The awful truth, veterans’ art at Ira Allen

On Monday, April 21, at Ira Allen Chapel, two communities came together to create value out of the nightmare of war: the anti-war community, and the literary community.

Four Iraqi veterans courageously took the stage to read the works they had composed in the time following their arrival, some of which were compiled in a book called “Warrior Writers, Remaking Sense,” which was being sold at the event.

The book was a result of the collaboration between Lovella Calcia of Iraq Veterans Against War (IVAW) and The Green Door Studio – a unique art studio in South Burlington.

At the studio, Calcia conducted a writer’s workshop to help veterans cope with their traumatic experience. Veterans Drew Cameron, Jon Turner, Matt Hrutkay and Matt Howard, all members of IVAW, of which three are Burlington natives, participated in the workshop. All of them contributed their truthful, daunting experiences to the evening’s reading.

Writer and University of Vermont English professor, David Huddle, who is a Vietnam veteran, was also there to give supporting words.

A key point he made was that the works of these veterans do not glorify war, making it exciting, or “perversely appealing.”

“These soldiers are more concerned with testimony than art and career,” Huddle said. He stressed their courage to speak the truth about Iraq, the truth that “we should have the courage to hear.”

The soldiers wrote about everything from loss of sleep, to the gruesome violence of war, to feelings of total darkness.

Jon Turner explained how writing and doing artwork with The Green Door Studio was like therapy for him. He read a poem entitled, “April 2nd,” about four friends that were simultaneously killed by an Improvised Explosive Device which has become the weapon most associated with American deaths in Iraq. It felt as though his words were taking the audience into his head.

Matt Hrutkay, a veteran from New York City, majored in journalism in college, and claimed that the feeling of returning from war “is like I’m getting ready to meet a person I’m going to live with for the rest of my life.” Hrutkay shared writings about the difficulties of sleep and being unable to cry.

He read from a prose piece, “How do you learn to let yourself feel?” and “Rationalism leaves you in an emotional no-man’s-land.”

It seemed as if the audience was listening to these men with their entire being. Burlington native Matt Howard said, “A soldier’s death isn’t anything like the movies … it is just death.” And in fact what these soldiers were doing, was really de-glamorizing war.

The last reader of the night was Drew Cameron, also from Burlington, who drew emotion from the crowd by starting off with a war chant. Cameron, director of The Green Door Studio, worked with The People’s Republic of Paper, a branch of the studio focused on paper and print-making, to use art as an outlet for his experience. After the reading, he and Turner showed their artwork that consisted of prints of soldiers, as well as various other forms of Americana reflecting the war experience.