The Legacy of Wilfred Owen: Poets on War and the Search for Peace was an evening of readings and art by Drew Cameron, Susan Griffin, Amber Hoy, Aaron Hughes, Martin Lesinski, Aimee Phan, Ted Sexauer, Ehren Tool, Julie Thi Underhill, and Nancy Sue Brink.
The vivid writing of the WWI poets reverberates through the work of local contemporary poets and writers who read work that reflects experiences of war from Vietnam to Desert Storm to Afghanistan and Iraq, and the search for peace. Their writings explore the many ways war touches our lives—from soldiers in war, returning veterans, protesters, family members waiting for loved ones to return, to refugees fleeing war and arriving in an unfamiliar country. Held on April 12, 2016 at the Berkeley Public Library, it was the final evening in our collaborative series, “The Pity of War: Benjamin Britten, Wilfred Owen, and the War Requiem. It was also the final community event sponsored by BCCO during its 50th anniversary preparations for performing Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, which interweaves the Latin Mass for the Dead with the World War I poetry of Wilfred Owen.
The poets, writers and artists, in alphabetical order:
Drew Cameron is an Iraq war veteran and artist, and a founding member of Combat Paper, which transforms military uniforms into handmade paper. He is based in San Francisco. CombatPaper.org
Susan Griffin has written over twenty books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and plays that address social and political issues, social justice, the oppression of women, ecology, war and peace, economic inequities, and democracy. Often she approaches her subjects at a slant, following the music of language, metaphor, stories and incidents from her own life to reveal the underside of larger histories and realms. A Chorus of Stones, the Private Life of War, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a NY Times Notable Book. Woman and Nature, is credited with inspiring the eco-feminist movement. With co-editor, Karin Carrington, she edited the anthology Transforming Terror, Remembering the Soul of the World. Her many awards include a Guggenheim Foundation Award and an Emmy. SusanGriffin.com
(A note of apology to Amber—the video file of her reading was corrupted; we’re working on recovering and posting a version of her moving reading.)
Amber Hoy enlisted in the US Army and deployed to Qayyarah West, Iraq, as an ammunition specialist from 2006-2007 with the 592nd Ordnance Company. She holds a BA in photography from the University of Alabama and an MFA in Photography and Integrated Media from Ohio University. Her work explores questions of military service through photographs, stories and abstractions. Her work speaks to incidences of trauma, sexism and class dynamics, combining images of past and present, showing the slippage between military and civilian life. amberhoy.com
Aaron Hughes is an artist, activist/organizer, teacher, and Iraq War veteran, whose work seeks out poetics, connections, and moments of beauty, in order to construct new languages and meanings out of personal and collective traumas. He works with a variety of organizations and projects including: Warrior Writers, Dirty Canteen, National Veterans Art Museum, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative, and Center for Artistic Activism. Hughes’s work has shown in museums and galleries in the US and internationally. AarHughes.org
Martin Lesinski is a photographer, writer, and combat disabled Vietnam veteran. He began combining writing with self-portraits and government documents to explore his identity as a disabled veteran in the ‘70s. His work has been published in Dumb Ox, an art journal, and has shown in galleries and as part of a nationally touring show, Disability and the Arts. His writings are first-hand reports of shaping a life of healing that articulate the experiences of veterans and offer non-veterans insights into difficulties veterans encounter in navigating a world shaped by PTSD. MartinLesinski.com
Aimee Phan‘s first book, We Should Never Meet, was named a Notable Book by the Kiryama Prize in fiction and was a finalist for the 2005 Asian American Literary Awards. She teaches in the MFA Writing Program and Writing and Literature Program at California College of the Arts. A 2010 National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellow, Aimee received her MFA from the University of Iowa, where she won a Maytag Fellowship. Her writings have appeared in the New York Times, USA Today, Guernica, The Rumpus, The Oregonian, and more. AimeePhan.com
Ted Sexauer was an Army Special Forces-trained medic who served two tours in Vietnam, first with the 571st Dust-Off (Helicopter Ambulance) and then as a senior medic with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in northern Binh Dinh province. He is a poet, a member of Veterans For Peace, and a dedicated peace activist.
Ehren Tool is an artist and ceramicist who makes cups embellished with images of war. A Marine who served in Iraq during the invasion of Kuwait, he received his MFA from UC Berkeley, and is currently a senior mechanician in Ceramics. Of his cups, he says, “I would like my work to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the world. That is a lot to ask of a cup.” EhrenTool.com
Julie Thi Underhill is an interdisciplinary writer, artist, teacher, and scholar whose inheritances from war have deeply shaped her life. Born in 1976 to a Cham-French refugee mother from Viet Nam and an American father who served in Viet Nam, Underhill has published in Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace, Troubling Borders, Embodying Asian/American Sexualities, Takin’ It to the Streets: A Sixties Reader, ColorLines, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and TrenchArt Monographs. She teaches literature and composition at California College of the Arts while completing her doctorate in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. JThiUnderhill.com
Nancy Sue Brink (event host) is a poet, writer and media-maker, and a soprano in the Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra. Her writing has appeared in Veterans of War,Veterans of Peace, the Pacific Raptor Report, and Calyx Journal. Her film work explores issues in science, art, the environment, and social justice. Present-Tense.com
Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace is entering its 25th year of bringing people together to write about the trauma of war; their book by the same name, edited by Maxine Hong Kingston, won the 2007 Northern California Book Reviewers Special Award in Publishing and the 2008 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. http://vowvop.org/
Warrior Writers works to create a culture in which veterans and service members speak openly and honestly about their military experiences. Veteran-focused writing and art-making workshops empower veterans to tell their stories and voice their opinions in front of a wider audience, providing opportunities for the public to gain a deeper sense of the lives of veterans and service members. http://www.warriorwriters.org/