An Interview with Tina Cane: A Poetry Workshop for Veterans

“As a person who is attuned to language, I am struck by the power of common yet specialized vocabularies that can connect groups of people. The military community is certainly one such group. While each member’s experience is unique to that person, shared language can serve as a common foundation on which to build creative support between people who want to write. This is what I hope to help foster in a workshop for veterans. It’s what all writers need to explore and grow.”

 

Beginning April 6, meeting weekly for 10 weeks, Frequency will offer A Poetry Workshop for Veterans of War, taught by Tina Cane. This workshop is completely free to veterans.

The workshop offers a space for veterans to write in a community of other veterans. The interests of the participants will guide the content of this course. Tina Cane brings 20 years of teaching experience and a desire to help facilitate a supportive environment where veterans of all levels of writing experience can explore writing poetry. The course includes a special event at Moses Brown School with author and veteran, Brian Turner. There will also be an opportunity for the writers in the class to present their work publicly.

Please contact us to learn more or to register.

INSTRUCTOR: Tina Cane
DATES: Wednesdays, April 6- June 15  (no class on April 20)
TIME: 6:30-8:30pm
WHERE: School One, 220 University Ave., Providence RI

Tina took some time to speak with us about the class.

 

FREQUENCY: What inspired this class?

TINA CANE: My desire to run this workshop stems from my experience of reading tina-cane-sept-2010poetry and fiction written by veterans of recent wars. Over the past few years, there has been a crop of writers producing excellent work informed by their participation in these conflicts. I began reading some of these writers as a way to connect with and understand on a different level what I follow in the news as a citizen. Since I am a poet, I turned to literature–which provides other perspectives and truths beyond the facts. These new important works got me thinking that these new writers began writing somewhere—perhaps in a workshop or class.

Speaking recently at the Frequency Open House, I quipped that I proposed this class because  “I like to be useful.” I was only half-joking, since there is a need for such a workshop, since not many– if any–currently exist in Rhode Island. As a teaching poet in my program, Writers-in-the-Schools, RI, I am committed to working with people or in places where I perceive a need. I have never taught a workshop for veterans and, as always with teaching, I am sure to come away having learned a lot from my students.

F: What will inspire this class?’

TC: As is often the case, I think it’s the workshop members who will inspire this class. I have many ideas about what I would like us to cover, but I think the group will lead us where we need to go. We will certainly begin with a discussion of form and talk about the many tools we may employ as poets. We will look at great poems to appreciate what they doing but, as far as how we write and what we write about, I am happy to respond to the collective interests, energy and chemistry of the class.

F: Are you a veteran?

TC: No, I am not. My biological father is a Vietnam veteran and, while I did not grow up with him in my life, I think that aspect of his biography exerted a presence on my psyche with regard to the ramifications of war. I was raised by my (step)father who was not a vet, but had a couple of close friends who were.

Growing up, I was attuned to the impact of war on their lives and it informed my views on what service, in all its incarnations, can mean.

F: How can writing serve veterans?

TC: Writing can serve veterans in the same ways it serves us all. Like many poets, I write to explore, to understand and, ultimately, to share. Writing in any form awakens us to the world through language, sound, form and content. Through writing we observe and through observation we strive to make meaning of our lives–even (perhaps especially) the difficult parts.

The poet, Jack Spicer, said: “Fiction invents. Poetry discloses.”  While much of poetry invents and the best fiction discloses, I do think that poetry can distill intellect and emotion in distinctive ways. Because poetry is a most flexible genre, it offers itself as if for invention. That makes it exciting for those just beginning to write and keeps things dynamic for seasoned writers.

Although not all veterans are inclined to write about their service experiences, they may find that a workshop specifically for them will more easily accommodate that content. As a person who is attuned to language, I am struck by the power of common yet specialized vocabularies that can connect groups of people. The military community is certainly one such group. While each member’s experience is unique to that person, shared language can serve as a common foundation on which to build creative support between people who want to write. This is what I hope to help foster in a workshop for veterans. It’s what all writers need to explore and grow.

F: Why is poetry important, individually or globally?

TC: It comes back to the often quoted William Carlos Williams line, “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”  People turn to poetry. Even people completely unfamiliar with reading or writing poetry turn to it–almost instinctively–because on some level we believe that it connects us to important parts of ourselves or contains some vital information we need. I don’t know that this is more true of poetry than any other art form, but I do think that many of us believe it to be true. Poetry has always been a revered form–more so in other cultures. Its marriage of form and content–through the visual medium of text and space and the music of sound–resonates with both the body and the mind. In our age of “connectivity” and “connected-ness”–often without meaningful connection–I sense that the relevance of poetry is heightened because the need is real.

F: Anything else you’d like to add?vets class flyer

TC: What I’ve read lately:

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, ed. L. Bowden & S. Cain

Redeployment by Phil Klay

Here, Bullet by Brian Turner

Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa

Starting:
Love My Rifle More than You by Kayla Williams

 

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