Letters to War and Lethe is a collection of poems about war: its deprivations, its strange gifts, and its remembrances. “Whether set in Afghanistan or an American supermarket,” writes Boston-based poet Joyce Peseroff, these poems “upset platitudes and assumptions about those who fight, what they remember, and who speaks for them.” Farzana Marie’s book, Peseroff says, “is an essential addition to the literature of war and remembrance.”
Bruce Weigl, a Vietnam veteran and author of best-selling prose memoir The Circle of Hanh (2000) as well as numerous books of poetry, describes Letters to War and Lethe this way: “Writing bravely and eloquently from the point of view of a woman war veteran, Farzana Marie gives us a vision of war and its more terrible aftermath that we haven’t seen yet. However deeply sorrowful these songs most often are, we are made wiser by their presence among us. Not the least important accomplishment in this collection of poetry is a virtuoso performance by someone who understands the entire range of musical options that prosody is and therefore deftly weaves meaning and form together into a richly formal tapestry. I am happy to welcome you to this fine talent and these powerfully real poems.”
Farzana Marie is a poet and doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona, where she studies Persian Literature and Creative Writing. Farzana’s poetry has appeared in print and on-line journals including The Rusty Nail, Adanna, When Women Waken,Fourteen Hills, and Blue Streak: a Journal of Military Poetry as well as anthologies including The Heart of All That Is: Reflections on Home (Holy Cow! Press, 2013). She is also the author of the nonfiction book Hearts for Sale! A Buyer’s Guide to Winning in Afghanistan (Worldwide Writings, 2013). Farzana served over six years on active duty in the U.S. Air Force, including two consecutive years deployed in Afghanistan. She now serves as president of Civil Vision International, a nonprofit charitable organization focused on positively influencing international relationships through connecting, informing, and inspiring citizens.
Follow Farzana on Twitter @farzanamarie or check out CVI’s website, www.civilvision.org
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A few weeks ago, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in an interview that Washington’s cost-cutting culture helped spark the growing Veterans Administration hospital controversy by encouraging V.A. officials to understate their financial needs both internally and to Congress.
Murray, a top appropriator and former chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, had strong words for a department that she said not only faces chronic management issues but also consistently underestimates its funding needs and how many veterans will seek care each year:
“[It’s] an environment where everybody is told, ‘Keep the cost down. Don’t tell me anything costs more.’ It creates a culture out there for people to cook the books,” Murray said in an interview with Yahoo News.
Administrators learn to “hide the facts, because they don’t want to be told by their bosses, ‘Don’t tell me you need more money, because we can’t say that,’” she added. “Well, in the V.A., if they need more money, they need to be able to tell us, because how else are we going to solve these problems,” Murray said. “So we have to change that culture and mindset.”
For the upcoming fiscal year, current Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, Independent-Vt., has requested an additional $1.6 billion above the Obama administration’s medical services request.
According to an April letter Sanders sent to the Senate Budget Committee, which Murray runs, the V.A. “doesn’t take into account changing factors, such as the looming reduction of forces by the Department of Defense,” which removes members of the armed services from the active duty military health care system and permits them to rely on the V.A.
But wait, Sanders and Murray aren’t alone.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV, claimed late last week that more resources would solve the problems at the V.A.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, said the V.A. needs more money to effectively serve our veterans.
Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, we need to get the V.A. the money they need to fix the inherent problems.
Joe Violante, the legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, estimated that the V.A. has been underfunded by billions of dollars over the last decade.
Based on the above information you would be lead to believe that budget cuts are to blame for the issues with veteran health care. If funding for the V.A. has not kept up with inflation and patient growth, there might be a legitimate argument to be made. But that’s not what happened; take a look at the chart :
Whether you adjust for inflation or not, the increases for the V.A. budget have exceeded inflation and the increase in the number of patients. The dollars involved have increased from $45 billion in 2000 to $124 billion in 2012. The spending for 2013 was $139 billion, $154 billion for 2014, and the request for 2015 is $165 billion.
Hopefully, Eric Shinseki’s successor will be someone skilled in the proper allocation of funding within the healthcare environment. The Inspector General report from 2012 found that V.A. Health Centers did not even have a system in place to determine proper staffing levels. As usual, the cry that budget cuts and funding are the root causes of the V.A. failures is completely false.
When Hank Robinson got out of the Army in 2010, he thought the only thing he was good at was fighting the enemy. However, he discovered a new talent while navigating his civilian life.
After deployments to Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan as an infantryman, he went to welding school on the GI Bill. Something about the aesthetics of the metal gave him an idea, though. So he experimented with a Dremel tool doing some engraving. He made a few pieces a month, essentially toying with ideas. When he found they were well-received, he went for it and began selling the pieces online. Now he’s making art a living as owner and operator at Hanro Studios Engraving in Glendale, AZ.
To him, the work is calming and helps him escape. Passionate, he says, is an understatement. He’s found definitive purpose in creating his pieces. He is always thinking about the next project, new ideas, or ways to improve technique. It’s also a way to commemorate his brothers’ and sisters’ service, and to keep connected to the military world.
For now, his customer base is primarily the military and veteran community. He uniquely memorializes the fallen and commemorates careers. His preferred medium, the black aluminum with which memorial bracelets are fashioned, is “tough” and “it’s something that’s eternal,” invocative of gunmetal. He also works with wood and glass. There’s more to the gravity of his work than the materials. He says there is “no room for failure” when memorializing someone who lost their life. The detail and quality of his work serve as a testament to this belief.
Hank Robinson is a great example of finding personal solace and purpose through art while contributing to the greater community. It’s a gamble he’s found to be well worth it.
Learn more about Hanro Studios Engraving here. Check them out on Facebook here.
To the Fans, Staff Members, and Contributors to MEA Publications,
For the past six months we’ve worked with lawyers and accountants, sought counsel from the leaders of like-minded groups, and poured our energy and dedication to veterans, their families, and artists into creating a nationally recognized organization that provides members of military communities with access to the arts, advocacy, and educational resources. We’ve never charged a single veteran for our services; all of our publications are free to the public through our website. And now, with our federally recognized non-profit status, we should be able to stick to those principles and do even more, all while taking care of the individuals who’ve made this organization what it is today.
Our editors and staff members have worked hard over the past five years. Without pay and with little fanfare, they’ve worked behind the scenes, mentoring veteran writers and artists, maintaining support forums, educating the American public about the sacrifices and culture of military men and women in both the classroom and online workshops. Moving forward, my goal as the president of this organization is to ensure that their altruism and compassion does not lead to burnout, that their labors do not go unrewarded.
What will MEA do with its new non-profit status?
There will be two areas of focus in our fundraising efforts: publications and workshops/events. Our Executive Board will convene over the coming months and decide upon a reasonable stipend to be paid to the editors of our publications and the leaders of our special projects. We will run fundraising campaigns through various networks to raise the funds needed to compensate these professionals, ensuring that the veterans we help continue to interact with staff members of the highest caliber and motivation.
Secondary fundraising efforts might include:
Compensation to Contributors to Our Publications
Awards for Writing/Art Contest
The Development of MOOCs (Massive Open-Access Online Courses)
Print and Distribution of Publications at Veterans Resource Centers / Hospitals
Travel / Lodging for MEA Staff Members Invited to Speak
How will you ensure accountability?
I intend, within the limits of reason, to make our financial status completely transparent by keeping a running ledger of donations and expenditures. This ledger will be available to the public through our website, sensitive information removed, of course. If, upon reviewing it, something looks off, call us out on it publicly. We’ve got nothing to hide now. And I intend to keep it that way.
Why should MEA’s staff members receive stipends for their work? I thought MEA was a volunteer organization.
I’ll answer this question with two examples.
First, let’s look at the online workshops currently being led by the managing editor of The Blue Falcon Review, Daniel Buckman. Dan has published four novels with major presses and is a US Army veteran. He came to MEA wanting to “pay it forward,” to help young, aspiring fiction writers who are veterans achieve the same kind of success. At the same time, Dan works part time as adjunct faculty at various colleges and in the inner city, helping Chicago youths use education to advance themselves.
His time is valuable, as is his expertise. The workshops he leads for The Blue Falcon Review, including upwards to twenty authors, lasting months at a time are, in my opinion, the equivalent to teaching an online class at any university, only more time consuming, especially at the end when participants are ready for one on one assistance for final publication. As such, when I meet with the MEA board in a few months, I am going to suggest that managing editors like Dan receive a stipend that reflects the pay for teaching a single, online college course. We will then set a target date for publishing each volume and, once the stipends for the managing and associate editors have been raised, we’ll proceed with the workshops, consultations, and editing that results in our top-notch publications.
The next example I’d like to use is that of MEA’s Secretary and Academic Liaison, Lisa Day. Among other duties, Lisa is the last line of defense against grammatical errors, stylistic problems, and other problems that must be overcome for our publications to appear professional and polished. Last year, Lisa edited four volumes: The Journal of Military Experience‘s third volume, and the first volumes of The Blue Falcon Review, Blue Streak: A Journal of Military Poetry, and the Veterans’ PTSD Project’s Blue Nostalgia: A Journal of Post-Traumatic Growth.
All told, she spent several, 40-hour weeks editing these volumes. Like Dan, she works full time as an educator. Her job as the Director of Women and Gender Studies and an Associate Professor of English at Eastern Kentucky University already exceeds the standards of full time employment on its own. By editing so much material for MEA, it wouldn’t take much for her to reach burnout. So, I hope to work with the MEA board to establish a per-volume level of compensation that will allow her to free up the time to keep helping us produce high quality literature.
In my work, I’ve watched the literary market take advantage of many young authors and artists, lulling them into publishing with vanity presses, stealing away the rights to their intellectual property, charging upwards to $40 an hour for the same services that we provide–and will continue to provide–for free. We get larger every day. The more people who contribute, the heavier the load gets for our professionals. Many hands make for light work, I know. But directing those many hands–such as our editors and project leaders do daily–is also taxing.
Dan and Lisa are only two examples. There are any number of stories about our staff members that are equally compelling. Simply put, the best way to keep MEA growing is to take care of those individuals who got us to where we are today. And, as founder and president, I vow not to accept a single cent of pay before those like Dan and Lisa are compensated for their expert assistance.
What about events?
In 2012, the first MEA Symposium at Eastern Kentucky University was funded by the KY Department of Veterans Affairs. The total cost for the event ended up being around $13,000. Again, not a single veteran paid for the workshops, resources, events, lodging, and food made available to each participant. By budgeting events before hand we can, as with our publications, set a target fundraising goal and carry out the event once that goal has been met. This method will open the door to volunteers and fans to prepare proposals for events of their own, pitching them to our board for consideration. If it seems feasible, we will then be able to allow the director of the proposed project to work under our umbrella to create an MEA Sponsored Event.
When can I donate? How?
I will be setting up a bank account and mapping out a fundraising campaign soon. You’ll be the first to know through our website and social media outlets. In the meantime, keep Military Experience & the Arts in your thoughts and prayers. We’ve helped a lot of veterans. We are capable of helping a lot more now. I look forward to seeing us reach our full potential.
Email any questions, ideas, or concerns regarding our new status to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.