Excited for more great discussions as we begin our THIRD YEAR of workshops:
Who should tell us about the experiences of a decade of war? Veteran voices need to be part of the national dialogue, cultural and literary, on what it means to go to war; reminding all of us of the multiple perspectives, complex feelings and experiences of serving and fighting.
History is shaped by the accounts that emerge in the living years following historic events, including events we may perceive as less ‘historic’—individual accounts of departing, serving, waiting (whether a spouse back home or a soldier waiting for deployment), and return.
Stories—whether true accounts in the form of essays or memoir, or fictional narratives born of lived truths—shape how all of us see, how we remember. Stories create bridges of understanding, among veterans and between veterans and civilians.
“The autumn countryside around them felt gloomy and forlorn at this hour. The train which was to take both Masha and Ivanov to their homes was somewhere far off in grey space. There was nothing to divert or comfort a human heart except another human heart.”
– Andrey Platonov, “The Return” *
From the past, we learn about the present; and from the present we inform the future.
*"The Return," by Andrey Platonov, from The Return and Other Stories, by Andrey Platonov, transl. by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler and Angela Livingstone; reprinted in Let's Call the Whole Thing Off: Love Quarrels from Anton Chekhov to ZZ Packer, selected by Kasia Boddy, Ali Smith, and Sarah Wood, © 2009.
** A huge THANK YOU to Poets & Writers and The New York State Council on the Arts for supporting another season of Voices from War, A Writing Workshop for Veterans. And an ongoing THANK YOU to the 14th Street Y, supporter and sponsor, welcoming the workshop and its participants each week; and building Voices from War. **
Start telling your story.
Writing things down, telling a true story or turning it into fiction, helps us make sense of complex or fragmented memories and experiences. By looking back, writers are moving forward. Sharing experiences opens up possibilities for dialogue, between individuals and more broadly, in communities and nationally.
Whether we write for ourselves, our friends and family, or with the intent of reaching a wider audience, putting words on paper matters. We are communicating; we are building community; we are acknowledging the past and building the future.
“From the events of war he had wrested the lonely elements of maturity. He wanted, now, discoveries to which he sensed himself accessible; that would alter him, as one is altered, involuntarily, by a great work of art or an effusion of silent knowledge.”
– Shirley Hazzard
From The Great Fire, by Shirley Hazzard, ©2003
Start telling your story.
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Historian and World War II veteran William Manchester writes about the urge to revisit his own memories of service during World War II, after working and writing as a historian of the era for years:
“The dreams started after I flung my pistol into the Connecticut River. It was mine to fling: I was, I suppose, the only World War II Marine who had had to buy his own weapon.”
“For years I had been trying to write about the war, always in vain. It lay too deep; I couldn’t reach it. But I had known it must be there. A man is all the people he has been. …[L]ike most of my countrymen, I am prone to search for meaning in the unconsummated past.”
“…I couldn’t define what I sought….”
– William Manchester
From Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War, ©1979
What’s your story?
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:
- 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.
From The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, ©1986, 1996
Translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell