For seven years, members of a Philadelphia-based nonprofit have been traveling the country turning the stereotype of veterans not speaking about their military service on its head.
Warrior Writers hosts regular workshops for veterans in Chicago; Ithaca, N.Y.; New York City and Boston; as well as visiting workshops in other cities to help soldiers (regardless of age) express their feelings and experiences through poetry and prose.
This year Warrior Writers is teaming up with Combat Paper, a nonprofit teaching vets how to turn their old uniforms into artful paper (read our story about the organization here), to offer three writing and paper-making workshops in New Jersey. These efforts were made possible by a $135,000 grant from Impact 100 Garden State.
After the veterans and active-duty service personnel polish their writing at the workshop in Morristown, N.J., they will be presenting their work during the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival at the NJ Performing Arts Center in Newark on October 25.
One participant in the Morristown workshop is Sarah Mess of Branchburg, N.J. Mess served in the Army in Somalia and wrote a piece in the voice of male soldiers who didn’t think she belonged. “She thinks too highly of herself,” Mess reads in a video for Daily Record. “Let’s knock this girl back down to her stupid, dumb girl position. Come on, boys, sic her. Get her. Beat her. Kick her. Don’t let her up. But she’s bleeding. Good for her. That’s what she gets. She should have never joined the Army.”
“I’m able to express and tap into things here that maybe I didn’t even know were still stirring, like I did today,” Mess tells Lorraine Ash of Daily Record. “I’m able to bring those things to the surface and share them in safe spaces with people who’ve experienced similar things. The draw is that it’s veterans working with veterans. The draw is that we don’t call it therapy. When you start calling things therapy, it creates an aversion to wanting to participate because of the stigma. This works because it’s just community.”
Eli Wright, who works for Combat Paper NJ and served as a medic in the Army, tells Ash that while explorations of painful topics like Mess’s piece are welcome, “We’re not all here because we are broken by the military and trying to heal. We have a lot of veterans involved in these projects who are not combat veterans. A lot served during peacetime, but they’re still artists and they still have plenty of things to say. It’s not all about war trauma.”
Clearly, it’s about art.