Those who’ve served our country have made important additions to the poetry of the United States.
My Uncle Eddie served in Vietnam, but he never much talked about it. I was only a kid when he died, so I can’t ask him about it now. I’ve never served, so what I know of the reality of war comes from the work of writers like Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, Randall Jarrell, Tim O’Brien, Yusef Komunyakaa, Kurt Vonnegut, Brian Turner, Brian Castner, Doug Anderson, Hugh Martin, Kevin Powers, and Bruce Weigl, whose work is featured in this month’s Congeries. Through this work I can get a glimpse of what it was like. I can feel empathy, sadness, pride. I can realize that I have a debt to pay.
At ECU, we have been doing a few things to give a little back to these soldiers and their families. In its recent "Best Colleges for Vets 2016" listing, the Military Times ranked ECU 28th out of 125 four-year schools. That makes it the highest ranked among seven North Carolina in-state schools. ECU was also named a "Military Friendly School" for 2016, which recognizes the top 20% of trade schools, colleges and universities that are doing the most to embrace service members, veterans and their families.
Green Zone training is offered to our faculty and staff. The training is an initiative to support student veterans by designating locations recognized as “safe places.” It identifies faculty and staff throughout East Carolina University who are knowledgeable about issues faced by student veterans and who can help direct veterans to the resources available to assist them. Participants are identified by a Green Zone emblem located outside their office door and on their syllabi.
What I’m particularly proud of is the efforts of the ECU Contemporary Writers Series committee and those who’ve supported our efforts on behalf of active military, veterans and their families. Last year we offered a series of writing and photography workshops for these terrific assets to our community. The workshops were conducted by ECU staff as well as by our visiting writers: Brian Turner, Ilyse Kusnetz, and Joe Bathanti. There were also readings by these wonderful writers. Poems by all three have been featured in A Poetry Congeries.
The event was so successful that we are doing it again this spring, and it’s bigger and better! On tap April 6-13 is a reading by Kevin Powers and a talk by Dr. Frederick Foote, founder of the Wounded Warrior Project. Again, there will be sequence of workshops, conducted this year by Powers, WV Poet Laureate Shelby Stephenson, my ECU colleagues Bob Siegel and Linda Fox, and me. And we are really excited that Monica Haller will be on hand to work with a select group of vets on books that will be published via the Veterans Book Project, an initiative founded by Haller in 2005. It entails an intensive seven day workshop to make text copy and images for a book-length work by each participant. You can find more info on this at http://www.veteransbookproject.com/. You can keep track of these upcoming events, as well as other events produced by the Contemporary Writers Series, by liking us on Facebook.
I inform you of this, on the first day of a new year, to urge those of my readers who work at community colleges, colleges, and universities—as well as those who live in communities with veteran populations—to look into what you can do to help those who give us so much, who do their best to keep us safe and do their duty even when their missions are sometimes questionable ones thrust upon them by fools and criminals. Organize local workshops. Provide training for faculty and staff. Bring in writers who tell these awful stories so that we might know and try to understand. Happy New Year.
1) Ilyse Kusnetz just before her interview at WZMB—East Carolina University Radio—during the 2015 Veterans Writing Workshop.
2) Brian Turner and John Hoppenthaler during a moment of free time at the 2015 ECU Veterans Writng Workshop.