Poets with GWU Writing Program Director
The time spent immersed with veterans across conflicts and generations was without compare. This was so much more than a writing retreat. Yes, there was lots and lots of creative writing. Yes, there was much discussion of craft. Yes, there were word prompts and revision and work shopping of deeply personal moments in the life of someone who just days before was a complete stranger. The biggest gift though was the common thread of respect and mutual regard as veterans. No one had to prove anything. All of us had already “been there, done that.”
I attended in a genre not my usual focal point, poetry. I’ve been spending a large part of this year concentrating on poetry though nonfiction narrative is where my MFA and much of what I publish remains. In part, this has been to return myself to my writing first love and first roots. I’ve considered returning for another MFA, in Poetry, as I don’t feel I have the “poetics” muscle well developed, and lack the scholarly experience the genre seems to demand for an educated discussion within the poetry community. Or perhaps I’m placing too much weight in the academic side of the poetry community. What my experience immersed in poetry this week with four other poets and the wonderful tutelage from North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti gave me was tremendous validation as a poet. That the narratives I write, in poetry or in prose are a means to give voice and that this is a calling I must continue.
On the final night, we all gave readings, please give a listen to my reading of the original poem, When Jenny Comes Marching Home.
This week is the Veterans Writing Project Retreat sponsored by the George Washington University’s Writing Program. I’m thrilled to be here joining about 30 veterans working across film, play writing, fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Our instructors and mentors are established in their genres, working to help us refine our skill and voice as we create and tell our stories.
We met last night for a small orientation to the week’s program, dinner and then settled back into the dorms. (Yes, dorms…something some of us haven’t been in for quite some time.) Today we had our first work sessions. In poetry, which is the genre I’m here for and will mostly report on for this blog, we have Joseph Bathanti, North Carolina’s Poet Laureate, leading our workshop. The morning discussion touched into forms briefly and qualities of what makes a poem both a poem and a good poem. This afternoon we are responding to a prompt dredging up memory from learning to drive. Tomorrow morning we’ll workshop the result from the prompt.
I’m enjoying the time meeting other veterans who are writing and creating. I’m finding a great deal of emotion percolating just below the surface and I’m not sure what that is about. Maybe it’s that feeling of being part of a group that has an inherent assumption of inclusion. We’re all vets, we all create, we all belong. Maybe it’s like pheromones and we’re sending some invisible message to each other of acceptance, having come through the fire to the other side, and being at home with each other. Maybe it’s just being around so many other vets is just tearing the scar tissue left from a life and identity now behind me.
In May, I was one of several women interviewed by some University of California Berkeley graduate students regarding the creative process and healing as a military veteran. Hope you enjoy this short video. Female Veterans Find Healing Through Art a project for UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, Intro to Television, CNS News. Produced and edited by Rachel Witte, Camera by Lauren Kawana and Justin Pye.
The hard part about a personal fundraising campaign is the asking for help. I watch my four year old, and she so wants to do everything on her own. Don’t we all?
Long ago, when I was in my first REAL job as a college graduate I learned about personal fundraising when after I’d told a colleague I wanted to attend something but couldn’t afford to do so, she encouraged me to allow the people in my life to support me in reaching beyond where I am to where I want to be.
I also learned something there about the difference between scarcity and sufficiency. Believing resources are scarce creates more scarcity. Operating from sufficiency, opens up room for the unexpected and resources to find you.
If you are still reading, here is the most important point I learned from a friend while at that first real job – money is meaningless as anything other than energy. Money is the fuel for what is important to each of us in life. That’s all. Fuel to create lives that are sufficient, not lives constrained by scarcity. Money comes and goes, what we invest the fuel, the energy in is where we make a difference. In our own lives and the lives of those we value, and in the lives of the community around us.
Please invest in me as a writer, a poet and a voice for those who cannot yet speak their stories. What I write more often than not, revolves around answering the question, “What was it like?”
Summer is here! I’m excited this month to spend a week at George Washington University at a Veterans Writing Project residency in poetry. I’ve started reviewing books for the US Review of Books (they actually pay their reviewers) and my first review will be this month. I’m also a contributor now for Outserve/SLDN Magazine. Working up more interviews for Three by Five also. This month Three by Five is taking a summer break but will return in July. This month is both GLBT Pride and the first time DoD has officially recognized that force wide – I’ll be doing some writing on that and in fact you’ll find something in this month’s issue of Outserve Magazine. June is also PTSD awareness month, so look for something a little later on the subject of PTSD. In between all this, I’m continuing Found poems using The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford, though the Pulitzer Project is over for this year and have a YA novel first draft to complete. Summer will be busy! Please check out my video and if inclined, lend a little support.