War poetry has a long and storied history; combat veterans and haiku, not so much. But that may all be changing, thanks to Susanna Speier's innovative "Politiku" -- the application of the traditional Japanese short-form poem familiar to schoolchildren everywhere, with its three line structure of five, seven and five syllables apiece, which can also be a suitable vehicle for expressing profound and personal reflections on trauma.
Speier has already developed some fans for her Politiku concept -- it appears regularly as a column in the Huffington Post -- but thanks to an introduction by the very kind and genuine Craig Newmark, Speier and Healing Combat Trauma connected this week over Speier's interest in bringing the Politiku work to combat veterans.
Speier has a lovely and appealing presentation she's been working on, but as we discussed it further, one particularly timely theme -- it being July Fourth and all -- leapt into Speier's mind. "Fireworks" would make a perfect theme. To most Americans, celebrating with their families on the Fourth, fireworks represent one gigantic surge of pyrotechnic patriotism, awing small children and grownups alike as they soar into the air and explode with fabulous colors and ear-popping, ground-shaking reverberations. It's America's birthday, after all, but in place of the cake and candles we get...concerts, barbecues, parades and FIREWORKS!
For the combat veteran, however...and only approximately 11% of our population has served in the military...fireworks can remind them a little too much of the sights and sounds of combat. Many combat veterans, especially those with PTSD, find themselves dreading the Fourth and the fireworks in particular; and often find themselves unable to explain this (satisfactorily) to family and friends. Quite a few vets make plans beforehand to "head to their bunkers," and not come out until it's over. Others talk about how their own veteran dads, growing up, spent the holiday every year, in a haze of drugs or alcohol, waiting out the celebration. Some veterans feel bad about not being able to join in the celebration, but they can't; and some families of affected combat veterans wonder whether to leave their veteran home while they go enjoy the show...or miss the celebration themselves while not being able to bridge the gap with what their loved one is experiencing.
So into this mix comes Speier, Politiku, and the idea of having combat veterans write a haiku, with 5/7/5 syllabication, to express their feelings around fireworks, and what it reminds them of, or what it causes them to miss. We put the post out on Facebook, on the Healing Combat Trauma fan page, as well as my personal page, and got some interesting results. Speier is collecting more over at her site and in the comment section of the Huffington Post article, and assures that the combat veteran/haiku author's anonymity will be protected, if desired.
Here's a sample haiku to get you started, written by, erm, Healing Combat Trauma:
Blue night red rockets
White sparklers Percussion blasts
Vets feel more than Fourth
And here's a better one, written by Angela Peacock, U.S. Army veteran, who served in Baghdad during the early days of the Iraq war, and who has allowed her name to be used:
Fire lights up the sky
Like old memories burning
Too much for my nerves
If you'd like to be part of this project, go here and read the FAQs on what Politiku is and how to write them; or just dive in and send your Politiku/Haiku in as a "comment" in any of the threads listed above, and we'll make sure to get your poem(s) headed in the right direction. Also add whether you'd like your name on or off the submission, if it's used. (Be wise about whether you want to have your name and PTSD associated in the same subject on future web searches, if you're thinking about employment prospects...)
And, if you'd just like to think more about poetry in general, and war poetry or combat veterans and poetry in particular, there are two sources right here on this site. One is the collection of articles on poetry, linked here; and the other is the list of "war poetry" books, which can be found along the upper right hand side of this website. Enjoy!