Grounded: a review by Eduardo Ramirez

This fall, Susannah Martin directed George Brant’s play Grounded at the San Francisco Playhouse. Eduardo Ramirez, MSgt, USAF (Retired) attended one of the showings thanks to the complimentary tickets Kirk Johnson and Nickie Braucher of the SF Playhouse offered free of charge for veterans. As follows, Ramierz shares his brief review of the play:

Lauren English played a US Air Force, Major, F-16 Fighter Pilot’s like a true military professional.  The opening lines took me back to the days of my 22 years as an Airman. I relived my Air Force experience though the roles of Lauren. GROUNDED is a hard view of the realities facing our Women in Combat, wife, motherhood, career, PTSD, war, all factors facing today’s women in the military. War is hell but having to fight it from a trailer stateside is worst, daytime warrior, nighttime wife and mother, a hard life to live. Lauren brought the true spirit of what our military faces daily, whether it’s a deployment to the dessert, or leaving your family behind GROUNDED was real and Lauren brought it to life.

I salute Mr. Brant, Mrs. Martin, the Staff of GROUNDED and Lauren English, on behalf of all service men and women, veterans past and present. Thank you…

Eduardo “Eddie” Ramierz, MPA MSgt, USAF (Ret)

SF Playhouse poster
SF Playhouse poster

Spotlight: Art Schade’s “Not Alone”

An excerpt from Art Schade’s “Not Alone,” a non-fiction piece featured in the forthcoming volume of The Journal of Military Experience:

The group leader asked me to talk about my post-war years, an area where he knew I had some success. I told them that when I left the Marines after four years, I was youthful and confident in myself. I had no clue what depression and anxiety were, and I thought the nightmares were personal and temporary. I was determined to look forward, not backwards to the war. Unfortunately, today I realize that while constantly looking forward helped me avoid chaotic memories of war, it also cloaked the memories of my formative younger years, and positive events throughout my life.

Art Schade returns to The Journal of Military Experience with a powerful retelling of his experience first talking about PTSD in a group therapy session. Art, a Marine and Vietnam Veteran, carefully crafts his narrative to detail the experience and offers hope to all veterans and their families that there is hope in the battle against PTSD. 

Art Schade's first contribution to The Journal of Military Experience was entitled "The Demons of War Are Persistent." Read that work here. Accompanying sketchwork by Clayton D. Murwin.
Art Schade’s first contribution to The Journal of Military Experience was entitled “The Demons of War Are Persistent.” Read that work here. Accompanying sketchwork by Clayton D. Murwin.

In a recent interview with MEA’s Katt Blackwell-Starnes, Art elaborated on the need to encourage veterans and their families to understand the benefits of seeking help. “My stories about PTSD were written thirty-five years after Vietnam, when I recognized my years of denial and accepted the control PTSD had on my life.” Art’s healing included group therapy, one-on-one sessions, and medications, and through these sessions, he came to realize the importance of writing. “I knew I had to write my stories to help all veterans and their families break the stigma of PTSD and seek medical assistance which so many of us older warriors refused to do.”

Art began raising awareness through social media, publishing and promoting “The Demons of War are Persistent.” The self-promoting worked; MEA’s President read the work and invited Art to participate in workshops to polish his work for publication in The Journal of Military Experience, Vol. 2. The support and writing critique Art received led him back for another publication in the forthcoming Journal of Military Experience, Vol. 3. “It was not until I worked with MEA team members that I comprehended the commitment they make to helping veterans bring their stories to life–without grammar errors. It has changed my writing process considerably; when I form a story, I know there are ideal volunteers willing to help me significantly improve it!”

For Art, writing is a means of raising awareness, working through troublesome memories, and, in the case of his novel Looking for God within the Kingdom of Religious Confusion, a way to open minds. The novel details a personal journey where the character has meaningful religious and secular conversations on a quest for the truth about God. The novel emerged from unanswered questions: “As a combat veteran, there were always questions I had regarding the carnage of war and a loving God. [The novel] gave me an opportunity to share my thoughts with others.” 

Art is an excellent example of the inspiration, hard work, and growth we try to accomplish at Military Experience and the Arts. If you are a veteran with a story to tell and want help getting the story onto paper, canvas, or photograph, we can help. Our staff of nearly three dozen educators, professional writers, and veterans’ advocates is currently working on the publication of nearly two hundred original works of fiction, non-fiction, scholarship, art, and poetry by members of military communities throughout the world. We would love to include you in the next publication.

Spotlight: Virgil Huston’s “Valhalla” by Kathryn Broyles

Virgil Huston’s poem “Valhalla” which will be featured in Blue Streak this November.

* * *

—Virgil Huston

In modern times
why do warriors fight
pointless and
counterproductive wars?

Do they really believe
that Afghanistan is a
noble cause? Iraq?
That make us hated more
by those we try to rule.

Is it just a job?
Do they even care?
Or would they fight anyone
the politicians send them to?
While the politicians stay at home.

Are they brainwashed
or is there more?
They say only warriors
honorably killed in battle
receive the best reward.

Do they wish to be received
by Odin in the Valhalla halls?
Or Freyja’s Folkvangr fields?
Or to Elysium where
the Greek heroes dwell?

Yet in today’s world
only Muslims believe
in a heroes reward.
Heaven awaits the brave
with forty virgins each.

Even the promises to warriors of
the Crusades are long forgotten.
The West has no traditions left
or the great rewards there are.
If we only remembered and believed.

So, why do we fight these wars?
Brainwashed warriors have no place.
Pawns and puppets do no good
but fatten the pockets of
the Masters of War.

And the warriors die for nothing.

Is there more? There is indeed much more to consider when one writes of war, of warriors, of meaning and reward, and Virgil Huston, a poet new to the MEA community, does not shy away from the tough questions in his poem Valhalla excerpted above, nor in the two other poetic works slated to appear in the next edition of Blue Streak: A Journal of Military Poetry.

A self-proclaimed “old hippie” who missed being drafted to Vietnam, but somehow wound up active duty Army during the Cold War, supporting both Desert Shield and Desert Storm as a civilian, seeing action in the Army National Guard in Iraq and working force protection in Afghanistan, Huston is no stranger to dark places, witnessing dark dealings, and grappling with dark emotions. Nevertheless, his quick intellect and irrepressible wit shine through in his food blog Cooking with Little Buddy, a mouth-watering tour of the more than 28 countries and cultures Huston’s savored over the years and his attempt at being positive no matter where you find yourself. And the difficult and ugly scars, the details, events, and emotions he’d rather not savor, but recognizes must be dealt with, he’s found a new channel for, and a kind of progressive healing and balancing space for—in poetry.

In a recent interview with Kathryn Broyles, Huston shared that while art in his life is nothing new (in addition to an extensive background in non-fiction writing, technical writing, and curriculum development, and future plans that include building a Tozan anagama wood-fired kiln for firing ceramics), poetry is new. Huston explained, “My first decent poem Afghanistan’s Flanders Fields was written at a tiny firebase in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, where I could see about a km away the remains of a British cemetery from the 19th century. I later saw it up close on the way to an Observation Post….Afghanistan was an experience with widely varying extremes in terms of feelings” and its these feelings, and deep reflective consideration of them, that prompts Huston to use poetry to “try and cope with the conflicting feelings produced by what [he] was seeing and doing daily.”

When asked about influences and influencers, on his art and life, Huston quickly points to poet and lyricist Bob Dylan, and to sixties “war” music like Jimi Hendrix, Machine Gun, Buffy Sainte Marie (also Donovan) doing Universal Soldier, and Country Joe and the Fish at Woodstock with the I’m Fixin to Die Rag. Besides music, though, he’s just as quick to point to the support of his wife, to her honest and loving critique of his work, and to the people who actually inspired his poems- most of whom he’s never met. One particular individual whose feedback Huston points to as critical in shaping the poems in to appear in Blue Streak, especially Ramp Ceremony, is a former poetry editor for Journal of Military Experience, Wanda Fries. “A number of people have edited my work…and it is always better after someone looks at it and makes comments.

While Huston has not yet been able to attend a MEA workshop or symposium, he hopes to do so in the future and he credits Jeff Stein formerly of The Washington Post and now of Newsweek, with putting him in touch with the gang at Military Experience & the Arts.

Huston’s advice to veterans, to anyone who’s not already writing: “I would say give it a shot…if a vet is interested at all in writing, they should be encouraged, get the opportunity to go to a workshop.  They can see if it is something for them, and give it a try. Lot’s of us out here are willing to help. MEA is just one example and a great one.”

If you are a veteran with a story to tell and want help getting it onto paper, MEA can help. At the moment, our staff of close to three dozen educators, professional writers, and veterans’ advocates is working on the publication of nearly two-hundred original works of fiction, non-fiction, scholarship, art, and poetry by members of military communities throughout the world.

Virgil HustonVirgil Huston firmly believes writing gives us insight into ourselves and offers insight to others. It provides a sense of accomplishment and an opportunity to be heard. In addition to developing “specialized organic crop farming” on his 11 acres of SC countryside, and strategizing construction of his Tozan anagama wood-fired kiln, Huston plans to continue working actively to overcome PTSD and TBI issues, finish out his time in the Guard honorably, and hone his craft as a writer.

As a blogger, Huston wants to “change people’s ideas about food, agriculture and other cultures, including the cultures of those we fight.” As a poet, he hopes to work towards a collected volume of his work— seeking for his poetry too, to foster cultural understanding, to disrupt our view of the enemy, and ultimately, to “change war hawks into doves.”

Suzanne S. Rancourt’s “Authentic Voice” featured by Poets & Writers

Suzanne S. RancourtSuzanne S. Rancourt, who is taking over at the helm of Blue Streak: A Journal of Military Poetry following the publication volume one this fall, was recently asked to write about the workshops she leads for underserved populations.

Poets & Writers was founded in 1970 and “is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization serving creative writers.”

Their mission “is rooted in the belief that literature is vital to sustaining a vibrant culture. We focus on nurturing literature’s source: creative writers. Our mission is to foster the  professional development of poets and writers, to promote communication throughout the literary community, and to help create an environment in which literature can be appreciated by the widest possible public.”

In her remarks, Suzanne claims that “writing transports the artist to someplace,” reiterating the very approach she brings to her own poetry and her work to help others:

That’s why many of us write. Writing as an Expressive Arts / Creative Arts therapeutic modality is serious business. You are accessing memories, emotions, activating neural pathways that can lead to change with the appropriate guidance and support. There are specific practices that we follow in our daily living, and our continued passion to seek, learn, experience and become more competent in our profession; to be a better human. Be Authentic.

Read what Suzanne had to say for P&W in its entirety here.

Suzanne’s work also appeared in our second Journal of Military Experience. Here are some of her poems from that volume:

In November, when we release the inaugural volume of Blue Streak, you’ll be able to read more of her work, including this poem:

Why I Don’t Meditate

—Suzanne S. Rancourt

they said, “close your eyes” “relax” “let your mind see”
roads, I see roads, keep my head down, don’t look left don’t look right.
narrow, dirt roads, summer mountain meadow roads where there are goat paths, where the faeries live, or so the locals say,
I see roads lined with tamarack, yellow stone pine, fine sand dusty roads
that ruin camera lenses and jam automatic weapons.
I see white sand beaches that are not alpine and they take me to New Mexico, White Sands, Alamogordo, Three Rivers, St. John, North West Scotland, there is warmth and I travel through Guantanamo, Si Bonne, (Castro’s favorite)
and there in Santiago on the steps at the plaza, the men play dominos
when the women aren’t around
or revolutions aren’t being waged
or eyes gouged
no retina scrapes clean.

Montgomery, Alabama – I’m pumpin’ gas ‘round midnight
with the ghosts still blowin’ down Rosa Parks Boulevard.

Suzanne S. Rancourt