Woman’s Poems Reveal Perspective as Veteran, Civilian
My poems are drawn from my unique experience as a woman combat veteran and also someone who has lived in Afghanistan as a civilian.
Photo credit: Eric Hervey
The poems about war are about its ugliness and hypocrisy, yes, but also the way it makes you conscious of the costly treasure that is peace; the fragility and preciousness of a single breath.
The intensity of working, living and serving in a "combat zone" reveals a lot about the human condition and the violence, evil and darkness that we — not just "they" — are capable of, as well as our extraordinary courage, kindness, selflessness and love.
The collection is also about remembering what has been dismembered in order to hold onto what vitally shapes identity, healing and home. This last thread is an important one, whether connecting with home in the
photo taped to inner skin
of dust-encased Kevlar helmet (“Be-long-ing”)
or grappling with the complicated idea of “coming home” after war:
Places left behind will find you not-the-same
though stems of old selves hold on, stubborn… (“On Returning”)
I wrote these poems because each one is about a moment, an image, a person or an idea that was more than a story to me and more than could be captured in ordinary words.
I wrote them to honor and in some way begin to share glimpses of the experiences (both the pain and wisdom) of combat veterans.
I wrote them to explore, through art and creative language, multiple angles of the U.S. and international military mission in Afghanistan, which I see as a deeply worthwhile undertaking fraught with disastrous mistakes. The outcome of that mission, of course, hangs in the balance even as these poems go to print, and along with it the question of whether the sacrifices made by so many Americans and their allies (including many personal friends and colleagues) will have been worth it, or will be wasted.
Because I believe, as I have written elsewhere, that the war in Afghanistan possibly the most winnable conflict in U.S. history, this situation haunts me.
I hope for these poems to disrupt some assumptions about those who wear the uniform, as well as to spark contemplation and conversation about the humanity of those who experience war from all sides.
In the short poem “About Face,” a play on the military marching term as well as an exploration of human encounter, I begin with this:
So much wrapped
in the gift of a word: salaam
I like to think of words as gifts. When you offer someone a word, you can potentially offer life, blessing, encouragement and a fresh perspective or understanding, hope and vision. Of course, words can also be toxic and destructive, IEDs ignited by the tongue.
"Salaam" is the word for "hello" in Afghanistan and also means "peace" in both Persian and Arabic linguistic contexts. When you say "hello," you are wishing someone peace. In a way, then, these poems are a humble greeting and acknowledgment of pain's face among us, and a wish for restoration.
I hope for these poems to be places of encounter, of opening up the mind and the senses to raw experiences and realities to let greater insight, compassion and reverence take root.
In parting, "About Face" ends this way:
Let us be more
listen to the soil
than we hold onto:
not like sand but not
Felisa Hervey (Farzana Marie) is a poet, a Tillman Scholar and doctoral candidate at the UA School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies. Hervey's research focuses on Persian literature, specifically contemporary Afghan women's poetry. She is the author of the nonfiction book, "Hearts for Sale! A Buyer’s Guide to Winning in Afghanistan," published in 2013 by Worldwide Writings. Her new short poetry collection, "Letters to War and Lethe," has been published by Finishing Line Press and is available for sale now. After receiving a degree in humanities from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Hervey served on active duty for more than six years, including consecutive years of deployed service in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2012. She also previously served as a volunteer teacher in Afghan orphanages. In 2003, she received the gift of her Afghan name, Farzana, which has since become her pen name. Hervey also earned a master's degree in English from the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is president of Civil Vision International, a nonprofit charitable organization focused on positively influencing international relationships through connecting, informing and inspiring citizens. Follow her on Twitter, @farzanamarie.
University of Arizona in the News