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Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A Homemade MFA?

Over at The Review Review website, Randy Susan Myers has posted this group of excerpts from books she read studied that she considers her homemade MFA. We’ve discussed the eternal question of “To MFA or Not to MFA” before here, so we’ll let that dog lie for the moment. But Myers’ point is that if you’re uninterested in, unwilling or unable to suffer the slings and arrows of a graduate program in writing, you can build your own program.

Find books that you like as a start. Read through the first pages of books that interest you (you can usually do this online, but always in the store). If you like the approach, get the book and study it. Don’t just read through it. Study it. Take notes, make yourself write papers about the things you’ve learned. Commit them to memory. Then move on.

There are also other shorter, non-academic programs at writers’ centers and public libraries–and of course through the Veterans Writing Project–for people who aren’t interested in getting the academic credential but are interested in studying in a more formalized setting.

Finally, you could get into a writing group. Find a small number of other writers who are willing to share their works and their insights on yours. Build your own workshop.

But the most important thing is simply to write. If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. So get to it.

Rummy and Mo

Over at the New York Review of Books–of which Donald Rumsfeld reportedly believed that anyone who subscribed was clearly a communist–they’ve posted a snippet of writing by the newest Nobel Prize in Literature laureate, Mo Yan (who technically was a communist, Mr Rumsfeld) describing some of Mo’s experiences in the Peoples Liberation Army.  It feels real to me, all that riding around in the back of trucks and hoping you’ll be the one selected for some new bit of training. So pop over and give it a read. Who cares what Rummy thinks, anyway.

A Veteran’s Day Poem

Joseph Bathanti, the newly-named Poet Laureate of North Carolina, has written a new poem in honor of Veteran’s Day 2012.  Bathanti is a friend of the Veterans Writing Project and has dedicated himself to getting veterans’, service members’, and military family members’ stories told. You should check out this new poem.  Our friends at Press 53 publish some of his collections of poetry.

Of Presidents and Poets

In anticipation of the upcoming presidential election, here’s a link to the Poetry Foundation’s website that lists a few of our former presidents linked to their favorite poets. General George Washington dug Phyllis Wheatley. Colonel Teddy Roosevelt read Edward Arlington Robinson so much he helped Robinson get a job. WWI National Guard artillery battery commander Harry S. Truman liked Alfred Lord Tennyson. Sailors John Kennedy, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter liked (respectively) Robert Frost, Rudyard Kipling and Dylan Thomas. Now go vote.

I Watched the Naked Women Walk Out of the Sea

No, it’s not an admission to voyeurism. It’s a line from one of John Cheever’s short stories, “Goodbye, My Brother.” Cheever, whose birth centennial we celebrate this year, said that he wrote that line, and then built a story around it. Oh, did I mention that it’s the final line in the story?

John Cheever was a soldier in the Second World War. The story goes that he was in an infantry unit that went ashore on D-Day. Most of his company was killed. Cheever was pulled out of that unit before D-Day by an officer who knew of his work and thought the Army could use a good writer on the propaganda team. Lucky for John; lucky for us.

Allan Gurganus studied with Cheever at the Iowa Workshops. Gurganus gives us this remembrance of his mentor from the New York Review of Books. If you haven’t read much Cheever, I commend his work to you.  I have a copy of his collected stories beside my bed and am savoring a story each night before I drift off.

50,000 Words. One Month. No Problem.

By Alyssa Kropp

How difficult could this be? Girded by my VWP seminar in May, and inspired by my fellow veterans’ writings, I will find out this November along with many other aspiring novelists during National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org). Anyone else curious and a tad crazy? I am looking for some writing buddies, whether virtual or in the DC Metro area.

The Army’s made made me a bit of a planner- I am not very good at ‘winging it’, but Chris Baty, NaNoWriMo’s founder, would claim that no preparation is the best preparation. But for those of us who may lose sleep fearing writer’s block on Day 1, he has published No Plot? No Problem! – available in hard copy and Kindle editions on Amazon. This, combined with your dog-eared VWP text Writing War: A Guide to Telling Your Own Story, some good friends, a sense of adventure, and a bit of craziness, will get you at the very least the start of a novel, new writing friends, and stories about writing for 30 days straight.

If you have a few characters roaming around in the nether regions of your mind, give them a story to plant themselves in. Read up on NaNoWriMo, create an account and join the NoVA region forum (or the one in your area). VWP alum and friends interested in connecting as veterans, may then find my profile “mizzadventure” to become writing buddies (or send me an email to my gmail address mizzadventure). We can then plan on a few regular ‘write-ins’ for camaradarie and support, and plan a kick-off session on November 1st.

Alyssa Kropp is an Army Lieutenant Colonel on active duty in the Pentagon. She took part in the Veterans Writing Project’s seminars in the Summer of 2012.

Of Mattie Ross and Norwood Pratt

Sergeant Charles Portis was a United States Marine who served in Korea during the shooting war there. He came home to college and went on to a career as a journalist, including a stint at the New York Herald Tribune at about the same time guys like Jimmy Breslin, William Zinsser, and Red Smith were there.

Portis wrote a couple books, too. One of them was twice made into movies, first in 1969 and then again in 2012. Maybe you remember, True Grit. His other major novel, Norwood, is the subject of a review in The Oxford American by Wint Husky. I can’t recommend the book more strongly than this: if you don’t like it, you probably need to have your sense of humor re-calibrated.

A Hero as Poet

There is a review in the Economist this week of a biography of the British WW2 poet Frank Thompson.  I have to admit I’ve never heard of Thompson and I’ve struggled to find examples of his work: I found one. His work is classically influenced, and apparently he considered himself only an amateur. But in the end, aren’t we all–or 99% of us anyway?

I love the title of the book: A Very English Hero. He was a member of the Special Operations Executive, as irregular a group of heroes as will ever exist: Think T.E. Lawrence by the dozen. I’ll probably ask my local library to pick up the book (a great way to get to read books that cost more than you’re keen to spend and still make sure the author gets paid). It sounds like a ripper of a story.

A Patriot’s Game

Here’s yet another interesting interview from the archives of the Paris Review (and yes, we do seem to be a bit obsessed with that journal…). Leon Edel is probably best known for his biography of Henry James, and in this interview he tells the story of how he became interested in James and why he chose to be a journalist and a biographer.

But beyond the interview there’s something else worth remembering about Edel. He was born in 1907, so he was 35 years old when he joined the Army during the early days of World War II. He served for three years, soldiering under General Patton in Europe. By the time the war was over, Edel was twice the age of the draftee replacements joining the Third Army.

I suppose we all think of war as being a young man’s game, but in fact we should all adjust our thinking to understand that both men and women are going to and coming home from war, and not every soldier deploying is twenty-something. I was in the middle of five different wars between 1996 and 2006: in Zaire, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Darfur. I was 38 years old in 1996. I was a 44-year-old reservist when I arrived in Afghanistan. Most of my peers were in their early 30s.

Mark Benjamin wrote a piece for TIME Magazine taking note that three soldiers killed in July 2011 in Afghanistan were all from a Pennsylvania National Guard unit, and that one of them, Sgt Brian K. Mowery, at age 49 could easily have been a grandfather. Lots of Guard and Reserve soldiers are older than their active component counterparts. While a 49-year-old sergeant would be unheard of in the regular Army, it’s not even really an oddity in the Guard. And while war usually is a young man person’s game–it’s hard and dangerous work–Sergeant Mowery’s and Leon Edel’s ages are relevant to the larger story, one we’ll call A Patriot’s Game.

Sing to me, O Muse….

Here’s an excellent interview in the Paris Review with the late Robert Fagles, author of our favorite translation of The Iliad. Buried in the middle somewhere Fagles says, “Ever since my parents read the papers to me and I could follow the European and Pacific theaters of World War II, I’ve hankered to be a soldier—if only in that war, a war worth fighting, and winning too—and I’ve been fascinated as well as repelled by the notion of mortal combat.”

Fagles was born in 1933, so he wasn’t of age to fight in World War Two. But would have been 18 in 1951, prime draft or enlistment age for Korea. Nonetheless he didn’t sign up, apparently it was not what he considered “a war worth fighting.”

Notwithstanding that, his translation of the war poetry of the Iliad is magnificent. The interviewer gets at some important points about the influence of the World War One poet and writer Robert Graves (Goodbye to All That, The White Goddess), and of World War II Army and Marine veteran Shelby Foote (The Civil War: A Narrative) on Fagles’ work. It’s also interesting to read his comment that Americans prefer prose to poetry, which is why his translation isn’t in meter.

If you’re interested, take a look (in any translation) at Book VI, the scene where Hector goes up to Troy and meets his wife, Andromache. That scene, written nearly 3000 years ago seems very familiar to me and to other recent service members I’ve discussed it with. Book X is also fascinating: it might be the first description of a special operations mission.