Writing Interventions with Military Veterans
From: Courage and Strength - Stories and Poems by Combat Stress Veterans
The role of war writing in all its forms has always been able to engage our cultural discourse. This collection of prose and poetry provides an important continuation of that legacy. Here are stories from many different arenas: the Falklands, Northern Ireland, the Mediterranean, Africa and the home front. Many pieces expertly recount moments of reflection in the field and others deal honestly with ongoing challenges but what links them all is the awareness that a richly textured inner life is the place from which good writing can emerge.
Where a poem that deals with the tsunami is clearly also about the trauma of combat, where lines with great feeling for the natural world are written with acute observational skills, when an empathy towards ‘victims’ extends to the enemy and beyond, then we know we are in the presence of writers who have something essential to say.
Having been privileged to work with some of these authors in a workshop situation, I have seen the care with which they revise to find the right word, the most apt phrase and the best ending to their piece. Their skills are particularly in evidence when they combine the most poignant detail with an irreverent wit which only serves to emphasise the honest reality of the content.
There is work here which will leave a reader breathless, work which lingers long in the mind and not just because it unflinchingly renders individual experience into literary form, but also because it forces a reader to join in the conversation and to ask the most difficult of questions.
As an editor dealing with these deeply intelligent and humane texts, my job has been to recognise the devices that writers employ to convey psychological truth. The variety of forms and approaches is as expertly handled as the use of surprising poetic turns while unexpected rhyme and sprung rhythm refers us back to the real import of the content. Again and again we are taught by this work to read more closely, to become more aware of how the composition of words can speak to our inner mind, the place these writers reach with this strikingly political and utterly memorable work.
The Military Writing Network was founded in 2009 by Siobhan Campbell, Principal Lecturer in the Department of English Literature and Creative Writing, Kingston University, London. Drawing on research by Professor Rachel Cusk, Dr Meg Jensen and Professor Vesna Goldsworthy into the interface between testimony, trauma literature, autobiographical fiction and recovery from trauma and related disorders, the MWN created and sustains partnerships with organisations working with veteran soldiers, sailors and airmen and their families toward investigating how creative writing practice can help them cope with issues relating to combat stress, both inside and outside mental health environments.
The MWN convenes an ongoing online writing workshop for veterans with members from the UK and the USA.
Working with SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen Family Association) and with Combat Stress UK (registered mental health charity), a series of action research projects were initiated which focused on stimulating, facilitating and honing creative expression by serving and veteran members of the armed forces and demonstrating the value of such writing by publication and exhibition.
Collaborations and contributions:
Roger Kirkpatrick (RAF retd.), judge for KUP/SSAFA Forces Stories and Poems competition (2011);
General the Lord Dannatt GCB CBE MC DL, Chief of the General Staff (2006 – 2009) who provided the introduction to the book, Courage and Strength, Stories and Poems by Combat Stress Veterans;
Janice Lobban, Head of CBT Therapy, Combat Stress UK who worked with Siobhan Campbell to establish a system of metrics for recording the impact of creative writing practice;
Dr. Joseph F. Ryan, contributor to Forces Stories & Poems who went on to takea DPsych in trauma recovery.