From the Vikings to Sappho to Adrienne Rich, women have written the story of war. Join us for this special Veterans Day reading featuring poets Pamela Hart, Abby E. Murray and Frances Richey, who reflect on the experiences of mothers, spouses, and children of soldiers -- family members on the homefront. In their work, these writers disrupt traditional war narratives by going beyond the battlefield, which after nearly two decades of war likely seems far away to many Americans. "It is our story, an old story," writes Adrienne Rich, "and still it must be told."
Mothers Over Nangarhar is an unusual and powerful war narrative, focusing less on the front lines of combat and more on the home front, a perspective our American cultural canon has largely ignored after 222 years at war. In her stunning poetry debut, Pamela Hart concentrates on the fears and psychological battles suffered by parents, lovers, and friends during a soldier’s absence and return home, if indeed there’s a return. With honest grit and compassionate imagination, Hart describes her own experience having a son overseas, incorporating lyric meditations, photography, news articles, support group meetings, family interviews, oral histories, and classic literature to construct a documentary-style narrative very much situated in the now. Blending reality with absurdism and guided openly by a Calvino kind of logic, Hart reveals to us a crucial American point of view.
Pamela Hart is writer in residence at the Katonah Museum of Art where she teaches and manages an arts-in-education program called Thinking Through the Arts. She was awarded an NEA poetry fellowship in 2013. She recently received the Brian Turner Literary Arts prize for poetry. Her poems have been published in a variety of journals including the Southern Humanities Review, Bellevue Literary Review, and Drunken Boat. Toadlily Press published her chapbook, The End of the Body. She is poetry editor and mentor for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.
Abby E. Murray’s debut Hail and Farewell is an unflinching examination of the intimate relationship between a soldier and a pacifist, bound together by choice. The collection reveals a wife’s perspective during her husband’s deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, including the whiplash of infertility experienced between tours. Inseparable by heart, their marriage is also built on disagreement. Military spouses are often expected to express absolute patriotism, and to conform to gender roles shaped by sexist, archaic ideals. But these poems don’t aim to accuse; rather, they call for compassion and community in the face of isolation. Capable of inserting levity into the most dire of circumstances, the poet never lets the reader forget what is at stake. Murray tears the idealized from the real, illuminating the brutality of battle and loss—traumas we tend to avoid in both military and civilian life.
Hail and Farewell is an expertly woven treatise on love, war, and politics. Keetje Kuipers says, “At a time when lines of ideological division run particularly deep, it gives me hope to see a poet exploring the nuances of patriotism and pacifism through the voice of a speaker who embraces the duality of her identity as both a wife and also a person defined by much more than her gender or marital status. Though full of men, Hail and Farewell is a book made of everything that a woman is expected to be— beautiful, fecund, and endlessly patient—cast against the surreal landscapes of a homecoming ceremony for returning soldiers or the military family housing that turns strangers into reluctant intimates. Most of all, I’m heartened to see that what I’ve always told my students is true: If there is a story that needs to be told, there is someone who can tell it. And damn, but Abby E. Murray tells this one.”
Abby E. Murray completed her MFA at Pacific University and her Ph.D. in English at SUNY Binghamton, where this book was written. She’s taught creative writing at high school and university levels and currently teaches argumentative writing to U.S. Army War College fellows sent to the University of Washington. Abby is the editor of Collateral, a literary journal concerned with the impact of violent conflict and military service beyond the combat zone, and as the 2019-2021 poet laureate for the city of Tacoma, Washington, she offers free poetry workshops around Pierce County, including at military posts and detention centers for undocumented youth. This is her first book. The Perugia Press Prize is a national poetry award for first or second books by women. Hail and Farewell was chosen from more than 400 submissions.
Frances Richey is the author of three poetry collections: “The Warrior” (Viking Penguin 2008), “The Burning Point” (White Pine Press 2004), and the chapbook, “Voices of the Guard,” a homecoming prose poem created from interviews with Oregon National Guard service members and their spouses (Clackamas Community College Press 2010). She teaches an on-going poetry writing class at Himan Brown Seniors’ Program at the 92nd Street Y in NYC, and she is the Poetry Editor for upstreet Literary Magazine, and for Illuminations, the literary journal for Himan Brown Seniors’ Program. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Nicolas Kristof’s 2007 Op-ed column, The Poets of War in the New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Plume, Gulf Coast, Blackbird, O! The Oprah Magazine, Salamander, among others, and has been featured on PBS NewsHour with Jeffrey Brown, and NPR All Things Considered. She lives and teaches in New York City.