Veterans learn the power of the pen

Award-winning poet Jehanne Dubrow, author and assistant professor of English at Washington College in Maryland, spent several Saturdays this fall teaching creative writing to a unique group of students: military veterans.

"Learning how to put emotion on paper, with control and intellectual vigor, can be therapeutic," Dubrow said. Most of the veterans enrolled in the course had recently left service. "Their experiences are still fresh," she said.

The workshop, sponsored by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and conducted through The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Md., was free to retired and active-duty service members. Dubrow will teach the same course again next spring.

For most of the veterans, this was their first experience with creative writing, Dubrow said.

While her workshops focus on poetry and nonfiction, she encourages students to work in whatever genre is most appropriate for their story, and she pushes them to keep a daily journal.

Dubrow, who is married to a career Navy officer, knows firsthand how creative writing can ease the unique stress that comes with life in the military. Four years ago, when it looked like the Navy was going to send her husband to Iraq or Afghanistan, Dubrow said she was terrified and began writing poems to deal with her anxiety.

That didn't happen, but earlier this year he deployed to the Western Indian Ocean for nine months to conduct anti-terrorism and anti-piracy operations. The result for Dubrow was Stateside (Northwestern University Press, 2010), a collection of poetry encapsulating her experiences before, during and after her husband's deployment.

"I find it very helpful to use the constraints of poetry to grapple with unwieldy emotions," she said. Dubrow knows her husband might have to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan in the future. "The prospect still frightens me but I also feel as if the book allowed me to face my fears and address some of the terrible things that could happen," she said.

Dubrow's poetry has given voice to the experiences of many military spouses. She has received "amazing e-mails and letters from people saying that the poems resonate for them," she said.

Her next workshop for veterans will be on Saturdays from May 7-June 4, 2011. Wayne Karlin, author, professor and Vietnam veteran, will teach a similar course on Saturdays, April 2-April 30. Veterans and service members who are interested can learn more and sign up for the workshops through The Writer's Center.

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