Saturday, August 25, 2012

Soldier-writers bare "The Soul of America" -- and they're coming to Wyoming this fall

Lance Corporal Nicholas G. Ciccone by Michael D. Fay, a portrait drawn during their duty in Afghanistan. Ciccone committed suicide in 2003. Courtesy of the Art Collection, National Museum of the Marine Corps, Triangle, Virginia.
I'm constantly amazed with the creative ways that humans confront their many challenges. Not surprising that many of those responses involve the arts. The arts allow us to express our deepest emotions, such as fear, anger and love. Where would we be without the poetry of love expressed in a Shakespearean sonnet? The anger expressed in a Bob Dylan or Green Day protest song? What about the pain expressed by the warrior in "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "Habibi Hlaloua," a modern dance production about choreographer and dancer Roman Baca's U.S. Marine platoon in Iraq? If they didn't exist, we would have to invent them and, amazingly enough, we are always finding new ways to do just that.

Yesterday I was reading the quarterly magazine of the National Endowment for the Arts. It's dedicated to the military and the arts. Researchers have discovered that writing or creating an artwork about a painful experience, such as trauma experienced in battle, stimulates the same part of the brain -- the right hemisphere -- that is activated with "traumatic recall." This also helps unlock the speech center in the left hemisphere that shuts down when presented with a painful memory. 

This is why veterans such as Ron Capps have found healing in creative writing, and why he went on to found the Veterans Writing Project. Capps has enlisted a slew of talented writers workshop leaders. Some are veterans (Tobias Wolff, Joe Haldeman, Brian Turner) but many are not (Bobbie Ann Mason, Mark Bowden, Marilyn Nelson). Some understanding of the battlefield is a plus, but it's more important to be an effective teacher and a writer who possesses more than the usual quota of empathy. Bobbie Ann Mason wrote a terrific novel about soldier returning home from Vietnam, "In Country." Jeff Shaara never served a day in the military but he puts his readers in the middle of the fighting at Antietam and Vicksburg and, more recently, Normandy and The Battle of the Bulge. You can see and hear some of these writers in the terrific documentary, "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience." Brian Turner is featured in a segment "What Every Soldier Should Know."Vietnam veteran and novelist Tim O'Brien also is interviewed.

Coincidentally, Turner and O'Brien will be in Wyoming this fall. If you'd like to take a free writing workshop with O'Brien (and who wouldn't?), he will be conducting one on Friday, Oct. 5, as part of the Literary Connection at LCCC in Cheyenne. He is one of three workshop teachers that day from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. -- the others are outdoor writer John Calderazzo from Colorado State University (one of my mentors from my CSU days) and Cat M. Valente.

Turner will be featured at the Equality State Book Festival in Casper Sept. 14-15. On Friday at 1 p.m., he will be reading from his work along with the three winners of the Wyoming Arts Council's poetry fellowship competition. On Saturday at 10 a.m., he will discuss the role of the soldier-writer with fellow Iraq War veteran Luis Carlos Montalvan. The panel moderator will be veteran, poet and Casper College professor Patrick Amelotte. Turner also will be signing copies of his books, "Here, Bullet" and "Phantom Noise" throughout the weekend.

How did these writers translate their experiences into written form? Come on out to these events and find out. They're both in the vicinity, as Casper is only a few Wyoming interstate highway miles away from your Cheyenne neighborhood. 

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