Monday, February 22, 2016

Monday Muse: Catching Up with Joseph Bathanti

Not only do veterans have extraordinary stories to tell but 
scholarship now exists demonstrating that writing about 
trauma can be  instrumental in addressing 
and overcoming its consequences.
~ Dr. Joseph Bathanti

It is a joy for me personally to see and bring to attention the development of arts and humanities programs in military settings, especially for veterans of war.* Such programs did not exist when my eldest brother, a draftee, returned from extended service in Vietnam. (In-country at the height of the war, he often was tasked with driving armored personnel carriers.) Such programs also did not exist when my father, a member of the famed Merrill's Marauders, returned from service in China, Burma, and India during World War II. Arts-related programs might have given both my father and brother a way to talk about and share their experiences and find the path toward recovery from the mental and physical traumas they suffered. 

As poet laureate of North Carolina in 2012-2014, Dr. Joseph Bathanti, a professor of creative writing at Appalachian State University, made working with veterans his signature project. A strong advocate for arts programs for veterans, Dr. Bathanti has continued his initiatives, which have included a theatrical production, Deployed, based on veterans' writings about being in training, on front lines, in prison camps, and back home.

Periodically, Dr. Bathanti and I exchange e-mails and recently, I received word that Dr. Bathanti has been named the Charles George VA Medical Center Writer-in-Residence. He's a natural fit for the job.

While Writer-in-Residence, Dr. Bathanti will teach and co-lead two creative writing workshops, each eight weeks long, focused on the healing of Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. (It is estimated that some 250,000 Vietnam veterans have "defined" PTSD, and many more suffer its "sub-threshold" effects. Huge numbers of veterans of more recent wars, such as the Persian Gulf War, suffer from PTSD and severe brain injuries.) The workshops will feature the use of poetry, the personal essay, and memoir as recovery tools and demonstrate how memory and desire for healing feed directly into these genres. 

Using writing produced in the workshops, Dr. Bathanti will compile and edit an anthology and also create a theatre script for subsequent performance on stage in Asheville, North Carolina, and throughout the state. In addition, Dr. Bathanti will co-lead a literature-and-discussion group for veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. To be conducted at the Charles George center in Asheville, that group is part of the Veterans Administration's pilot program for the Great Books Foundation's "Talking Service" program. 

Dr. Bathanti will be working with Dr. Bruce Kelly, who heads the Charles George center's arts and humanities programming. 

Funding for these important activities comes from the Wounded Warrior Project and the National Endowment for the Humanities, with support from state, local, and other national partners. The intent is that the workshops and other initiatives create a model for establishing a broader strategy for incorporating the medical humanities into programs for veterans and for fostering military-and-civilian collaboration that benefits families and communities as well.


* See my TweetSpeak Poetry interview with Fred Foote of Walter Reed: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Also see: "Monday Muse: North Carolina's Poet Laureate", a profile of Joseph Bathanti; and "Monday Muse Reads 'Concertina' (Review)", my review of Bathanti's narrative poetry collection. 

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