Tough chapters in verse

It’s hard to explain how deployment separations feel to military families. There is loneliness balanced with the kinship that grows between those who serve together on the front and the homefront. There is fear balanced with the courage and confidence earned through endurance. Then, of course, there is the pride both troops and their families take in their sacrifice and service.

Words can describe an event without necessarily conveying the emotion. Sometimes, though, words can be arranged and presented in a way that does offer a better understanding of how the experience feels from the inside.

Last year, when she was 12, Madison Jarvie depicted in verse the contrasts between her father’s deployment life and her family’s life at home.

“I have spent almost four years in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2007, first as a soldier and then as a civilian,” wrote Dale Jarvie. “I have left home many times.”

The poem Dale’s daughter wrote for a school assignment spoke to him strongly enough that he sent it to Stars and Stripes.

An excerpt from the poem says:
Why is it every time you leave
the tears become heavier?
Mom said not to,
So I held it in
I could tell you did too.
After you’re gone
The vehicle is lonely
Now we are four, not five
For you to go over there
for me and the others,
that’s bravery,
being able to go each time
though you want to stay.
Bravery isn’t who’s the toughest
or strongest
It’s the ones who know
what’s right and believe in it.

Jehanne Dubrow is a Navy wife and the author of several books of poetry, including “Stateside,” about military life. She is also an assistant professor of English at Washington College in Chestertown, Md.

I asked her why arranging words in a particular way evokes an emotion about an experience that goes beyond the meanings of the words themselves. Jehanne said it has to do with the relationship between form and content and appropriately matching one’s story with the way of telling it.

“A writer makes choices about language, musical devices, metaphor and imagery, which reflect the story being told,” she said. “So, when a piece of creative writing is effective, it’s often because that relationship between form and content puts us inside the experience. We aren’t just being told a story, but are suddenly inside the narrative.”

Connecting with readers is one benefit to the writer. Connecting with one’s own feelings about a situation — painful or otherwise — is another. Both the writer and the reader, like Madison and her father, might feel more connected to their own feelings and to others.

Jehanne explained that the intellectual distance of analyzing an experience makes even difficult emotions safe for the writer to explore.

“On the reader’s side of things, it can be extremely reassuring to read a work of literature and see one’s own experiences reflected in that well-crafted poem or novel,” said Jehanne.

“Good literature makes us feel less alone in the world,” she said.

Read the reaction of Marine wife Diana Hartman to "Stateside" by Jehanne Dubrow in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Read all of Madison Jarvie's poem at Spouse Calls online.

Post your own well chosen words here, or send them to spouscalls@stripes.com.

Join the conversation and share your voice.

Show Comments