Monthly Archives: September 2013

A poem with a story of war—and after

Today, a poem from Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000), which encapsulates transitions from childhood to war to the pain of after, ending on a note of possibility:

Autobiography, 1952

  • My father built over me a worry big as a shipyard
  • and I left it once, before I was finished,
  • and he remained there with his big, empty worry.
  • and my mother was like a tree on the shore
  • between her arms that stretched out toward me.
  •  
  • And in ’31 my hands were joyous and small
  • and in ’41 they learned to use a gun
  • and when I first fell in love
  • my thoughts were like a bunch of colored balloons
  • and the girl’s white hand held them all
  • by a thin string—then let them fly away.
  •  
  • And in ’51 the motion of my life
  • was like the motion of many slaves chained to a ship,
  • and my father’s face like the headlight on the front of a train
  • growing smaller and smaller in the distance,
  • and my mother closed all the many clouds inside her brown closet,
  • and as I walked up my street
  • the twentieth century was the blood in my veins,
  •  blood that wanted to get out in many wars
  • and through many openings,
  • that’s why it knocks against my head from the inside
  • and reaches my heart in angry waves.
  •  
  • But now, in the spring of ’52, I see
  • that more birds have returned than left last winter.
  • And I walk back down the hill to my house.
  • And in my room: the woman, whose body is heavy
  • and filled with time.

Yehuda Amichai

From The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, ©1986, 1996

Translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell

What’s your story?

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REGISTRATION open for Voices from War’s Writing Workshop for Veterans – Fall 2013.
Come work on your story in a supportive community of fellow vets.
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War and music and poetry—Iraq veteran Maurice Decaul

Poet and veteran Maurice Decaul is partnered up with musicians Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd for their new album, Holding It Down, which received four (of four) stars in the LA Times last week. Critic Chris Barton writes,

“An exposed nerve on the edge of madness, ‘Shush’ may be one of the most haunting songs of the year. With Decaul repeating, like a mantra, ‘I’ve been talking in my sleep again,’ he conjures muzzle flashes, burning diesel and ‘sandbag eyes, large like dish plates, scared.’ As Iyer’s flickering piano hurtles behind him, Decaul builds to a matter-of-fact admission so raw it burns: ‘I prayed to die in Iraq.'”

Barton writes on the possibilities of music and the album’s combination of jazz, hip-hop, and oral history:

“At their best, hip-hop and jazz remain most adept at breaking the mold, and the footprints of both genres can be heard on Vijay Iyer’s and Mike Ladd’s inspiring new album. An ambitious collaboration between one of the most celebrated jazz pianists today in Iyer and poet-MC Ladd, who has worked with a host of underground rap acts including El-P’s Company Flow and Saul Williams, ‘Holding It Down’ is the duo’s third in a series of unclassifiable blends of music, theater and spoken word that paint a vivid oral history of post-9/11 America.”

What’s your story? What’s your dream?
You can also hear Maurice Decaul read his haunting poem, “Shush” online at The Daily Beast.
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REGISTRATION open for Voices from War’s Writing Workshop for Veterans – Fall 2013.
Come work on your story in a supportive community of fellow vets.
__________

“Memory of places and comrades” and unheard stories

Benjamin Busch, veteran and writer, penned the introduction to upcoming anthology, Standing Down (coming from the Great Books Foundation this October), which pulls together a wide-ranging assemblage of writing on war, an exciting addition to war literature collections.

Last November, Busch, author of the thoughtful and beautifully crafted memoir Dust to Dust (about war, grief, parents, childhood, living…), read a concise piece on the silences of war, looking back on his grandfather and World War II.  You can hear him over at Talking Service and read the transcript at NPR, along with an essay by veteran David Abrams on the incongruities of war, which Abrams so engagingly brings forth in his satiric novel, Fobbit.

Here’s some of the take-away from Benjamin Busch:

“There are 22 million veterans living in America today, civilians again, mowing their lawns and waiting in lines.

In the six years since I left the Marines, what always strikes me is a veteran’s enduring attachment to their unit, their clear memory of places and comrades, the stunning drama of their missions or unique situational comedy of their labors. Most of these stories are never heard, because no one ever asks for them.

We mention sacrifice on days like this, but sacrifice likely isn’t the thing a veteran will recall. It will be the stories. It’s these tales that make military experience comprehensible to those who never serve in this way. What if today — instead of thanking a veteran for their service and then passing by — you take a moment to ask them for a story? We’ve all got one to tell.”

– Benjamin Busch, on NPR, Veteran’s Day 2012

It’s well worth reading the short piece in its entirety.
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REGISTRATION open for Voices from War’s Writing Workshop for Veterans – Fall 2013.
Come work on your story in a supportive community of fellow vets.
__________

Colum McCann – stories building community

Literary magazine Bodega offers an engaging interview with wonderful writer Colum McCann on his involvement with the new literary non-profit venture Narrative4, global storytelling.

“The core philosophy is: You step into my shoes, I step into yours.  You take responsibility for my life, I take precious care of yours.  Stories are the engine of who we are.  They are a mighty weapon.  Like kids, we must treat them with respect.”

“There is not a person who might not, potentially, benefit from the ability to exchange her story. That’s a bold statement but I think it’s true.”

– Colum McCann, in Bodega magazine

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REGISTRATION open for Voices from War’s Writing Workshop for Veterans – Fall 2013.
Come work on your story in a supportive community of fellow vets.
__________

Writer Roxana Robinson on the civilian-military divide

Writer Roxana Robinson picks her five favorite war books for The Literarian, and writes of researching her new novel Sparta:
“I became fascinated by the world of the military—how different it is from the civilian world, how differently it’s structured, and how powerful and compelling and complex and ancient it is. Suddenly, I couldn’t get enough information about it. I read and read, and I went to veterans’ gatherings, and I interviewed veterans. I was caught up in the drama of a movement that was deeply connected to our lives, but which had nothing to do with them. I was struck by this fact—how separate the two lives are, and how impossible it seemed to be, to connect them. And I was struck by the way this seemed to have been true always, going back to The Iliad.”
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REGISTRATION open for Voices from War’s Writing Workshop for Veterans – Fall 2013.
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