove off base … [and] helped to set up the memorial and memorialized hundreds of their friends who died in battle. A three-star general visiting Pendleton told the activists, ‘You guys are doing it right.’”

In the course of working on this book, while her husband served four deployments in war areas, Leitz experienced the intense stress on military families that is another of the hidden wounds of war.  

“While many people think of post-traumatic stress as a military servicemember’s problem, recent research finds that military spouses’ rates of psychological problems are similar to those in uniform,” she wrote in a recent University of Minnesota Press blog. “With lengthy and deadly deployments common in our lives since 2001, spouses’ rates of stress-induced illness have increased, along with depression.”

The best way to address these problems, she concludes in her book, is through civic activism to reduce our national obsession with waging wars.

“The military peace movement hoped to put a human face on war so that Americans would have to think about specific individuals rather than nameless ‘troops’ and what wars did to them. … The idea was that by personalizing the pain of war, Americans would demand that troops be sent to fight only when absolutely necessary,” she wrote.

For more information:

Thursday, July 3, 2014

In Memoriam: Walter Dean Myers

Walter Dean Myers, who wrote books for children about the brute reality of war and life as a troubled black kid in rough neighborhoods, died Tuesday at 76. I never met Myers, who lived in Jersey City, but I was drawn like a magnet to one of his books—Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam—that a fellow vet brought to my attention recently.

Myers’ crisp, curt prose poetry and stunning illustrations of jungle warfare by Ann Grifalconi propelled me to experiment and create water color paintings of war memories still rattling around in my head.     

In a writing career that produced more than 100 books for children and young adults, Myers kept returning to dig deeper into the patriotic mythology of war. 

“I joined the army on my seventeenth birthday, full of the romance of war after having read a lot of World War I British poetry and having seen a lot of post−World War II films. … My younger brother’s death in Vietnam was both sobering and cause for reflection. In Fallen Angels I wanted to dispel the notion of war as either romantic or simplistically heroic,” he said in an interview provided by Scholastic, one of his publishers.

“I want young people to be hesitant to glorify war and to demand of their leaders justification for the sacrifices they ask of our citizens,” Myers continued in the interview on the Scholastic website. “The young people who read Fallen Angels some twenty years ago are the same ones who are the senior officers in today’s military. I hope that reading Fallen Angels has made them prudent leaders. And when they progress to becoming decision makers, I hope that the earnest literature they have encountered, including Fallen Angels and Sunrise Over Fallujah will cause them to deliberate wisely.”

A high school dropout who joined the army seeking boyish adventure, Myers turned a yen for reading into a self-made career writing about youngsters struggling through tough times. Of his book titled Just Write, a reviewer at Booklist noted: "Walter Dean Myers offers a wealth of advice that is professional and pragmatic and often couched in the context of his own work. Feeling that books saved his life, Myers now gives his readers the same opportunity through his advice and his large-hearted example."

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Monday, June 30, 2014

From War to Peace Poet

Not many poets these days embrace being peace activists. Based on poems published in popular magazines, readers would have no clue what contemporary poets think about Americans’ addiction to waging—and continually celebrating—an endless litany of wars.
Doug Rawlings embraces being a poet and a leader of Veterans For Peace. His new book, Orion Rising: Collected Poems, is dedicated to his family and the veterans’ organization founded in 1985 by Rawlings and other former soldiers. Over time many others, including me, signed up as well.

I first encountered Doug Rawlings’ soul-shaking poetry on surviving an Army tour in Vietnam just as that war was ending. Several of his poems graced Demilitarized Zones, the anthology of angry verses by Vietnam vets that W.D. Ehrhart and I published in 1976. At the time, he was teaching high school English in Maine. Publication of those early poems, he notes in his recently self-published book, gave him a social and literary grounding.

Over the years, as his teaching path led to the University of Maine, he continued writing poetry and persistently advocating for peaceful resolutions of the far-flung wars that the United States insists on partaking in.

“As a veteran,” he writes in his book dedication, “I feel a specific obligation to bring back old memories, to rekindle anguish and despair long buried, and to speak out against this military madness that has so grotesquely distorted our past, that is tearing apart our present, and that threatens to extinguish our future.”

In his collected poems, Doug Rawlings confronts the worst of life, and celebrates the best of life, in poems that transform calcified clich├ęs into lightning bug flashes of insight, foresight and delight. His war poetry punctures the patriotic balloon that imploded amid soldiers in Vietnam. His political poetry turns home front homilies into trumpet calls for peace campaigns. And his poet’s gaze on family, friends and nature—from his corner of Maine to the star-spangled universe—is no less, quite often, breath-taking.

In “Low Intensity Warfare,” for instance, he contrasts the atmosphere in North America—“Up here/ fall is in the air/ the mornings are crisp and clear”—to that in parts of Central America torn by civil wars stirred by US military and economic exploitation: “Down there/ young peasants/ are slipping into puddles/ of mangled skin…Down there/ the morning air/ smells of burning flesh…”

Doug Rawlings’ alternative way of life, embraced by many war veterans, is conveyed in his poem “Flower Song”:

Live your life
like a flower

Blossoming every hour

Reaching for the sun

Growing with the rain

Living every moment
like it’ll never come again

Orion Rising, which includes artwork by neighbors and friends Carol Scribner and Rob Shetterly, can be ordered through lulu.com, the online publisher.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Medicine Garden

Planting Sweet Grass in Torne Valley

A stone’s throw from the Ramapo River, a cheerful crowd of Native Americans and local supporters gathered Sunday to plant a medicine garden on a patch of cleared ground in Torne Valley where Ford Motor Company recently removed tons of toxic paint sludge.

The traffic roar on the nearby New York State Thruway evaporated as Native American drums and songs arose as though from the distant past to accompany garden dedication ceremonies, including sharing pinches of tobacco sprinkled into a fire and the planting of plugs of Sweet Grass. The roughly half-acre site in a former sand and gravel quarry is laid out for growing Sweet Grass and Sage, used for basketry and smudging, as well as “healing herbs beneficial for cancer patients,” according to the invitation.

Two turkey vultures circled overhead, looking for road kill along the highway and railroad corridor that cuts through the once bucolic gap in the Ramapo Mountains. One speaker noted with a chuckle that vultures are symbols of recycling.    

The Healing of the Earth Ceremony marked a long-haul, grassroots effort by local residents and environmental activists to get Ford to remove the lead and chemical solvents-tainted waste, which was trucked from Ford’s Mahwah assembly plant and dumped along riverbanks in the 1960s. The buried debris in this field was next to a well that provides drinking water to much of the area around Suffern, NY. Further downstream are wells serving Mahwah and other towns in New Jersey.     

Cleanup area in Ramapo well field     (photos by Jan Barry)

“Today, with this healing ceremony, it’s a tipping point” toward protecting the environment in the bistate Ramapo River watershed, said Christopher St. Lawrence, the Town of Ramapo Supervisor, whose municipal government successfully pressed for clean up work that New York state officials let slide for decades despite repeated calls from area officials.

“This was ground zero for the buried lead paint,” said Chuck Stead, a Ramapo College adjunct professor and an environmental educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland County. As a result of work that he and his students did over several years in mapping buried debris locations and filing reports with local and state agencies, Ford contractors last year removed 42,000 tons of tainted soil and hazardous waste from the Ramapo River well field parcel.

Stead lauded the Detroit-based auto company for eventually taking that action, planting dozens of native trees on the well field tract and paying for a sturdy deer-resistant fence around the medicine garden plot. But each of these steps, he noted, required persistent discussions and negotiations.    

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation officials are now overseeing a similar remediation plan for Ford to excavate and remove more toxic waste along Torne Brook, a nearby tributary of the Ramapo River.

Dwaine Perry, chief of the Ramapough-Lenape Nation, who lives in the adjacent village of Hillburn, NY, thanked a number of the people at the ceremony for their combined efforts. “The one message that comes through is persistence, persistence, persistence pays off,” said Perry. He added that Ford’s work on this site “hopefully is the beginning of corporate decency” on environmental issues nationally.

“Be proud that you live in a town that supports you,” said Vivian Milligan, a leader of the Ramapough community in Ringwood, NJ, where another Ford dump site is partially cleaned up. “Hopefully, some day we will have a garden in Ringwood.”

St. Lawrence, whose sprawling Rockland County town stretches along the border with New Jersey within miles of Ringwood, added in his remarks: “We need to all come together and work on Ringwood.”

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fishing Story

"Fishing"       Jan Barry water color

Stopping by a favorite haunt one day, an egret spied a fisherman. The cell phone camera couldn’t do justice to the wily fisher silently stalking the unaware fisherman. So I set my hand to telling this tale in water colors.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Seeing Lou Grant

Lou Grant  (photo: Wikipedia)

I wrote on my calendar for May 15 that I was going to see Lou Grant.

And so we arrived at the Bergen Performing Arts Center to see Ed Asner in his cross country, long running presentation of his one-man show, FDR. As the largely elderly audience was still settling in, Asner abruptly took the stage in a wheelchair, and then stomped about on a pair of canes and presented a very compelling characterization of the polio-crippled President who forcefully led the country through the crises of the Great Depression and World War II, despite formidable political foes and the howling hounds of the press.

As the FDR show wrapped up to a big round of applause, I was still looking for Lou Grant—the curmudgeonly, get-that-story, and get-it-right newspaper editor Asner played on television in the 1970s and early 1980s. That TV character was perhaps the biggest influence on my then-budding career as a journalist.

In Lou Grant’s world, journalists suffered crises in their own lives, but still got out there and pinned down the facts of events, on deadline, that were important for the public to know about.  “The series frequently delved into serious societal issues, such as nuclear proliferation, mental illness, prostitution, gay rights, capital punishment, child abuse, and chemical pollution, in addition to demonstrating coverage of breaking news stories such as fires, earthquakes, and accidents of all kinds,” a Wikipedia description astutely noted.

“The Lou Grant show ran from 1977 to 1982 and became the most popular newspaper drama ever broadcast on television,” noted a review in Booklist of “Lou Grant,’ a book about the show. “Journalists at the fictional Los Angeles Tribune strove to question authority while covering issues as thoroughly as possible. … often reflecting real news of the day, from Vietnam vets and inner-city school violence to political corruption and homosexuality … For five seasons, Lou Grant and his colleagues delivered a weekly dose of dramatic realism …”

And then CBS abruptly cancelled the program. “In the later years of the series, Asner became known for speaking out on numerous social and political topics, especially in opposition to the U.S. involvement in Central America. The show was canceled in 1982, reportedly due to poor ratings, while some—including Asner—have speculated that the actor's activism may have influenced the decision to end the series,” according to biography.com.

The Lou Grant show roughly coincided with my first stint as a daily newspaper reporter. After getting laid off in 1980, in the wake of writing an investigative series about Vietnam veterans’ emerging health concerns about Agent Orange and other chemicals used in the war, I had more time at home to study how Lou Grant’s savvy newsroom covered controversial issues.

Then, getting involved in grassroots activism with a local peace group countering the Reagan Administration’s nuclear missile-rattling with the Soviet Union and military moves in Central America, I appreciated Asner’s outspoken stance on these and other issues. This provided additional inspiration in my life.

Three decades later, I heard Ed Asner was coming to do a show in a neighboring town. What I felt was that Lou Grant was coming to town.

Turns out that my partner, Paula Rogovin, knew Asner through her family’s network of activism. So we were invited to meet him backstage. So was a bunch of other people Asner had meet over the years, including a family that knew him growing up in Kansas City, Missouri. Herded up into a bare dressing room in the old vaudeville theater in Englewood, NJ that was saved by a civic campaign, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Ed Asner in Englewood  (photo: Paula Rogovin)

Amid a flurry of greetings, snappy recollections, hugs, handshakes, and cell phone photos, suddenly I was being introduced to Ed Asner. Still hale at 84, leaning on a cane, he gripped my hand hard and looked directly into my eyes, recalling a mutual campaign from years ago. And I felt, yep, very glad to finally shake hands with Lou Grant.   

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Vacation in Vietnam

"Vacation in Vietnam"    (watercolor by Jan Barry)

When I came home in 1963 from a war tour in Southeast Asia, one of the putdowns I encountered from more than one clueless bar-crawler was that it “must a been nice being on vacation” in what was dimly recalled as French Indochina. Some vacation.

In my latest delving into troublesome memories via art, I crafted a watercolor of a typical moment of “vacation” for soldiers in my unit, getting drunk in town and being ferried back to our base in a cyclo ridden by a hard-muscled guy, who moonlighted on the other side with the Viet Cong, for all we knew.

Usually, this ride was a scramble along the beach road in Nha Trang just before midnight curfew. Once in awhile, soldiers were rumored to hide out for the night with drinking companions and slip back to base at dawn—just as our war machinery was revving up.

Here’s a poem I wrote years ago about this sweet-and-sour concoction of fun and war:

Yuletide, Republic of Viet-Nam

The war is on holiday.
Soldiers in drunken disarray
Lounge under palms, singing
Old songs and carousing
Into the night until dawn...
When the bombers crank up
And yawning fliers line up
And the battle lines are redrawn.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Vet Art Works on Parade

Vet art at Gloucester CC      (photos by Jan Barry)

Despite anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleeplessness, night vision problems and other health woes, a group of military vets trekked through Friday night traffic to cheerfully commemorate a public display of their art.

An array of paintings, drawings, etchings and other modes of illustration is on display like a parade through the campus center at Gloucester County College in Sewell, NJ. The work was created over the past year in art workshops at the Secaucus (NJ) Vet Center and, over a longer period of time, in Combat Paper workshops in New Jersey and other parts of the US. Thirteen vets are represented in the “Healing Arts: Combat Paper and Other Works by War Veterans” show, which runs through April 25.

The vets include Michael Eckstein, Barry Jensen and Joseph Lis, who all served in Vietnam and are core members of the Secaucus Vet Center art group. Other vets with work in this show developed their art through Combat Paper workshops—including Iraq war vets Drew Cameron, David Keefe, Jennifer Pacanowski and Eli Wright, plus Somalia vet Sarah Mess and Vietnam era vet Walter Zimmerman.  Several others—Vietnam vets Jim Fallon, Walt Nyard, Frank Wagner and myself—participated in and learned from both workshop approaches.

As noted in the program book:

Transforming war uniforms into art in Combat Paper workshops, many military veterans in New Jersey and across the nation have traded the familiar grip of rifles for scissors, carving knifes, paint brushes and other healing implements of art. Meanwhile, veterans attending the “Paint Your Pain” Art Group at the Secaucus (NJ) Vet Center have been exploring a wide variety of media from water colors to pen and ink to oil paintings, to probe, uncover and convey hard-to-express experiences.

The art workshop at the Secaucus Vet Center provides a gathering place for veterans to share art-making and post-combat survivor tips. “After many years of doing talk therapy with veterans, I realized that another more powerful outlet was needed,” said Angela Maio, who recently retired as a family therapist at the Vet Center, on creating the art workshop that has drawn veterans who served in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. “The ‘Paint Your Pain’ Art Group has had a healing cathartic effect on participants’ combat stressors.  Several members have expressed the feeling of finally finding closure to their nightmares...” 

The Printmaking Center of New Jersey’s Program Combat Paper NJ is run by veterans, for veterans. It provides welcoming settings where veterans can explore art to help recover from physical, psychological and emotional effects of war. In workshops at college campuses, community centers, art studios, VA hospitals and military installations, Combat Paper brings the ancient arts of hand-papermaking and printmaking to veterans of all conflicts.  “We deconstruct, reclaim and communicate,” David Keefe, an Iraq war veteran and director of Combat Paper NJ, says of turning old uniforms into paper used to display vets’ art works. “It’s the perfect marriage of concept and medium. It transforms the material, the artist and the viewer.”

Gallery Director Eoin Kinnarney, who hosted the opening reception on Friday, said many students and staff members at the college were entranced by the vets’ work. Co-host Diane Macris, administrator of the Gloucester County Cultural Heritage Commission, commissioned the exhibition after reading about the “War and Peace” art show and poetry reading that most of these vets presented at the Brennan Courthouse Gallery in Jersey City last fall.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Winter Tracks

"Winter Tracks" cover         (photo/Jan Barry)

Having grown up in the snow belt of upstate New York, winter is not my favorite season. Still, I enjoy sparkling vistas of snow and ice—as long as they’re not on my driveway, where my car slid out of control last night despite both feet on the brakes, careening in slow motion down the incline until a front tire skated into a snow-cushioned stone wall. That set off long-buried sensations of spinning around on an icy country road decades ago and slamming into a snow-filled ditch.

The cold snaps this winter revived memories in my bone marrow of trudging to school into a stiff wind in minus-zero-degree weather, back in the day when kids had to walk backwards through blizzards, to keep from freezing your face.

Yet, after the latest polar blast whiplashed the East Coast, the sun this morning sparkled on the post-storm snowy landscape. That’s the delightful part of this often miserable season, which I focused on in my latest photo book, titled Winter Tracks.

These photos were taken in recent years in New Jersey and upstate New York, while out and about after snow or ice storms, plus a memorable scene I encountered last summer of dazzling pockets of snow on a mountaintop in a national forest in Wyoming.

To view the photos in this collection, go to: