Last Thursday, the 24th of June, we began the Veterans Writing Circle at University of the Pacific. The turnout was great, but we will be expecting many more participants next Thursday July 1st, our second meeting.
Among the attendees were a WW2 Veteran, an Army Infantryman who served two tours in Iraq, a young woman creating a musical tribute to military men and women, our Dean and his wife, of Air Force fame, and of course Poet/Professor Camille Norton and Myself.
After beginning with introductions, we engaged in a discussion on the cinematic merit of The Hurt Locker, and then dovetailed into a discussion about what we all intended to get out of these meetings. Initially, I had wanted to make this workshop a week long, but opted instead to make it a one day a week meeting over the course of three weeks. I think that what I had in mind when my professor and I first began planning this writing circle was simply to create a space to write and discuss the subject of war.
In our community of Stockton, CA, there are many veterans returning home from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, a transition that can be difficult if there is no response to this obvious need in the community, that need being a place for veterans to find the resources they need and to be given the support of the community when they complete their service. I hope this writing space will create an environment where families and transitioning veterans can discuss openly their experiences. This is of course FREE to veterans and their family members. To give an incentive for potential attendants to come, there should be no charge.
The second part of this is that it is in fact a place to work on writing, whatever type of writing that may be, but more importantly it is a place to share our stories. I believe that telling our stories is an essential part of understanding ourselves and where we fit in in society.
America has always been defined by its stories, the intersection between our national narratives, and the complex fabric that is created by our individual tales. To explore this self-understanding, I believe writing , as an act that relies on memory, becomes a conscious effort to choose to remember, rather than to forget. For many of our returning veterans, and I speak not solely from personal experience, we are just beginning to wrestle with the historical and cultural realities of what the world at war will mean to us, now and in the future. We may wrestle with ghosts in sleep, or be haunted in waking by the specter of psychological trauma known as PTSD, but our ability to heal will only be served best if the communities we live in cast light on the very problems we face, and we must make sure we face them together.
I was asked at the beginning of this workshop whether I thought the attendants would achieve some catharsis out of this experience, and whether or not we intended to make writers out of the people who will come to the writing circle. I can only say that we do intend to write and to heal. Whatever happens after that is yet to be determined.
I do believe personally, and it is my own credo, that poetry heals all wounds, time can not serve us as well as action. So, while I understand that the world seems sometimes to have lost its taste for poetry, for writing, and for reading in general, I refuse to deny the potential and the power of what art can do for our souls. I have no mathematical equation to determine the truth of this belief, so it is only something like a faith in poetry that causes me to believe this. The world will no doubt say that this may mean we place to much emphasis on what poetry is capable of, but they have always been saying this, so in my proclamation of this credo is also my oath of rejection, I intend to defend poetry and what it can do. To tell the story, whatever it may be, is my main purpose, and this was how we began out first session.
Our first session included readings from Brian Turner’s “Phantom Noise“, Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Neon Vernacular,” and Kevin Prufer’s “National Anthem.” We also did two writing exercises. The first was a list poem beginning with the line, “This is what I want to tell you.” The second exercise was the same, but began with the line, “This is what I don’t want to tell you.” Our homework was to do the same exercise, but with the following two beginning lines:
1. “This is what I can’t tell you.”
2. “This is what I will tell you ten years from now.”
If you’d like, you can try these exercises at home. Just begin with one of the selected lines, and begin “listing” whatever it is you “can” or “can’t” tell in the poem/prose block, you choose. Do this for five minutes, and then see if you come up with anything you like. You can edit it as you choose, change the beginning lines for this exercise, or whatever you like.
I am sincerely overjoyed that we are beginning this journey as a community, and that we are fully engaged in writing and telling our stories. Someone told me once it was important to tell our stories, because if we didn’t someone else would. I can truly appreciate this advice now. If you can, come and join us. If not, why not start your own writing circle.
Thanks for reading,