Kipling. Whitman. Hemingway. For every American conflict, poetry has been its constant companion. Some may seem to romanticize war; others illuminate the horrors of combat. All have something to say.
Now, Joseph Bathanti, North Carolina's poet laureate, is harvesting a new generation of stories, helping the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan put pen to paper and, this month, bring those words to life on stage.
weary, fatigued they stalk
often stand motionless,
attempt to sense their enemy
on the same journey,
both hoping the other not engage
Call it catharsis. Perhaps a little penance. Or maybe it's simply closing a gap between those who serve and those who have not.
Bathanti began to notice more young veterans in his creative writing classes at Appalachian State University. Then, a colleague asked him to help her son, a veteran who served in Iraq; writing was a natural outlet. When the panel that selects the state's poets laureate, along with the governor, asked for a signature project, Bathanti knew he wanted to work with veterans.
of the Female Engagement Team
beams her American smile. Pied Piper
with a rifle, she patrols a garden
of black-haired, dark-eyed boys
On a warm fall evening, Bathanti stood on a sidewalk at Guilford Community College talking to a student. Young people swarmed around them on their way to night classes. Bathani and the younger man looked like the professor and student that they are. But the young man is also a Marine seeking advice on writing.
Visits like these play out on an almost daily basis as Bathanti crisscrosses the state from his home near Boone to points east. Murphy to Manteo? Bathanti, one year into his two-year term as poet laureate, knows it all too well. He's read from his work at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at colleges and universities all over North Carolina. This month, he'll hold a workshop at the Carolina Veterans Weekend, an opportunity for military families to take part in the national Veterans Writing Project, sponsored by the Dare County Arts Council.
When he began helping veterans, "I had no reason to believe I could do such a thing other than brashness."
Like others of his generation, Bathanti was eligible for the draft that would send him to Vietnam. But his name was drawn during one of the final rounds, and he did not serve. Now, there's another opportunity, a second chance.
I pulled a wad of C-4 plastic explosive out of my pocket and placed it on the ground. I lit it with my Charlie Company cigarette lighter and held my can of ham and eggs over the intense blue flame.
When Bathanti and the Touring Theatre of North Carolina requested the writings of North Carolina veterans this summer, more than 100 responded with poetry, essays, journal entries and letters. Theater founder Brenda Schleunes trimmed them into "Deployed." World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan are seamlessly woven together. Five actors will represent dozens of veterans. Meet three veterans and readers starting on Page 10.
"Deployed" will be staged Nov. 8-16 in Greensboro. The theater will then make the show - as it does all of its works - available for bookings around the state.
Want to go?
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 8, 9, 15 and 16 at Mack and Mack, 220 S. Elm St., Greensboro.
Who: Tickets are $20 and may be purchased from the Touring Theatre of North Carolina. ttnc.org. Veterans and active-duty service members may buy tickets at the group rate of $17 per ticket by calling 336-338-2004.
What: Carolina Veterans Weekend
When: Nov. 15-17. A concert that Friday night featuring Molasses Creek and Jonny Waters & Company kicks off the weekend. Writing workshops will be held at the UNC Coastal Studies Institute in Wanchese.
Who: Tickets to the Nov. 15 concert at Roanoke Island Festival Park are $12 in advance and $18 at the door ($15 for veterans). The workshops are free, but space is limited. Apply at darearts.org/calendar.
A reclusive small brown butterfly,
white and yellow stigmatic suns
deployed along its wing ridges
Saint Francis's Satyr - christened
after the 12th century Italian soldier
and POW turned mystic -
secretes itself, miraculously,
in 10 by 10 kilometers
of the 251 square mile brash
of Fort Bragg - exact coordinates classified -
beyond which - we know this much -
it has gone undetected. Shy, endangered,
preferring anonymity, it hides
in high artillery impact domains -
life often chooses death -
the fire triggered by bombardment.
It wears Marsh camouflage,
resembles in its favored habitat -
blasted sedge and beaver ruins -
a tiny standard issue
Advanced Combat Helmet,
Parsed from the chrysalis,
rent too soon from its dream of living,
the satyr blazes in desperate glory
but three or four days,
in its imaginal stage,
then tenders its life in writ sacrifice.
Its gorgeous numbers dwindle.
The caterpillar has never been seen.
We accept, on faith, metamorphosis.
- Joseph Bathanti