Meaning is a slippery word. If meaning were a man, I imagine a middleman, a person playing both sides and looking for the largest margin. There have been times in my life when I’ve searched for meaning outside of a given context. I’ve turned to fiction, to poetry, to the words of others. And, there have been times when I’ve believed those words to have no meaning, when I’ve felt outside of experience. Cutoff in my own world.
However, when I read the stories, poems, and nonfiction in this special issue of Scintilla, I’m in awe of the meaning these writers have brought forth, the vision, painful at times, that they have shared. For many of us, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have played out in a vacuum. If Vietnam was the first televised war, what were, what are these wars? The overlooked? The distant?
The inspiration for this issue “Literature of War: At Home and Abroad” came from three places. First, a friend’s brother served in Afghanistan on multiple deployments. I met him in 2009. He was back for a while and in town for Thanksgiving. It was the first time I’d really talked to anyone who was fighting the wars. Years after we’d been at war, this was my first experience talking to a soldier. It highlighted how isolated the general public was. Or, at the very least, it highlighted how isolated I was from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The second inspiration came from a poem in our second issue, “War Story #164: Explaining Why I Brought to Iraq But Couldn’t Open Weldon Kees’ Collected Poems,” by Paul David Adkins. The poem was unexpected and, in the midst of our submissions, it stood out. Why wasn’t I seeing more work like this? Where are these voices? It felt important to see this work in print.
Finally, what really cemented the concept in my mind was reading The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. It portrayed the war in Iraq in a way I hadn’t seen before. It felt both necessary and devastating. After I put the book down, I felt strange. I was glad to have read it, and yet I never wanted to read it again. The writing was far more moving than anything cast about on the twenty-four hour news cycle. The Yellow Birds slid into me like a serum, changing and challenging my preconceptions.
But now to return to meaning. Of the twenty-two writers whose work we published, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq mean different things. For some, there may be overlap, and for others, their viewpoints may be diametrically opposed. What we have though are the ways in which people have been affected. We have stories. We have poems. They add to the larger narrative, and perhaps, together, create meaning.
“Literature of War: At Home and Abroad” is the best issue we’ve published. It is also the most challenging issue we’ve published. Since the writing was often so personal, it was hard to decline submissions. We strove to maintain quality and keep to the guidelines. What you’ll read is the selection we felt fit best. But, it doesn’t represent the many other writers who submitted poems and stories. To all the writers who submitted work to this issue, thank you. Even if we didn’t end up publishing your submission, we’re glad to have read your work.